Just the Two (four…) of Us

22 03 2017

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I got a lot of questioning looks when I told people that for our, so-called, ‘Babymoon’, we were going to take a road trip from Seattle to Yellowstone National Park, Jackson Hole and the Grand Tetons.  They said, ‘Really? A Road trip??  Why not Hawaii?  Or what about Europe?? You should do something now without the babies (yes babies…twins!) that you wouldn’t do when they arrive.’

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Well you know what….I can see going to Europe with the babies (at least this is what I thought before we had them), and I can definitely see us going to Hawaii with the girls.  But what I can’t see us doing with two children in tow is a Road Trip – ‘Nathan & Traci Style’.  That means 12 – 16 hour days in the car, tracking herds of bison on the backroads, taking photo upon photo upon photo of scenery and at least seriously considering to get up in the early wee hours of the morning so that we could catch photos of the colours of the sunrise streaking across the sky, or waiting out at the edge of a river to see if the cinnamon mama bear and her cubs would be stopping by for a drink.

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In a way this road trip was a farewell to our life as off the beaten path travelers who take every opportunity to pack in as much as we possibly can, experience everything we can experience and travel without any thought as to the necessary feeding/potty breaks that will inevitably rule our lives for the next….ever.

Plus, we had to have one last trip in our Subaru XV.  We had to say goodbye in true style and get as much dirt and as many bugs as we possibly could on this car, before we gave it a good wash and turned it over to a new home.  Because, when we had to put down the backseats just to get the stroller in the back, we realized that we would not be able to keep our beloved Subaru if the seats had to be set up for two car seats…which we kind of need…

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And so, we embarked on our road trip.  We racked up over 2000 miles in a 5 day period.

It was an incredible trip.

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A trip that gave Nathan and I a chance to ‘hang out’, tell stories, share experiences and cherish a little bit of time together, real time together, before it was not just the two of us anymore.  Because you have to admit, when you’re going on a road trip you have to be pretty selective on who you choose to travel with because it could be the most amazing and intimate bonding experience, or it could be just a little too much time together and you end up needing to have separate quarters for a while after the trip.

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To be honest, I may have pushed the boundaries a little bit, as I didn’t see any other pregnant people sitting along the rim waiting for Ol’ Faithful to put on its show…

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or strolling along the steam of the hot springs at the Grand Prismatic Spring…

 

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…or hanging out the sunroof, as far as I could before my belly got in the way, to take photos of bison and longhorns.

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So glad that we made the choice to do this trip.  Can’t wait til the girls get old enough to be able to enjoy the sights and scenery instead of wonder why we are at yet another scenic overlook taking photos.  And even though we couldn’t do everything we would have done, had I not been 6 months pregnant (I did offer to get out of the car so Nathan could do a little off-roading on terrain that was a little too aggressive for me) I love all of the photos we were able to capture of our adventures on the road.

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What’s a Detour or Two?

31 12 2016

With 40 hours left in New Zealand and over 230 miles left to drive to catch our flight home, somehow it just made sense that we should add an extra 7o miles to our trip and a couple of unexpected detours.  Because….when are we going to be back in New Zealand, on this type of a road trip…besides we can sleep on the plane, right?

So we were on the road early, still feeling the high from our glacier hike and feeling relaxed from our soak at the glacier hot pools the day before.

The forecast said rain, but we seemed to have gotten on the road before the clouds rolled in, and although they chased us and eventually caught up to us, we had a great (although long) drive for our last full day in New Zealand, zipping along the West Coast of the South Island, and winding through the Southern Alps as we headed to Christchurch.

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Views from the Road

I can’t remember who told us to make a side trip to Hokitika Gorge – but it was one of those places that is so far off the beaten path as you drive towards it, you start to question whether or not you are still going in the right direction….did you go too far….did you make the right turn….should you turn back…and then you find the parking lot, and realize that a lot of people have made the same pilgrimage that you have, only somehow you found yourself driving on an empty road for the last hour…

Hokitika Gorge is also one of those places that you can’t believe it actually looks like that, and when you look at your photos afterwards, you can’t quite believe that you were there, and the water was truly that colour.

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Hokitika Gorge

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It also made me wish that this wasn’t a drive through type stop for us because the water looked soooo inviting, but alas, the road trip must go on!

We stopped in at Hokitika for lunch, and also to take the obligatory tourist photo of their driftwood sign at the beach.

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The day was half over….but we still had one more photo detour and 230 miles of driving before we could rest our heads (and feet) for the night.

