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Author: Amy Alphin

I'm a new mama who loves to tell my family's stories in my scrapbooks. I love hiking, backpacking, camping, running, Pilates, knitting, reading, and spending time with may family.

December Daily Foundation Pages, Vol. 1

This is my fourth year participating in the December Daily project, and as I have written about before, it is one of my favorite projects of the year. However, this is my first year doing any kind of foundation pages ahead of time. I have the privilege of being able to stay at home with Henry this year, rather than going back to my full-time job as an elementary school teacher. This has allowed me to have a bit more “free time”, (GIANT air quotes here), for scrapbooking projects, including prepping for December Daily! I have completed four of the hexagon projects from the Product Play 3 class, and can’t wait to try some of the others soon!

I decided to take the Product Play 3 class after seeing so many amazing, inspiring projects in the December Daily facebook group. I have to say, it is hands-down one of my favorite gifts I have ever given myself. Henry’s nap time has turned into full on arts-and-crafts time around here. I bought myself a fuse tool and a score board with a bone folder, and am ACTUALLY USING THEM. I have been going through my hoarded December Daily supplies and organizing them and, again, USING THEM. It feels so good.

I love that the lessons, and the class in general, are an invitation to play with all of the pretty products that have been languishing in a drawer waiting for the “right moment”. Its an invitation to try new tools, new shapes, new products. It’s an invitation to experiment, to get messy, to mess up, and to create.

As a stay-at-home mom, I feel like I don’t often do things just for me. I know it may sound silly to be this excited about foundation pages for a scrapbook album, but they has gotten my brain working in new ways, gotten me out of the same daily routine, gotten me excited about making something pretty, even if it’s just for me.

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December Daily 2018 is DONE!

It feels so GOOD to be done! This was a really important project for me to finish, because it documented our first holiday season as a family of three. I had, somehow, managed to complete almost all of it last year, which is somewhat remarkable since I had a 2 and 1/2 month old, but the gaps were bothering me. Most of what was missing was journaling, which I find hard to do after the fact, but I did my best. I also had some blank pockets that I chose to fill with extra photos from the month, even though they didn’t tell a particular story.

I failed to take any “before” pictures of my incomplete pages, but here are some of the pages that I added or finished. I uploaded a walkthrough to the December Daily Facebook page, so you can check it out there if you want to see the whole thing.

This is one of my favorite pages from the album. Each stamp loosely, (in some cases VERY loosely), correlates to the story I told that day later in the album. This was such a fun page to complete, because it forced me to look through pretty much all of my stamps to find ones that worked. Because of the labor intensive nature of this layout, I didn’t end up finishing it last year, but I’m so glad that Ingunn and Alicia convinced me to complete it during our prep party. They also helped sort through heaps of stamps to help me find ones that were “just right”, so big props to them!

This is an example of a layout that was *nearly* done when I stuck it in my album last year, all it was missing was the journaling! Happily, I remember that day pretty clearly, so it was easy to add the story. I also added the little snowflake stamps to have a bit of interest to the page.

One of the things I did when completing this album was give myself permission to USE MY STUFF! I pulled out all of my previous December Daily materials and really played around with some of the pretty things I’ve been hoarding. I also really want to use my stamp sets more, in general, so I made an effort to include more stamping as I completed my pages.

Speaking of stamping, I really had fun playing with my stamp stash with this layout. I love how combining the various stars and colors allowed me to create my own pattern paper for this layout. I used some adhesive foam dots to add some dimensionality, and I like how it gives it a more layered look.

I’m so happy to have this project finished, and I’m really happy with how it all turned out! Now, onto December Daily 2019!

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Experimenting with Monthly Project Life

I wanted to try something a little different in 2019 for my family album. I decided to play along with Ali Edwards and document our family stories on a monthly basis. The weekly version of Project Life always seemed too daunting to me, and I knew I would never be able to keep up, so I was excited to try this approach. It also allowed me to use more of the elements from my Stories by the Month subscription rather than hoarding all the pretty things, so it was pretty much a win all around.

While I love the approach, I wish I had not decided to work on two different sized albums this year, as it only confused and distracted me in editing. That being said, it was fun to work with a different album size for my MPL (Monthly Project Life, duh), and this year, I decided to try the new 6×12 album offered by Studio Calico. I really, really like the large full page photos that can fit in this size, but I do wish they could be a tad wider. I think I may try 9×12 next year because of this.

