Soaring to Milford Sound

Feb 14, 2018

f you know me or if you’ve followed my blog for a few years, you’ll know that I’ve never been a huge Valentine’s Day fan. Ryan and I don’t celebrate it by going on dates or buying gifts. I’ll acknowledge it for the sake of fun for the kids, but otherwise it’s just an ordinary day in our household. 
This year, however, Valentine’s Day was one for the books.
We started the day with breakfast at Bespoke Kitchen. We were out of groceries and tired of our morning yogurt ritual, so a hot meal was much appreciated. The food was incredible, and I left full but wanting more just to try all of the options.

When in New Zealand, a trip to Milford Sound is high on the “must do” list. We desperately wanted to visit,  but it is a 4 hour drive from Queenstown and sadly, our vacation days are rapidly depleting. We couldn’t possibly see it all in such a short trip


Unless we booked a scenic flight. 

Obviously it wouldn’t be cheap, but after much contemplation we decided that we might only be here once, so it was probably worth it. Besides, Briley was free! 
Ryan had called the night before to enquire, but there was no availability for Valentines day, and the forecast called for rain the day following. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be.  As we ate breakfast, Ryan decided to call just to see if there were any cancellations. It was wishful thinking. The skies were clear, the weather was perfect, and it was Valentine’s Day. Much to our luck and surprise, the 12 pm slot for a flight and cruise had opened up! We booked it without hesitation and happily returned to the camper to pack a bag. 
We got picked up by a taxi and we were on our way to the airport! 

We were led to our plane, and hopped in excitedly. Aaralee and I sat beside each other in one row, while Ryan sat behind us with Briley on his lap. And then we were off!

The views were incredible, and I say that as someone who has experienced many scenic flights around the world. We flew over blue lakes and between the snow capped mountains of the fjordlands. We saw waterfalls cascading from cliffs and waves crashing on the shores of the Tasman Sea. 

The gentle turbulence rocked both girls to sleep. 

We were in awe, and we still had so much left to see. We landed at the Milford Sound airport and transferred by bus to the cruise terminal. 

Once there, we picked up our picnic lunches and boarded our boat. It was immediately beautiful, as we cruised past a roaring waterfall and into the sound towards the sea. 

We spotted seals sunbathing on the rocks and the skipper brought us in for a closer look. 
While the rest of the passengers were taking their photos of the seals, Ryan spotted something far more exciting... dolphins!! 
Aaralee is obsessed with the movie Dolphin Tale. To see dolphins in real life was like a dream come true. We caught a few more glimpses of them before we carried on. 

Briley was still tired, so I set her down on some seats inside and she slept for the remainder of the trip. 

The boat came nice and close to a huge waterfall, and Ryan and a few other crazy individuals stood at the front, getting absolutely soaked. 

Finally, we were back to the terminal and it was time to say goodbye to Milford Sound. Lucky for us, we still had a scenic flight to take us back to Queenstown. 

We took a bit of a different flight path back for more views of the sound and the beautiful mountains. It was pretty turbulent at times, and I was thankful for the timing of our trip. Only weeks ago, a car ride to the grocery store would have made me nauseous. I was able to relax and enjoy the ride, and Aaralee seemed to be a fan of the turbulence too. 

It was perfect, until descent.  Poor Briley cried in pain as her ears tried to equalize. I felt terrible as she sobbed, but once we landed she was back to her happy self and told us that she wanted to go on another airplane ride. 

We rode back to our campground, where we dropped off our bags and then set out in search of dinner. We decided on a Thai restaurant. Maybe it was the fact that I was really hungry, or maybe everything tastes better during pregnancy, but we had some of the best curry I’ve ever eaten. 
On our walk back to the campground, we stopped into a store where we found a tiny dolphin necklace, made out of the same seashells that Aaralee is so fond of.  She wore it proudly, still beaming from having seen her first dolphins earlier that day. 
We headed back to the camper, where we stopped at the park for a quick play before calling it a night. 
Days with kids are never perfect. Today was no exception. It was chaotic, extra work and there were a few tantrums. But months from now when I look back at Valentine’s Day 2018, I’ll remember the incredible day that we had together as a family. I’ll remember Briley’s chubby cheeks squished together as she wore the headset on the plane, and the look on Aaralee’s face when she saw her first dolphin. I’ll remember Ryan coming inside from the boat deck,  his clothes completely soaked and the huge smile on his face. 
When I reminisce about it, I’ll only remember that today was perfect. 

