April 6, 2010
In the morning, at Poolburn Reservoir, Mike insisted I wake up and see the sunrise. The sky can change in a moment so I rubbed my bleary eyes, put on my glasses, grabbed my camera (which I always keep handy in the mesh pocket) and unzipped the tent door. What a spectacular greeting to the day. I took a few pictures from the door and put on my sneakers (joggers) to brave the chill for a better view. We tried to get Gregory up but he wasn’t budging so Mike and I had the sunrise to ourselves. We strolled along the water’s edge and took in the breathtaking views.
The drive from Poolburn Reservoir, through Alexandra and Cromwell, and on to Wanaka was another long day of driving. For this reason, Mike was not in the best of moods and also because he was a bit skeptical about staying in Wanaka (pop. 7,000), because over 40,000 people were expected to attend the biannual “Warbirds Over Wanaka” an international airshow. Over 60 aircraft are to be in attendance including the Kittyhawk, Corsair and Catalina and other “famous warbirds that helped defend freedom during four world conflicts – classic fighters of World War I, heroes of World War II, fighters of the South West Pacific and awesome jets.” The aircraft of the Royal New Zealand Air Force would also be there. I was eager to attend this event but we knew the tickets were going to be very dear (expensive). We later found out that a 3-day pass was $395 dollars for grandstands and exhibits while a one-day pass was $100. What we found driving into the area was that people were just pulled off the road with their chairs and watching the show above at a distance from the airport. Not expecting to enter the gates the next day (and hoping to see planes fly over our heads) we went ahead with our plans to attend Stuart Landsborough’s Puzzling World and the National Transport and Toy Museum. As I will expand upon in a moment, everything came together in the end. Mike’s mom always says that we have an angel on our shoulders and this was one of those times.
Before I elaborate on that subject, I wanted to mention that we’d gotten a tip from one of the Sutton’s customers to stay at Lake Hawea just north of Wanaka so managed to skirt around the city and arrive in camp around 4:30 PM. (This was after seeing many packed campgrounds at towns along the route to Wanaka…) We drove around the busy campground several times trying to decide on a relatively spacious spot when I finally dropped Gregory at the playground and I excused myself to the toilet and let Mike make the decision. At this point we were all very road weary and I said, “It doesn’t really matter all that much where we are because the rain is going to start any minute and I know we’ll be up in the kitchen until we are ready to head off to bed.” Fortunately for us, my Eagle Scout picked a nice flat site on high ground because it was another vicious rainstorm that evening. At first we couldn’t get to sleep because the rain was so loud. Mike said he pulled his sleeping bag over his head and covered his ears to finally reach the Land of Nod.
Though we’d had a wet night, by the time we got up at around 7:30 A.M. the wind had our tent nice and dry. Gregory was eager to give his dad his birthday present last night but we made him wait until this morning. Since Mike’s birthday (April 4th) fell on Easter Sunday this year, Gregory picked out an enormous Cadbury milk chocolate Easter egg packaged with yet more solid eggs of the smaller variety. Mike said the best present was that Gregory gave him lots of hugs and kisses this morning. He also sang Happy Birthday several times and made a homemade birthday card all on his own. He also created a “coupon” that read “Neck, Shoulder and Back rubs are $0.00 for Moms and Dads” and there was no expiration date! I don’t know how I got included on Mike’s birthday present but I’m not complaining! I had packages of chocolate for the boys as well so we are set on lollies (candy) for at least a few days now!!
First order of the day was the Puzzling World and we arrived at around 9:30 A.M. before the crowds. We had the entire two-storey Great Maze (Labyrinth) almost entirely to ourselves. The object was to find our way to all four corner towers and back out again. This is supposed to take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and we took almost an hour! We had a great time (did a lot of walking!) and Gregory was the first to accomplish this feat! He had to show Mom and Dad how to get to the green tower. I was so glad I didn’t have to use the emergency exit!
