First Road Trip in Idaho

Going down the ski lift at Bald Mountain

Alex’s parents were in town for a few weeks, so it was a perfect opportunity for us to show them (and, ourselves!) scenic Idaho (famous potatoes… that’s the slogan written on ID license plates — “Scenic Idaho // Famous Potatoes”). We decided to visit the two most popular spots in Idaho: McCall (known for skiing in winter and the Payette Lake in the summer) and Ketchum/Sun Valley (world-renowned ski resort).

Red Fish Lake, Stanley

Alex and I were excited to explore Idaho (our first time to either place) but also nervous about road-tripping with two young kids. They actually did pretty well, although we had to lug a ton of stuff with us! (See my “Pro Tips” at the bottom.) We rented a Ford Expedition XL (hey, we needed that third row!) for the trip.

Payette Lake, McCall (+ oreo shake)

The drive to McCall from Boise was surprisingly windy, especially through the ravines (Marcia and I started to get a little nauseous in the second and third rows of the car). It was truly beautiful, though. We ate a late lunch when we arrived in McCall (Toll Station — family friendly restaurant), and then checked into our Airbnb. Unfortunately, it started to rain, so we didn’t get to do any exploring that first day. The plan was to grill chicken for dinner (we even brought along our own charcoal and lighter), but apparently two grown men (ahem, Alex and dad Fred) couldn’t figure out how to use a charcoal grill (this, after they went out to purchase lighter fluid). Since we didn’t want to eat half-raw chicken, I ended up finishing the chicken on the stove. After the kids were in bed, Alex and I walked into town to try out My Father’s Place‘s milkshakes (oreo shake = yummmm).

Ponderosa State Park

The next morning, we got up at seven, ate breakfast, and were out the door by 8:15 (a record for the Montgomery household!). We drove to Ponderosa State Park, and enjoyed a (very) short hike. The views of Payette Lake were awesome! I made lunch at home, and the kids took a nap, before our 2 PM cruise around Payette Lake (90 minute McCall Lake Cruise). Seeing all of the super nice homes, I had lake house envy! Toddler M got to “steer the boat” (captain turned off the engine) for a few minutes (but then all she wanted was to steer the boat, and that lead to a tantrum…). We had an early dinner at Bistro 45 (sandwiches were ok, it would have been a nice place to have some wine and play boulle) before having shakes at My Father’s Place again (hey, it was on the way!).

Cruise on Payette Lake

After the kids were in bed, Alex and I made s’mores on the deck. (I just read a very interesting Smithsonian article about s’mores: Let Us Tell You S’more About America’s Favorite Campfire Treat.) It’d been ages since either one of us made s’mores. We forgot how a). sugary they are (one s’more is enough!), b). sugary milk chocolate is (but apparently, milk chocolate is ideal for making s’mores because of its low melting point), c). sticky melted marshmallow is, d). it’s easier just to eat toasted marshmallow. Two funny things that happened: 1). I closed the door to the deck and it locked us out… while we had the fire pit going. Just as Alex was contemplating jumping off the deck, Fred heard my tapping of the downstairs front door with a broom that was left on the deck (phew!); 2). When I came out with two glasses of milk (goes great with wine… I mean, s’mores), there was a deer just a few feet away from the deck, staring right at Alex and the fire — it looked as if it could jump onto the deck (maybe it wanted marshmallows, too?).

Roasting marshmallows

The next day, we packed up (packing up a car, especially packing up pack-n-plays and toddler beds, is the wooooooorst!) and drove towards Ketchum/Sun Valley. We stopped in Stanley for lunch at the Stanley Baking Co. (great sandwiches and breakfast). The Sawtooth Mountains (of the Rocky Mountains) are beautiful (and steep and jagged)! We took a short break at nearby Red Fish Lake. (Side note: along the corridor at the hospital where I spent last summer, there were photos of places around Idaho, and the picture of Red Fish Lake was so stunning that Alex and I promised ourselves we’d visit when I got out of the hospital.) We wished we had time to rent a boat and explore the lake. Ah well, next summer! (Or maybe a long weekend later this summer?)

Red Fish Lake

Downtown Ketchum is cute, with restaurants and shops (lots of outdoor gear). Unlike McCall, this is where it would be good to bring your own groceries, because otherwise you’re stuck paying “resort town” prices. (We got ready-made sandwiches from the Village Market‘s deli for dinner our first night.)