The Stunning South

Feb 13, 2018

Bright and early on Sunday morning, we woke up and packed the van to proceed to the ferry terminal. The North Island had treated us well, but it was time to head south! 
We waited patiently for our turn to board the ferry, one of the last vehicles in a long row of other campers. 

Once onboard, we explored the ship and all of its amenities. We grabbed breakfast, walked the outside decks, and then spent the majority of the time in the kids play area. Aaralee had conversations with new little friends without realizing that they didn’t even speak English. 

3 1/2 hours later we arrived in rainy, but beautiful Picton. 
We had no game plan. After fuelling the van we stopped for a brief while on the side of the road, contemplating which direction to head and which sights to see. We couldn’t decide, so we let the weather forecast choose for us. Onwards towards Christchurch it was. 
Our first stop of the day was only 20 minutes past Picton, the Manaka chocolate factory. Being pregnant has hindered my ability to participate in the adrenaline activities that New Zealand is famous for, so I have to improvise with more suitable options. I splurged on a fancy box of chocolate, justifying it by the fact that Valentine’s Day was only a few days away. 
We carried on our journey south, winding down roads lined by wineries. It was stunningly beautiful, but pouring rain. There was so much precipitation that the ventilation fan on our ceiling was leaking. At one construction stop the radio wouldn’t work for the worker holding the sign to know whether he could let us proceed. 
We reached the coast, and it was beautiful. The water was bright blue like the Caribbean and the sand was black. We spotted hundreds of seals playing near the shores and lying on the rocks in the water. We stopped for a delicious lunch at a cute little seaside restaurant. It had apparently just reopened after the 2016 earthquake in Kaikoura. As we continued south, the damage from the earthquake was evident in the boarded up buildings and constant road repairs.
Shortly after passing through Kaikoura, we spotted a cute little tree by the ocean and turned off of the road to stop for a photo. Upon further inspection, we discovered that it was actually an oceanfront campsite, and it was settled; this is where we’d camp for the night. 

After grabbing some groceries we returned to set up camp. The girls ran around chasing seagulls as I prepared dinner. It started to rain lightly, but we weren’t complaining. The rain brought us an incredible rainbow that spanned from the mountains to the ocean, perfectly framing our van. I pinched myself, but this was real life. How lucky I was to be witnessing such a beautiful scene in the company of those I love most.  

We settled into bed, falling asleep to the sounds of the waves. For the sake of honesty, we spent about 30 minutes convincing our children to stop screaming and threatening to take away ice cream privileges. This is a dream vacation, but it’s still a vacation with a 2 and 4 year old. EVENTUALLY we heard nothing but the sound of the waves crashing. 
When the kids finally fell asleep we opened the van door and stared at the sky, which was lit up with thousands of bright stars. It was all a blur to Ryan without his contact lenses, but I assured him that it was magic. 
I woke up just in time for sunrise over the ocean, and stared at the sky in silence as my family slept. When Aaralee woke up, she excitedly proclaimed “I saw so many stars last night!” 
After a quick breakfast, we carried on our journey. Our first stop was at a small cafe where we sat in a pretty courtyard sipping giant lattes out of bowls, and ordered a second breakfast because we couldn’t resist. The girls played happily with the toys and chases around the resident cafe cat, Ninja. Cafes and restaurants in New Zealand put Canada to shame when it comes to kid friendliness. Most of them have a box of toys, if not a play area. 
Before leaving, we picked out a tiny pair of wool booties. Aaralee proudly handed the money to the cashier and told her that we were buying them for our new baby. 
It was a sunny 30 degree day, so spending some time outside was essential. We made our way to Corsair Bay, where the kids and Ryan swam and played in the blue water. I waded in to my knees, but I’m more of a hot tub type of girl.