Inside there are 4 “illusion rooms” including the “Holographic Photos Room”, “The Tilted Illusion Room” where even though you are standing normally it looks as if you are tilted, “Hall of Following Faces” where 168 giant faces follow you as you move around (This is the only room of its kind in the world.), and The “Ames” False Perspective Room (a technique used in “The Lord of the Rings”). We had a lot of fun with the “Ames” false perspective room where as you cross from one corner of the room, where you look like a mini-me, to the other corner where you look like a giant even though the room looks perfectly normal. I got it all on video of course! They also have a 2-minute playback so after you went in the room you could go out and watch yourself on the television. We had to do this a couple of times.
Back in the café/gift shop area we found a table and played with the many games available on the café tables. Gregory and I put our covert plan into action. A couple of days ago we bought candles so I went to the car to get them and then we bought a huge slice of chocolate cake, lit about 8 sparkler candles and traipsed across a packed café singing happy birthday as loud as we could. Mike was thoroughly embarrassed. Mission accomplished! We were surprised the others didn’t join in the singing, as almost invariably it happens in America. We nibbled on cake, drank lattes and played games for over an hour.
At one point I went to the toilets and found the “Roman Toilets” and mural, which were hysterical. I had to bring Gregory back for a picture. Also, the “normal toilets” had resin toilet seats with everything from barbed wire to jelly beans in them. Mike couldn’t believe I took pictures of toilet seats. Hey it is all part of the experience right?!
When I returned to the table Mike was talking to a man and woman and the woman I recognized instantly as the lady we met at Sutton Canvas Products Ltd. in Dunedin. This is the same lady who recommended the DOC camp here. I walked up and said, “Hi Meridee!” All three of them just looked at me and finally put things together. Kevin and Meridee just happened to sit down with Mike not recognizing him from our original introduction at the shop! Another example of what a small world this is. The table next door with all of their family was overcrowded and they just spilled over to our booth. We had a really nice visit.
After Puzzling World we were off to the National Transport and Toy Museum just down the road. We knew it was near the airport and weren’t sure we would be able to get in because of the Warbirds Over Wanaka international airshow but there was no problem. From the moment we walked in we were all so excited to be there. Right near the front was a 1966 Ford Mustang and Mike reminisced about the Champagne-colored 1966 Ford Mustang that his family once owned. He often tells the story of how when he was a boy the family of six took a road trip from Ohio to Florida in the Mustang and he and his brother Steve had to take turns sitting on the center console! Gregory loved all of the “rare” Legos and all of the Star Wars memorabilia as well as the cars, planes, motorcycles and fire trucks and I got a kick out of the Barbies and even found a circular “bracelet-like” Panasonic radio that I had as a girl!
The best was that not long after we’d been there we started hearing these loud BOOMS and knew that it had to be the planes from the air show doing the re-enactments of wartime skirmishes. We ran out of the main building to see what we could see and found that we could go way out to the back of the Transport & Toy Museum lot which backed right up to the airport runway and the air show grandstands! There was even a ladder (like you’d use to board an airplane) on the fence line and we joined another family who commented that we found the “cheap seats”. It was fantastic. We could see right down on the runway and watched helicopters and planes performing right before us. We watched for a while and then went in and out of the museum hangers (housing the large planes, fire trucks and other vehicle collections) as well as the main building. When we heard the pyrotechnics teams or the awesome jets flying just over the hangars we would come out and marvel at our luck that we had the good fortune to experience both events at the same time. I actually think it worked out better this way because I think Gregory would have had a hard time sitting still in the grandstands for an entire day even with the intensity of the subject matter!
At around 4:30 we decided to drive up and over Lindis Pass (960m or 3,150ft.) and make our way up to Twizel and the bach (holiday home) of our friends the Suttons. The sun was out and it was a glorious drive and the whole time Mike and I kept looking at each other and asking if the drive was looking familiar.
