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Exploring our own backyard

Those of us who like to explore, and to examine overseas, 2020 has proved somewhat of an anomaly.
The pandemic Covid 19 has pretty much brought international travel to a standstill. Suppose you’re like me and live on an island miles and miles away from the rest of the world. The only option for exploration is to explore your own backyard. Which was quite literally what we were doing in March and April of this year, when we were under a national New Zealand lockdown. We even had a camp out in the garden, where we made a fire and pitched tents and cooked outside in our cob oven. We had the theme of survival skills. My husband and I both felt that it was an excellent time to teach our kids how to be able to support themselves if they needed. The weather was warm still, and we had great fun on our camping mission a stone’s throw away from the house. We would have usually been taking our caravan to one of the nearby national parks, such as Abel Tasman, or Nelson Lakes, or Kahurangi. We are blessed with a selection to choose from. However, with lockdown restrictions meaning that we could only leave our house and garden for a walk in our own neighbourhood, even national exploration was off-limits.
As the levels began to change down from level four to level three on April 27. Then to level two on May 13, my husband and I decided to go and explore our own backyard, Aotearoa the land of the long white cloud.
We had initially planned an overseas trip for July. Seeing that was out of the question, we decided to go on a tour of the south island instead.
We planned a trip for the July school holidays. We had itchy feet by this time to leave the confinements of Nelson and to see another part of the country another place. With the borders being closed to international travellers, – businesses and companies were now advertising to a different market – to us, the locals who lived in New Zealand. Who perhaps couldn’t always afford to do the many expensive tours and packages on offer.
This seemed like the perfect time to go to us when companies were screaming out for local business by offering significant reductions on prices.
So, we planned a trip together with my husband’s brother’s family and good friends of ours. We planned to go to Christchurch to catch up with the family that lived there. Then to Oamaru, from there to the Caitlan’s. The next stop would be Tuatapere to catch up with a good friend and then to Te Anau, where we would access the Milford Sounds. We would spend a few days at the grandparents in Clyde, Central Otago, where we would make day trips to Queenstown. From Clyde we would go to Mt Arthur and then to Tekapo, finally linking up to Methven to stay with family and from there back to Nelson.
Unfortunately, my brother in law and his family couldn’t come due to an accident with their vehicle. So, we did the mission solo, meeting up with our friends in Queenstown and doing the last leg together.
The trip was new and exciting for the kids and me. I’d never seen below Dunedin, and I had only been there once a long time ago. Oamaru was great. It had the penguin colony and the steampunk museum. The Caitlin’s were beautiful and despite it raining all the time, we managed to walk to a waterfall that was torrential in its force coming down the cliff. We walked right up to the fall and even stood in the water next to where it streamed down. On the way back, the kids drank the dripping water flowing from the mossy sides, and we made fair use of the break in the rain. The forest was unique with all different plants. We caught up with my good mate in Tuatapere and met each other’s children, mine about to turn nine and seven and her boy almost nine. We drank wine together and reminisced.
After Tuatapere we went to Taupo. This was my favourite campground, excellent facilities. It had a good kid’s room with TV and games to play and a separate kitchen with wonderful facilities. The toilet and shower block was warm, and you felt like taking a shower.
We had booked in for a glow-worm tour, and so we left on the boat for that. The cave was amazing. The metal walkway took us into a passage tunnel that was right above the river that flowed out into the lake. We walked along over waterfalls tumbling down and then got into a boat and went further into the cave. The glow worms weren’t spectacular, but apparently, during winter, they don’t have as much to eat and don’t glow as bright. It’s better to go in the summer. The cave was impressive, so I was still glad that we went.
The next day we had booked on a Milford cruise. We had booked to leave at 10am and hadn’t realised that the travel time was an advised two and a half hour recommended drive. We had to check-in for 9.30am so this meant a 6am rise leaving by 7am. It was still dark when we started driving, and we were all a bit tired, but as the sun rose, the sky turned pink, and the surrounding landscape was white with a layer of frost over everything. It was breathtaking, and inside the heated Hilux, we were snug and warm. We were all in high spirits—especially our son whose birthday it was that day. We stopped at the mirror lakes. Which were flat and calm, so we were able to see the reflected mountains in their surface as well as the almost full moon that was still in the sky. We didn’t have long, so we were soon back, and, on our way, we enjoyed driving through the tunnel to the other side and passing the snow on the side of the road. We arrived spot on at 9.30 and made our way to the ferry terminal. The car park was empty. Apparently, when the borders of New Zealand aren’t closed, and tourism is at its regular rate, the car park is full of tour buses.
Similarly, when we left the harbour, there were only two boats out on the sounds. Usually, there is around 13. The tour was relaxed, and the captain commented to my hubby that he enjoyed having the kiwi families as tourists. It had a more chilled flavour to it. We stopped at different waterfalls, and from time to time, we would venture up onto the roof and observe. It was pretty cold though, and we had to have all the gear on, even something over the face and we didn’t last long. We saw seals basking on the rocks, and on the way back, we stopped at the underwater aquarium. We got out and walked down a spiral staircase to deep under the water and observed through windows the surrounding aquatic life. A diver bought up starfish and sea cucumbers for us to see through the window. We all commented on how freezing cold it must be even with the drysuit on. After we left the aquarium, the only box that hadn’t been ticked for me was seeing dolphins. I thought that would have really topped off the day, but as we were almost back to the start, it seemed that it was pretty unlikely that we were going to see them now. Still, you never know, and I silently prayed to the dolphin gods for them to come and see us.
Well as we were pulling in and pretty much no chance of seeing any now, another boat was approaching and as I looked out towards it, I saw something jump and then again. A few people called out, and sure enough, the approaching boat was bringing in a pod of dolphins. It was perfect as our ship docked the approaching boat herded the dolphins right into the harbour and we watched them jump out of the water right in front of us.
It was a perfect end to the tour. We got off the boat made our way back to the truck and started towards home. We stopped on the other side of the tunnel to play in the snow, and a friendly Kea came to check us out. We ended the day with dinner out in a local restaurant in Te Anau that had some yummy desserts and then we’d booked into the free sauna at the camping ground. It was little but heaps of fun, despite the kids repeatedly opening the door and letting all the warm air out.
The trip had been great because the tour had been reduced in price by $100. The kids had gone free, and lunch had been included. The camping ground where we stayed had had a reduction and kids had gone free, so it had been an excellent time for us to travel around New Zealand. We’d been happy to support local and discover our own back yard.
We finished our trip with our friends, and that is another story.
I am delighted that we managed to get that holiday in. Now the summer holidays are coming up, and the borders are still closed. Not that we want to leave NZ in the summer, but perhaps we will venture somewhere else to explore locally.

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