As we suddenly realized that we had a whole extra week more than expected, we grabbed the chance to once again see some of the places that we have liked the most here on the south island. Obviously we have always known our departure date, so it wasn’t actually completely unexpected that we had more days than we thought. It was kind of a “mental” thing... We had been rushing a bit and suddenly we realized that we didn’t have to.
Was this because three months is too long for New Zealand? Not really! Three months IS a long time, and we would have been just as happy with just 10 weeks. But with our “round-the-world” ticket all dates have been fixed and unless it is absolutely necessary to change anything, it is better not to. So we just decided to go back to the cities of Wanaka and Queenstown for more of “all the good stuff”, before we would head further north to Kaikoura, Akaroa and our final stop, Christchurch.
We celebrated Alexandra’s birthday in Queenstown. When you are traveling with a three-year old boy who needs to eat and sleep at fixed hours, you obviously cannot go out during the evenings to celebrate that sort of thing. Instead we had a very nice and cozy lunch at a local café, and spent the afternoon in the local botanical garden. The weather was fantastic! It had been rather mixed the previous few days, but on her actual birthday we (almost) saw no rain at all.
At night it was rather cold though. During this period we left the heating fan running through the entire night, which we actually hadn’t had to do up until this point of our time in New Zealand. One morning all the surrounding mountains had gotten a fresh new layer of snow.
On our way north, towards Christchurch, we made another stop in Oamaru. This was also a highlight the first time we were there. The old, charming victorian precinct near the harbour, the sunday farmers market and the Riverstone Kitchen, some 20 minutes north of the town, were all things that we wanted to see again. To our great surprise the waiter at Riverstone Kitchen recognized us as we sat down. This is an award-winning restaurant with hundreds of guests daily. I did not ask her exactly HOW she could remember us. I feared that her answer might cast a shadow on the rest of the day... :-)
When we were in Queenstown the first time, we took Anton to the movie theatre for his very first “cinema experience”. Afterwards he talked about this for several days. The movie that we saw, Planes, impressed him a lot. So one afternoon, as we entered a museum shop, he spotted a small model version of the main character of the movie, the small plane “Dusty”. He begged and begged until I finally agreed to buy him one. In the following days he played a lot with “Dusty” and talked about the movie, which he would like to see again. So we asked in Queenstown if they were still showing the movie. Unfortunately they weren’t. But in Oamaru they were. So last saturday morning we went in to see the movie with his friend “Dusty” once again, and before we went into our comfortable, soft theater chairs, Anton reminded me very kindly (but determined), that we would of course need popcorn and drinks. The last time he did not eat any popcorn at all, because he was too absorbed with the movie, but this time he ate quite a few. Most of the fun for us parents was obviously to see his thrill and joy.
Once again we stayed at the best campground in the area (if not the best campground in New Zealand), Waitaki Waters Holiday Park. It is about 20 minutes north of Oamaru, towards the beach. We made a slight upgrade this time and booked a small cabin for a very good price, within our limited budget. Oftentimes we have actually paid more for a standard powered site for the campervan! We ended up staying there for three nights. We simply had the need to just crash and relax for a few days, not doing much. And to sleep in some good beds. Furthermore, Anton found some really good friends to play with, so we were all happy to stay.
Our next stop was Kaikoura. We chose to have an entire day on the road, driving past Christchurch and further up the coast until we got there. In Kaikoura they have specialized in whale- and dolphin safaris. Initially we actually wanted to swim with the dolphins, and had been talking about this for a couple of days. But then we found out that you have to be at least 8 years old to do so. Furthermore, many of the tour companies prefer children to be at least 5 years old to even come onboard the ship to just watch the animals from the deck. But we did find one company that allowed children to participate from the age of 3. Only for watching from the deck. So our swim with the dolphins did not happen. Apparently the reason for these strict rules is that the animals are wild, untrained dolphins and all guests have to understand and follow instructions from the crew at all times. We thought that Anton would be ok as he already had been sailing and snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef. Some friendly dolphins surely wouldn’t hurt. But all touring companies insisted on these safety rules, and I actually do understand them. It was a pity for Anton though.
But, as it turned out, we did actually have a wonderful experience on the deck of the ship. Hundreds of wild dolphins were swimming and playing around the ship as we got a few kilometers off the coast. The guests who had paid for the swimming experience jumped into the ocean and had a couple of wonderful hours in the water. They were not allowed to actually touch the dolphins, but apparently they had a very good experience just the same. We did talk about jumping in by turn, so that one of us would be with Anton at all times, but we knew that he would want to follow immediately, so we skipped it. Instead we really had a good time enjoying the view from the ship. The coastline, the turquoise water and the dolphins. We took well over 500 pictures that morning. One of the crew members told us that another guest had taken well over 3000 pictures in just a few hours, a couple of days earlier. I would not be able to get the full experience this way! Just to see the whole thing through the camera lens would be a shame. But I do understand the “mental mechanism” of the photographer. I often had to suppress my urge to take more pictures.