We were all hungry after our time in the sun, so we found some shade on the side of the road and stopped to make sandwiches. I wish that my car at home had a fridge and pull out table for impromptu picnics.
We headed inland via the inland scenic highway. We passed vineyards and rolling hills filled with sheep and deer. The only deer we’ve seen in New Zealand have been in farm fields. 
We stopped in a small town for dinner and then carried on to Fairlie, where we set up camp for the night in a spot surrounded by trees. The girls ran off some energy at the park, and then we settled in for another night. 
The next day was sunny and beautiful as we continued our journey south. We were Queenstown bound! The drive was beautiful, and we stopped at gorgeous blue Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki. 

The rest of the drive felt like we could have been in Kelowna or Vernon, with lakes, orchards and wineries. 
We finally arrived into Queenstown, checked into our jam packed campground and headed out to find dinner. Queenstown was gorgeous! It felt a bet like walking through Banff, only much bigger and warmer.  Dinner was amazing, as was the ice cream we ate afterwards. We walked down to the lakefront and enjoyed the views and the breeze. 

Back at the campground, the girls played for what felt like forever at the park. Aaralee ran around with a group of girls from China, who eagerly followed her around giggling and having fun, despite having no idea what she was saying. The innocence of kids is my favourite thing to witness. 
Today is Valentine's Day, and I've promised Aaralee a fun day as a family, so we'll see what adventures we find in Queenstown!

The Last of the North Island

Feb 10, 2018

Our first morning in Taupo felt like a vacation in Mexico. After breakfast we headed for the pool, where I sipped a latte as the rest of the family swam. 
I eventually joined them and was pleasantly surprised by how warm the water was. It was like a nice warm bath. The pool was amazing. It had a swim up bar, waterfalls and a cave that dropped to a depth of 4 metres.
We paused for a break to apply sunscreen and have a second breakfast. Nothing is better than a feast by the pool! 
With full bellies, the girls went for a nap on the lounge chairs while Ryan and I enjoyed the pool. This is what vacation dreams are made of.  We sipped drinks from the swim up bar and the girls woke up just in time to watch a movie on the big screen above the pool. 

Ryan and Shane had a boy’s day out and enjoyed a riverjet boat ride. In the meantime, Jay and I took the kids to the Huka Honey Hive, where we watched bees, sampled honey and ate ice cream.  
That evening Ryan, the girls and I went on a lake cruise. We ate pizza as we cruised through Lake Taupo. Aaralee especially loved the Maori rock carvings, as she thought that they were from the movie Moana. Briley slept for 80% of the journey, rocked to sleep by the gentle waves. 

When we got back to the campground we headed for the pool for one last time. The girls were living the dream as we ordered milkshakes from the swim up bar and stayed up far past bed time. The sunset was breathtaking, the girls were happy, and all in life was wonderful. 
We woke up the next morning to the sound of pouring rain, our cue to hit the road in search of sunshine. The forecast didn’t look promising for anywhere in the vicinity, but it was worth a shot. We headed west after a breakfast at McDonald’s. I’m not normally enthusiastic about McDonald’s breakfast, but this one had an actual DC3 plane that had been converted into seating. We had our breakfast in an airplane and it tasted far better than any plane breakfast I’ve had. 

After breakfast it was back to the highway, where we sadly parted ways with Jay, Shane, and Texas. They are now making their way back towards Auckland as we carry on towards the South Island.

Disclaimer: The rest of up day involved no plans, a complete lack of knowing where we’d sleep, and no final destination decided. It might be a stressful read for you if your an organized, planning type of person. 
We drove west, originally planning to stop after about 3 hours of driving. We stopped along the way at various viewpoints, and drove up a volcano just for fun. 
We eventually made it to our original planned stop, Foxton. We stopped for a pizza picnic and then proceeded down the coast to check out some of the nearby campgrounds. We were spoiled by a bright rainbow and a spectacular sunset as we carried on. The girls fell asleep as soon as we reached the motorway, so we changed our plans and decided to carry on towards Wellington. 

