Visiting Nelson by car should have been quick. We were in Christchurch after all. From Christchurch, it should have been a five-hour drive. However, being the Hancock family, we decided to go the long way. Nineteen hours the long way. From Dunedin, through Queensland and Twizel to Nelson, we saw a lot of the New Zealand landscape on our car ride. However, the New Zealand landscape is so beautiful and so varied that the car ride went by very quickly. This portion of our trip had us walking through fields with swords, luging down mountainsides and carefully strolling past sinkholes. Just like the
New Zealand was one of the most beautiful countries to drive through for the scenery and the vast scale of the place.
Our journey started in Dunedin, or, to be more exact, Oamaru just north of Dunedin. This was the half way point on our day’s car drive and we stopped here to get a bite to eat right next to a uniquely Victorian setting. Oamaru was an immensely popular location during the Victorian age rivaling the large cities of the world, including Los Angelas, at it’s peak. However, just as rapid as the climb in prosperity, was it’s fall from favour. It quickly became yet another backwater town until it’s rediscovery as a tourist stop. What makes Oamaru popular today is it’s preserved Victorian buildings. Next to our lunch stop, a whole Victorian section of the city next to the train station has been kept alive with a variety of shops. Walking down this street after our lunch, we felt like we had stepped back in time. The cobblestone streets were rough against our feet, we wandered slowly down the quaintly festooned street. Unfortunately, as we had gotten to the town fairly late in the day, most of the shops were closing up for the day. However, we did manage to spend some time in a beautiful used bookstore which looked like it had been converted from an old general store.
One of the quirky discoveries we made in Oamaru is the location of the Steampunk Headquarters. The genre of steampunk is unique and very interesting. It has its roots in science fiction literature particularly in the works of Jules Verne and H.G Wells, two of the major figures within the genre. Steampunk takes the technology and sensibilities of the Victorian age and adds a twist of the future. Old Victorian steam trains come with wings to fly while futuristic weaponry comes alive with lasers powered with steam power with everything covered with gleaming brass. It’s difficult to explain as it’s not only a genre but a style you need to see. We didn’t go inside the Steampunk headquarters but explored the steam engine and other items just outside. Every year Oamaru celebrates this genre with, what I would have to imagine would be, a very strange but fun festival celebrating everything steampunk.
Having gotten that out of our system, we continued on our way to Dunedin. Dunedin is a beautiful University town though we weren’t there to see the University. Our main goal was to see the Dunedin Settler Museum. First, however, we needed to get to our beach side resort which consisted of a little holiday cabin a 15 minutes walk away from the beach. Holiday camps overseas tend to be quite nice if not simple. The cabin usually
After supper, we headed over to the beach. The sun was just starting to set as we wandered down the long, sandy expanse. It was a beautiful beach. It was so beautiful that we ended up bringing a fair bit back to the cabin with us in our shoes. I think we still have some in our shoes. When we come back to Canada and you see me walking around with a limp, you’ll know why. I ended up returning to the beach on another morning to try and get the colours of the sunset over the old remains of the wharf. As you may have seen from our tweets and instagram posts, this is not an easy challenge to complete when you are not staying long in each place. I have not had much luck getting the types of sunsets and sunrises you see in photobooks or galleries. This was also to be the case in Dunedin despite my early wake-up and trek out to the beach.
As I mentioned before, our goal for this stop was to see the Settler’s Museum. This new museum detailed the lives and struggles of the early settlers to the region brought here by the lure of land, gold and a better life. The museum had lots of interactive elements the kids enjoyed including a recreation of a settler’s cabin with costumes you could dress up in. Deanne got dressed up in a settler’s dress (minus the hoops, petticoats and all the other accouterments settler women were
While there was much more to explore (especially if you headed out to the peninsula), we had to move on to our next stop. First, we had to stop at Tunnel Beach. Heading down the steep path (which we knew we were going to regret on the way back) along the cliff side, we came to a tunnel carved into the rock face. The
Queenstown, nestled in one of the many valleys that are found in this part of the Southern Alps, quickly brought to mind a much larger version of Banff. It was surrounded by mountains and it is very popular with tourists who enjoy outdoor pursuits. Just as with Banff, it felt like Queenstown had grown too large and too quickly to effectively deal with the sudden influx of tourists and tour buses. Thus, our entry into Queenstown ground to a slow crawl. We did finally make it to our nice apartment which was very close to downtown Queensland and a beautiful park with gorgeous views of The Remarkables, a majestic series of mountains very close by on the other side of the lake. We wandered through the town after we arrived and had gotten settled. However, we wandered back soon after having gotten tired of fighting the crowds of tourists. Like Banff, Queenstown was filled with the same variety of tourist shops and outdoors stores catering to people who are, let’s face it, far better in shape than I will ever be. These are the people we marvel at as we pass them hiking or biking along the highway. They always look tired and sweaty. I don’t understand traveling that way but then many people wouldn’t understand traveling the way we do so it all evens out in the end. I have to say though, they don’t look like they are having fun, but perhaps they have other, loftier goals.
