New Zealand: Prior to Picton — Marlborough Wine Region

On our way to Picton, we drove through the Marlborough Wine Region, which was beautiful with sprawling land leading to hills and mountains all around.  Pictures from the car (below) don’t really do it justice, but at least it’s a little taste.

We stopped for lunch at the Saint Clair Family Estate.  It was a beautiful vineyard with a great restaurant and fabulous food!  Our waiter happened to be from California. His family has a vineyard, so he was spending some time in New Zealand learning about their wines.


G had deconstructed nachos.  I loved how they served them in the fun dishes and carrier!

L was very happy with his hamburger.

Mike and I shared the fish of the day served with fresh tomato salsa, oven-roasted polenta and a spinach/fennel salad.

G and L’s meals came with ice cream cones, of course!

Conveniently, right across the road from the vineyard was the Makana Chocolate Factory! As Mike and I didn’t get any ice cream, it only seemed fair to stop for chocolate! 🙂

They had samples of their Macadamia Butter Toffee Crunch, which was so good that we had to buy a small box of it. 🙂

New Zealand: Passing Some Time in Picton

Picton, South Island – April 11 to April 17, 2017

There was a print with this quote hanging in one of the places we stayed (ironically, not in Picton) but it made me think of Picton:

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

This quote sort of sums up our stay in Picton.  We had planned to stay for two nights at a BnB before taking the ferry to the North Island.  We ended up staying at the BnB for 4 nights, plus 2 more nights at another place. (Unfortunately, the first BnB was booked, or we would have stayed there the additional 2 nights.)

Why all the time in Picton?  Well, we didn’t want to cross the Cook Strait in rough weather, and we didn’t want to end up on the North Island too soon after Cyclone Debbie or at the same time as Cyclone Cook.

That said, we passed some time in Picton at an absolutely lovely BnB — Harbour Heights Bnb. (New website is here:  The owners, Kev and Leita (and their sweet “watchdog” Willow), made us feel completely welcome, and we thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent hanging out, chatting, and anticipating Cyclone Cook.  We had our own room with a small kitchenette but were welcome to use the main house kitchen and lounge area, which we did.  We all enjoyed getting to know Kevin (a former principal, rugby player, and rugby ref) and Leita (a preschool teacher) and the kids, especially, loved playing with Willow.

Photo compliments of Harbour Heights BnB
Photo compliments of Harbour Heights Bnb with Willow (resident pup) and Elvis (visiting pup).

We made the most of our time in Picton, despite the weather — seeing the “Beauty and the Beast movie,” visiting the whaling museum, getting family haircuts(!), walking a bit of the Queen Charlotte Track, checking out the marina, enjoying a few local restaurants, playing at the playground on the foreshore, sailing boats on a little pond, and celebrating Easter with a 2-person Easter egg hunt! 🙂

“Beauty and the Beast” was a beautiful movie and a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.  There were only 8 of us in the theater!

The view as we walked down the hill from our bnb into town.

Before and after pictures of our haircuts — some more drastic than others!.


And a family picture, too, as Mike was in on the fun as well!! 🙂

While Mike and the kids were done with all 3 of their haircuts in just over an hour, I remained at the salon for almost 4 hours!  I went from this to this!

While I was at the salon drinking coffee, eating ginger slice, and relaxing, Mike and the kids enjoyed a nice lunch, stopped by the ferry port, checked out a couple of museums, found a playground, and examined sea creatures (like this starfish). 🙂


After I was done with my haircut/new hairdo, we all went to the Whaling Museum that had a collection of close to 2,000 items of Maori (native people of Aotearoa – New Zealand), whaling, maritime, heritage, and textile displays.

Lunch at the Jolly Roger and wandering around the marina.

Special Easter “baskets” from Leita and Kev! and finally a sunny day in Picton!  We spent a little time at the playground and then decided we’d better take advantage of the beautiful weather and headed for the i-Site to get info on doing a walk on the Queen Charlotte Track.


