Our Summer Adventure to the South Island with BaBa and NuNu, Part 1

Yes, yes, yes. This is really outdated. But if I don’t get it down, how will I remember? (My memory is terrible, which is why I’m always busting out my phone and snapping photos of everything.) And it was such a great trip that took us to all sorts of wonderful places, it might actually be timely for someone who is on it and planning their summer holiday now. So read on for our island-hopping adventures with my folks, the infamous BaBa and NuNu.

They arrived on Boxing Day of last year. We were so excited for their arrival, but the irony is that I couldn’t for the life of me find the email with their itinerary to know when they would arrive in Gizzy! Good thing that the airport is a mere 10 minute drive. So we did what we could: showed up for the first arrival of the day. They weren’t on it.

Sad superhero.


We had some time to kill before the next flight so we went on a hike: Te Kuri Farm Walkway at the end of Shelley Road. It’s a good, solid hike, that takes us about 2 hours and 45 minutes to complete. It’s super local and family friendly, but best attempted when it’s been dry for awhile. Once you get above the tree line, which happens pretty quickly in a kind of intensely steep way, you get to enjoy the views of the bay the whole time.


Back down, it was time for us to try to pick them up again. And lo and behold, there they were, BaBa and NuNu, de-planing! After a brief settling-in period, it was al fresco dinner time.


They’d brought with them some Christmas gifts for us and the kids, and even brought with them some gifts that we’d purchased for the kids and had sent to them. So it was Day 2 of Christmas!

Behold, BaBa in cardboard reindeer antlers that I’d made for Thora’s Christmas assembly.

04  07

Dec 27: Tolaga Bay

We grabbed some yummy sandwiches from one of our favorite shops in town, Frank and Albie’s, and then motored 45 minutes up the coast to Tolaga Bay, a great destination on the East Coast. We took in the historic wharf, something that never gets old, especially when there is activity like their was this day: brave people diving off the pier into the water, and lots of fishing and the gutting of fish right there. Captivating!

Check out what it means to try to take a group photo with Auric. There are more examples to come. Many more.


We had a bit of rain and had to eat lunch in the car. But it cleared up a bit for us to take a stroll on the beach, where we met up with some people exercising their horses.

Getting to know a foal.


Getting to ride a horse!


Sidenote un-related to their visit but something I want to mark for posterity: December 27th, 2013 was the day they were introduced to Tintin, one of Sean’s favorites as a kid.


Okay, back to the visit. BaBa and NuNu took a few days and ventured over to Rotorua. While they were enjoying the magical colors of Waiotapu and relaxing in the Polynesian Spa, we were playing with new toys.

Walkie-talkies and Bananagrams, at the same time: “ccckkkk. Split! Over.”


We also took a spin up to Loisels to visit our friends who were camping there. Loisels is a beautiful bay just a 30 minute drive up the coast.


BaBa and NuNu returned on New Year’s Eve and we were happy to get to celebrate NuNu’s birthday with her.


January 1st: a walk up Kaiti Hill

Posing in front of the Captain Cook statue and illustrating what a farce it is to try to get a group shot with Auric.

02The gals are a-walkin’ while the guys are a-lookin’. Typical.


Behold, Hip Grandpa(tm)! He wears shades (light-sensing transition lenses)! He wears his hat backwards (so it won’t blow off, he claims)! Cargo shorts! He’s hip!


I always think that if my folks and my kids were to start a band of some kind, this would have to be the cover of their first cd.


On the first of the year, Gisborne pulls out all the stops and puts on a pretty great fireworks show. We walked down and across the river and waited for it to get dark. While we waited, we played with some of the glow sticks and novelty flashlights that NuNu brought for the kids. They were perfect! Finally, it got dark, a helicopter did a fly-over (was that part of the show?) and the fireworks show started! Fun!