Because you can’t leave the South Island in New Zealand without seeing the Pancake Rocks…right?  Right? Well, that’s the idea I had in my head, so on we went to see the Punakaiki Pancake Rocks.

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Limestone formations that look surprisingly like huge stacks of pancakes.  Weird.  But also a nice place to take a stroll and stretch our legs, grab a flat white and check it off the list before we started the last leg of our journey for the day and for our trip.

Only another 4ish hours (more like 6) to go and the width of the South Island to go before we could check into our last hotel, pack up for the last time, and enjoy our last true flat white.

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We drove through the Southern Alps and had an opportunity to enjoy the views with just the perfect lighting as the sun started to set behind us.

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We found a cute little honey stand which had a sign that made me laugh.  Seriously the cheapest honey that we came across.  I think the souvenir shops were selling them for $20 – $30+ per small jar.

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As we wound through the Alps, the rain finally caught up with us and the clouds turned the sky dark well before its time, and as grey clouds turned into black night, we found ourselves rolling into Christchurch.

We knew that Christchurch was known for its English heritage but also that it had experienced some devastating earthquakes in the last 5-6 years that had destroyed a lot of its historical stone buildings and had effected much of its landscape.

Knowing that Christchurch had earthquake damage was way different than seeing it with our own eyes.

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We spent our last morning in New Zealand wandering the streets of Christchurch, taking in both the sights of earthquake wreckage and public art installations and murals that created a landscape of contrast.

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And so with a last glimpse at destruction and art, we headed to the airport to complete our 10 day road trip in New Zealand.  Still buzzing from the adrenaline rush of our sea kayaking tour, black water rafting, bungy jumping, glacier trekking adventures and feeling amazed at the beauty of the natural landscape, we settled in for our very very long flight home.

But New Zealand had one more surprise in store for us.  Air New Zealand gave out Hokey Pokey ice cream as their dessert!!  What?  Ice cream on the plane.  Kind of in love.

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Until next time New Zealand. Stay beautiful.





A Day of Firsts

23 12 2016

Last big adventure planned for our New Zealand trip.  Ice trekking on the Franz Josef Glacier.

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First time in a Helicopter (for me)

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First time wearing crampons

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First time hiking on a glacier

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First time being told to stop so that the team can fill in a hole in the ground due to a constantly shifting glacier – and feeling completely safe moving forward on our ice trek

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Lots of firsts on this day.  But definitely not the first time New Zealand amazed us on this trip.

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NZ – West Coast Style

10 06 2016

We left the sunshine in Queenstown to start our 4.5 hour trek on NZ’s West Coast towards Franz Josef Glacier.

We wound our way up through the surrounding mountains to take in the views up top.

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Before we came across this unusual sight on the flat lands at Cardrona…an opportunity to support the New Zealand Breast Cancer Association.  It definitely added a pop of colour to the landscape.

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We took a break in Wanaka.  Unfortunately it was pretty grey and overcast, because otherwise it would have been a beautiful stop on this town perched on the coast of Lake Wanaka.  But it did give us a chance to indulge in a Flat White stop.  These baristas are artists!

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As we drove along the water we could see the clouds rolling in, starting to steal our pockets of sunshine.  It was definitely still beautiful but we knew that our road trip was in for some rain.

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We drove through misty farmland, and just when I was telling Nathan that I was disappointed that we hadn’t seen more sheep, and that it seemed like cows were the most prevalent herd (and not sheep like people had said), we came across my NZ wish.

A Sheep Herd Road Block!

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I was half in and half out of the car, snapping photos like crazy.  I loved it and it was exactly what I had hoped for when we decided to go to New Zealand.

The excitement of this moment kept me on a high for the next few hours of our trip.

Finally we eased out of the dense green landscape and found ourselves driving along the coast.

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And we came across Bruce Bay – a top rated NZ Beach.  It could have been the day, but we weren’t quite sure how it was top rated, especially when we were attacked by sand fleas and biting flies and found ourselves dousing each other with bug spray and kind of suffocating ourselves in the car.

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But perhaps, it was the unique stones that could be found on this beach and lasting momentos that everyone left behind.

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The rocks looked like drift wood!

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7 – 8 hours after we began our road trip along the coast we finally rolled into our destination.  Franz Josef Glacier.

It was overcast with passing rain clouds and we crossed our fingers that we would be able to take our helicopter ride and ice trek tour up to the glacier the next day.

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Perhaps we Found a New Favourite

8 06 2016

Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to let it go so long to finish my posts from our trip to New Zealand.

One – I left you hanging. For all you know, I didn’t make it past the bungy jumping!

