On to Nelson!
We took a brief flight from Wellington (at the bottom of the north island) to Nelson (at the top of the south island). Most people make this trip by ferry, and the views are said to be spectacular. However, the ferry ride is three hours long and if there are swells (and there often are), the seasickness is also said to be spectacular so we opted for the 30-minute flight.
We checked in right away at our motor lodge, which has a very different connotation in New Zealand than it does in the US. It was really nice! Everything was brand-new and tastefully decorated. Each room had a kitchenette, a large bathroom with eco-friendly products, flat screen TVs and DVD players, and free wi-fi (the only free wi-fi of the trip). We opted for a suite with lounge and a separate bedroom. Standard hotel rooms just don't work for us for many reasons, but mostly for one very cute reason: Stephanie (she simply cannot rest when we are all in one room at bedtime).
From there, we set out on foot to find some lunch and explore Nelson. Markus commented that it was like being inside a miniature railway. There were large hills (small mountains?) all around, covered with trees that were turning their autumn leaves.
The area greatly appeals to artists, and there were galleries throughout the town. The first one was passed was a small jewelry shop next door to a glass blowing studio. This small jeweler, Jens Hansen, was the creator of the One Ring for the Lord of the Rings trilogy. We're big fans, so that was fun for us. He had to create 40 rings to fit all of the different people who wear it during the movie (the magic ring adapts to fit the wearer perfectly), including one huge ring for the opening sequence so the cameras could film it well. That one was made of gold-plated steel, to make the size possible. Just a bit of trivia for you.
On our last day, we drove up into the hills around Nelson and got this view of the town:
There's no getting around the fact that it rained A LOT, and we weren't able to do as much as we had hoped. The trip was saved by coloring and the great magnetic toy "Ball of Whacks", which the girls brought out every time we sat down.
Still, we made the most of it, despite the drizzle. From Nelson, most people head over to Abel Tasman National Park. There is only one road around the perimeter. The rest is trails or access by boat, neither of which was a real option for us. Instead, we drove about 1.5 hours to Nelson Lakes National Park to walk around Lake Rotoiti, one of the twin glacial lakes at the northern tip of the Southern Alps. Among the more accessible trails, there was a 15-minute walk which connected half-way to an hour-long walk. The girls did so well on the short trail that we carried on and did the bigger loop with them. This was their first real nature walk, and it was fantastic (though toward the end Ellie did become rather obsessed with a fear of being eaten by a large ferocious beast; funny because there aren't any in New Zealand, not even snakes)!
We drove to the area of the other lake, but the girls were too annoyed with the car travel to attempt another walk. The day involved a bit too much time in the car for everyone, though we were able to make a beautiful scenic stop on the way back to Nelson:
There, Markus was engaged in a serious debate with Ellie about the fairness of him carrying Stephanie on his shoulders and making her walk.
There was only one resolution possible: tickling.