January 2nd: Tolaga Bay Beach Races

We’d missed this the year before, still being quite new that many events passed us by without us realizing. So we were grateful to get to take my folks to what is a quintessential East Coast experience. People rock up around 11. The festivities get started a good 45 minutes after they’re scheduled to start: you know, East Coast Time. You can bet on the races, but you can’t pick your horse. The announcer was a hilarious old-timer, taking the piss out of his mates, and calling the races. There were hotdogs and fizzy drink (soda) and hot chips (fries) and candy floss (cotton candy). And there is nothing quite like the sound of the hooves of 2 dozen horses sprinting up the beach at you, nothing quite like the feel of it as the vibrations rattle your ribcage. It was the perfect day for this annual event. It was the hottest day of the year so far and we were happy to be at the beach being a part of the scene.


10 Here’s a short video of the action

There was downtime in between each race, when you could cool off in the water or have a game of rugby with your dad. I managed to capture this perfect sequence of Auric’s version of rugby, which at the time just meant that he’d punt the ball to you. He was a little Dan Carter at 4 years old.

03Thora has perfected the art of multiplying herself in a panoramic shot. She’s pretty pleased with this ability.


After a few hours, we packed up and headed back to Gisborne, stopping off to introduce my dad (a life-long, serious runner) to a friend, Ron Robertson, who we know because he’s the grandfather to our kids’ friends, but the running world knows him as the fastest 70 year-old… in the world. He and his wife were wonderfully gracious hosts as my dad took in Ron’s stories and they even found out that they have friends in common. After a nice chat over a glass of wine, we were back home, readying ourselves for our first venture to the South Island!

January 3: Queenstown (via Napier, Christchurch)

Rather than flying out of Gisborne, which means we can connect out of Auckland or Wellington, we found less-expensive flights to the South Island via Napier. So we drove the 3+ hours south to Napier and caught our flight to Queenstown (with a short stop-over in Christchurch). We landed in Queenstown, through the dramatic mountainous runway (yikes!), picked up our rental car and were off to our motel, the Alexis Motorlodge, very close to downtown Queenstown. (I highly recommend staying here!) Here’s the impressive view of Lake Wakatipu from our balcony.


Here’s a nice panorama from outside BaBa and NuNu’s room.

01We were well-located to go on runs (running the couple blocks down a steep hill connected us with a recreational path that circled the lake), and walk into town (we could go the scenic way through the Queenstown Gardens or we could go express, down Frankton to Coronation Drive).

03Here we are taking the scenic way through the Gardens. Again, posing in a photo with Auric is pure joy.

01 We wandered into town looking for a late dinner. We’d forgotten how south we were; it was 8:oo and the sun was still up. Like really up. After checking out the guidebook, for a few places that looked good, we made our way to Ferg Burger, only to learn how incredibly, one might say impossibly, popular it was. We were all starving and couldn’t wait in the 80 minute line, so we found our way to Winnie’s Gourmet Pizza Bar. And thus began The Unintentional Carb Binge Tour of the South Island 2014 ™. (Sorry, that isn’t the most flattering photo of Sean; he’s mid-bite, I think.)

05The kids had a little play at the waterfront playground at 9:30 at night on our way home. And this isn’t a trick with the brightening feature on Instagram. (I may have brightened it a touch to make their backlit faces visible, but the “truth” of the photo is still there, I swear.)


It’s only slightly darker now because of the cloud coverage.

06January 4th: Te Anau

The next day, we drove to Te Anau (tay AH-now), where we would base ourselves for the night before our BIG ADVENTURE, one of the wonders of the world, Milford Sound.

Beautiful scenery along the way.

08The waters of Lake Wakatipu are an incredible turquoise color.

After settling in at our motel in Te Anau, and then hitting a gourmet sushi food truck, Fjordland Food Truck, we set about figuring out the best hike or walk we could do to enjoy the afternoon. We could’ve done an easy walk around Lake Te Anau, but that might’ve been a little repetitive after awhile. Instead, we were encouraged to do the Circle Trek off of Lake Manapouri. What appeared, at first, to be a 2.5 hour moderate hike, was described as longer and more strenuous, the further we committed. By the time we were taking the boat across Lake Manapouri, our friendly captain Mike thought, after looking us over, that we’d be lucky to make it in 4 hours. Great!

He were are boating to the beginning of the trek.



Auric’s ears perked up. “Sorry, how long of a hike?”