After the cruise on the ocean, which did include a little bit of seasickness for me, we found a nice little campground that also had free “hot pools”. The sun was shining, the campground was almost deserted and we had a hot pool all to ourselves. This was a reasonable way to end an already great day! :-)
While we were in Kaikoura we also managed to see a small colony of seal pups, located by a small waterfall some 20 minutes north of the town. The odd thing about this place is that it is located about 1 kilometer inland. So the seals have to bring their pups in there via a river. They go against the current and leave them in a small lake in the middle of the forest, under the waterfall. As we got there we only saw about three pups swimming and playing in the water. During the main season for pups the lake is apparently pretty full. And this is in the middle of a rainforest! A clever solution found by the mother seals! Their pups are well out of harms way. Away from the dangers of the coastline and the ocean.
After this we drove back towards Christchurch, and continued out towards the little town Akaroa on Banks Peninsula east of Christchurch. The town was founded by french settlers and it still has a strong french / european influence. It was actually like visiting a small piece of Europe. Small, charming houses in european cottage style. Street lanterns with lots of details and curlicues. Quite a few memorials and an ancient lighthouse by the harbour. Also numerous fish restaurants and cafés in european style. The campground was located uphill, and we got a great site overlooking the entire area and part of the bay. This was where we realized that the camping season has now started here in New Zealand. The place wasn’t completely full, but almost. Luckily there were many other children there, so it was hard to keep track of Anton during those days. Often we would not see or hear him for quite a while.
This is actually one of those things that we are currently struggling with. In spite of all the happy traveling that we are doing together as a family. Anton has entered the “defying age” and has started to develop a “selective hearing”. He simply do not hear even the shortest and simplest instructions. And if what we are saying does not please the little prince, he may very well turn around on his heels and walk away in anger, and we may have a hard time getting back on good terms. This can be tolerated (partly) on an enclosed campground, where there are not many dangers. All cars are driving very slowly, and there are signs all over warning about playing children. But when we are outside in the normal traffic and he doesn’t listen, it can quickly develop into an extremely dangerous situation. We are terrified that he will suddenly cross the street, or that he will not foresee the consequences of his behaviour and walk too far away, not being able to find us again. You cannot reason with a three-year old, so we do have some incidents where we have to be very firm and make sure we do not scream and shout, even though our hearts are up in our throats. A few times we have been looking for him in what seemed like hours (it was only minutes, but they sure were long enough!)! Anton may also simply just wander around, deep in his own thoughts forgetting everything around him, not deliberately wanting to leave his parents. So we try to keep him on a short leash. We have been told that we may just as well get used to this sooner than later. Because our boy is completely normal, and it is only natural for him to test his boundaries and be a daydreamer at the same time. I cannot count the number of times he has said “I’m coming, but I just have to...” - before he will come to the dinner table or the sink to brush his teeth.
Well, well. Here in New Zealand it is actually quite safe to travel. Nobody will steal our son from us. However, we are aware of the fact that we will soon be traveling through a completely different country, as we enter the US in a few days. We will have to tighten security a bit and live with whatever strong protests Anton may come up with. We do not want to be part of a bad horror movie!
We have found out that he is particularly defiant when he is hungry. He is not really interested in eating, and even though we always keep the eating times strict, and we always carry something extra for him in the bag, he will mostly tell us that he is not hungry. It is not until things HAVE escalated that he will confess to being hungry and will accept an apple or a banana. We have read that this is also completely normal behaviour, and that both parents and child will need to constantly “fine tune” and focus on communication in the years to come. Fortunately we do see that he has become remarkably better in expressing himself and explaining what it is that he wants. Conversation is key to understanding! The problem is, that these stupid conversations with mum and dad take SO much time away from all the fun!
Tomorrow we will return our campervan. Our home for the last three months! It will be a bit strange and sad, as we have come to love it even though the space is small. Anton is completely familiar with everything and he knows where he sleeps every night. But we do look forward to start a new way of traveling when we land in the US. This will be by normal car and hotel/motel accommodation. The last few days here in New Zealand will be spent in a hostel in the centre of Christchurch.
We know that Christchurch will be a somewhat mixed experience. The centre of the city was completely destroyed by a major earthquake a few years ago. They are still cleaning up and demolishing. The rebuilding has hardly begun and they expect it will take another 25 years until everything is back to “normal”. As normal as can be, as many historic buildings are lost forever. But we also know that many good and positive experiences await us, such as the Antarctic Centre, which I am personally looking very much forward to!