It was dark as we approached the suburbs and set out in search of a place to call home for the evening. Our options were limited, but with a bit of help from Google and a bit more driving we finally found a campground. We pulled into a spot, moved the girls from their car seats to their bed, and finally settled in for the night around 11 pm. Around 11:30, we were woken by the sound of banging on our van and a family claiming we’d stole their spot. As per the front office sign, any empty site was free for the taking, so we’d thought nothing of it. We reluctantly moved to what appeared to be the only other spot available in the campground. Ryan and I were tired and grumpy but the girls were super excited about the 30 seconds that we drove while they were still in their bunks. 
We packed up early the next day and drove to find a place to have breakfast. We tried to route to a spot with a playground, but our GPS failed us. The joke was on it, though, because we instead found ourselves at the top of a hill with stunning views.  We parked the van, and had a roadside picnic. 

After breakfast we drove to downtown Wellington, where we came across a park right along the waterfront. The girls played at the playground while I strolled the underground market. 
We came across a spot where they were renting out power wheels cars for kids to drive, so we let the girls cruise around as we tried to prevent them from running into things/people. We walked to a boardwalk over the water to see if we could see any fish, and just as we peered over, a stingray swam below us! 

Our next adventure of the day brought us to a quiet beach with yet another playground. The girls have been in their glory here, with so many parks to explore in such warm weather. After a bit of playing we went to the beach to search for shells. They were everywhere that we looked, and Aaralee was thrilled. If it were up to her, she’d bring them all home and save them forever. 

It started to rain, so we got back into the van and took the scenic route back to the city. We made it to Oriental Bay, where we stopped for a coffee while the girls played at another park. Whoever built a cafe beside a playground is my hero. They played in the water play area, mixing water with sand and getting mud everywhere. At home I might try to keep them clean, but this is their vacation too, so muddy kids it was. 
We’d actually planned ahead for once and booked a campground earlier that day, so we headed there to check in and freshen up before dinner.
Thanks to my former career, I’m fortunate enough to have friends from every corner of the globe. One of my batch mates from my days at Emirates calls Wellington home, so we met him for a delicious dinner. It was great to reunite after 7 years, and the girls loved him! We chatted about Dubai, New Zealand, and Canada before parting ways until we meet again somewhere in the world.
It was time to go back to the campsite to bathe my dirty children and get to bed in preparation for an early morning ferry ride. Today we are off to the South Island! 

From the Coast to Taupo

Feb 7, 2018

Our camper van adventure continues! After night one, we met up with Jay and Shane and ventured further down the coast. The views were stunning as we drove past stretches of beaches before eventually stopping at one to spend the afternoon. 
The kids ran wild up and down the beach, building castles and collecting shells. They got sand in every crevice and I had a hard time getting them to leave when it was time to go. By kids, I obviously am also referring to my husband, who sat with a bucket and dug holes, having the most fun of everyone. The only downfall was the fact that I got stung by a bee, but the scenery made up for it.
We headed back into town for dinner and then decided to spend the night at a fancy campground on the beach. It had a pool with water slides, trampolines, playgrounds, and most importantly, hot showers! 

We settled in for the night, relaxing outside after the kids were tucked in. At home, the girls fight bedtime on a nightly basis. Here in New Zealand, they are worn out from long days playing in the sun and they go to bed immediately. We were so worried about them sharing a bed, but knock on wood, sleep has been better here than it ever is at home. 
After a lazy morning at the pool and after numerous snacks, we were back on the road and bound for Rotorua. 
It was a beautiful drive along tree lined winding roads as we passed by lakes and orchards. It reminded me of a more tropical Okanagan. 
We found a cute little campground with thermal pools and enjoyed an evening swim before bedtime. 
The next day was a day of adventure for the grownups. We headed to a place to go zorbing... AKA rolling down steep hills inside of giant inflatable balls. I stayed back with the kids while Ryan, Jay and Shane zoomed down. 

Once they’d had their fun, we headed for lunch and then ate ice cream in the park. 
Finding freedom campsites had proved to be more of a challenge in Rotorua, so it was another night of “glamping”. Our campground for the night had an inflatable jumping pillow, hot and cold pools, trampolines and a great playground. It was small enough that the girls could run around without constantly needing us. They were particularly excited about the kid sized picnic table. We feasted on a home cooked meal and then headed to bed, tired from a long day of fun. 
Today was another day on the road! Before we left Rotorua, we stopped at the Redwoods forest to walk on suspension bridges high up in the trees. It was beautiful, and the fresh forest air was wonderful. Aaralee loved running down all of the rickety bridges, and Briley hated every second of it. 

