Greetings and Merry Christmas from New Zealand! I just feasted on a wonderful mom-cooked meal of salmon and veggies and plenty of wine to celebrate the holiday away from home.
Since we have Internet access in our apartment for the first time this trip, I thought I would take a few minutes to share some highlights of the trip so far (with the help of big sis/smartypants Anne’s writing). I realize that by blogging about New Zealand I am completely glossing over a month of adventures in various areas of Australia and Fiji, but I will do my best to fill you all in on those places later. Anyhoo, here are a few tidbits about the wonders of New Zealand with the fam!
North Island: Dec. 17-Dec. 24
- Spelunking adventure in Waitomo.
Waitomo is famous for its massive system of caves with rivers flowing through and cave ceilings glittering with bright glowworms. After donning smelly wet suits and helmets, we rappelled 100 feet into an opening in one of the caves. The rest of the expedition included gazing at the glowworms that looked like stars in the pitch-black caves, army-crawling/squeezing through tiny tunnels inside the cave, and rafting down the river inside the cave. We ended our experience in the caves by rock climbing back up the same opening we rappelled down earlier, making it safely back to the daylight above.
We learned later that there is a part in the cave we were exploring that is called “Golem’s Passage,” which is literally a half mile of an infinitesimally small opening that some people have managed to wedge and force themselves through the tiny passage. It sounded like insanity but our guide’s eyes lit up as he explained the grueling challenge and he informed us that he would be testing his skills in only a few days. What a maniac!
A hubbub of geothermal activity bubbled all around Rotorua. We spent time admiring the geysers, natural hot springs, and goopy, bubbling mud holes (despite the sulfur smell). After a day of sightseeing, we relaxed in a Polynesian spa and enjoyed the naturally warm hot tubs while gazing out over a lake.
- Hiking the Tongariro Crossing and climbing Mt. Doom
The Tongariro Crossing is a 19.4 km (12 mile) trek across a vast range of terrain. The walk takes you across the path of Mt. Ngauruhoe, more famously known as Mt. Doom from Lord of the Rings. The perfectly conical 9,000 foot-high volcanoes is covered in a mix of soft gravel/worn down lava rocks and large boulders/rock formations. We decided to tack on a bit more length to the hike by climbing to the top, a side trip that took us 3 hours roundtrip and almost killed a few of us. Reaching the top required a lot of rock climbing and involved a great deal of sliding backwards because there was no real path to follow and the terrain was a powdery maroon sand. The vast view from the top made the entire strenuous climb extremely worthwhile, despite the downfall of crispy, sunburnt hands for the whole family (we somehow managed to forget our sunscreen for this long day outside). The descent was a dangerous endeavour, scurrysliding down the sheer rocky face, I most definitely took several tumbles but enjoyed myself nonetheless.We had to rush a bit through the rest of the hike to ensure we caught our bus at the end, finishing in just under 10 hours, but we still had time to enjoy the spectacular scenery that ranged from volcanic rocks, fluorescent blue lakes, giant towering peaks, waterfalls and streams, lush rainforest, and barren deserts.. It is debatable whether we conquered Mt. Doom or it conquered us considering we are all still sore three days later, but I think the whole family would agree that aching legs and bums are a small price to pay for such a spectacular hike. We were incredibly fortunate to have been able to experience the absolutely amazing hike in the first place as the trek had been shut down for a week prior due to dangerous weather conditions.
- Beautiful ferry ride from Wellington to Picton
On Christmas Day we woke up early in Wellington (one of the southern most towns on the North Island) and caught the 3-hour ferry to the South Island. We enjoyed a visit from Santa, lots of card games, and gorgeous views, arriving in the quaint town of Picton.
So far the trip has been a wonderful adventure for the family and pushed us all to the edge in different ways (from fear of small spaces in the caves to those last few pushes up Mt. Doom). Unfortunately, we have done a pathetic job at combating the sun, and a few of us are quite crispy little critters (thankfully I had the advantage of coming in nice and bronzed from my adventures in Fiji).. Aloe Vera became an immediate necessity after the big hike, but we are hoping we learned our lesson early and will be less forgetful about sunscreen for the next week.
And of course, no Jansa family trip would be complete without endless amounts of card games. We have so far played more than 70 hands of bid spades (and yes, Mark Jansa is keeping diligent track of all of this). He happens to be in the lead at the moment, but the scores are tight and a lot of pride is on the line, so we are all battling fiercely for the title. It feels beyond phenomenal to be reunited with the best family on earth, I am most definitely a lucky duck.
Merry Christmas to all!
p.s. once again, internet is too slow to upload any pictures but I just put a New Zealand album on facebook documenting the beginning of our adventure!