When your daily activities are in concert with your highest priorities, you have a credible claim to inner peace. – Hyrum Smith


New Zealand December 2016

I know, I know.  I was going to get all caught up on our travels...in order.  Yeah, so much for that.  I've decided I'll write what I want when I want so it won't feel like such a chore.  And today, I want to write about New Zealand.

Have I mentioned that I've decided to become a sheep farmer and relocate there forever?  Why?  Well, it's simple really.  Because New Zealand is freakin' awesome!

The weather, the people, the parks, the wide open spaces, the food.  You name it, they have it!!!  Well, except for big cities.  However, after having lived in big cities for awhile now, I can tell you, they are kind of overrated.  

Oh, New Zealand!  You are my current infatuation.  I can't think of you without smiling.  Aaron did such an amazing job of planning this trip, there was really no way we couldn't love it.  First, he rented a huge, new camper van (from a company called Maui, in case you are planning your own trip).  They promise your van will be 2 years old or newer.  With the amount of time we spent in there and the amount of funk generated by 6 pairs of feet, that's kind of an important detail.

But let me back up a bit.  New Zealand is an island nation (with larger northern and southern main islands and various other smaller islands) located southeast of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.  In November of 2016, a huge earthquake rocked the east coast of the South Island.  Therefore, our trip was confined mostly to the west coast.  Aaron booked sites for most nights and created an itinerary that allowed us to see some amazing sights.

I knew we were in for a treat when we stepped out of the airport.  HUGE skies, mountains, puffy white clouds, crisp air.  Wow!  

We spent our first night in Queenstown at the Hotel St Moritz.  There was a giant Christmas tree in the lobby, glistening with candy canes and a hot apple cider dispenser next to the large, stone fireplace.  Stirring cider with candy canes, the kids waited patiently while Aaron checked us in.  

We deposited our bags in the rooms and walked all around town, exploring.  Though it was considered summer in the region, and the locals were sporting short sleeves, we were dressed for fall (and quite comfortable) as we walked along the shores of Lake Wakatipu.  We ate great food, found the smoothest lattes on the planet (at Mrs. Ferg's Gelateria), window-shopped, and just enjoyed breathing in the cool, clean air.  It was so refreshing to look up and see sky. Not skyscrapers, but actual, blue sky.  Ahhh.

We spent a few wonderful days in Queenstown, collecting our camper van, 

navigating parking lots in a vehicle the size of a dinosaur, gathering groceries, speeding around the lake and Kawarau and Shotover Rivers in the KJet Boat (53 mph and 360 degree spins), 

eating delicious food, 

riding the gondola up the mountainside, 

and speeding back down on the Skyline Luge.  

In short, we had a ball.  

Then it was time to hit the road.  Praise God Aaron was willing to drive because the camper van was a beast.  It was sooo big, and the roads leaving town were narrow and winding.  And right next to a cliff.  Yikes!  I spent the first few hours simply praying for our survival. 

But it wasn't long before Aaron's shoulders relaxed, the roads straightened a bit, and we all settled into our new home for the next few weeks.  

We brought games and books and toys.  We hung the stockings in the windows.  We turned our little table over, tucked it into a corner, and jammed our tiny tree into the post hole.  We learned to secure everything.  We put away all screens and began to relax.  (We did allow a few movies on the few rides that lasted more than 3 hours.)

First stop: Te Anau.  It was a small town by another gorgeous lake named...you guessed it: Lake Te Anau.  The RV park was nearly a mile from town.  A bit of a hike in the drizzle, but eventually it let up, and we found a fantastic playground.  Before heading back to the van, we popped in a used book store and loaded up.  


Next stop: Milford Sound.  Getting there was quite an adventure.  The rugged countryside with colorful pastures, towering, rocky mountains, and waterfalls was something to behold.  The tunnel to enter the fiordland was frightening.  I felt like we were heading for the center of the earth.  

But we emerged on the other side, unscathed.  Milford was tiny but spectacular.  We found the RV park and began exploring.  We imagined fairies living in hollow trees, threw rocks into gushing creeks, and ate our first dinner in the van.

The next day we took a cruise around Milford Sound.  Did you know it's not technically a sound because it wasn't carved by a river?  Milford Sound was cut by a glacier and therefore is actually a fiord.  Whatever you call it, it's gorgeous!  

Sunbathing seals, giant rocks covered in velvety green brush rising steeply from the water, sparkling waterfalls (that we were lucky enough to ride underneath, catching the water and drinking it!).  We loved it!

Soon we were on the road again.  We headed to Cromwell and enjoyed some "freedom camping" where the RV could just pull off the main road and park for the evening.  No electricity or facilities, just beautiful views of Lake Dunstan.  Cromwell was a gem!  Fresh fruit everywhere!  We went cherry picking with the kids, ate fresh fruit ice-cream, strolled through English-style gardens, and bought loads of produce.

Next stop: Wanaka - easily one of our very favorite locations in New Zealand.  Wonderful coffee and chocolates (at Patagonia chocolates), a huge, sparkling lake whose views were protected by the vast Pembroke Park, a campground with a fantastic kids' area, great food (at Federal Diner, Charlie Brown food truck, and Burrito Craft food truck), the fun and funky Puzzling World with its giant, adult-sized maze, and a charming little town center.  This is the place we stopped for Christmas.  Parker was able to set up the tent Grammy gave him for Christmas.  The kids set a "trap" for small animals drawing ants and birds and many excited squeals, as they watched it from the windows, well past bedtime.  
RV park playground

Puzzling World

 PW Slanted Room

PW plasma machine
PW Optical Illusions
PW Maze

Lake Wanaka

Federal Diner

The ever-important animal trap

On Christmas day, we found Santa had left small presents in our stockings: books, small stuffed animals, and chocolates.  We showered, dressed and drove to church.  Unfortunately, we only made it for the last five minutes (since the website hadn't been updated to reflect the earlier start time for the holiday service).  The church members were lovely and welcoming, and the kids gushed about it being the best service ever, their mouths stuffed with candy from the hospitality tray as we exited.  The best laid plans...