The pool at Sun Valley Lodge

The best thing about our Airbnb in Sun Valley? It came with passes to the Sun Valley Resort pools (all three, but we only used the iconic outdoor pool at the Lodge). All of us enjoyed the (heated) pool, including Toddler M and Baby A (he was so relaxed, he fell asleep while floating around!). We had lunch at Gretchen’s at the lodge (tasty food and pretty reasonably priced), and watched people ice skate in the outdoor ice rink. There is a hallway with photos of famous people swimming/skating/dining/skiing at Sun Valley (check it out!). While the kids (and grandparents) were napping, Alex and I hiked a little of nearby Dollar Mountain. We walked to the resort, and had dinner at Village Station (cute, train-themed decor, since Sun Valley was a popular destination on the Union Pacific railroad; very reasonably priced with big portions) and ice cream (of course!) at a la Mode. Once the kids were in bed, Alex and I enjoyed the hot tub and resort pool, again.

The Village at Sun Valley

After using the lodge pool again the next morning, we dropped Marcia and Fred in downtown Ketchum, while we went to Bald Mountain. We didn’t realize that the gondola only takes you up three-quarters of the way — you have to transfer to a chairlift to reach the top (9150 ft). Understandably, our kids were NOT old enough to ride the chairlift; not understandably, you only have to be three to be allowed on the chairlift! These are real chairlifts — you have to put down the bar yourself, and even then, it was a little scary (although I saw people riding without the bar down with purses/bags placed willy-nilly on the chair, I had the bar down and was clutching my phone)! All four of us took the gondola up, had a picnic lunch, then Alex and I took turns taking the chairlift to the top. The views from up top were great, but it was really chilly (even though it was scorching hot at the base). We saw mountain bikers ride down the black diamonds (*shudder*). In fact, the lifts were very busy with bikers and their bikes.

Gondola going up Bald Mountain

We had a GREAT time exploring McCall and Sun Valley. Both places are less than three hours away from Boise! Next time, we’d like to spend more time in Stanley, and use the Sun Valley lodge pool again! To all our dear family and friends who have never been to Idaho — come visit! It’s beautiful! 

The Village at Sun Valley — it was very quaint and had a European feel


Pro Tip #1: Pack separate snacks for each kid (duh!). I learned this the hard way. You’d think Baby A, who is new to solid foods AND a very relaxed baby, would be fine, but he threw a fit whenever his sister got to eat snacks and he didn’t.

Pro Tip #2: New toys are a good distraction in the car… except Toddler M started asking “are we there yet” about five minutes into our drive…

Pro Tip #3: Either get your groceries the night (or days) before, or just suck it up and buy your groceries at your destination. We were told that the prices in McCall were exorbitant, so we stocked up on groceries on our drive out to McCall, which added an extra 30 minutes in the car for the kids. Not. Worth. It. (Also, the prices at the Albertson’s in McCall was pretty similar to those in Boise.)

Pro Tip #4: Bring your own pack n plays or portable cots, especially if you’re driving (versus flying). We’ve brought a pack n play for Toddler M everywhere we’ve traveled (after that time in Hiroshima, where she *ahem* had to sleep in the closet), and now Baby A uses it too. It’s fairly space efficient, and you don’t have to worry or think about a safe place for your baby to sleep.


Read my blog about Idaho’s wine country here

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Idaho’s Wine Country

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View from Koenig Distillery and Winery

Alex and I were pretty skeptical when we were told that there were nice wineries 45 minutes from downtown Boise. ‘Yeah, right!‘ I thought. ‘Clearly, these people have never been to a real winery,’ thought Alex. We didn’t think about it again, until Alex’s mom came to visit last month, and we were looking for something to do on a nice, warm, spring day. We figured we didn’t have much to lose by driving out to southwestern Idaho. (Plus, 45 minutes to an hour was the max I could handle sitting in the middle between two carseats — side note: I’m slightly regretting not getting a bigger SUV…)

View from Koenig

So, we started the day off right by first having brunch downtown at Goldy’s Breakfast Bistro (yummmm), before driving to Caldwell. We were surprised when the flat fields in Nampa gave way to more hilly terrain in Caldwell. “It’s actually kind of pretty,” said Alex, as we were driving in. “Actually, I like this better than Napa,” he later amended. (Scenic, idyllic, and no traffic = awesome.)

Our first stop was Koenig Distillery and Winery (one of ones recommended by our friends who first told us about wineries in Idaho). Toddler M got to enjoy grandma pulling her around in a red wagon (meant for hauling boxes of wine to your car). The outside patio was nice (apparently they have concerts in the summer), as was the view and the view from the lookout (two flights of stairs). This was the only winery we went to that had free tastings (wine only, no whiskey). We purchased a bottle of rose and bourbon (mmm!).

Our next stop (also recommended) was Ste. Chapelle Winery (tasting room modeled after chapel in France). Tastings were $5 for five tastings and you get to keep the glass. (Tip: don’t buy food here — the table next to us ordered chips and salsa and the chips looked like low-end chips from a bag. “It’s like they’re not even trying,” said Alex. There were people enjoying a picnic on the patio, complete with an Albertson’s rotisserie chicken — that’s the way to do it!)