In August, I took full advantage of the full sized page protectors to document our hike to Lake Ingalls. This is one of my favorite hikes in Washington, specifically for the views of Mount Stewart, so I was excited to use a full page photo for this. I have found that a full sized page pairs nicely with a page protector with 4×6, 3×4 or a combination of the two, so I also included these in this spread.

For one of my October Spreads, I chose to document our trip to the pumpkin patch. This has become a family tradition, (we’ve done it two years in a row…that makes it a tradition, right?), and it was fun to document how much our family has changed over the past year. Last year, Henry was only about 3 weeks old, and had no idea what was going on. This year, he was crawling all over the place and attempting to eat mud and worms. Ah, the joy of toddlerhood.

All in all, I have enjoyed the MPL approach, and I think I will continue it next year, though I have yet to choose a size.

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Story Themes in December Daily

This is one of my favorite yearly scrapbooking projects. The premise is to tell one story every day in December from the 1st to the 25th. Sometimes I’m a rebel and tell more that one story, but I figure that it’s my album, and if I want to break the rules, I can.

In preparation for December Daily 2019, I went back through my past three albums to look for themes that I want to make sure I repeat this year. Theme repetition allows for threads of continuity to show up in these albums year over year. It shows how traditions emerge and evolve, what events have become important to me and my family, and how the same events can have important differences as the years pass. Here are some themes that I noticed as I looked back over my albums.

Theme 1: Getting the Tree

My husband and I have a tradition of going “tree hunting”, where we get a permit from the National Forest office, and go select, and cut down our own tree. The tree always ends up looking a bit Charlie Brownesque due to the fact that it grew in the woods and not at a perfectly manicured farm, but it’s all part of the charm. I normally document this in the first few days of December, because if we wait much later, there is too much snow in the mountains to drive up to acquire a tree. Last year’s album had a very important difference, in that our new baby, Henry, got to join in on the “fun”. He was just over two months old and bundled up in pretty much all of his clothes, but he was there, AND he made it onto the 2018 December Daily tree page.

Theme 2: Movies

For the past three years, movies from the Star Wars and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them sagas have featured in my December Daily. In fact, I often reference my albums when I want to remember when a specific Star Wars film came out, because really, if it doesn’t make it into December Daily, it didn’t happen.

Theme 3: Family

We live far away from all of our family, so we often have visitors for the holidays. It is fun to document these visits year over year to see how visiting family members are incorporated into our own little family traditions such as taking hikes in the snow and decorating the tree. I also find myself including reflective entries relating to family members who are no longer with us, and how that impacts our holiday season.

Theme 4: Getting Outside

We love to be outside, and having a baby has not changed this. We just drag him along. He even seems to like it most of the time. Inevitably, there will be at least one story in December Daily about us doing something outside. Be it a hike at our local St. Edwards State Park, or a snowshoe adventure at Mount Rainier, you can bet you will find layouts of us bundled up and braving the elements in every album.

Theme 5: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

We are not big church goers, but we do attend services on Christmas Eve at the Episcopal cathedral downtown. It is a tradition we began with Tom’s mom before she passed away, and one that we have continued, even with tiny three month old Henry last year. Since it’s a tradition, it had been documented in my past three December Daily albums.

Of course, I also have to document Christmas Day! Presents! The possibility of snow! Coffee! Now that we have Henry in our lives, Christmas Day will be forever changed. I can’t wait to see how the traditions, and the layouts that follow, will continue to evolve over the years.

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Does Size Matter?

For me, the answer is an emphatic YES! In the past three years, I have experimented with no fewer than six different sized albums to hold my stories and pictures. So far, I have used 12×12, 6×12, 8×10, 6×8, 4×6, 3×8, and standard travelers notebook sized, which is just a bit wider than 3×8.

While I have enjoyed all of these different sizes to varying degrees, I can definitely say that I prefer the 6×8 size to all the others. I find it easy to use the pocket pages available in this size, and enjoy doing full size layouts as well. I have used this size for two December Daily albums, one travel album for our trip to Iceland, my son’s albums for his first year, and our family album in 2018. For me, this is the easiest size to just “get it done”.

For our family album this year, I decided to try something different than my standby of 6×8, and ordered the 6×12 from Studio Calico. While I enjoy having the ultrabig photos, I actually have found this size more challenging. I think it’s because it’s too narrow for the height of the full sized photos, (this is also my issue with 3×8, more on that later). I have also struggled with this size due to the challenges both Studio Calico and Ali Edwards have had stocking the various page protectors. Not really their fault, I should have ordered more earlier in the year.

