A long time ago, Abby went to New Zealand as part of her degree in Playing and Having Fun. That’s a real degree that she got at BYU for going kayaking, water-skiing, hiking, and playing Ultimate Frisbee a lot. Not 100% sure how it works, but there must have been a general authority whose son or daughter wasn’t too into book lernin’ but wanted to graduate from college anyway. Somehow Abby found out about it and made all us classical studies types jealous because we didn’t know it was a thing until we were practically graduated with solid employable skills. But I digress. Point of all of that was, she had a great time adventuring in New Zealand as part of her degree and so when we sat down one time to talk about where to go on our home leave, New Zealand was a place we thought of with great positivity.
New Zealand isn’t really close to anything–you think it’s close to Australia, but it’s still over a thousand miles from there. That being said, at roughly 5,000 miles from Tokyo, it’s still about 2,000 miles closer than it is to Portland, so we decided to go there for Christmas. Betsy followed a friend’s recommendation for a travel agent, and things kind of spiralled out of control. Seriously. As part of working abroad for Nike, they provide a “home leave” benefit, which means they’ll fly the family home one time per year–or–you can take the cost of those flights and apply it to travel somewhere else. And when you’ve got a family of six, that can add up to a significant vacation. And there’s zero benefit to not using it–you can’t receive any money, buy anything else, and if you don’t go, it just disappears. (Even so, I asked my boss if it was truly cool to look into spending thousands of dollars to take my family on a vacation, and he was pretty firm with his “of course”.)
So, we rode a hot air balloon at sunrise.
Went to an observatory at midnight.
We rode go-karts down winding mountain paths.
We bungee jumped.
We went mountain biking, sailing, and spelunking to see glow-worms.
We went zorbing, rode the Haag-lund at the International Antarctic Center in Christchurch, rented a Porsche, and slept in a Hobbit House.
We went to a traditional Maori pig-fry, a real wool-farm, and went mini-golfing.
We went water-skiing, visited Hobbiton, hiked to waterfalls, and went white-water rafting.
We went to the beaches, playparks, tide-pools, amusement park rides, zoos, and hot-springs.
And we did it all in full family super-hero T-shirts. The Super-hero shirts were a fantastic hit–everywhere we went, we were treated like the cool family that people wanted to have around–a serious improvement on the normal response of mild annoyance when people see a lot of kids. We also did it with Michelle and Brian. They were the family that was most able to be adventurous at that point in time. They flew themselves over to us, and we all fit in the car we had rented, and into the hotels that were covered by our budget, and it was awesome.
We flew into Queenstown and made our way north to eventually fly out of Auckland. The Porsche was amazing, but, of course, broke down after three days. We had to drive on the wrong side of the road, but did just fine. New Zealand was amazing in its beauty. We had a GPS unit that was apparently set on “avoid freeways” but we didn’t know it so we found ourselves often turning off of perfectly wide roads to take narrow, winding country lanes and having to stop when we’d come upon pastoral scenes of such beauty that you could not focus on the road until after you had stopped to get out and appreciate it. flocks of sheep being managed by sheep-dogs with no shepherd in sight, lakes so startlingly blue it beggars belief, mountains, valleys, rivers and leas that astound in their beauty, and a vista of stars that take your breath away. If it was closer, it would for sure be ruined by too many visitors, and we would be among them.
This was really fun. We had never been on a hot air balloon before, and I think I expected to notice the movement more than we did. It rose so gently into the sky that you were hardly aware of any movement until you suddenly realized how far away things had gotten. And since you move with the wind, there isn’t any blowing on you. We got to help get the balloon going and all had to pitch in to pack it up. Betsy had a few moments of panic when the kids tried to climb up to see better. The vistas were amazing, and our balloon pilot pointed out several places where notable scenes from the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit were filmed.
These luge-style go-karts were awesome. They have mild steering capability and pretty good brakes. And somebody paved a fairly wide sidewalk down a mountain. You ride a ski-lift up, strap on a helmet, and race down the mountain. They had a few levels of speed and tortuousness, and if you decided to go too fast around a corner, well, that’ll teach you, because you’re going to crash and it’s nobody’s fault but your own. This was a generally accepted mindset throughout New Zealand: be responsible for your own decisions, because you’ll surely be bearing the consequences. The boys were tall enough to ride their own carts, and the girls had to go with an adult. It was on a run on this event that Brian (with his video camera recording) crashed with Lea and bloodied her leg and his arm, and then tried to convince her not to tell me and Betsy about it. We forgive him–that’s what cool uncles are supposed to do. We could have spent all day doing this, but eventually we had to move on–to crazy scare-you-to-death swings. Most of us screamed, but Reid stoically clenched his jaws and affirmed that he wasn’t scared in the slightest. I screamed louder than Afton for sure.
Brian and I went Bungy jumping, and it was AWESOME. And terrifying. There’s a true primordial fear that crawls up from your belly and out your eyeballs and mouth as you look down and realize that’s the ground. It completely overrules your conscious mind that is trying to remind you that you are tied to something that will catch you and screams, “we’re gonna hit the ground right there!” I think I squeaked a little bit. Brian went off backwards, hoping that doing that way would lead to a more severe heart attack, while I sought the beauty of the superhero pose. I was wearing Superman, after all.
We rented bicycles in a town that I honestly can’t remember the name of and spent a full day pedaling. For non-bikers, that’s about 4 or 5 hours too long. We rode out to this great town where we stopped and picked berries and had some ice cream and the kids played a bit on some play-structures. We should have turned around at that point, but instead we soldiered on and kept going to a town where we got some terrible pizza, played darts while it was heating, and then turned around. Sadly, the wind didn’t turn around, and the gentle breeze at our backs became a gale in our faces for the next few hours. Michelle was the smart one, because she saw it coming and played sick. She was really just hiding the fact that she was very recently pregnant, but we left Lea with her and the rest of us went on the ride.
We rented a sailboat with a skipper. I can’t remember his name, but he was a “salty dog” straight out of the bar at the beginning of Treasure Island. He had a trimaran and we went out and saw the place where Chuck Norris picked Scissors against Rock in a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. (Obviously, he still won.) We had a blast climbing around and enjoying the wind as we went around the island to an amazing beach place where no one else seemed to have been and we had a great picnic lunch while we explored. It was really neat because the tide was out when we started exploring and then came in before we got back and we had to get wet in a number of places where there was mostly dry ground before. We paused at one point so we could all jump in and swim around, and Lea was not happy with my insistence that all the kids would jump in.