You see 15 years ago we came over this pass in the other direction on bicycles. It wasn’t one of our best days and though the golden brown rolling hills did look familiar it is the events of that day that are seared into my memory. You see I was never as strong a cyclist as Mike and, though now we ride a triple with our son, back then I was on a single and lagging behind as usual. When we stopped briefly on the outskirts of the town of Omarama I could see that there was a lot of activity involving gliders and I wanted to call it a night and check out the festivities. Mike had it in his head that we hadn’t ridden far enough that day and was insistent that we make it up and over Lindis Pass. He went on ahead without me and I was so furious that I poked about taking my time. (And that is an understatement.) Though I could see miles down the road, and the climb that was inevitable, I eventually could no longer see Mike in the distance and that suited me just fine. As the sun began its descent I knew I still had a long way to go but just kept creeping along figuring I’d get there eventually whether it was dark or not. Mike’s conscious finally got the better of him and though he had crested the peak, he rode back down to meet me and then proceeded to ride back up again. We can’t even remember where we camped that night. This was the beginning of the end of our biking on that ‘95 trip. By the time we reached Queenstown we called it quits and bought a car for the remainder of our 3-month stay. (I must preface this with the fact that we’d already completed the east-west TransAmerica Bicycle Trail across America and were just plain tired of biking.)
So, I insisted that we stop in Omarama this trip even if it was just to use the toilet and poke about in a couple of shops. We called our friends in Twizel (just 20 minutes down the road) and they were expecting us and looking forward to sharing an Easter/Birthday dinner with us. We had lamb steaks and a delicious salad and couldn’t have been happier to see our dear friends just one more time before we have to leave New Zealand.
Now that I think about it, it is good that the 1995 Lindis Pass incident happened after we passed through Twizel because that is where we met the Suttons and we’ve kept in touch all of these years. We were just two Americans sitting by the Twizel River having lunch and they were a couple from Dunedin on holiday in Twizel who just happened to have a teenage daughter who was working as an aupair in my hometown of Redding, California. Our paths were meant to cross.
It just so happened that their daughter Christine called during our dinner together to wish her parents Happy Easter. Judy put me on the phone and we talked and laughed and caught up. She is living in Broome, Australia with her husband Stilts and said if we made it to Broome to give her a call. I don’t know if we’ll be that far north on the western coast but I assured her we would!
The next day we had a nice walk through Twizel and bought lunch for Judy and Keith to thank them for their kindness and we also decided it would be Mike’s “American” birthday celebration. You see they are one day behind us so he got to celebrate twice. We ate at the Musterer’s Hut and had delicious meat pies, pastry and wraps as well as hot chocolate. Gregory played on the adjacent playground pushing the little kids on the swings and whipping them around on a loaded “merry-go-round”. We puttered around back at the bach while Judy and Keith packed for their return to Dunedin and work on Tuesday. They were kind enough to let us stay on at the house and give their neighbor Joan the key when we leave.
Joan’s grandkids are visiting and Gregory found himself some playmates. He ran around with Molly (9yrs.) and the other kids most of the evening while Mike and I did laundry and relaxed a bit. It has been so nice to just have some time to sit still for a moment. All day today the sun tried to poke its way through the gray clouds but we didn’t mind because we had a cozy fire and our books. It cleared up enough that Gregory went to mini-golf with the neighbors and we all got out for a bit later in the day. Gregory is finally caught up in his journal and is enjoying have a bedroom and twin bed with reading light all to himself. He just finished his third Ranger’s Apprentice book by John Flanagan and is currently absorbed in another Enid Blyton book, The Mystery That Never Was. Mike has begun King Tut by James Patterson and I’m reading Nora Roberts. Well, I will be when I sign off here.
Mike spent part of the evening sorting through our belongings and doing a pre-pack to see how everything will fit in our bags for the flight to Australia on Sunday, April 11th. It is just a 3-hour flight from Christchurch to Sydney so we will probably check most everything. Our drive from Twizel to Christchurch will only take about 3 hours but we will want to stop along the way at Lake Tekapo where we have fond memories of the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, the little church perched on the edge of the impossibly turquoise blue lake with mountains all around, and of our flight-seeing expedition over Mt. Cook and the glaciers. Prices have tripled for the flight so we won’t be doing that this trip but as it is the mountain has been socked in the past few days. We are hoping it will clear enough on the day of our drive so we can at least enjoy the view of the awe-inspiring Aoraki/Mt. Cook, the tallest mountain in New Zealand at 3,754 metres (12,316 feet).