I have a few ongoing albums of various sizes, which is both fun, and challenging at times. This year, not only have I been doing my project life-style family album in 6×12, but I have also been documenting my son’s first year in two 6×8 albums. This was a HUGE mistake. I’ve really struggled all year to tell stories in two different sized albums. I find it distracting to deal with different sizes during editing, and have found myself falling behind even more than usual. I have let my issues with the various sizes of my albums get in the way of getting my stories told. Not good. I look forward to returning to 6×8 for my 2019 December Daily, and for my planned 2020 family album. Though I find myself still tempted by those pretty 9x12s…

As I mentioned earlier, I have also dabbled in 12×12, 3×8 and traveler’s notebooks. My one 12×12 album is UNESCO themed. My husband and I have visited many UNESCO sites around the world in our travels, and I thought it would be cool to have a dedicated album just for these sites. I love the full page photos of these beautiful sites, and have often paired them with pocket pages to tell their stories. I have a handful of 3×8 albums, and while initially I struggled with the size, I really enjoy the end product, especially for projects like Day in the Life and Week in the life. Finally, I have been playing around with traveler’s notebooks to scrapbook our adventures while we are on the road. These have become much more a travel journal than a scrapbook, but are still fun. I plan to write more about these later.

What kinds of albums do you gravitate towards? Do you have a size you just don’t like, or a particular favorite?

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It All Started With December Daily…

My dear friend, Ingunn, has been a scrapbooker basically forever, (with a few gaps, but we’ll forgive her ’cause she’s awesome), and in the fall of 2016, she turned me on to a project called December Daily. This is a rad little project where stories are collected each day through the month of December, paired with pictures and ephemera and put into an album. Being a lover of all things Christmas and holiday themed, I was immediately intrigued, and wanted to participate.

I learned more about this project from Ali Edward’s site, ordered a mini-kit and an album, and was READY. My first December Daily ended up being a hodge podge of product, mostly hand-me-down alphas and numbers from Ingunn paired with the items from the mini-kit all held in a 4×6 bright red album. I had no idea what I was doing or how my album was “supposed” to look, I just dove right in.

To this day, this first album is one of my favorites. Not only am I actually happy with the way that it turned out, but because it got me started with this creative hobby that I have come to love.

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Mount St. Helens Weekend

So after all the traveling we’ve been doing this year, it has been very nice to be home, here in Washington, for a few weeks in a row.  Summer has been a bit stressful, which is evidenced by the lack of blogging, but things have calmed down a bit.  We’ve also had a very slow start to our summer this year.  We’ve dubbed it “The Spring That Wouldn’t End”.  As all of my East Coast friends have been melting into puddles in the extreme heat, we’ve been rocking jeans and hoodies ’till about last week.  ::sigh::

However, the sun has FINALLY decided to show up, and Tom and I fled to the mountains, as we often do.  Due to the aforementioned late spring, we also have a heavier snow pack than usual, and one that’s been hanging around for a while.  Now, growing up in Virginia, I never had to worry about things like “snow pack” effecting what I wanted to do on a summer weekend.  It’s summer, therefore there shouldn’t be snow, RIGHT?  Not so out here.  Summer arrives, and hikers patiently (or not) wait for their favorite hikes to melt out so we can get going again!  This year, that patience is wearing thing, as it is August, and many of the hikes we normally do in June still havn’t melted out.  So, we’ve been forced to look for other options.  We’ve done some pretty hikes in eastern Washington, on the other side of the Cascade range, which if you didn’t know, is basically a desert.  Last weekend, we opted to stay on the west side of the Cascades, however, and head down to the Mount St. Helens area to do some hiking or backpacking.


There is limited and very confusing information about backpacking in the Mount St. Helens area.  It is registered as a National Volcanic Monument, which would make one thing that it is run by the National Park Service.  Not so.  It’s run by the National Forest Service, which generally has much more limited information about backcountry conditions, permits, etc.  You really have to talk to a human to figure it all out, except it’s really hard to get a human on the phone.  Ok.  So we decided to go anyway, and check in at the Forest Service Ranger Station on the way.  They were very helpful, but very busy, with people asking for everything from good motorcycle routes to mushrooming permits (yes, apparently this is a thing).  We secured our backcountry permit, which allowed us to camp in the Mount Margret Backcountry around Mount St. Helens.  We were assured that the route we planned would be snow free and all would be well.  Yay!

