We spent 12 days in New Zealand this winter. I learnt a few things about my kids, winter weather and other life lessons.
1. Lake Wakatipu, the longest lake in NZ, looks inviting but is actually rather chilly. We’re talking around 10 degrees Celsius. Fed by glacial runoff, it’s nice for skimming rocks, just don’t put your hand in to test the water in winter or it will severely reduce the amount of time you can stay lakeside handling cold stones with any coordination.
2. I don’t look great in beanies. But I’ll happily wear one all day if it means keeping my ears warm in the creeping cold and shadowy half-light that lingers over the Southern Alps in winter. Even when the sun throws long streaks sideways across the mountains, the temperature struggles to reach double digits.
3. Kids will throw in the whole holiday bundle; towel, kitchen sink and all, if they’re hungry or tired from walking. I lost count of the number of times Mr Seven Turning Eight said he just wanted to go back home, but it usually happened right around dinner time when we were still traipsing the streets looking for somewhere warm, child friendly and not too expensive to eat dinner.
4. Ice on a riverbank is invisible, and slippery! Seth and Tim found this out the hard way. At my suggestion, Seth innocently went to the stream’s edge to dip his finger and test the water. He slipped in, ended up with both boots in the middle of the water, and scurried quickly up to the other side. Instinctively, Tim stepped closer to help, but also slipped and ended up in the middle! Their walk back to the car in soggy shoes, jeans and thermal underwear in four degrees would have to be the lowlight of the trip.
5. Little legs have different abilities depending on where and when they are needing to be used. Example in point is Miss Five, who twisted her knee going down the ski slope one morning. It was a serious enough stack to put her out of action for most of that day, and to impede her walking for the next few. As her knee began to heal, she slowly regained the use of that leg, and for some moments while playing with her brother in hotel rooms it was as good as never hurt.
But did you know that bathrooms (specifically after dinner) and car parks (specifically that small area between one’s motel room door and where the car is parked on site within view) have different atmospheres that cause a leg that’s fine elsewhere to suddenly become really sore and unable to function at all? In a similar way, skiing, playing, swinging, jumping and climbing in the park apparently use different muscles to those needed to walk up a hill or back to one’s car.
6. It’s amazing how many photos you can take of the same lake or mountain range and still think you haven’t taken enough. More than a few times we remarked that it’s hardly worth it anyway, since there’s no way a little phone can capture a spectacular vista in all its light, shade, depth and expanse. Still, we tried.
7. Art is a great holiday souvenir. To help with point 6 we bought a small, splendid painting as a memento. The artist had captured the colours of the New Zealand winter better than our inadequate digital devices ever could.
8. Bike riding is a great way to get a feel for a place in a way that you can’t from driving or walking. Back in Queenstown for our final three days, Seth saw a green mountain bike in the hotel rental store. From that moment on, he didn’t let up about wanting to hire bikes and go exploring on two wheels. He probably envisaged speeding off on his own along some goat track for a bit of peace and quiet and only returning to the family lodgings several hours later. But that was never going to happen. Instead we hired three-and-a-half-bikes (it was awesome, if you have a small child who doesn’t ride confidently I recommend it!) and took off together for four hours around the lake.
We followed the Frankton track, and then the Kelvin Heights track, weaving along beside the lake through tree tunnels, past tiny old fishing cottages and permanent caravans, across the raging river and past multi-million dollar trophy homes with lake frontage and all-day sunshine. The sunshine is literally a selling point for property on the north side of the lake, since places on the southern shore stay shaded all day as the low winter sun doesn’t reach them tucked into the mountainside. By the time we made it back to our starting point we’d ridden 26 kms! No wonder our legs were exhausted, and the lunch we had at Boat Shed Café along the way will forever be remembered as one of the Most Delicious Meals Of All Time! Seriously though, I recommend a visit there, it’s got stunning lake and mountain views (ok, most places do around there), has a warm fire, friendly staff, and the clam and mussel cioppino was divine.
9. I might be allergic to gelato. Nooooo! Well, it’s just a theory so far, but I had two episodes at either end of the trip where I broke out in spots all over my face, head, back, chest and arms. My forehead felt as though my brain was too tight inside my head, and my ears were swollen. It was not a nice feeling. Both times we’d eaten gelato from the same shop in Queenstown, and I’m stumped for any other common denominators. For the record, the gelato was delicious, and everyone else was fine.
10. Humans have incredible vision and determination to conquer the outdoors and experience what lies out of reach. Driving the Milford Road, State Highway 94 from Te Anau to Milford Sound, it passes through the Homer Tunnel, which is 1.2km long through solid granite rock, taking travellers under a mountain range and into the valley below on the descent to Milford Sound.
In 1935 the New Zealand government sent five men to start work on it, and after several avalanches, deaths, a World War, extreme winters and labour shortages, the tunnel was finally opened in 1954. A pretty crazy (or ingenious!) idea just so people can reach the fiord by road, as well as via the famous Milford Track. I mean, apart from the majestic sheer cliffs and mountain peaks rising more than 1600 metres above the shimmering fiord, there’s nothing much at Milford Sound. New Zealand fur seals, dolphins, penguins, pristine rainforest, that’s about it. 16 kilometres of unspoilt World Heritage listed steep glacial valley leading to the Tasman Sea, too many waterfalls to count, snow-capped peaks, mountain mists, that sort of thing.
From the nearest town it’s a 2-hour drive. We got to experience it in part because back in 1889 the surveyor William Henry Homer is said to have suggested that a tunnel through the rock face could be a good idea!
11. Holidays are filled with the best and the biggest of everything. In New Zealand we had a few ‘best days ever’ (Seth skiing a blue run, skippering a cruise boat on your birthday, drinking coffee with a panoramic view at the top of a ski run), ate ‘the biggest kids meal ever’ and ‘the best waffle chips’, had ‘the worst day ever’ (ski injury, feet refusing to be pushed into unforgiving ski boots), experienced ‘the steepest gondola ride’, went on ‘the biggest luge’, and I’ve probably forgotten some. Also, I reckon we probably reached maximum ‘look at that view’ phrases ever uttered in a single trip.