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Love the atmosphere at Koenig!

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Baby A with Uncle Dennis, from Koenig’s lookout area

When my college buddies Dennis and Judy came out for a surprise birthday visit, we once again headed out to Caldwell. This time, we went back to Koenig (can’t beat the atmosphere and the free tastings!), then had lunch at Parma Ridge Wine (recommended to us by Koenig). We sat outside to enjoy our wine (again, $5 for five tastings) and lunch (the burgers were good but the fries were AMAZING — we couldn’t stop eating them) and the faint whiff of cow/horse manure (we were in the countryside, after all). Our last stop was Bitner Vineyards (the last of the three recommended to us by friends). The views of the Snake River valley were beautiful. There’s a bed and breakfast that we may want to try out sometime (mini staycation, sans kids?)

Enjoying our wine tasting and lunch at Parma Ridge

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View of Snake River Valley from Bitner

We were all impressed by the wineries we visited (comparable to/better than Napa and Sonoma valleys, and certainly better than the wineries we visited on Long Island and in Maryland). Who knew that there were wineries in Idaho?! We’ve only visited the Southwest wine region, but we’ll have to try the other two soon!

For more information on Idaho’s wine regions (there are THREE!), take a look at these links: http://www.idahowines.org/Tour and https://visitidaho.org/things-to-do/wineries-wine-tours/.


Read about our visit to the Nikka Distillery in Japan, here: Hokkaido Day 2: Nikka Distillery, Shakotan Peninsula, & Otaru

The Toughest Summer

Introducing Baby A (yes, he’s wearing his sister’s pastel onesie)

This holiday season, I want to give thanks for my healthy Baby A, who is almost four months old (I can’t believe it!).

This past summer was one of the toughest of my life. Some days I think I’m being a little melodramatic, but other days I just accept it: I have a little PTSD from the events of this summer. (Yesterday I took Baby A to the pediatrician’s office, and the too familiar smell of hospital hand sanitizer made my stomach churn.) I thank God every day that I have a healthy Baby A, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have “Why did this have to happen to me?” moments, and moments where I think of what could have happened, of the pain and sorrow that could have resulted from this near tragedy.

My water broke when I was less than 23 weeks pregnant. In the state of Idaho, 24 weeks is when a fetus is considered “viable.” After finally going to the hospital to be checked out (honestly, I thought I was just being cautious — I mean, whose water breaks at 22 weeks?!) and having the triage nurse confirm that I was indeed leaking amniotic fluid, Alex and I decided to have me admitted to the hospital, to start a round of antibiotics, steroid shots, and hospital bedrest. (Apparently some patients decide to take a more “natural” approach by going home to “see what happens.”)

Thus began my first summer in Idaho — within the confines of a hospital room. It was my first time away from Baby M for more than three hours — that was really tough on both Baby M and me. (I will NEVER forget that on the day I was hospitalized, Baby M was crying, sprawled across my chest, as a tech performed an ultrasound on my belly.) Three months after coming home, we are finally getting our relationship back to the way it was. (It makes sense, and yet hurts me at the same time, that she was closer to Daddy than to me, since I was gone for three months — even if Alex did bring her to see me almost every day.)

When the neonatologist came to talk about our baby’s very definite NICU stay, and what to expect if he was born at 23 weeks, 24 weeks, etc., I sobbed. At 24 weeks, there was a 44% survival rate, and an 85% chance of severe disability (which would require a lifetime caregiver). Alex and I had just started house hunting in Boise. Now we had to think about a new criterion: did we need a single story home, or to at least have one bedroom on the first floor?

I didn’t even pay attention to the survival rates the neonatologist gave us for 28 weeks. Five (long) weeks into the future just seemed too far away. So impossibly far away.

And then there were the “smaller” every day issues I had to deal with. Having a sore back/behind from all the lying down/sitting. Eating almost all of my meals alone. Suddenly sleeping alone — on a very uncomfortable hospital bed. Going stir-crazy from staying inside my room. Trusting Alex to buy a house, without being able to see it for myself (he did pretty well… and thank goodness for Facetime!). Not having a chance to make any friends in Boise. Not being around to set up our new house and not being there when our shipment finally arrived from Korea. But the very worst was that I missed Baby M’s birthday. Yes, Alex brought her to my hospital room on her birthday, and we celebrated with cake. But, it was only for a few hours, and understandably, she got bored and cranky in my hospital room. I didn’t get to throw her a birthday party… and even if I could have, I hadn’t met anyone to invite!