We headed in towards Mt. St. Helens, and were soon greated by spectacular views.  The day was amazingly clear, and we had unobstructed views right into the crater.  I had never been so close to the volcano before, and it was pretty impressive to see the destruction it caused when it erupted.  The land in the blast zone near the volcano has been almost completely preserved so that researches can study the regeneration of the forest around an active volcano.  There are still stands of trees that were blasted flat by the eruption, laying where they fell over 30 years ago.  Spirit Lake, which lies right in the blast zone, is still filled with logs that were blasted into it all those years ago.  It’s quite a site to see.


Our planned route was up Norway Pass to Panhandle and Obscurity Lake and to camp at the lakes for the night.  We packed up our backpacks and headed out.  The trail is steep and exposed to the direct sun for most of the way up to Norway Pass.  As the day was clear, we had amazing views of the nearby Cascade volcanoes:  Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams and even Mt. Hood off in Oregon.  It was quite a treat for folks who have been living in a cloud more than normal this year.  As we got up to Norway Pass and dropped down slightly , Mt. St. Helens came into view.  Woah.  We had views right into the crater.  There was definitely a moment where I thought about what would happen if the volcano decided to randomly erupt just then, but then rational thought regained purchase, and we moved on.



We continued to climb and soak up the sun and views until we go to Bear Pass, where the trail dropped over the north side of the ridge…right into a very steep snowfield.  We had not brought snow gear, so we needed to reassess.  Tom bushwacked down a bit past the snowfield where we could see the trail came out again to see if was passable further along.  He came back, reporting that there were two more steep snowfields that were probably not safe to cross.  We were slightly frustrated that we hauled up all of our backpacking gear to not be able to camp, but realized that sometimes you just have to turn around.  We spent some more time hanging out on the ridge, looking at the mountains and the wild flowers before we headed back down.


That night we camped at the Iron Creek NFS campground, which was huge, but nice.  I was feeling a bit pouty about being hot and dirty and not being able to backpack to a nice cool lake and just wanted to go home.  Tom convinced me that staying in the nice campground was preferable to a 3+ hour drive home at 7:30 at night, and he was right.  The next morning, we decided to hike up Goat Mountain, which is a short day hike near the volcano and our campground.  The trail is quite steep, gaining 1,600 feet in about 2 miles, but the forest is nice and cool.  Once we got to the ridge, we realized that the low lying clouds were pretty much obscuring all the views of the local mountains, but there were nice wildflowers to look at and the ridge was pleasant.  After the bugs found us though, it was all over.  After a quick stop at a lingering snowfield to cool down, we were off.  We headed down off the ridge and back to our car.

It was a great weekend, and I had a great time exploring a different part of the state.  We will be back!



Ok, so I know this has kinda turned into a travel blog, but you really don’t want to hear me moaning and complaining about our terrible weather, crappy hiking and not so great cooking these days.  See, I’m saving you from utter boredome really, by telling you, slowly, about our travel adventures.  I really do it all for you.  Right.

So we went to China!  Our friend Cory moved over to China like a billion years ago, (more like 5ish), and has been telling us forever that we need to come visit.  Now, Tom has always wanted to visit Asia, but I have to admit, I wasn’t that excited.  I mean, I wanted to see Cory, I kinda wanted to have had the experience, but I was convinced I was going to get sick, not want to eat the food and be totally overwhelmed by the language and spend most of the time wanting to come home.  There, I said it.  So when Tom and I started talking about where to go for my Spring Break this year, I was thinking Hawaii.  He was thinking China.  Hmm.  I was convinced it would be way too expensive, but I agreed, (after some coaxing), that we could check it out.  The flights were very reasonably priced, so even though I was very wary, we booked our tickets.  We were going to China.  Woah.  Now before you think that our last name has suddenly changed to Rockefeller, and we’re just going to spend all of our time jet-setting to exotic places like New Zealand and China, think again.  We were very lucky to have friends to stay with, and to have found super cheap tickets, otherwise this wouldn’t have been possible.