We stopped at a geothermal park for a picnic lunch and then made our way towards Taupo. 
Our campground for the night was by far the fanciest thus far. We are gearing up for some free camping nights soon, so we’ll enjoy the amenities when we can. The girls will be so disappointed this summer when our campgrounds don’t have trampolines, playgrounds, or swimming pools with swim up bars. After checking out our new home we ventured to Huka Falls to take in the views before continuing into town for dinner by the lake. Lake Taupo is gorgeous and I can’t wait to explore more tomorrow. 

We are now over a week into our trip and it’s going by too fast. The girls have had their share of meltdowns and tantrums, but overall everyone is having a great time and we don’t want to go home any time soon. The girls particularily enjoy eating breakfast outside, something that we won't be able to do in Canada for several months.

Oh, and in case you missed it... we shared some pretty big news this week! Life just wasn't quite chaotic enough, so we are adding a bit of extra fun this August. 

New Zealand Adventures!

Feb 4, 2018

6 years ago today, Ryan and I secretly got legally married in our blue jeans. To celebrate, we headed for burgers and Starbucks and then headed to the tiny town of Penhold to spend the remainder of the evening singing karaoke. We’ve always done things just a bit differently. 
Our family vacations are no different.  Instead of packing our bags and jetting off to an all inclusive resort in Mexico (which is also one of my favourite places in the world), we packed for 3 weeks of life in a camper van, on the other side of the world. 

Let’s rewind a few days for a better recap of our trip thus far. 
It was Tuesday afternoon and we were officially on holidays! All that stood between us and fun were 15.5 hours of flights... With a 2 and 4 year old... Overnight. 
I tried to stay optimistic but I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t terrified for the journey. In this case, it was all about the destination. 
We flew from Edmonton to Vancouver and Aaralee asked why it took so long approximately 68 times. Boy, was she in for a shock on the next sector.
After months of anticipation, we finally boarded our flight from Vancouver to Auckland. Long haul flying used to be ordinary life for me, but as a passenger it’s much less pleasant. 
The girls watched Paw Patrol a few times while we waited for dinner. Once we were served our typical airplane platters of disappointment, it was time to attempt bed time. I got the girls into their pajamas and tucked them into their seats as comfortably as I could. It worked! Briley immediately fell asleep and Aaralee followed suit shortly after. Life was good! Ryan dozed off and I tried to do the same, but every time I’d get remotely comfortable, Briley would wake up and need to readjust. I slept maybe 2 hours of the flight, but our kids were sleeping or well behaved for 90% of it. I was exhausted, but my kids were quiet, so I was satisfied.

We finally landed in Auckland, on a rainy afternoon. The remnants of a cyclone were passing through the city and people hid from the weather indoors. Not us. We basked in the humidity and 23 degree weather. We bought rain ponchos and sipped perfect lattes, while the kids ran through grass squealing with joy. It was summer, and we had no complaints. 
To fight jet lag, we tried to stay awake as long as possible on day one, but around 8 pm we were all done and called it a night. We crawled into our cozy beds in our fancy hotel room and slept until 6 the next day. 
By day 2 we felt far more energetic. The sun was shining! My cousin Jay and her husband Shane had flown in from Australia to join us on the adventure. They have a new baby and I was so excited to meet him! 
We all met for breakfast, before they headed to pick up their camper. We had opted for one more day in Auckland to ensure that we were over our jet lag prior to hitting the road. 
We spent the day exploring the city. We walked to the water to look at the boats. We went to the top of the Skytower and checked out the views that spanned for miles. Briley loves the glass floors, Aaralee was a bit more hesitant.

After one last night of sleeping in a cozy hotel room, we were off to pick up our camper van. It was pouring rain and we loaded into our new home. I was nervous about how the kids would sleep and about Ryan driving on the other side of the road. We set off for the coast, chasing the clear skies. It was a gorgeous journey through rolling hills and fields of sheep. 

We eventually made it to Tauranga, and headed straight for the beach. It wasn’t swimming weather and the waves were massive, but the girls were in their glory. Briley played in the sand while Aaralee gathered more seashells than she was capable of carrying. 