We spotted a Weka bird hopping around.  As we watched him, we realized that he had a hurt talon. 🙁

All the rain from Cyclone Cook created muddy paths and “rivers” next to the path.

Silver ferns, a giant fern tree, and L showing how big the fern fronds are in comparison to him! 🙂

We saw at least 5 nests with baby shags!  It’s a little hard to see, but here’s one of them.

As we made our way back to Picton, we stopped at a couple of scenic lookouts with amazing views!

At another spot, we saw a huge cargo boat loading logs onto it.  The map nearby had a nice description of where we were.

Back in Picton, the sun was still shining, so we played a bit at the playground and then went for ice cream! 🙂

After we got settled into the place we stayed for the last two nights in Picton, we realized we didn’t have any wifi.  Usually it’s not a big deal here and there, but this time we really needed it to get tickets for the ferry across the Cook Strait to the North Island. We also needed to make sure we had a place to stay when we got there and a car to drive! 🙂

As a result, we headed back to the Jolly Roger for wifi, a beer and some fries. Mike and I started researching options, and the kids read and played on their tablets.  As you can see in the picture below, we were all “noses to the grindstone.”  So much so, that the woman in yellow (behind Mike) actually stopped over to make sure everything was okay. She said it’s unusual to see people sitting at a table and not talking to each other or to anyone else.  It was very sweet of her to be concerned, but we explained all was well…just needed a place with wifi to figure out travel plans. 🙂

The next morning, the kids were happy to see that the Easter Bunny found them. 🙂  Then it was time for a paper Easter egg hunt.  G decorated a bunch of paper eggs, and L hid them and made a map for G to use to find them. 🙂

While playing on the playground in town later that morning, we heard lots of horns honking.  We walked out to the main road and found a race going on, so we stopped to have a look.  It was the Pork Pie Charity Run — a race of 60 Minis traveling 2,500 km over 6 days and 7 nights!  When we saw them, they’d just come off the ferry from the North Island and were heading south to Christchurch.


We walked back over to the playground area (spotted a shag on the way) and G and L sailed a couple of sailboats on a little pond.

We ended Easter with a very non-traditional (but delicious) dinner of patty melts with crisps and carrot sticks! 🙂


Next stop…the North Island!

New Zealand: Rai Valley

Rai Valley, South Island – April 9 to April 11, 2017

We arrived in the Rai Valley on Sunday afternoon and were greeted by the Airbnb host, Fiona, her cute little daughter, Anna, their dachshund, Snoopy, and their 2 guinea pigs, Jack and Jill II. 🙂  (The baby brother, Conrad, was napping, so we met him later.)

Anna, despite being just a preschooler, invited G and L to play on their trampoline. 🙂 G was invited in to play Barbies, so Mike and L through a rugby ball around for a while. After a bit, Fiona, Anna, G, and L were going to go down the road to feed the chickens. Unfortunately, the stroller for Conrad didn’t cooperate.  All moms encounter a stubborn stroller at one time or another, but this time the stroller got the best of Fiona’s finger. 🙁  In addition to getting some ice and making sure the bleeding stopped, we postponed feeding the chickens.  But it gave us a little time to hang out with Fiona, Anna and baby Conrad. 🙂

“Our” house and cute little rental car!
Playing a little rugby!
Hanging out with Anna and Conrad. 🙂

Once things calmed down a bit, Mike grilled some delicious salmon for dinner against a beautiful backdrop of the surrounding hills!


The next morning, G and L worked on some Easter crafts while Mike was serious about getting some work done…or just giving a crabby face to the photographer.

We headed into Havelock, the “Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World”, to see about going for a walk and checking out the town, which was about 15 minutes down the road.  We stopped into the i-Site for some maps and suggestions and found that stuff along with a “museum” of animals and fish from area! Some were more realistic than others! 🙂

Before heading out on our walk, we decided to get a quick snack.  What else do you get for a snack the Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World — mussels of course! 🙂  We stopped at The Mussel Pot and got a sample platter of breaded, marinated, pickled, smoked, and steamed ones.  It was the perfect size for us as we all got to try them but didn’t need heaps of them.  For the most part, we all liked them more than we had expected!