The flight was horrendously long, but not quite as horrendously long as the trip to New Zealand, so that was a win.  We flew Delta, and had these cool little TV screens that we could watch movies on, which made the flight much more enjoyable.  The time difference is wonky, since Beijing is on the other side of the international date line.  The difference from Seattle, as far as I could make it out, was 9 hours behind, but on the next day.  Does that make sense?  Good, me neither.  I just knew that it was weird, but we took melatonin and all was well.  Cory and his wonderful wife Haiyan picked us up from the airport and we all took a taxi back to their apartment.  Bless them, for they speak Chinese, and we would not have gotten through this trip without them.  We were starving after getting off the plane, so they took us to their neighborhood 24hour dim sum place, which happens to be 4 stories tall and covered in neon.  Now, remember the food fear I was experiencing?  Like, convinced I would starve fear?  Well, it all went away after the first bites of dim sum.  These are little dumplings of heaven and I miss them so!  We fell in love with this place and went back several times over our week stay.

Our first full day in Beijing was spent biking around the hutong alleyways that are near Cory and Haiyan’s apartment.  Most of Beijing used to be made up of these maze like corridors which are quite the rabbit warren, but many have been destroyed by the never ending construction machine that is Beijing.  Now, I enjoy the occasionally bike ride, but I’m not the world’s most confident biker.  I get scared, convinced I’m going to get hit by cars or fall over.  So when Cory announced that we would be biking on ROADS, with CARS (and all manner of other multi-wheeled vehicles), without HELMETS, I was a bit…um…terrified.  They put me on one of their small foldable bikes, (yes, that is a thing), and I just smiled and hoped for the best.  We rode for miles through the city, passing street vendors, yogurt shops, lakes, restaurants, temples and homes.  We visited the Drum Tower and ate at one of Cory and Haiyan’s favorite fish shops, which to this day is one of the best meals I have ever eaten.  Catfish in broth, fried mushrooms, green beans with chillis, oh my!  How was I ever worried about the food!  Amazing!  Eventually we were driven back inside by a sandstorm, and we headed home.


That night, we ate dinner out to celebrate Haiyan’s birthday.  We went to a restaurant called 99 yurts, which serves Mongolian style food.  There were about 15 of us around the table with two nested lazy susans to take care of the bounty of food they kept bringing.  The highlight of the meal, though, was when they brought in the main course.  Cory had ordered lamb for dinner, and by that I mean a WHOLE lamb.  Like with the feet.  It had been roasted and carved, and we were given one plastic glove and  a pair of chopsticks.  I wasn’t quite sure what the cultural etiquette was, but people just seemed to be digging in.  I have to say, this lamb was terrific. What an incredible cultural and culinary experience!  We went home that night incredibly exhausted and completely full.

We spent most of the next day sightseeing at the Summer Palace.  This was where the former emperors would go in the summer to cool off.  There is a large man made lake there, and several ornate temples and palaces on the grounds.  It was our clearest day in Beijing and the day with the best air quality, so it was a real treat.  We walked around the entire lake, a good few miles, before climbing the hundred or so steps to the tallest temple.  The cherry blossoms were blooming, and the sky was blue.  It was a beautiful sight.  One of the most interesting things that happened that day, was that Tom and I had our first experience with being a tourist attraction ourselves.  There is a lot of internal tourism in China, where people come from all over the country to see the sights in Beijing.  Some of them have never met a Western person before, and we were somewhat of a novelty.  People would pull Tom or I to the side, put their arms around us and point at a camera.  I have no idea how many strangers’ travel photos I am in.  It was kind of strange.


Later that evening, we took our first trip to the Lisa Tailor shop, where we were going to have some clothes made for us.  Tom ordered a suit, 4 shirts and a wool coat and I had a bathrobe and wool coat made.  It was really cool to pick out designs and fabrics, and know that the clothes would be made just for us!  What a fun experience.


Up next:  Temple of Heaven, Forbidden City and the Great Wall of China!





New Zealand – Round Boulders and Penguins!

Hi there.  Yes, I know I’ve been gone for QUITE SOME TIME.  Things in my life have been in a bit of an upheaval, to say the least, so posting has been non-existent.  Things have happened.  We’ve been living life, and even went to CHINA (!) which I will be blogging about soon.  I promise.  However, for now, you get some more New Zealand coverage.  As if you’re not sick of that already.  Oh well, it’s my blog, I do what I want.