We trekked a bit up Mount Maunganui to enjoy the incredible views of the beach from above. I was so proud of our girls. For 3 days they’d trekked along like little champs, walking as far as their little feet could take them. 
We left the beach and set out in search of dinner. We settled upon fish and chips at a busy restaurant in fisherman’s wharf. 
After grabbing a few groceries, it was time to find a place to sleep for the night. Jay and Shane were in a campground, but New Zealand allows “freedom camping” in certain areas so long as you have a self contained vehicle. We drove to one park, but all of the spots were taken and we were concerned that perhaps finding a place to sleep would be a bigger challenge than anticipated. We decided to check one more spot, and to our surprise we found a spot to park. It was right beside the water and would do just fine. 
We stuck the kids in the top bunk and pulled out of bed below. The girls were chatting and being silly and I was worried that they’d never sleep, but as soon as the lights were out, so were they. Night one in the camper: success! 
We woke up to the sounds of birds singing and the cool sea breeze. It was the latest that the girls had slept since arriving. 
Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I have a feeling that the next couple of weeks are going to be some of the best memories our family will make together. 

2017, you were good.

Dec 31, 2017

New Year's Eve, again?  
These days just seem to come quicker and quicker each year.  I've been on a long hiatus from this blog, but the final day of 2017 seems like a good time to reflect upon the past 12 months.  
What a year it was! As per usual, we crammed a whole bunch of fun into these months. We went on new adventures, we met new friends, we grew older. 
We started 2017 on the beach in Mexico... how I wish that were the case this year as well.  It was the best trip we've been on as a family of 4. 
Also in January, we moved into our brand new home! We were so happy to have so much space and to finally feel as though we weren't drowning in toys.  We still have way too much stuff, but that's a mission for 2018.  Later in the year, some of our best friends became our neighbours, so I think we'll stay here forever. 

In February, I reluctanly left my kids for an adults only trip with Ryan. We spent 2 weeks overeating, exploring, and sleeping in in Paris and Iceland.  It was incredible, despite how much I missed my girls.  

We spent almost a week in the mountains celebrating our anniversary and Easter. We chased bunnies in Canmore, and enjoyed an all expenses paid trip to Jasper, thanks to a contest that I'd won.

In May, we went on a road trip to Victoria with some of my extended family. It was a week of sunshine, hiking, and dreaming of living closer to the ocean.  I swore I'd never drive that far with the kids again... at least until August. 

In June, Briley turned 2, I turned 31, and Niko turned 5!  Briley's birthday was of course the highlight, and we had a blast at her Two-tti Frutti celebration.

July was spent outside, as it should be. We camped, had picnics, attended Ryan's family reunion, went to the fair, and spent our afternoons at the spray park.  Aaralee mastered riding a scooter, and refused to try her bike.  

August was a whirlwind. My mom, the girls and I were back on the road, this time Vancouver bound. I ran my very first half marathon! It felt amazing to accomplish a goal I'd worked towards for so many months.  We spent a few more days in the Okanagan and then ventured home, where the month was finished off with more camping, fun days at the U-Pick farm, and above all else, being outdoors. 

My big girl Aaralee turned 4 in September! We had her dream party... princess, pink, unicorn themed.  Just 2 days later, she began her second year of preschool. We made the most of the warm autumn evenings, and got back into a life of routine. 

October brought beautiful weather and a sudden flurry of fall photo sessions. I don't know what happened, but all of a sudden my little hobby job turned into an actual business, and I was constantly busy. It took of a bit of adjusting to life as a stay at home mom with a job, but we made it work and still managed to have some fun along the way.

We snuck in another mountain trip in November, and finished off the month with our annual trip to the tree farm.

December has been all Christmas, all of the time. We had parties, baked cookies, took photos, decorated the house from top to bottom, and watched Aaralee sing at her Christmas concert. It was a wonderful month, filled with family and cozy days indoors.  

I look forward to seeing what is to come in 2018. We have so many exciting plans in the upcoming months, and I can't wait to take another journey around the sun with this crazy, awesome family of mine.  Happy New Year, everyone!