Two – it’s now been 4 months since we’ve been back to Seattle and back to ‘real’ life. Four months to kind of forget about our trip, to stop telling the stories, four months to forget how beautiful everything was. Well, now that I’ve finally gotten back around to going through the rest of our trip photos…..

Queenstown was beautiful!!

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View from Bob’s Peak

I mean, the water, the mountains (called The Remarkables – which is a pretty appropriate name), the food… Ahh. Now I remember just how great our time was and it makes me wistful for those days and impatient for when we can go back and spend more than 2 days in Queenstown.

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Both Nathan and I felt like we had come ‘home’ when we stepped through our hotel room at the Sofitel (which had heated bathrooms floors and a heated towel rack!) and onto the balcony that overlooked this quaint, European-style town with water and mountain views. We felt like this was a place that was familiar to us and we knew that it was a place that we wanted to come back to.

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Aside from bungy jumping during our two-day stay in Queenstown, we had no other plans.  Which was perfect, since it gave us time to walk around and eat and drink.  That’s essentially what we did.  And we loved it!

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Our first stop: drinking on a boat bar

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We discovered our love of meat pies at FergBaker. Nathan discovered his love of Beef Cheeks

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We spent the morning and afternoon (between eating stops) strolling by the water.

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We watched this guy walk into the water at 8AM and hike his t-shirt up to his arm pits as he waded in up to his chest.  At the time, I thought this was the oddest thing….now that I’m looking back at these photos, I think he had a pretty good idea.

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Two  nights and one full day is not enough time to enjoy this beautiful place but we really tried to take it in as much as we could, and it definitely left a lasting impression.

On our way out of town we got to enjoy the reflection views at Lake Hayes, which was the perfect goodbye (for now, but not forever).

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A Mix of Culture and Natural Wonders

24 02 2016

I don’t think that we had enough time to really get a sense of what Rotorua was all about.

But we did have enough time to smell it!  As we drove into Rotorua we could see the billowing clouds of sulphurous gas and got a whiff of the ‘eggy’ scent that envelopes the city.  Essentially, Rotorua is a mecca of hot springs, explosive geysers, and bubbling mud pools that makes you all too aware of the volcanic activity that defines this region, which sits within the Pacific Rim of Fire and has one of the world’s most active geothermal fields.

It’s also a stronghold for Maori culture and as we wandered through downtown we enjoyed the mix between the cultural figures and art, beautiful gardens and the random geothermal pool.

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If we ever find ourselves back in Rotorua, I would definitely take some time to soak in the geothermal hot springs – but this time around, we focused the 2 hours before our flight to take in the colourful and fragrant experience at Wai-O-Tapu (Sacred Waters) Thermal Wonderland.

We had 2 hours to explore (although realistically we could have stayed longer – who would have thought the Rotorua airport was so small and we didn’t even have to go through security??)

There are 3 walking paths that take you around all of the different geothermal pools.  And plenty of signs telling you how hot the water is and DO NOT stray from the walking paths.

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The Devil’s Bath

And with sights of yellow sulphuric holes in the ground and craters filled with lime green water packed with sulphur and ferrous salts, we had to stop and wonder….why is this bird around, why is he standing amid the Champagne Pool and how is he drinking this water??? Because we did see what looked like him take a little sip!

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The most impressive sight was The Champagne Pool, formed 700 years ago by a hydrothermal eruption and chock full of gold, silver, mercury, sulphur, arsenic, thallium, antimony and other minerals.

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Our last stop was a visit to see Lady Knox Geyser.  Although it erupts by itself, they do give it a little extra encouragement so they can schedule a 10:15am eruption daily.

And although they tell people to arrive by 9:30am (for the best viewing), and people were running past us to make the ‘show’, guess who strolled in at 10:15am and got a front row seat!

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JUMP!

15 02 2016

So what you’re going to want to do is….put the tube on your butt and jump backwards into the water.

What???

But don’t jump too high, otherwise you’ll hit the ceiling.

I’m sorry, what??

And don’t jump too far because you’ll hit the back of the cave.

But not too close to the edge either, because there’s a ledge below us.

What have I signed up for!!!????

Perhaps I may have underestimated the statement that I read on a blog a couple of days before we headed to New Zealand.  New Zealanders are Masters of Understatement!  Kiwi’s are so used to extreme activities that they don’t think to warn outsiders about it.

Or perhaps I have gotten softened by the safety parameters that we come to expect with activities in the US.

Despite the description:

The original Waitomo subterranean adventures that will have you climbing, black water tubing and leaping through Ruakuri Cave. 