After a grueling few days in the relentless rain, we rounded the bottom of the south island, and arrived on the east coast in the town of Omaru. Just before arriving, we stopped to see the Moraki Boulders.  These are sperical boulders that have parted ways with the sandy cliffs behind them, facing the sea.  These monster boulders have landed on the sand, and have become quite the tourist attraction, probably because they are so weird and out of place.  These boulders are massive, may of them bigger than me, and we had a fun time photographing and playing on them.  Unfortunately, we had a lot of unruly company at the boulders that day, but oh well.  You can’t pick who comes to your tourist attractions.

After leaving the boulders behind, we headed to the town of Omaru, home of the Blue Penguin Colony.  New Zealand had three species of native penguins, and we saw two of them on this trip.  We started off going to the Blue Penguin Colony, which is an organization designed to create a protected habitat for the tiny blue penguins, and a place for scientists to study these funny little birds.   During the day, we took a tour to visit the grounds and view the penguins in their little habitats, which reminded me strongly of hobbit houses.


After leaving the Blue Penguin Colony, we headed to a beach where supposedly we would be able to see the rare yellow-eyed penguin, as they nest on these beaches.  We were high on a bluff overlooking the beach, but we did see some penguins!  We also saw a very lazy seal basking in the late evening light.  It was a beautiful spot, and we felt a bit like the seal, soaking up the long awaited sun’s rays.

That evening, after wandering around the somewhat creepy town of Omaru, we went back to the Blue Penguin Colony for the nightly penguin viewing.  This complex has a set of grandstands where spectators can sit and watch the penguins arrive at dusk from their days spent in the water.  The little penguins come in “rafts” or large groups, crash into the shore on waves,  waddle up the ramp the group has constructed, and rush across the path to their homes.  It was hilarious to watch.  Sadly, there is no photography allowed during this time, as it distracts the penguins.  Luckily, as we were leaving the complex for the night, we spotted some groups of penguins coming up in different areas, and crossing the road!  They were super cute, and funny to watch.

That night stayed at a super fun and funky backpackers on the cliffs overlooking the ocean.  It is one of the most beautiful views from lodging I have ever had.  Lovely.

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New Zealand : Westland and Queenstown

So this is the post where I try not to whine too much. However, the truth of the matter, was the days spend traveling down the west coast of the south island and Queenstown were the most challenging of the trip, in so many ways.  There were highlights, and moments of comedy throughout our suffering, which I will try to focus on, so that you don’t stop reading and click through to the next blog on your reader.

We left Arthur’s Pass and headed back to the west coast headed towards Westland National Park, and the infamous Franz Joseph and Fox Glaciers.  These are also the names of the towns where the glaciers live, it’s all very confusing.  Along the way, we stopped in one of the coastal towns which is known for its greenstone (this is the Kiwi word for jade) jewelry production.  I got a very lovely piece.  Tom also stopped at a hardware store, because he had become slightly obsessed with the two tone New Zealand mailboxes and wanted to see if we could bring one home.

The weather was not great, but it wasn’t horrible either, and we wound our way down the coast in a steady drizzle.  This part of the country is very remote, and has very little population.  As I mentioned before, the Kiwis take advantage of this lack and save money by building bridges with only one lane.  It is a bit unnerving to approach a bridge and know that there is no way out if someone starts barreling down form the opposite direction straight at you.  This risk is somewhat moderated by the right of way signs that pop up about a km before the bridge, telling you whether you have right of way or not.  After that, it’s just a game of chicken, where you hope you read the sign right.  Yikes.

We eventually made it to the town of Franz Joseph Glacier, where we were planning to stay for the night, as it was about 3 hours from Arthur’s Pass.  We stopped by the Department of Conservation (DOC) office, which is essentially a very nice ranger station, to check on the trail conditions for the day, as we had planned several walks near and around both the Franz Joseph and the Fox Glaciers.  We were a bit surprised, however, when the rangers said that there had been record rainfall amounts over the past few days, and even more rain was expected.  All of the trails near Fox Glacier had been closed due to flooding, and they were only recommending a few trails near Franz Joseph due to flood risk.  We figured that we’d come to see glaciers up close and personal, and we would do what we could to make that happen, so we headed off for our “approved” trail.  With our rain gear.

The “hike” to the glacier was pretty much a flat walk along the receding glacier’s moraine, which pretty much looks like a lunar landscape, as the glacier has spent eons grinding the bedrock down to pebbles and sand.  We were able to get very close to the glacier its self, which was very cool.  The glacial ice is a bright, vibrant shade of blue, and there is a constant grinding and popping noise as the slow moving river of ice makes its presence known.