At the small, wooden dock that leads straight into the bush, we said goodbye to Mike, with the plan to meet him at 7pm, 4 hours from then. He’d be waiting at the dock, but we had his cell phone number in the event (likely, he thought) that we were going to be longer. What had we gotten ourselves into? A 4-hour hike with the kids? Our kids, Thora especially, are pretty great hikers for their age, but Auric’s little 4 year-old legs still get tired after a couple hours of walking. Were we making a big mistake?

It was pretty dense bush with muddy, washed-out stretches of the path. There was one uphill section that was blocked by a massive tree trunk. That obstacle took us a good 5 minutes to figure out how to overcome. We were working hard, up the thickly forested hillside, always cresting a rise, thinking we were at the top (“We’ve got to be getting close now!”), only to find that there was another treeline up ahead. 90 minutes turned into two hours, which turned in two and half hours and we still had no real clue that we were near the top. And then, suddenly, there was ridge, and a cliff, and we approached. Exhausted, this is what we saw:


Did we make a huge mistake by embarking on this hike? No! It was arduous, and a bit of a slog through essentially muddy, uphill woods (I’m sure it’s great when it’s been dry for awhile), until it was all of a sudden magnificently rewarding. This is the hike with best reward that I think I’ve ever been on. The hike was work, but the reward was literally breath-taking. Once we got to the top, I remembered talking with Mike in the boat on the way over. I think we were all feeling a little overwhelmed when hearing him describe the difficulty of the trek and how long he thought it would take us. One of us suggested that if it looked like it was beyond our capabilities, we could always just turn back and not do the whole Circle. “No. You can’t do that. Just call me if it’s taking you longer than 4 hours.” I remember thinking, longer than 4 hours? We had minimal bottles of water and snacks and little bodies equipped with loud, whiny voices. More than 4 hours? I’m so grateful than none of us suggested to turn around. To think of the beautiful and unforgettable surprise we would’ve missed!


The four of us at the top: the kids, my silhouette husband, and myself! (BaBa: “You’re backlit.” Me: “It’s okay. I can brighten it up after the fact.” Not always, apparently.)


Where the dirt ends is literally a sheer drop. I was not a fan that part.


BaBa and NuNu!

19After about ten minutes at the lookout, eating our granola bars and apples, we began our march down, down, down, out of the woods. With a little quick-stepping from BaBa (Life-long Distance Runner) and Thora (Girl of Boundless Energy), we met Mike at exactly 7pm! (I inherited the Running-Late Stress Gene from my dad and so he and I were quite pleased with our punctuality.) We greeted Mike. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so happy to see a small outboard motor boat on the end of a short wooden dock. (Did I mention that there were several times when we thought we’d lost the trail?)

After Mike deposited our cheery but tired crew on the other side of Lake Manapouri, we collapsed into the car and then drove into sleepy little Te Anau for dinner. Except Te Anau isn’t so sleepy at 7:30 on a Saturday night in the summer. Seriously, we had the hardest time finding a place to eat! One place was so busy they just kind of turned us away without even giving us a wait time. Yikes! Thankfully the staff at La Toscana were happy to oblige our tired and famished crew. They sat us at an outside bench that is meant for sitting and waiting for your table over a glass of wine. However, without our asking, our intrepid server added this unofficial, outside table to her already full list of tables and served us bread and water out there and gave us menus. She took our order out there, and then mercifully, a table opened up and she moved us in. Our food arrived promptly, hot and delicious, and we dove into the second stop on the The Unintentional Carb Binge Tour of South Island 2014 ™.

And you might think: Oh, there’s a good group shot with Auric in it. But then I’d remind you that he’s pinned in there and also that there are three other attempts at this shot, all with NuNu in various states of Auric-wrangling. A joy he is!

01 The kids devoured their promised sundaes that accompanied their meal. They earned it. They were total champs!


We staggered out of La Toscana, exhausted and satisfied and ready for the day ahead: Milford Sound!

And here is where I will pause, to let you stop reading, rest your weary eyes and rejoin your life. (I’m grateful for all of you readers who spend your time connecting with my stories!) Stay tuned for part 2 where our family of thrill-seekers continue on their journey. Spoiler alert: Milford Sound DOESN’T disappoint.


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