Over three hours you’ll take leaps of faith over cascading waterfalls and float serenely down an underground river as you enjoy the glow worm show on the vaulted limestone galleries up above. 

Maybe I focused more on the ‘floating serenely down a river’ part than the ‘leaps of faith over cascading waterfalls’.  And so, with the blindness of my ‘selective reading’, I looked at Nathan in fear and shock when our guides took us to a platform above the river and told us to jump backwards into the water.  Because this backwards jump, in the light of day, was to prepare us for jumping backwards off of waterfalls in pitch black caves into icy cold black river water.

Yes, I was the one that brought this activity to Nathan’s attention.  And yes, I told myself, can we really go to New Zealand, and NOT experience this?  But yes, I also do not like to jump in water (clear pools!) or to go into water that I cannot touch the ground, or really have my head under water at all.  And so, I looked at Nathan in fear, turned around and jumped into the water…backwards.

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And as per usual, Nathan took this in stride…

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And so we headed out, happy and outfitted in wetsuits, jackets, booties, boots and helmets with headlamps into the forest and towards Ruakuri Cave, a natural cave discovered 400 – 500 years ago.

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So happy…before entering the caves…

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By the look on my face in the photo below, you can probably tell how cautiously I was moving through these caves.  A naturally clumsy person, this may not have been the best choice for me, but I have to admit, I loved having the right footwear on – these boots were great at trudging through rock caves!

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We climbed down rock ledges, sloshed through tunnels, crawled through rock mazes and played limbo while we floated on our tubes – out of necessity since the jagged cave ceiling was 4 inches above our faces as we lay flat on our backs with the back of our heads in the water.

For half of the tour I kept trying to show Nathan how dim my headlamp was.  I swear I could barely see.  Finally, one of our guides told me it was okay to turn my light back on…and then she said, oh it already is on.  Time for a battery change!  And I was back in action!  It was like a whole new cave adventure!

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Long exposure with light painting (it was not this bright down there)

When we finally got to our backwards waterfall jump, we were pretty acclimatized to the dark, the cold and the water rushing under our feet.

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We made the jump and were quickly linked into the Eel formation, where we were linked up feet under arms, all 12 of us in a row, and finally, we were floating serenely down the underground river as glowworms glittered the cave ceiling.  It actually felt like a Disney experience.  It was really quiet, kind of magical.  You just had to ignore the fact that you were floating in really cold water, the stars were actually larvae, and Disney would never let you do something like this.

And then we floated into a larger cavern with metal walkways built overhead, and we realized that we were now part of the attraction, since there were tour groups watching us as we materialized out of nowhere and continued on floating serenely down the river.

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At the beginning of the tour, before we had hit the water, we had to pick an inner tube.  One that was big enough for your butt to fit into, but not too big that you would fall out.  It’s kind of a funny sight when you see everyone bending over, sticking a tube on their butt, and saying, ‘does it fit?’

Somewhere along the way, I got my tube mixed up with someone else’s and so for most of the ride, my tube was too big for my butt.  You wouldn’t think that would be a problem.  I didn’t think too much about it.

Until we had to float down the river on our own power.  My butt slid further down into the inner tube, my knees and arm pits preventing me from falling right through.  I was essentially folded in half, my abs burning as we moved with the current, my arms – like little T-Rex arms – trying to paddle and pick up some speed.  But I had too much drag!!  My butt was hanging so far down below the tube I think it was acting like a sea anchor.

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We got to the last stretch of river and were told we better paddle if we wanted to get to the end.  Well I tried to paddle, and I just ended up floundering and spun into a wall.  I was not making much progress, handicapped by my built in anchor!  All of our headlamps were off, it was pitch black and we were using the glow of the glow worms to lead us out.

Nathan hooked his foot into my tube, and I thought, well, of course Nathan would come to my rescue and help push me out of the cave.  How thoughtful of him to help me this way.  So I did a little paddling, trying to help how I could.

And then Nathan told me to let go of him and start paddling.  What??!!  He thought that I was holding on to him and slowing him down!  Then he realized that he hadn’t even noticed that it was his foot hooked into my tube.

Well, by that time, the light was literally at the end of the tunnel.  And our Black Labyrinth experience was coming to an end.

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And so…..We made it!!

We had prevailed the darkness, the icy water, the rock ledges, the waterfall jumps and the extreme adventures the Kiwi’s had to offer us.

It was a crazy experience and like nothing I would have ever expected.  But very worthy of our second big adventure in New Zealand!