Day 4: Travel to Wanaka

by Mary Beth

The next day it was time to leave Twizel behind, and travel to Wanaka, which is about two hours away. It was a beautiful sunny day but there was frost on the ground from the night before. Peter quietly started playing some music that was not pirate music. It took the children about 45 seconds to realize this.

“Yo ho and a bottle of rum!” Annie shouted.

“Bottoo rum! Bottoo rum!” Cora seconded.

When the music started they were silent and attentive.

“Mommy, what is a murder mark?” asked Annie after a moment.

I thought for a minute. “I don’t know, honey,” I said finally.

“What is a murder mark?” Annie repeated, assuming that if I said I didn’t know, it was only because I hadn’t heard the question properly.

“I really don’t know.”

Annie was silent. “What is ‘lips struck dumb’?” she asked a moment later.

“‘Dumb’ means that you can’t talk, so his lips couldn’t talk, because he was dead,” I answered. “Look at the mountains, Annie. Aren’t they beautiful?”

We were still driving through beautiful mountains. Annie stared out the window dutifully but her attention was on the music.

“I want to hear that other one that we were singing yesterday,” she requested.

“Rye whiskey?” I asked.

“No… but play that one afterwards though.”

“What do you do with a drunken sailor?”

“Yes! That’s it!”

We played some Twenty Questions after we had had enough of sailors and alcohol. And then we had a moment of déjà vu from a previous holiday, when we realized we had driven away with the key and needed to backtrack 40 minutes to drop it off. We debated how to make this work logistically. Cora was sleeping. There were a few moments of serious talk in the front seat, during which time there was no pirate music and no Twenty Questions. Annie suddenly mutated from a sweet, happy, laughing girl to a maniac. “GET ME OUT OF HERE!” she shouted at the top of her lungs, as she always does when she reaches her car-trip limit. The change is always abrupt and always dramatic, and you cannot reason with the monster she becomes. “GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE!” she screamed, her voice rising higher and higher as her panic level rose. She hurled her weight against her car-seat restraints. “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

So we pulled over. We were in a little town called Omarama. Annie and I got out and Peter drove off with Cora, still asleep in her car seat.

The weather was chilly but sunny; with our coats it wasn’t unpleasant to be outside. Annie calmed down as soon as she was out of the car. We wandered into a deserted hot-tub-store parking lot where a bizarre and complicated fountain had frozen mid-stream, making a stunning display of ice that sparkled in the sunlight like an enormous crystal chandelier.

Annie tried to climb on it but slipped and fell repeatedly, so she focused on smashing the ice in the parking lot. “Crackle! Crackle! Crackle!” she cried, smashing the frozen puddles with her boot.

When we had had enough of crackling, we went into a fancy gift shop that sold very expensive woolen products and elegant hand creams with scents like manuka honey and mango, made from bizarre ingredients such as sheep placentas. We tried the tester models and had very serious discussions about which ones we like the best. We admired all the products made out of possum fur and stroked them when no one was looking. Then we went into the attached café and sat by the fire and admired the Christmas lights flickering overhead until Peter and Cora returned for us.

Back in the car, we played more Twenty Questions. This was becoming the hit game of the trip. We played Guess the Disney Princess, then Guess the Disney Prince, then Guess the Disney Princess’s Family Member, and then Guess the Disney Sidekick. What is amazing here is that Annie has seen probably a dozen Disney movies in her entire life, and still knows the names, colors, sidekicks, genealogy, backstories, and probably the dark hidden secrets of all the Disney princesses. We also played Guess the Animal and Guess the Food. Cora did not choose to participate.

On arrival in Wanaka, we stopped immediately at the Transport and Toy Museum. The decision was made based on the name alone, as a reward to the children for surviving the car trip intact. We did not even make it past the gift shop into the actual museum.

It had been a long time since Annie had been in a toy store. And this was a toy store with things you could ride on, and a tunnel to crawl through, and a huge army of beautifully-dressed dolls in a huge display case that you could admire and hope to God they didn’t come to life like in a horror movie because with those numbers they could overwhelm any resistance; there were trains on train tracks to push around; there were old toys to marvel at and new toys to buy. There were walls of doll accessory kits that you could study, imagining the joy of playing with each individual miniature plastic ice cream cone or sparkly cupcake. The girls could have spent all day there. And by great good fortune (or perhaps very good planning), there was a little brewery attached.

The new house was beautiful and luxurious, built into the side of a mountain. One whole side of the house – the side facing the mountains – was almost entirely glass. It didn’t have quite so many toys as the last house, and no indoor staircase, which was a disappointment for Cora (but not for anyone else). There were some outdoor stairs that she immediately ran up. This flight of stairs was quite long, and climbed the steep hill to the house. When Cora finally reached the top, she turned around and started leaping, goat-like, down the stairs again, two at a time. Unfortunately she lacked the grace and coordination of a goat, and started to fall headlong down the hill, so I had to grab her.

There was also a large hot tub just to the side of the house, which the girls did not really notice. The hot tub turned out to be a perfect place to relax in the chilly evening after children were in bed, a place to look out at the distant mountains and up at the stars, in peace and quiet, without any alcoholic nautical music or shouting children.

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