Every day, I had this overwhelming sense of guilt. What kind of mother was I, being away from Baby M for so long? What kind of wife, to make Alex be Mr. Mom (and he was even more than that — he had to be both the sole breadwinner and both mom and dad)? What kind of woman’s water broke so early, when life outside the womb isn’t even viable? I wasn’t even good at being pregnant. And a bunch of “what ifs” ran through my head. What if I had rested more? What if I hadn’t let the stress of our move from Korea get to me? What if I had taken more vitamin C/eaten more protein/done something to make my membrane walls thicker, more robust?

My friend Janna recently sent me this article (88 Days Trapped in Bed to Save a Pregnancy), saying that it reminded her of me (and jokingly asked, “Too soon?”). As I read the article, I shuddered and cringed, remembering my days on bedrest in the hospital, the loneliness, the immense fear that I could give birth to a very premature baby, or worse yet, lose my baby.

If you want to try and understand the summer I went through, please read through the entire article. I can relate to so much of the article, I feel like I could have written it myself (although unlike the author, the doctor on call immediately confirmed that I was leaking amniotic fluid; I did not have to use a bedpan — thank God!; my broke again a few weeks after I was released from the hospital; and, I already had a baby at home to worry about/be separated from). But here are all the similarities: the incessant stress and worry, the constant non-stress test (NST) monitoring, the sequential compression devices (SCDs) pumping my lower legs to prevent blood clots, the antibiotics, the steroid shots to accelerate baby’s lung development (the lungs are the last organs to develop — because, why waste energy on something you don’t need in utero?), being prodded every four hours, and thinking that this was definitely NOT what I had in mind when I had sometimes relished the idea of “staying in bed and reading and watching tv all day.”

“Fifty per cent of women with pPROM go into labour within 48 hours, and 95% deliver within one week of rupture. Four of the remaining 5% deliver within two weeks. One percent of women with pPROM experience spontaneous resealment of the membranes and go on to carry the baby to term. One per cent.”

Like the author of the article, I was a(n almost) one percent-er. My OB and the antepartum nurses were surprised — they hadn’t met anyone who resealed. I spent three weeks limping around (it hurt to walk!) and during that time, we moved twice — from our extended stay to a hotel to our house. Just when I was beginning to have hope that I might actually make it to 37 weeks (term), if not 40 weeks (or even go past my due date!!), my water broke again. This time, it was “it.” Gushes and gushes of amniotic fluid. Alex took me back to triage, and we went through the entire process again. “Oh, you’re back!” said all the nurses, surprised to see me again.

One thing I did get out of the whole experience is a new perspective. When I was pregnant with Baby M, at my 34 week checkup, my OB at the natural birthing center wanted to induce me because my amniotic fluid level was low. At the time, I felt like my heart dropped down into my stomach. It seemed like the end of the world. Deliver at 34 weeks? We weren’t ready! She wasn’t ready! What about her lung development; how long would she have to stay in the NICU? Luckily, we made it until almost my due date. But I remember thinking how early 34 weeks was. And here I was this summer, hospitalized, wishing and praying to make it to 34 weeks. At the time, it had seemed impossible. All of us thought 34 weeks would be a miracle (I did make it, and it was a miracle). It’s funny how your perspective changes, though, based on the situation.

Anyway, I am incredibly thankful that Baby A was born healthy, and had a relatively short stint in the NICU. I’m thankful for Alex’s support and love. I’m thankful that both grandmas flew out several times to take care of Baby M and relieve Alex. And, I’m very thankful for my own mother’s optimism. She had said, from the moment I was hospitalized, “I believe we are going to have a good baby.” And, we did.

The last paragraph of the article sums it up perfectly (down to the plastic water pitcher, that I asked the nurses to refill frequently — if I was leaking fluid, I was going to take in even more fluid!): “One day, when Angus was about three years old, I cleaned out a closet and unexpectedly found the plastic water pitcher that had been by my hospital bed. In an instant, the lighthouse in my head revolved, and everything went white and cold. I was certain that the baby was in danger – so certain that I had to run to the bathroom and vomit. I don’t know why this surprised me, or why I thought I would be different, immune to the after-effects of my ordeal. All survivors have scars.”

I definitely have invisible scars. And I will always remember my very first summer in Boise, stuck inside a hospital room. Praying. Hoping. Waiting.

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Playing with her brother

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Baby M and Baby A

Toddler Activity Board

I finally completed the toddler activity board I’d been wanting to make for Baby M. (It was supposed to be my summer project, but between our move to Boise, my hospitalization, and the early arrival of Baby A — that’s for another post!, well, I ran out of time!)