How cool is this fish made of mussel shells??  And if you don’t know how to eat them, a handy sign is hanging on the wall.  Later we learned a few things about them including that they are a super food — really high in protein, omega-3, and minerals, and low in fat.

Our hike took us up a very narrow path to a waterfall and an scenic view over the Pelorus Sound. It felt like we were walking through a type of rain forest with huge ferns (some as tall as trees!) and mossy surfaces.

After the hike, we walked down to the marina to check out the boats.  Although you can’t see it in the photo, there was a faint strip of a rainbow in this little wisp of a cloud!  It was super cool as there wasn’t a raindrop in the sky, so we’re not sure what caused it.

G on the old steam engine in front of the Havelock Museum.

There was a beautiful moon rise that night, which is hard to capture in pictures, but we tried.

A couple of culinary notes from our stay in the Rai Valley:

Mike enjoys picking out wine, beer, or cider in the lower price bracket to see what we can find without spending a lot.  This one was only about $7 and was fabulous!  It’s one of the BEST red wines we’ve had! It was easy to drink — smooth and velvety!

A little while after we returned from Havelock, Fiona stopped over with a plate of steamed mussels for us!  When we initially arrived for our stay, we were talking about mussels and said we hadn’t tried them before.  She offered to make some for us, which was so nice!  She steamed them and them served them with bacon and garlic butter!  They were absolutely DELICIOUS!  By far the best tasting ones we’ve had!!  (She may need to share her recipe with The Mussel Pot!)

Later that evening, Fiona and Anna knocked on our door with homemade apple pie made with apples from their garden and a bowl of homemade whipped cream!!  It was FANTASTIC!!

While it was a short stay, we had a lovely time and enjoyed the hospitality of our host and family!  Next stop — Picton!

New Zealand: Nelson Founders Heritage Park

After we left Wakefield (on our way to the Rai Valley area, which is between Nelson and Havelock), we stopped at the Founders Heritage Park in Nelson for a couple of hours.

You enter the park through the windmill gift shop, which was kind of cool!

This beautiful church has been relocated to the park but still holds weddings and ceremonies upon request. We happened to be there on Palm Sunday, but there was no service going on, so G and L are the only people in the congregation.

Onsite is a great little brewery, bar, and cafe, the Founders Brewery, with a playground out back for the kids!  The brewery has been has been in the same family for six generations!  Small world story:  While we were eating, we saw a toddler with a Twins hat on!  Mike and G went to chat with the parents to get the story.  It turns out the guy (toddler’s dad) is from Minnesota and married a woman from New Zealand!

The radio station that broadcasts from one of the buildings had this random cutout of Yoda.  Who can pass a photo cutout board??


Or an opportunity to stand in the stocks?  Don’t they look so sad?  We didn’t hurl any rotten fruit or insults at them.  They were just pretending to be sad. 🙂

There were a couple of cool displays of old fire fighting equipment.

And across the way was a big shed with information about old transportation modes, actual old cars and buses, and lots of interesting stories about how they used to travel around New Zealand from the horse and carriage days to trains to cars and buses.

This train actually runs on a short track from the park down to the shore and back.

Out back was an old cargo plane — a Bristol Freighter.

G and L plopped down in a couple of chairs to watch a really old video of how they used to process fruit — pulling the good from the bad, etc.  Then they had a seat in a bench made from a wine barrel…fun idea! 🙂

On the way out, there were two phone booths several feet from one another.  You could call from one to the other on an old rotary phone! L and I were in the other phone booth talking to G (and taking this picture)! 🙂

We left the same way we arrived — via the windmill.

The kids played for a couple of minutes on the playground near our car and then we were on our way to the Rai Valley.