Soon we were soaked to the skin, and headed back to our car.  Since we were unable to do most of the hikes we had planned for the next day and a half, we needed to reassess our route.  We could have stayed in Franz Joseph that night, but there really seemed no point, as the town was tiny and there were no hikes to do.  So it was back into the car, and planned to drive as far as we could towards Queenstown that evening.

We made it to Wanaka, which is about another 3ish hours south of Franz Joseph.  The road went through some very wild country, with even more one lane bridges.  We were driving through the lower portions of the Southern Alps, and there were few other cars on the road.  We kept stopping to take in the dramatic scenery, which still managed to be breathtaking despite the rain.  One memorable stop was this lake, which was one of the windiest stops we made on the trip, and where a very unfortunate tour group had stopped to set up camp for the night.


Eventually we made it Wanaka, where we spent about 45 minutes looking for a cheap hotel ,before Tom gave in, and we decided to treat ourselves to a night at a nice bed and breakfast.  We felt like we had earned it, and man, was this place swanky.  But, really, after several days in the rain, just having a roof over our head and a warm shower seemed like high times.

The next morning we drove further south through the passes to Queenstown.  This city is famed for it’s stunning alpine vistas and adrenaline packed adventures such as sky diving, bungee jumping, river surfing and canyoning.  We checked into the Southern Laughter Backpackers, (which is the Kiwi word for hostel), and requested a private double room.  They said they had only one available, and it was “in the back garden”.  Now, I think that when referencing your converted shipping container “room” which is sitting in the back parking lot, it’s a bit of a stretch to talk about it being “in the back garden”, but hey, who am I to judge.  Our room was just that, a converted shipping container in the parking lot, which happened to be rapidly filling with an alarmingly large puddle due to the aforementioned rain.  We decided to go for it though, because how many opportunities do one have to sleep in a converted shipping container?

We spent the afternoon and evening bumming around Queenstown in the rain, getting soggy, sampling some of the local brews and having a tasty dinner at a well reviewed Indian restaurant.  As a side note, do not go to New Zealand for the food.  In our experience they cook only two things well:  fish and chips and Indian food.  It’s pretty much all we lived on during our time there.  Now you know.  We had originally planned on doing a backpacking trip that night, but due to the epic amounts of rain falling from the sky, most of the trails were either under water or closed due to high flood risk.  In fact, a few folks that we talked to that were staying at our backpackers had actually just been evacuated off the famed Milford Track the day before due to the fact that the entire time they had been hiking on the trail, the water had been up to their waists or chests, and they had to be helicoptered away from their hut to avoid the rising waters.

At this point, we were sick of our plans being changed, we were sick of the rain, and just wanted to do something fun.  So we wandered into one of the outfitters that offered canyoning tours.  In America, we call this canyoneering, where you jump, swim, slip and slide your way down a river, and try to have fun and not drown yourself in the process.  We shelled out a rather large sum to book our fun for the following day, then splashed our way back to our container for the night.  The following morning, we woke up and were glad to see that the large puddle in the back “garden” had not yet overtaken our front porch, and eagerly got ourselves ready to go canyoning.  However, when we arrived at the outfitter, we were told that, of course, there had been so much rain overnight that the rivers were now at flood stage, and all trips had been canceled for the day.  I probably don’t have to mention that this was pretty much the low point of the trip.  We’ll just move on.

Because my husband is amazing, (and at this point pretty desperate), he yet again salvaged a BACK UP PLAN.  He read in our guidebook that there was a very interesting bird park in Queenstown that was mostly under cover, and he thought it might be worth checking out.  Now, I’m not that into birds, but New Zealand has some of the most unique birds in the world, so bird parks actually have some appeal.  They also had two breeding pairs of kiwis, which while being the national bird are actually quite rare, so we were anxious to see them.  Kiwis are nocturnal, so the kiwi houses are red, but you can make out the akward and somewhat silly shapes of these interesting birds in the photos.  Tom took some video where you can see them better, and hopefully I’ll be able to post some soon!

All in all, the west coast and Queenstown were far from the highlight of the trip, but they were a learning experience for us.  We have defiantly learned not to pin our hopes on one activity in a place, and to always, ALWAYS have a backup plan.  Preferably one that involves flightless birds, they’re always good for a laugh.

Up next, the odd spherical boulders, the blue penguin colony and Mt Cook National Park.

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