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Baby M’s activity board

What is a toddler activity board? Google toddler+activity board, or sensory board, and you’ll find sooooooo many websites with do-it-yourself boards, as well as thousands of hits on Pinterest. There are even ready-made boards you can buy off Amazon (I like these two Melissa & Doug boards: Latches Wooden Activity Board and Basic Skills Board). I wanted to make my own, so that I could a). put things on that I knew Baby M would love, b). save some money (ha! All in, I probably spent $40 or so…).

Baby M’s activity board has had: 1). velcro, 2). magnets, 3). buttons, 4). zipper, 5). snaps, 6). buckles, 7). a hinge, 8). a chain door lock, 9). ribbon to tie, 10). twist tops (these she promptly ripped off…)

Here’s how I made/attached each one to the 2’x2’x0.75″ MDF board (from Home Depot).

1). Attached one side of velcro to the board, and other side to felt animals from Michaels.

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Cute felt monkeys and frogs with velcro

2). Gorilla-glued a baking tray (from the dollar store), and purchased these Melissa & Doug wooden animal magnets (Baby M loves pulling out an animal, saying the name — in Chinese!, and putting it on the board).

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Magnets, snaps, button snaps, and buckles (also decorated with pompoms!)

3). I sewed large buttons (from Michaels) to a strip of fabric (my old pajama shorts, hehe), and cut/sewed corresponding button holes. Baby M has gotten really good with doing these buttons.

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Buttons and zipper (and also some pompoms to hide the Gorilla glue that came through)

4). I originally Gorilla-glued a zipper directly onto the board, but it didn’t provide enough slack, so that it was nearly impossible to unzip. I pulled off that zipper, and sewed both sides of a new zipper to fabric, which I then hot-glued onto the board.

5). I sewed one end of the snaps onto a strip of fabric, which I then Gorilla-glued to the board. I sewed the other end of the snaps to large, colorful buttons, and then reinforced with some hot glue (I want to make sure these are NOT a choking hazard). I then realized there were three snaps from my pajama shorts, so I cut those out and also attached to the board.

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Button snaps + peekaboo ribbon

6). I purchased a pack of plastic buckles (from Michaels), and attached each end to some elastic (but any fabric would work), and then Gorilla-glued those to the board. (Be careful to provide enough slack so that your toddler doesn’t end up pulling off the buckles!)

7). I screwed on a hinge I purchased from the Home Depot. (You can make it fancier by putting something on the hinge… but I got lazy!)

8). I screwed on a chain door lock (also from the Home Depot).

9). I had a small gift box that closed with a pink ribbon tie, so I cut down the box, scored both pieces, and then glued them to the board. To make it cuter, I cut a picture of a pasture and put some stickers of sheep (Baby M loves sheep) on it, so that when you untie the ribbons and “open” the flaps, you’ll see the image.

Baby M playing with her new activity board

10). I saw this on someone else’s website — a woman made a board with a bunch of baby food pouch tops, since her kiddo loved unscrewing and screwing the tops of these pouches. I’m not sure how she got hers to stay, because even though I cut and flanged the pouch before I Gorilla-glued the pouch onto the board (and it seemed pretty solid), Baby M took off the cap and ripped off both pouches. She then proceeded to try and suck from the pouch (even though she hated those pouches by the end of our New Zealand trip…).

After writing it all down, it really doesn’t seem like it should have taken that much time to make this board… but, I’m not good at sewing and there was a bit of sewing involved with the buttons and snaps. All in all, I’m happy with the way this activity board came out. I have it against a wall (I’ve seen some people mount theirs to the wall, but it seems too permanent to me). I can only hope I did a good enough job securing everything, so that once Baby M is done with this board, Baby A can have a go at it (in a year or so!).

Other Highlights from Our New Zealand Trip

We loved our family trip to New Zealand’s South Island. We wish we could have spent more time (two and a half weeks was NOT enough!) and have had enough time to visit the North Island as well. If you’re traveling with young kids (or in a group), I highly recommend renting a car. It gives you so much more flexibility!

Here are some of the other highlights from our trip (not in order of popularity, just in the order we saw them):

1). Abel Tasman Coastal Track: We did a short hike because of Baby M, but if you’re there without kids (or with kids who are a little older), you can go tramping (yes, that’s a word) or camping.

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Abel Tasman Coastal Track, at low tide

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Baby M walking with Alex

2). Punakaiki Pancake Rocks & Blowholes (and the west coast of the South Island, in general): Besides scenic Queenstown/Fiordland, we thought the west coast was the most beautiful. The coastline is very dramatic, with steep cliffs and crashing waves.

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Punakaiki Pancake Rocks

3). Wanaka and the Lakes Region: We unfortunately only had time to drive through Wanaka (we stopped for lunch), but the entire region is gorgeous!

