Christmas is my favorite holiday, and not just because it’s my birthday. I love everything about this time of year and I especially love spending Christmas Day with my big extended family (usually over 30 of us at Christmas Dinner). I’ve spent Thanksgiving, Halloween and New Years abroad but never my precious Christmas Day. This year was the first year ever that I was going to miss my normal traditions, and I admit, it did make me a bit sad but I know that there are many years to spend Christmas with my family to come.
We left Kaikoura early on Christmas Eve as we’d made a reservation to rent bikes and do the “Taste Trail” in Nelson. We arranged for it for this date knowing that everything would be closed on Christmas and that many of the wineries would probably also not be open on Boxing Day, which is a national holidays here. We arrived around 11:30 AM and rented two bikes and set out first looking for a winery or brewery with food since we were already starving. Unlike our wine tasting and biking on Waiheke island, there was a nice flat and protected bike path for us to ride on.
After about 20 minutes of riding we found a brewery to have lunch and pints at and then headed over across the street to a cheese shop where I purchased 2 cheeses for us to have on Christmas. Afterward we went to the local berry stand but the line was crazy (berries are big for Christmas desserts here) so we kept going. We stopped a winery and had a tasting and then got back on the bikes for another 45 minutes or so until we found a small boutique winery for another tasting. We were tired and hungry so we settled up with a glass of our favorite wine from the tasting and a bread and dip platter and hung out for about an hour, listening to Christmas music before getting back on the bikes for a ride home. We had estimated it’d take us less than an hour to get back but thanks to a nasty headwind, it took nearly an hour and fifteen minutes and we were a few minutes late returning the bikes. Coming home was definitely a workout and we were pretty tired by the time we found our hotel in Nelson (after stopping at a grocery store along the way).
I booked us a nice hotel with a full kitchen inside for Christmas and that evening I cooked us dinner and we ate on the patio before heading to the church steps for Christmas caroling. We had no idea what to expect and when we arrived a group of women were selling carol music books and candles for a donation and there were people sitting all over the church steps and eventually on the ground as well. We took a seat and enjoyed an hour of Christmas carols intermixed with a bit of New Zealand history, a Maori dance, prayer and a comical interview of a group of small children who expressed their impatience to open their Christmas presents the next day. It was a great way to spend a holiday away from home.
On Christmas morning we slept in, made pancakes and eggs for breakfast and then headed out on a hike up a hill which contains a monument signifying the center of New Zealand. After the hike I made us a cheese and fruit board to enjoy on our sunny hotel patio before we headed to the local beach for a bit before dinner (80 degrees on Christmas!). Dinner was a treat! Not many restaurants are open on Christmas and I had made us a reservation in advance at the Boat Shed, a small fine dining restaurant on the water. They serve a set 7 course Christmas dinner and we enjoyed every bite of it! Although we don’t eat meat or fish often, we definitely make exceptions to try out local dishes and this was one of them. Out of the 7 courses, I think the only thing we didn’t really enjoy was the Christmas cake! Luckily there were two dessert courses and the first was delicious enough to satisfy so it wasn’t too disappointing when we didn’t like the final dish.
Again, we slept in on Boxing Day, made breakfast and then headed out for a cup of coffee in the city center. We weren’t sure that anything would be open but we found that almost all the shops and restaurants were bustling with people. It seems that New Zealanders like to shop on the day after Christmas too! After coffee we went on a 2.5 hour hike on a trail near town which was pretty steep but worth the climb. At one point we were on a fairly narrow path when up ahead a large group of sheep were running toward us! A runner on the path coming the other direction had scared them but then as soon as they saw us, they got spooked again and half of them ran off the path straight up a steep hill into the trees and bushes. The other half continued up another path and we ended up following them to another summit and getting some great photos of them. Their little butts are so cute!
When we returned to town we headed straight for a brewery/bar which was having a deal on beer samplers and pizza, so of course we had to oblige. After an afternoon of laundry and relaxing we headed out for Thai food dinner and back to the same brewery to watch a live band.
Next we’re heading to the North Island via a ferry – the trip is coming to a close with only 4 full days left. Mike and I agreed today – 3 weeks is definitely a long enough vacation to officially relax and forget the worries of home.