We wandered around the quiet, meditative park which,
Like many mountain areas, the mountains around Queenstown enjoy year-round options for fun. Thus, the next day, we headed up into the mountains to partake in some luge riding. This was not the luge riding you see in the Olympics. There was no ice covered track and no spandex was necessary to take part in this activity. This luge track consisted of converted wagons with wheels and brakes. To get to the luge track, we had to take a gondola approximately half way up the mountain. The gondola was a ride in of itself with stunning views of the area as we climbed. After taking in the views from the reception area, we headed over to the luge track. With our ticket, we each got five rides. The first ride was a training run where the attendants took us through the use of the luge cart followed by a descent on the easiest of the two tracks. Our first attempt went fairly well though we ended up stalled on the track at one point as we were held up by a rider who had gotten stuck at one of the bends. Siena also managed to stall up on the side of one of the banks. Getting stuck is not fun as it is not easy to get out of the carts and re-orient the cart. Plus, you have other carts zooming around you so you need to be very careful. We did manage to make it down our first run safely despite the intitial challenges. We headed right back up to try the second track which is a bit steeper and twistier. The kids had a lot of fun the first couple of times but found the wheel system tiring after the first couple of runs. The default position to ride the carts was to have the bar pulled halfway towards you. To brake, you needed to pull it all the way towards you. Doing this while turning was not easy on the arm muscles. We needed to take an ice cream break about halfway through our runs to rest our tired arms. Luckily, the ice cream was plentiful. New Zealand has this amazing ice cream flavour called Hokey-Pokey, which is a vanilla caramel ice cream with small pieces of hard caramel embedded in it. It’s very tasty but only available in New Zealand, unfortunately. With the luge riding down, we headed back down to the town. We had planned a quick side trip to Arrowtown to see the remains of an old mining town.
Arrowtown was one of the areas gold miners rushed to when gold deposits were found. What makes Arrowtown unique was the settlement of Chinese miners. Experiencing harsh conditions and racist attitudes the Chinese
Having completed our quick romp through Queenstown, we pack up again and head back onto the road towards our final destination. However, we had to make a quick stop in Twizel for the last of our Lord of the Rings themed activites.
Twizel is a very small town between Queensland and Nelson. We weren’t really going to visit Twizel but had planned a stop there to visit one of the iconic filming sites from the Lord of the Rings. The fields outside of Twizel were used for one of the major battles in the third movie of the Lord of the Rings series; The Return of the King. If you have never seen the movie before, the decisive battle between the forces of good and evil takes place on a vast, golden field leading to the white city of Minas Tirith. Of course, there is no actual Minas Tirith built into the mountain range overlooking the field. Most of the mountains and the city itself were added as digital elements later on. What we got to see was basically the field and the hills where the armies came driving down on horseback. While it doesn’t sound too interesting to be driven to a large field, it was actually a really fun experience.
Our tour guide, who had actually been in one of the Hobbit movies filmed nearby, was able to really make the area come alive as she told us stories about the filming. One of the stories she told us detailed how the battle scene they were filming needed an extremely large contingent of extras. Not only did they have to hire the local military to become orcs, the film crew actually had to go around the local motels and hotels in the area to muster a force large enough to look impressive on the screen. Most of the town was involved in some way. Even the local high school students were hired to be “waterboys” for the multitudes of Orcs needing to be hydrated. Another story she told was how most of the horse riders in one of the battle scenes were actually female made up with beards to portray the male soldiers. Our tour guide explained that during breaks you would often hear shrieks of shock as the female riders would suddenly see themselves in the mirror and surprise themselves.
We also had the opportunity to try out some of the
We had a couple of days to explore Nelson. One of our stops was to the Abel Tasman park. We stopped first at a church nearby. We’ve tried, as much as possible, to attend a local church on Sundays. This church was not unlike the church we usually attend. However, the kids were extremely impressed by this church as they had a Ga-Ga ball court set up in the lobby area. Ga-ga ball is a game Siena and Liam had played before at summer camp. So they were very excited to find it inside the church! Someone had constructed an ingenious system of panels that connected together to create the court and the kids were playing a furious game of Ga-ga ball as we left the sanctuary. From there, we headed out to an intriguing restaurant near the park. The Jester’s Restaurant drawing card were the trained eels located just outside the restuarant. However, the kids also enjoyed the cool outside area which had lots of neat areas for the kids to explore and play in, including a tree house. The food was really good and we left feeling very full and ready for a nice hike through the woods. However, first we had to drive there, which was easier said than done.
One of the interesting sites in the Abel Tasman park is the huge, natural sinkhole called Harwoods Hole. This sinkhole is over 1171ft deep. To get there, we walked down a lovely, cool trail through the woods with some fun climbs through and over rocks, which made up part of the path. Strangely, the walk to the sinkhole was far easier than the drive to get to the trailhead. We had not realized that 11kms of the road to the trial was actually a heavily rutted and narrow roadway. The cars we rent are not usually (or ever really!) designed for off-roading. So it was that we found ourselves bumping slowly and carefully along this dirt road. We occasionally encountered far better equipped 4wd machines which careened down the road toward us, resulting in a couple moments of tense reflections on the meaning of life. We did make it finally and enjoyed the hike out to the sinkhole. The kids were very impressed with the sinkhole though you couldn’t get too close to the edge. There were no guardrails or anything to keep people from falling in.
The town of Nelson is quite pleasant. We spent some time wandering through the Saturday market, which was probably one of the bigger markets we had been through since Beaune. Then we headed over to the cathedral overlooking the town. Just as we were about to head up the path to the supposed center of New Zealand, we discovered the path was closed due to extreme fire warnings. So we instead retired to an interesting pub in an old converted church. It was a very neat location for a pub and outside, in a little shack, was a tiny record shop. Every time I wander into one of these little record shops, I keep thinking I need to get into records again. The sound is so vibrant, far different then what you get with CD’s or the digital files you get now.
With our explorations done, we headed back to Christchurch one last time. We were going to be heading to Australia the following day and we felt a little depressed at the thought. We were looking forward to Australia, don’t get me wrong. However, we had fallen in love with this country. We loved the landscape, the people, the towns, and everything in between. Plus, there was still so much more to see. While our list of places to return to usually refers to only locations within a country, I think we will make an exception for New Zealand. We want to see it all again.