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Lakes around Wanaka

4). Hooker Valley Track at Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park: This is a fairly easy trail — it took us about three and a half hours roundtrip, because we let Baby M walk for quite a bit, and we had a picnic lunch.

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While a lot of the trail is like this, there are still steps and dirt paths (so, don’t bring a stroller)

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The end of the track leads to a glacier lake

5). Queenstown: This town has so much natural beauty, it’s ridiculous. Oh, and there’s lots of good food to be had.

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It’s never too cold for ice cream

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Cookie Muncher Cookie Bar

Cookie Muncher Cookie Bar in Queenstown — maybe not the best cookies I’ve had, but it’s certainly a fun place! Milk (in three flavors) comes on tap! (Baby M chugged a glass of cold milk in just a few minutes!)

Pedro’s House of Lamb in Queenstown: Some of the best lamb Alex and I have had. It’s fall-off-the-bone good!! For $45 NZD, you get a whole shoulder of lamb, and scalloped potatoes (definitely enough for two very hungry adults).

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Delicious lamb… my mouth is watering just looking at this picture!

6). Amisfield Bistro: This winery has a really good (and reasonably priced!) tasting menu. ‘Lunch at Amisfield Bistro’ was highly recommended across all of the TripAdvisor forums I came across. I made reservations well in advance (a must!!) for the ‘Trust the Chef’ lunch set. The chef uses locally sourced, in-season produce. Alex and I normally don’t do this kind of thing (we’re all about quantity, not so much about quality and presentation, haha) but we actually really enjoyed our lunch. (Even though we didn’t know whether we should eat the leaves in some of the dishes — seriously, look at the pictures — or not…)

Added bonus: There’s a bocce ball court right next to the outdoor patio, and a large lawn for kids to play. Baby M enjoyed running around while Alex and I enjoyed our lunch and wine!

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Trust the Chef tasting menu; Baby M on a tractor

7). Wineries in Cromwell: The town of Cromwell in the Central Otago region of New Zealand has wineries everywhere you look! Besides Amisfield, we visited Mt Difficulty Wines (for afternoon wine) and Wooing Tree Vineyard (for lunch). The view at Mt Difficulty was spectacular! Lunch at Wooing Tree was nice and relaxing AND there’s a playground and sandpit for the kiddies.

There’s also a cheesery (I LOVE this noun!) at Gibbston Valley Cheese (next to their winery). It was nice to sit outside and enjoy a cheese plate with wine.

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View from Mt Difficulty Wines

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Lunch at Wooing Tree Vineyard & cheese plate at Gibbston Valley Cheese

8). Arrowtown: A quaint town, just outside of Queenstown, that used to be a gold mining village. The downtown has lots of little shops and cafes and there are a few golf courses in town. We had dinner one night at the Millbrook Resort (I think we ate at the Clubhouse) — great food and a great setting! (Yes, Alex was upset he didn’t have a chance to play golf…)

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Top: downtown Arrowtown; Bottom: Millbrook Resort and golf course


To read our New Zealand South Island trip summary: Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island
To read about our whale watching flight: Wings over Whales, Kaikoura
To read about our farm stay experience: Pete’s Farm Stay
To read about our glacier helicopter tour: Glacier Helicopter Tour & Snow Landing
To read about our stargazing observatory tour: Earth & Sky Experience, Lake Tekapo
To read about our Milford Sound tour: Milford Sound: New Zealand’s Top Attraction

Milford Sound: New Zealand’s Top Attraction

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View from Queenstown to Milford Sound

Anyone who has travelled to Queenstown, South Island and surrounding area will tell you that Milford Sound is worth the journey, despite the four to five hour (one-way) drive from Queenstown. (And, we’ve been told, if you can make it to the even more remote Doubtful Sound, do it. It’s just as beautiful as Milford Sound but more quiet, with fewer tourists.) Although we heard the drive is absolutely beautiful, there was just no way we could subject Baby M to nine to 10 hours in a carseat (or, holding her on our laps on a tourbus)! Another option would have been to spend a night at Te Anau (a small town about halfway between Queenstown and Milford Sound). We opted for the more adventurous flight to Milford Sound.

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Taking off from Queenstown Airport

We booked a flight/cruise/flight tour with Milford Sound Scenic Flights for the day after we arrived in Queenstown, and the day before my mom had to leave New Zealand. Full disclosure: There are several companies that offer tours of Milford Sound, with the flight-cruise-flight option. We chose Milford Sound Scenic Flights because (besides their stellar reviews) at the top of their “Our Pilots & Planes” page, is Norman McTabby II (the second!!), who is in charge of passenger meet and greet, and who is also a… cat. It’s hilarious! 😀 😀 😀 (Unfortunately, we did NOT get to meet Mr. McTabby the second.)

