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Mewe (pronounced like ‘ewe’, a female sheep) Zealand: South Island

This will be numero uno in my series of ‘Back-Blogs’, as I’ve finally gotten my ass in gear, for now.

Last May, we journeyed to the land of the flightless Kiwi bird, New Zealand, which at the time, Safari pronounced as Mewe Zealand (and for the sake of keeping that memory intact, I will do my best to not ever let her say the word again because inevitably, it will come out correctly).

The most common inquiry I get in regards to traveling with my kids is, “How’d they do on the flight?”.  Probably most parents biggest source of trepidation when thinking of long distance travel with young kids.  And to which, knock on wood, I always respond, “Great”.  No doubt a 12-14 hour flight is painful, even for the drink-a-glass-of-champagne-take-an-ambien-and-pass-out-for-10-hours-while-sitting-in-first-class-type. Which, let me tell you, is a LONG shot from our experience, and it STILL works.  Though, I will say that more often than not, we end up with an extra seat we didn’t have to pay for because after all, WHO THE HELL WANTS TO SIT NEXT TO THE FAMILY WITH A 3.5 YEAR OLD AND AN ALMOST 2 YEAR OLD (screeching) LAP CHILD?  But, then again, it just depends on how motivated you are to actually do it.  In my case, I’d brave through a 10 hour flight, by myself, covered in poo and tears, so I could lay foot on foreign land.

Okay, back to Mewe Zealand.  We flew into Queenstown (south of the south island) and began our journey through middle earth.  Our first few days were experienced with a backdrop of sweet towns set amidst stunning lakes, flanked on all sides by magnificent mountains.  To be honest, the first few days left me a bit disappointed.  With an only slight cultural difference (yes I adore the accents and cute vocabulary), I felt like I could have been in Idaho, then Wyoming, then California and while those places are amazing, I DIDN’T just fly 14 hours to feel like I was in the US.  HOWEVER, what I realized after those first few days is that, for me, New Zealand’s strength is in the sum of its parts.  One day we were camping on a mountain lake and the next we were on a beach in the tropics.  Really, it’s that dramatic.  Camping, right.  So, we rented a campervan (thinking we were onto something then realizing that THIS IS HOW PEOPLE ‘DO’ NZ – including Kiwis themselves) from Wilderness Campervans.  If by the grace of God, someone is actually using my blog for travel advice/inspiration, GO WITH WILDERNESS, don’t think about anyone else, do it.  The only prob is that they only rent out of Christchurch and Auckland… BUT, work it out, it’ll be worth it.

Holy, I haven’t yet gotten to the gory details.  We went bungy-jumping (no, not the kids – though Safari claimed that she wanted to jump with Daddy), which I’ll show the video of in a separate post (even though it’s so embarrassing I’ve barely let my own mother watch it).  AND WE CAMPED, AND CAMPED, AND CAMPED.  FOR FREE.  Yay, freedom camping, yay New Zealand.  To be clear, it was LUXURY camping, I make no claims at ‘roughing it’.  Below is a small dose of our experience with it.

Night One – Arthur’s Pass NP (taken from parked campervan):

Night Two – beach near Punakaiki:

Night Three – Buller River:

At the same time we were winding our way through crazy mountain roads, thinking we were pretty badass, there was a couple, whom we later met on the north island, who was doing the same… on bikes… two kids, in a bike carrier, with all their shit, cycling on crazy mountain roads.  Now THAT’S badass.  I want to be them when I grow up.

We did A SHAT TON OF DRIVING.  We’d schedule our daily pushes to coordinate with naptime and only drive an hour or two outside of that… except when googlemaps told us it would take 3 hours and ended up taking more like 7, which actually happened often.  SO, if you’re fortunate enough to be traveling with some sort of googlemaps powered GPS/ a husband who can’t be more than a hand reach away from work (i.e. with phone at all times), beware.  Our course looked something like this:  Queenstown – Milford Sound – Arrow Town – Wanaka – Mount Cook – Tekapo – Christchurch – Arthurs Pass NP – West Coast – Nelson Lake NP – Takaka – Abel Tasman NP – Nelson – Marlborough Valley – Picton.  And we agree that if we were to do it again, we’d chart the same course.  Bam. 



Tokyo Mayhem and Yukata Style

We whirlwind-ed our way through a short Japanese excursion and christ, I realized that city travel with two small children ain’t no cup of tea.  I’m motivated to travel with these guys, REALLY motivated, BUT, if that meant subway, cab, and training it for weeks on end through bustling metropolises, I might throw in my towel.  With that said, our short and sweet Japanese getaway was splendid and definitely made me want to see MORE of Japan.

First, I’ll get my Hyatt tangent out of the way, or not (see below).  We opted for the Hyatt Regency Tokyo over the Park Hyatt, even though I longed to feel like Scarlet Johanssen in Lost in Translation (figured that making friends with Bill Murray would be a long shot and the Regency cost us 7000 points less per night).  If you can get past the disconnected, slightly gauty decor of the lobby and the small rooms, the location is convenient (a short walk from Shinjuku Station) and despite the not-so-toddler friendly Regency Club, cocktail hour was delicious.