The next day I discovered I had strep throat.  I walked to the clinic, and Aaron entertained the kids.  A few hours later we gathered the medicine at the pharmacy and were on our way again.   Next stop: the Blue Pools of Makarora.  

This place looked like it had been photoshopped.  How was it possible to have Caribbean blue pools in the middle of New Zealand?  Pure glacier water, I suppose.  The kids were thrilled we allowed them to tromp through the chilly water.  It was breathtaking.  

We continued on to a place called Fox Glacier.  We were lucky to snag the last open spot in the RV park, right next to a restaurant sporting a giant Big Foot statue.  After dinner there, we were told to take a short hike down the main road, follow the signs for the turn off, and see the glow worms in the forest.  While the directions sounded vague, we decided to give it a shot.  It was magical!!!  The kids were scared initially, as it was quite dark in the forest.  We didn't have to wander far into the woods before they came alive.  Tiny glowing dots lit the undersides of logs and the insides of hollow trees - a true fairy wonderland!  Sadly, it was impossible to capture them on film.  

The next day we headed for Hokitika.  It was very wet and not a good day for the beach, so we decided to head on to Punakaki.  There we had a lunch of local fish and chips and pancakes at the charming Pancake Rocks Cafe.  Right across the street we took a short hike to see the beautiful pancake rocks and blow holes.  Since there were no spots at the RV camps and the freedom camping options weren't appealing, we decided to head back to Hokitika.  And man, I'm so glad we did!  As we drove along the coast, the skies cleared, and we decided to pull off the road and enjoy the beach.  The ocean was foamy and fun, and the kids couldn't believe we actually allowed them to play in the "bubbles." According to Parker, it was "the best pit stop ever."   We found a brand new RV park near Hokitika, secured our spot, and headed to the beach to enjoy the sunset.  

 Rainy Hokitika

Pancake Rocks Cafe, Punakaki

Pancake Rocks

 Blow hole

"Best pit stop ever"

Sunset in Hokitika

The next day we took an inland scenic route toward Mt. Cook, reaching Timaru by evening.  We secured our spot in a crowded RV park (where many of the residents appeared to be permanent) and took off again to head downtown.  We ate at gorgeous old bank building that was converted into a place called Speight's Ale House.  After dinner we headed to the pier to search for the rare "little blue penguins."  We were able to park next to the pier where they emerge from the rocks every evening around 9.  We stood in the rain, waiting and waiting.  The kids finally gave up, and stayed in the RV.  Aaron and I were lucky enough to spot a number of them in the dark and hear them chattering to each other.  They were adorable!  

Spright's Ale House

Spicy fish tacos!

Stock photo of little blue penguins...couldn't get a good shot at night

The following morning we popped into Coffee Culture to get our fix before hitting the road again.  Off to Mt. Cook to make another favorite memory - a glacier flight.  This was definitely one of the highlights of our trip.  Our family piled into a prop plane fitted with giant skis and took to the skies.  God blessed us with fantastic weather, and we were able to actually land on the glacier!  We threw snowballs, made snow angels, and had a ball!  On the return flight we saw stunning views of the mountains and glaciers.  What a trip!

On the road back to Wanaka, we saw one of the most beautiful lookouts we'd encountered thus far.  We pulled off, headed down the hillside, and played in the water.

When we arrived in Wanaka, we quickly realized most RV parks were fully booked since it was so close to the new year.  We found a park on the lake but not so near to downtown.  Snagging the very last powered site, we booked it for two nights.  We spent relaxing hours at the beach (where the water was too cold for swimming but just right for playing), we drove into Wanaka to play at the park, and we watched the Lord of the Rings (trying to recognize filming locations).  

As we were leaving the area, heading toward Arrowtown, we stopped at the Wanaka Lavender Farm.  It was so lovely!  There were alpacas, rows and rows of lavender, and a neat gift shop selling honey and lavender-scented everything.  We bought some things and even ate lavender ice-cream.

Arrowtown was another hidden gem.  The main street was tiny and quaint.  We found a great restaurant (Provisions of Arrowtown Cafe) tucked into an old home that served great coffee and amazing sticky buns.  Painted metal tables, wooden benches, flower gardens galore, and blocks and books for the kids.  I loved the place!  We stayed in an RV camp that evening and headed toward Queenstown the next day.  

Jack's eyes match the table.

Thanks to the holiday, there was no room at the inn for the Rausch clan.  We decided to do freedom camping for our final night.  The views were fantastic, but the sand flies were fierce.  We hunkered down in our mobile home, thanking God for an amazing trip, beautiful scenery, and the chance to spend so much quality time together.

On our last day, we had breakfast at Halo (awesome breakfast food, right next to an old church) and spent the day at the field next to the Queenstown Memorial Centre, throwing frisbees, climbing trees, and watching four ducklings chase after their mother.  All too soon, our trip was over. What a blessing to vacation in this magical place!

 Hot cocoa at Halo

Hope to see you again soon, New Zealand!