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Can you see the blue lake on top of the mountain?

The morning of our flight, we were all ready to go. As instructed, an hour before departure, I called the number for the weather hotline. Our flight to Milford Sound was cancelled due to inclement weather at Milford Sound; would I like to re-book on a scenic flight around Queenstown? As we were discussing what we wanted to do, I called back and all flights were canceled; would I like to re-book for tomorrow? It was a bummer that my mom couldn’t join us on our Milford Sound tour, but, having flown the next day, Alex and I agreed that it was probably for the best my mom didn’t go… the flight was scary. Beautiful, yes. Amazing, yes. Thrilling, yes. And, scary.

The next day, we dropped my mom off at Queenstown Airport, and then Alex drove the three of us to Milford Sound Scenic Flights’ office and hangar. We were divided into smaller groups and each assigned a pilot. We then boarded our GA8 7-passenger, single engine Airvan. Once again, we were given headsets, which Baby M just played with and refused to wear.

The flight out of Queenstown was spectacular — seriously, take a look at my photos. I think the flight into/out of Queenstown has been voted one of the world’s most scenic!! Again, we were afforded views of the mountains and lakes that we otherwise wouldn’t have gotten from the road. (We saw lakes on top of mountains!!) As we flew into Fiordland National Park (the largest national park in New Zealand, with Milford Sound being the most famous and visited of the fiords carved out by glaciers a long time ago), things started to get bumpy. Really bumpy. Our plane dropped in altitude several times, and we were moving a lot from side to side. Alex and I started to panic when the plane’s instrument panel started emitting loud beeps. Our pilot remained completely calm throughout the entire flight, continuing with his commentary as if what we were experiencing was a normal, everyday thing (and perhaps it was?).

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The West Coast of New Zealand & Tasman Sea

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Fiordland & West Coast of the South Island

We flew out to the Tasman Sea on the West Coast of New Zealand, before turning around and flying through Milford Sound. Our plane maneuvered its way over the water, between mountains. We flew past waterfalls. It seriously looked like we were flying into a “Lord of the Rings” movie. It was absolutely un-be-lie-va-ble. When we finally landed at the tiny airport at Milford Sound, Alex and I breathed a collective sigh of relief!

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See the plane flying out of Milford Sound?

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Gorgeous Milford Sound (there’s a plane — the white blip — flying in the valley)

After being constrained on the plane, Baby M was happy to run around on the boat and climb all over the seats. Alex and I enjoyed the views and a few cups of tea. We agreed we should eat our lunches sooner rather than later, in case our flight back to Queenstown was equally as bumpy (it wasn’t).

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On our Milford Sound cruise

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Double rainbow! (…what does it mean?)

Around nine in the morning, the Sound was pretty empty. We honestly only saw a couple other cruise boats out. We saw waterfalls and seals sunning themselves on rocks. I loved watching the small planes flying into Milford Sound; I was still in awe that we had just done the same thing!

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(I think this was) Stirling Falls

We were assigned to a larger 13-passenger Cessna Grand Caravan for our flight back. Compared to our tiny plane going to the Sound, this plane felt like a commercial jet! Once again, we flew out to the Tasman Sea before turning around to go back to Queenstown. The jagged coastline looked completely uninhabited. Flying into Queenstown was just as breathtaking as flying out. Alex and I agreed: Queenstown really is one of the world’s most beautiful places.

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Milford Sound cruise

When visiting Queenstown, make every effort to take a day trip (or longer) to Milford (or Doubtful) Sound. There really is no place on Earth quite like it!

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Milford Sound was peaceful early in the morning


| Milford Sound: Fly – Cruise – Fly |

Website: http://www.milfordflights.co.nz/flight-experiences/fly-cruise-fly/
Email: info@milfordflights.co.nz
Phone: 0800 207 206 / +64 3 442 3065

Tips:

One complaint everyone has about Milford Sound is how commercial it’s become, and how people show up to Milford Sound for the scenic cruises by the busload. I was worried about that when booking, so I asked when it was the least busy (since Milford Flights offers flight tours departing Queenstown at 8 AM, 10 AM, and 2 PM — October through April). The reservations agent said leaving Queenstown at 8 AM is ideal, because we’d get to the Sound before 9 AM, and by the time we finished the cruise, around 11:30 AM, and were heading back to Queenstown, the big bus tours would be arriving at Milford Sound.

While there was complimentary coffee, tea (Alex and I loved the strong tea with milk, favored by the British, etc.), and water on board, there wasn’t food available for purchase. You can either bring your own, or do what we did: reserve a picnic lunch through Milford Flights for only $16 NZD per person (it was a really good bagged lunch, too). Make sure you reserve the lunch with your trip reservation — that way you’ll be handed a bagged lunch prior to boarding the cruise. Some people on our flight wanted to order the lunch the day of, and weren’t able to.