After a night in Tokyo, we boarded a train bound for Hakone.  After 5 hours and three train changes, we arrived in Gora… the location of Hakone Hyatt Regency Resort and Spa.  Like I’ve mentioned before, Hyatts end up defining our family vacations these days (mostly because of my opportunisticly frugal house-wife self) and NONE have I felt more pleased with than http://hakone.regency.hyatt.com.  BEAUTIFULLY designed, IMPECCABLY appointed, and SERENELY peaceful.  Which was more than welcomed after being told by the ubber polite receptionist that no, we could not get a free ride from their shuttle with kids under 6 (to which I bitched and moaned and assumed it was going to be a repressive, sterile concentration camp of a hotel) and that we’d have to take ANOTHER train, over an hour, through switchbacks, up one hell of a mountain.  I was grateful, to be real, as that train ride turned out to be quite spectacular: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hakone_Tozan_Line.

Okay, okay.  Our trip and correspondingly, this post, is a bit Hyatt-centric (no, I’m not cool enough to be sponsored by them)… but let me get to the best part.  Gora, Hyatt Hakone, and Yukata Style.  After trying to make our way by stroller up what we found out was a mountain nearly the size of K2 to the hotel, we settled in and went to http://www.gorakadan.com for dinner.  Though far more expensive than my frugalness had hoped to spend on dinner, we dined in a private room on a coursed meal of fresh Japanese dishes and it was all made worthwhile when we were offered a ride back to our hotel in a sick Mercedes.  Ballers.  Staying at the Hyatt only because we could for free, with hotel points.  Double ballers.

During a personal tour through our immaculate room, we were told about this Yucuta Style and its suggested uses around the hotel.  We were told that we could/should (I’m still not sure) wear our Yucuta’s in all of the communal hotel spaces.  And so, we did as we were told.  Which meant that we were among a very small handful of people who executed our orders (or suggestions, I can’t be sure).  So here we are, four VERY obvious causasian folks, decked to the gills in our Japanese gear.  I almost felt like I was mocking the culture because of my eager naivety to embrace the style.  If we wouldn’t have been bringing it with our bells on, though, the world would be denied these epic-ly cute photos.

After the most relaxing of days (the hotel had a hot springs, called an Onsen – gender separated, clothing not-not optional – and to which there was a very specific ritual surrounding), we headed back to HOLY-SHIT-NOW-I-KNOW-WHAT-MAXIMUM-CAPACITY-LOOKS-LIKE, Tokyo.  And ventured through Shibuya and Harajuku (tear drop, I didn’t get to see the girls).  AND FAILED AT MY ATTEMPT TO SEEK OUT THE PLAYGROUNDS OF THE WORLD.  Damn me, damn us.  We saw a super piddly looking one while exploring through neighborhoods, hardly worth documenting.  Next time we’re in Japan, I’ll make it my mission.  Assuming that I’m not still in a selfish, lets just make the kids tag along and do whatever we want to do, mentality.

In short, great trip, much too quick but without which, Safari wouldn’t have been able to watch Alvin and the Chipmucks: Chipwrecked, 4 times, start to finish, on the flight home.


Taiwan – An Entirely Different Brand of China

Mainland China (the PRC – Peoples Republic of China) thinks it has dominion over Taiwan (ROC – Republic of China) and the ROC thinks it has legal control over all of China – but the two seem at least for now, to coexist peacefully.  Totally Chinese but totally not chinese, Taiwan has a unique identity.

We were able to spend a few days in Taipei, again tagging along with Daddy on business.  We stayed at the Hyatt, adjacent to Taipei 101, all 90 something floors of it.  We have, at this point, stayed at dozens of Hyatts (Daddy travels A LOT for work and accrues A LOT of hotel points) – vacations are often planned with the parameter of “where can we get on United and stay at a Hyatt”.  Anyway, I figure I should start, as a piece of my adventure blogging, document the Hyatts we stay at (for free).  So, here goes my first:

Hotel:  Hyatt Regency Taipei

Particulars:  Older hotel, nice enough suite (free upgrade).  Great service.  Decent Pool.

Highlights:  Child fun packs equipped with a new toothbrush, toothpaste and soft squishy teddy [bear]… and child sized white hotel slippers!, ridiculous but adorable.  Breakfast and cocktail hour were bomb – much better than those we often encounter.  Great views (see below).

Now that we’re done with that, onto much more interesting details of our time in Taipei.  We went to a very cool series of old coal mining villages turned touristy due to a train built to carry coal that has been turned into one that moves people.  In the town of Ping Hsi, you can write your loveliest dreams onto a paper lantern, that is then fueled with fire and sent up in the atmosphere to burn and make all your wishes come true.  Though I fundamentally don’t like the idea of sending anything up into the sky for the earth’s sake, let alone a giant fire bearing lantern (further supported by the first lantern we saw released getting caught in phone lines above our heads, sending burning pieces floating to the ground around us), I was convinced that it’d be worth the experience for the *sake* of the kids.  So, up we sent our adorned purple lantern (Safari picked), to burn to ashes and litter the land.

Taipei has incredible night markets, which anyone who has been, will surely tell you about.  My take away from the night market was this photo (which actually was quite common as I found out.  There was a “nursery” in the airport, with a crib and all):

And, finally, I’ll leave you with these:

Yes, his nails really were that dirty and yes, they look like that A LOT.

Sassy, even after I made a waffle offering to her gods.

All in all, Taiwan is a cleaner, less chaotic… I hate to say it, more westernized (for better or for worse), version of China.  Where there seem to be traffic laws that people obey and elevators that *sometimes* run below capacity.  AND, having a stroller gets you VIP access EVERYWHERE.  Which, as we’ve learned on this trip, is the shit when crossing borders and standing in security lines.  They want to get you and your little ratbags through as quickly as possible.