In this, Take 500 of my holiday post, I'm going to gloss over the fact that although I had a good time, I just didn't click with New Zealand. I found the country, well, okay - which may have been a reflection of the way I was feeling while I was there, or might have just been that me and NZ aren't meant to be. I also hated the campervan thing - really not my scene.
So I'll share just my two favourite spots... these are the places that I really enjoyed and that made me want to explore a little more.
Kaikoura, on the South Island's east coast.
Right on the water, Kaikoura looked quite pretty when we arrived, clouds really low, and we went for a wander in the drizzle. Then the next morning we woke to sunshine, only to find that the town is surrounded by mountains, which had seen drops of snow the day before.
Kaikoura is the home of the wildlife. This is where I did my swimming with the dolphins, with albatross gliding above us as the sun rose.
We spent lots of time looking at seals right at home in their colony, just at the edge of town.
They're gorgeous - lying on the rocks, playing together in the water, and creeping over to the grass to sleep in the patches of sun. It's amazing to see such beautiful creatures in their natural habitat, so close up.
We also spent some of our sunshiney time at the beach behind the town's shops. Smooth grey pebbles, rough water and mountains surrounding us, made for a relaxing stop for a play and a relax. This photo looks like it's been altered, I think, but this is how the colours really are.
When Steve, the world's biggest coffee snob, spotted a coffee bean roaster at a cafe he insisted we make a stop there. (Not that my arm took a lot of twisting.) Sure enough, he reports it to be the best coffee he tasted in New Zealand. Abbey was impressed with the milkshakes too.
We clambered around the rocks to see more seals, and had such a fun time together helping Abbey navigate her way around the tricky sections.
And when I was out in the ocean with dolphins, Steve snapped some of his own sunrise photos from land. Not bad, hey?
Queenstown, south South Island.
Queenstown is known for two things: snow and adventure. Sometimes the two are related but at this time of year, even though there is still a smattering of snow on the mountaintops, they're quite separate.
As we drove into Queenstown, the sun was setting behind the snowy mountains and as we navigated the winding roads we kept shaking our heads at the beauty of it. Which was then confirmed with absolute clarity the following morning as we headed up the cable car to check out the view.
Soon, though, we were heading out of town to stay in Te Anau - the home of glow worms (Abbey was dying to see them!) and the gateway to Doubtful Sound. Now THIS is a place I'd love to come back to - so many real bush hikes around this area that would be great to explore. But for now, we can say we've been out on the Sound on a boat.
Spot the rainbow...
Spot the tourist...
And then it was back to Queenstown. And it was time for some adventure.
We were lucky enough to stumble upon a tour company that does white water rafting for families, taking kids from the age of three up. This, we decided, would be way cool.
We were right. It was one of the big highlights of our trip and a great way to (almost) conclude the holiday.
To start with, if there's anything cuter than a three-year-old in rafting gear, I'm yet to see it.
But I'm also yet to see anything dorkier than adults in rafting gear...
I knew my little daredevil would love this adventure. She stood up the front of the raft, her face splashed with the (small) rapids, shouting 'WOOOOOOOOO!' So cool. As was seeing the beautiful Shotover River - the most brilliant blue you could imagine.
So - my picks for New Zealand: Kaikoura and Queenstown. Great for families, lots of fun, but also lots of opportunities to take it easy. And beautiful parts of the world.