Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Final Episode of our New Zealand Christmas Adventure

On Christmas morning, we did another opening of the stockings and one last Christmas gift for each person. Matt bought the only "Christmas" tree he could find at a local store to put up.

 Marie was the last to wake up around 7:45am. The boys woke up at 6am, so it was a long wait for them!

 Ready to go down the stairs...
 We didn't get much of a reaction from Marie on our "Christmas morning" the day before we left Wellington, but she was all smiles for this one!
 She received her one and only doll (so far) and she loves it!
 The boys got a bunch of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle action figures so they could play together.
 Matt got Ant-Man
 We got the boys a series of books called "Who Would Win?" about mock animal battles. It's pretty fun. I'm reading one of them in this picture:
 Bobby and me in our crowns from our first ever Christmas crackers. They have a prize and a crown and a joke inside each one. It has a tiny firecracker inside so they pop when you open them. Pretty fun. I don't remember purchasing them, and neither does Matt, so I am pretty sure we received them as a gift from the owner of the hotel! That was sweet of him!
We thought about going to a park or to the Antarctic Centre which was the only thing open on Christmas day, but since we had had very full days of touring, we just stayed "home" and rested and played and watched movies. It was a wonderful Christmas day.

The next morning, we went on our final tour in the South Island, the only Lord of the Rings tour leaving out of Christchurch. It was about a 2.5-hour bus ride out to Mount Sunday, where they filmed the Riders of Rohan and Edoras.

We stopped a few times to stretch our legs and have lunch with the tour group.

 We finally reached our destination after some crazy gravel roads...
Our view of Mount Sunday
Screenshot of Edoras
 Side view of Mount Sunday 
Side view of Edoras

 We took about a 40-minute hike up the mountain.
 The tour provided Lord of the Rings weapons for people to use in their photos.
 The boys loved it!
 They had pictures of Eowyn so we could line me up to look like the screenshot below.

 I'm pretty sure we used this as our family photo for something... pretty intimidating ;)

 Then we hiked down the mountain.

Shot of Scotty walking back to the bus
...which matched a screenshot of the front wall of Edoras!

Marie getting some space after her long walk in the baby carrier.
And she wanted her turn with the weapons. 
 Beautiful lavender field on the drive home.
We loved the South Island and couldn't wait to return! The North Island of New Zealand is made from volcanoes, and the South Island is made from tectonic plates colliding, so they really seem to have every geological feature within the country. It's truly incredible.

We drove back to the ferry the next morning and then home. It was an exhausting, but very fun family trip. We made lots of wonderful memories and took hundreds of photos!

(written January 2017)

Thursday, December 24, 2015

...Still Having our NZ Christmas Adventure...

We arrived in Christchurch in the evening and got our keys. We thought we would be staying at a hotel, but it was actually a home down the street, which was a very pleasant surprise because that's where we would have another "Christmas morning" and we didn't have to worry as much about the kids being super quiet and we had private access to our car, a full kitchen and dining room, laundry room, three bedrooms and two bathrooms. I almost cried (tears of joy) when I realized how much more comfortable Christmas would be with the space and privacy the home provided.

The next morning, we headed out early to go on a tour of Christchurch city center. Here we are looking very excited for our tour on a double decker bus.
 Marie is all smiles at the beginning... if only she had remained that happy...
 This city looks a little like a war zone. Many of the major buildings are damaged from a severe earthquakes that happened mainly in September 2010 and February 2011. Millions of dollars will need to be spent to restore the churches and university buildings and office buildings that were deemed unfit to re-enter after the earthquakes. The amount of construction that has to take place underground for the building to be better equipped to handle the tremors is very costly and there has been significant delay in the local government to decide when and how to proceed with the renovations and reconstruction. I don't remember what all of these buildings are because it was a long time again now (I'm writing this in January 2017) and because the kids were chatting or crying during much of the tour.

 They did make a big effort to rebuild parks as soon as possible. I love this little building made of plants.

 This is a memorial to the 185 people who lost their lives in the earthquake(s). Each person is represented by a chair. Many of the chairs belonged to the actual person who died and were donated by the families. There were office chairs, wheelchairs, high chairs, and even car seats. It was a moving representation. This is a temporary memorial that they hope to build up more as the city is slowly rebuilt.

 In the middle of the tour, we took a little walk through a garden that's in the middle of the city.
 I had never seen such gigantic leaves!

 After our tour of the city center, we got on a different bus that took us further out into the area surrounding Christchurch.

 The bus driver stopped at a beach in Sumner and encouraged us all to get out and have some ice cream.

 Bobby enjoyed his ice cream immensely...
 Another beautiful view on our way back to the city.
After Marie had a nap, we drove to Akaroa for another tour. Akaroa is a peninsula about 90 minutes southeast of Christchurch. When we got there, we had a little bit of time to eat and we let the kids play at a park near the tour office.

 It was the first European settlement in New Zealand with heavy French influence. Coincidentally, our tour guide was French and had a pretty thick accent. There aren't a lot of people who are or speak French in Akaroa anymore, we just got lucky. He took us up a pretty steep hill in a big van onto a private road and stopped a couple of time to take pictures of the amazing views.

 ...then took us to a sheep farm where the kids got to feed the sheep...

 AND there were freshly hatched chicks so we got to see those as well. Here's Bobby with our tour guide, Kevin, and the woman in the background is one of the farm owners.

 So the sheep farm doubles as a little blue penguin conservation project. They build little homes for the penguins to use as nests (apparently they're not picky--they'll just take any hole they see) and check on them to see how many eggs are laid, how many seem to survive, etc. So, they took us around to see the little blue penguins. First we saw some chicks that were almost ready to go out to sea themselves. They have most of the blue feathers showing, with only a little bit of fuzz left around their necks. The grey one is a parent.

 Next we saw a nest with two eggs. It was late in the season for that, so Kevin thought that the eggs were likely abandoned or the parents might have died after laying the eggs. Or one parent died and it was too much for the single parent to survive and care for the eggs.
 Some lovely geese...
 This was probably my favorite, which might be why there aren't pictures--I was busy listening to the tour guide. This little guy is a huge chick! He was super fuzzy still and just really fat. Kevin said he was an only child and likely had two parents that were coming in each night to feed him. So he had no need to make seaworthy feathers because he's being pampered by his two parents!
 We got to walk down to the water and we saw a couple of seals.
 The same tour company offers evening tours when you can see the parent penguins hopping up out of the water to go feed their chicks. They come in around dusk and since it was summertime, the sun didn't set till about 9pm, so it was too late for our kids to go. I'd love to go back someday, earlier in the year so it wouldn't be so late at night.
 I saw this picture and realized how early on Marie's independence began. She really wanted to start doing everything herself starting at about 16 months. She didn't know where she was going... She's a stinker, so it's a good thing she's cute.
Before we left Akaroa, we went back to the same park pictured earlier and read the Christmas story in Luke 2 before driving back to the city because we knew the kids would be too tired by the time we got back. Matt and I stayed up to ready the house for our second "Christmas morning" and we watched A Christmas Carol, a tradition in my family.

...Stay tuned...