We’ve been back from Alexandra for nearly a week now, and I don’t know where the time went. Ok, the first couple of days went on entertaining Nephew#1, who came back with us. We’ve been promising him for years that when he got old enough he could come for a visit on his own, so he finally got his proper big kid’s holiday. Only three days, but it was a pretty big deal for him!
We had some great adventures with him, too. Dad gave us a lift up to Christchurch, because he had some work to do up here, so we were able to have a nice relaxed trip and stop off at Tekapo for the night to take Nephew#1 up to the observatory at Mount John. He’d got a telescope for Christmas and had been really looking forward to me coming down so we could do some astronomy together, but typically we didn’t get a clear night the whole time we were down there. So I suggested a visit to Mount John where at least we could see the big telescopes (among others they’ve got the biggest telescope in NZ, a 1.8m reflector), and maybe if the weather cleared up get to do some serious stargazing.
The weather forecast had been changing daily, so we tentatively booked onto the night tour, which includes proper stargazing, and we were pretty hopeful when we left Alexandra on Sunday, as the morning had been pretty clear, but by the time we reached Tekapo that afternoon it was obvious that the clouds were moving back in and we wouldn’t get to see much that night. So we decided to cut our losses (and save $50 or so, the difference between the night and daytime tours) and just take a daytime tour so at least Nephew#1 could get a taste of what real astronomy was like.
When we went into the office to change our booking we discovered we were almost too late, because the guide goes home at 4 pm, and it was about 3.30 by then and we’d still have to drive up to the mountain. But the woman in the office (who I’d spoken to by phone a few days before when we booked, when we’d discussed how disappointed Nephew#1 was to have not been able to use his telescope yet, and that this was his consolation prize) rang the guide and asked him to wait for us, so we hopped in the car and raced up to the observatory. The guide not only waited for us, but he gave us a discount because he wouldn’t have time to give us the full tour. But then Nephew#1 impressed the guide so much with how much he already knew (he’s been reading a lot of astronomy books!) and how enthusiastic he was about the subject, that he ended up not cutting the tour short but carried on after 4 and showed us round everything after all. We even got to do a bit of stargazing, to Nephew#1’s delight – we looked through one of the “smaller” telescopes (I think it was only a 50cm) at Alpha Centauri (yes, it was still daylight, but if you have a big enough telescope and know where to point it, it’s perfectly possible to see some of the brightest stars during the day).
The next morning we carried on to Christchurch, and the next adventure: we spent the afternoon at the Antarctic Centre. I thought the entertainment value was a bit limited for what it cost ($55 for an adult!!!), but Nephew#1 loved it. We saw the penguins being fed, and played on the ice slide in the snow and ice room (where Auntie FutureCat suffered a rather nasty bruise on her tailbone as a reminder that she isn’t as flexible as an 8-year old any more!), and experienced a few seconds of an Antarctic storm (they keep the snow and ice room at -8 degrees, and then to simulate the storm turn on big fans that produce 40-odd kph winds, which add (subtract?) another 13 degrees of windchill. They give you big jackets to wear, but it’s still rather bracing!) And the highlight for Nephew#1 (though not so much for me, what with the bumping adding to my bruise and that I ended up feeling motion sick): we had a ride on one of the Hagglund all-terrain vehicles, which took us over a series of stupidly steep hills and rapid descents, and even turned into a boat to float through a little pond.
Dad was staying with friends on the other side of Christchurch, so MrPloppy and I had to very quickly learn some parenting skills that night to get Nephew#1 fed and cleaned and into bed at a reasonable hour (it did help that he was pretty much exhausted after our adventures, so getting him to bed wasn’t a struggle, and while a nutritionist might say that letting him just eat chicken for dinner and not the vegetables isn’t a great idea, we reckoned it wouldn’t kill him for one night :-))
One of the things Nephew#1 had said he wanted to do in Christchurch was buy a watch, because he’d broken his old one. So in the morning we took him to Riccarton to the mall, where he managed to find one that he could just afford with the money he’d saved up. And the shopkeeper even gave him a few dollars off, because he overheard us while I was asking Nephew#1 if he was really sure he wanted to spend all of his holiday money on the watch. So when Nephew#1 went to pay, he handed him back a few dollars, saying he might want to buy himself an icecream. It’s good to know there are some nice people out there still.
Next was the playground in the Botanic Gardens, where I spent a pleasant hour reading my book while Nephew#1 played on the equipment and made some instant friends in the way only a child can. Then lunch at the Arts Centre, a visit to Rutherford’s den to play with the geiger counters, and then the afternoon at the museum before Dad came to pick him up to take him home to Alexandra.
And then MrPloppy and I spent the rest of the week recovering. This being an auntie thing is exhausting! Fun though, and I think Nephew#1 had fun too – when my brother rang me that night to say he’d got home safely, he said he hadn’t stopped talking about our adventures
Ok, I’m telling all this out of order, because I’ve written all that about what we did after we left Alexandra, and not much about what we did in Alexandra. That’s mostly because we didn’t do a lot. The weather, as I’ve mentioned, wasn’t great, and the main aim of the trip was to spend some time with family, rather than do anything in particular. It was a nice relaxing time, anyway (well, it was for me – I don’t know if MrPloppy found it so enjoyable spending so much time with my family ;-)).
So really not a lot to tell. The highlight was creating another treasure hunt for the kids – pirate themed, with the clues leading to treasure (of the chocolate variety) buried in genuine “X marks the spot” style:
Can you spot the two Xs? (Two Xs because each nephew got his own treasure to dig for).