To offset the last post, which chronicled all the moments in which we bungled our trip, today I’ll talk about the moments that were just sublime.
Seeing friends at the start and end of our trip
At least for me, one of the things about vacations is that you wish you could share your experiences with friends. We were extremely lucky, then, that in our first and last stops in New Zealand, we were lucky enough to see friends. Getting the insider perspective on things to do, or places to eat is always helpful (not to mention the loan of clothes for my daughters on this trip), but sharing memories and special experiences made those moments that much better.
I kept saying to Ravi that New Zealand is so beautiful, it doesn’t feel real. We saw oceans, mountains, steam vents, bubbling mud, sheep, and more. Colors were so vivid you’d think you were looking at a picture that had been photoshopped to make it look that much brighter.
Obviously, in some ways, the whole rental car thing didn’t work out perfectly for us. But I have no regrets. Had we hopped an hour (or whatever) flight from Wellington to Auckland, we would have missed so many things. Some of my favorite moments were when the GPS would route us down these random country roads and BOOM out of nowhere-heartbreakingly gorgeous vista.
It was a good thing I had the family with me–I could have easily just stopped every 50 metres and taken another and another and another shot. If it were also so isolated and everything didn’t close so damn early (and slow crappy capped internet), I could see myself spending my retirement endlessly photographing New Zealand.
Seeing things through Elanor and Rhiannon’s eyes
Something I’ve talked about before, when I’ve discussed traveling with kids is how your travel changes. I certainly never would have spent twenty minutes in the little grassy area by a cafe without kids. I might have glanced at this tree. But Ellie wanted to stop to (literally) smell the flowers, and to climb the tree. So we did.
This can be a double edged sword–I saw maybe 1/10th of what I’d like to see at Te Papa museum in Wellington. On this trip we eschewed fine dining and the hassle of finding a sitter–but that meant I also missed out on several restaurants I would have loved to eat at, and ended up at McDonald’s far too frequently (more because of a mix of inclement weather and the indoor playgrounds than any specific request).
Every night, Elanor wrote a few sentences in a journal, and seeing her interpretations of the day, or now hearing her talk about the trip as we look at pictures presents a very different view of our family vacation. My focus on one day of our trip was that we’d seen x, y and z. Ellie wrote that she got to have room service and an ice cream. I thought Craters of the Moon was okay (it suffers in comparison to Orakei Korako, another geothermal park we visited) but it was AWESOME and AMAZING and DO YOU REMEMBER THAT, MOMMY to Elanor.
I think Rhi got the worst of it. She isn’t old enough to really verbalize opinions, and she ended up getting carried and carted around to places that were beyond her understanding. However, she had moments where you could just see her joy sparkling through. When she fearlessly followed the lead of bigger kids at the McDonald’s play areas. When she spent easily five minutes at the tank pictured above, and even tried to interact with other toddlers, saying things like “Baby, YOOK!” (hey you kid my size–look at that!!!) while pointing with enthusiasm. I look forward to seeing her point of view more and more as she grows.
For me, one of the most fascinating and unique things we did on this trip was to visit geothermal parks. At Orakei Korako, we got to watch bubbling mud pits, which I could have easily stared at for far longer than we did.
As a confirmed urbanite, I don’t spend a lot of time in the great outdoors, period, much less in those parts of the world where there hasn’t been much human influence. The only word that comes to mind when I think of Orakei Korako is “primeval.” It is untouched (apart from the walkways to protect you and the land) forest.
You learn in science about our planet’s molten core, but it’s not something I can relate to directly. Seeing a geothermal park, watching steam vent from the ground, and mud heated to a bubbling point by the planet was amazing. I was genuinely awed.
Hobbiton and WETA Cave
Like many people, I’m fascinated by the process of making movies. I definitely enjoy “behind the scenes” documentaries and learning how things were done. On this trip I had two (and Ravi had a third) opportunity to see break the fourth wall.
Ravi did a day tour in Wellington that took him to a number of filming locations for Lord of the Rings. He visited WETA Cave and insisted I do their tour as well the next day. WETA did the special effects and props like armor for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the Narnia movies among others. The next day we dropped by the WETA Cave and I did the tour–unfortunately it just wasn’t something that was kid-friendly (although had Ellie been another 4 or 5 years older, I think she would have loved it). They walk you through the design to end product process, showing you props from movies and video games they’ve helped make. I will never look at the spikes of Sauron’s armor the same now–the tour guide (who is a WETA painter) pressed his finger to the top of a spike and it bent–because they’re made of plastic (and he talked to us in detail about how they paint it to look like leather or metal and such).
The other amazing experience that we shared as a family was visiting Hobbiton. Seeing the location, hearing the stories, and in some cases even entering a hobbit hole or touching a set piece was just incredible. It was entertaining and surreal to see electric cords just sitting on the ground there. Or to picture actors wandering around, and learn how they did some of the trick photography (to make Gandalf look so much taller than Frodo, for example).
If you’re ever near either, I can’t recommend them enough.
Being a family
As is true with everyone, we have a daily routine. We worry about people getting places “on time” and x/y/z has to be done and so forth. Vacations are an opportunity to just hang out with our kids (and each other) and most of my favorite memories are really, at heart, about that. We got to see Rhi sleep in a “real” bed for the first time in one of the serviced apartments. Ellie making a fort out of a chair and a blanket in another apartment. Ravi and I holding hands every so often as we drove, or talking as the children slept in the backseat. Hiking in Craters of the Moon with just Elanor and I. Those are the reasons we persist in vacationing, even when things like those in the last post happen.
If you want to see a set of photos from the vacation (these photos are largely not in that set), you can go here. It’s an unlocked set on facebook–you don’t need an account to see them.