Due to the unpredictable New Zealand weather, make sure you give yourself several days in Queenstown, and book your trip for the first day you have free. That way, you have the opportunity to go to Milford Sound on a later day if your tour is cancelled.

If you have an (over)active toddler, make sure you bring a baby carrier. It was useful for the cruise because we were able to go outside on the deck without having to worry about Baby M falling overboard.

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Cruise points of interest


Read the summary of our New Zealand South Island trip: Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island

Read about our glacier helicopter tour: Glacier Helicopter Tour & Snow Landing

Read about our whale watching flight: Wings over Whales, Kaikoura

Glacier Helicopter Tour & Snow Landing

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Mt. Cook from the air

My friends Bridget and Jenny both highly recommended a helicopter tour over Fox Glacier and/or Franz Joseph Glacier on the South Island. Prior to New Zealand, I’d never been on a helicopter before (Alex did a helicopter ride in Hawaii over a decade ago). I was slightly nervous, so what did I do? Google ‘helicopter’+’new zealand’+’crash’ of course. It didn’t make me feel good that there was a helicopter crash on Fox Glacier in November of 2015. But, I made sure to NOT book a tour with that company, since there are so many to choose from (it took some research to figure out which tour company was involved in the crash… because the company ‘rebranded’ itself last year with a new name). And Alex and I vowed to NOT do the tour in the case of inclement weather.

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Flying over Tasman Glacial Lake

Well, we needn’t have worried. We experienced TERRIBLE weather the entire time we were staying at Fox Glacier town. Rainy and very foggy. Our helicopter tour was cancelled, rescheduled a few times, and cancelled again. The morning we left Fox Glacier (and drove 500 miles — road distance, to only really travel 20 miles — actual distance), it was still drizzling and foggy. As we drove away from the ‘Southern Alps,’ the skies began to clear and the sun finally made its appearance.

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View from the ‘best’ seat on the helicopter 😀

After we arrived at Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park, we made a reservation for a 45-minute ‘Glacier Highlights’ helicopter tour with Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters for the following day. Luckily, we had a beautiful, sunny day for our helicopter ride!

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Amazing vantage point

When Alex and I arrived at Mt. Cook airport, we were told our tour was being combined with another tour. And, we lucked out!! We paid for the shorter, 45-minute tour which only tours the nearby Tasman Glacier, but we went on the 55-minute ‘Grand Circle’ tour, which also included Fox Glacier and Franz Joseph Glacier on the west side of the Southern Alps! I also lucked out because we were assigned seats based on weight/size, and I got to sit in the front row, on the left side (so I had an unobstructed view from the front and side windows)!

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Franz Joseph Glacier crevasses (I think it was Franz and not Fox)

On our way out to the glaciers, we flew over the Tasman Glacier Lake (gray due to the sediment runoff from the Tasman Glacier), and close to Aoraki/Mt. Cook (the tallest mountain in New Zealand). We then flew over Fox Glacier (much better view than from our hike to the glacier terminal face!!) and Franz Joseph Glacier — the density of the packed snow and the sunlight made the snow look blue. The crevasses (deep fractures, or breaks, in a glacier’s ice sheets) looked gigantic (as you can tell from our pictures).

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Coming in for our snow landing on Tasman Glacier

The pilot made a snow landing on top of Tasman Glacier. We were able to see a snow plane take off from the same glacier (really cool to watch). I expected it to be cold on the glacier, but it was just past noon on a sunny day, and it was quite warm! We walked around for a bit and chatted with the pilot. (We swear, New Zealand must have the highest number of pilots per capita!)

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With our helicopter on Tasman Glacier

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With snow plane in background

We then took off and headed back to Mt. Cook airport. I loved every minute of our helicopter tour. It was incredible to see the Southern Alps up close and up high! It was truly a unique experience! As when people say, “When in Rome…,” I say, “When in New Zealand, do a helicopter tour. You won’t regret it!”

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On our way back to Mt. Cook airport 

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We enjoyed a beautiful, sunny day


| Mount Cook Ski Planes and Helicopters |

www.inflitemountcook.co.nz
phone: 0800 80 07 02
email: webbookings@inflite.nz

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We did the red ‘Grand Circle’ tour

[Side note: I’m not getting into politics here, but I just found this funny. During our time in New Zealand, I kept saying “Fox and Franz,” referring to the glaciers, but I kept hearing “Fox and Friends” the morning show.]


To read about our South Island itinerary: Road Trip around New Zealand’s South Island