Miriyana Alexander chills out, then warms up on a South Island family road trip.
It turns out that -8 degrees isn't as cold as you'd expect. But -13C? Forget about it.
I grew up in the Mackenzie Country, where winters were so harsh the condensation on the inside of the windows sometimes froze. But after more than 20 years in Auckland, I'd happily forgotten what real cold was like.
We were at Christchurch's magnificent International Antarctic Centre. You'll know it - It's on the left as you leave the airport for the city and I've lost count of the number of times we've said we must stop. This time we do. And it's brilliant.
There's the penguins (and associated feeding antics); science games; a ride on the all-terrain Hägglund; and the superb 4D theatre, where a mini-doco set on the breathtaking continent will jolt, shake and soak you.
The promotional material promises an in-your-face viewing experience, and when that bird poo comes flying at you, it's not wrong. I ducked, along with everyone else. The poo might not be real, but the water, snow and wind that cleverly buffets you in your seats is - it's wise to keep your phone safely in your pocket.
But the icy Storm Dome is the star of the show. All you need is a warm coat, the overshoes are supplied. Put them on and open the door to feel -8C hit you in the face.
We bravely tell ourselves it isn't too grim, but that's when the fun starts. The lights dim, and the Antarctic-like storm starts. The wind is incredible - we hold our arms out and lean into it as it swirls and forces our eyes closed. This is what cold feels like.
And suddenly, I need to get out. A quick look at the thermostat tells me it's -13C. I've only lasted a minute.
Harry's braver than me and takes shelter in the ice cave. He leaves soon after, but makes it to -18C, the coldest the room gets.
Outside, the adrenaline's still pumping, so we take the polar plunge challenge by dipping our arms into -2C water to feel exactly how cold the ocean around Antarctica is.
I'm out after three seconds; Harry lasts 18. The 8-year-old wins again.
Three hours southwest and roughly 50 degrees warmer, we're in the water at Tekapo Springs, on the edge of majestic Lake Tekapo.
The trees rise behind us, and the glacial blue lake sprawls in front. Spring's having a late wobble, so the Two Thumbs Range across the lake are snow-dusted. She's a show-off, this place and we spend a happy few hours pool-hopping.
Clouds bring the only disappointment, making the "Soak in the Stars" experience a non-starter. The Mackenzie Basin is home to the world's largest Dark Sky Reserve, and a stargazing tour from the comfort of a floating hammock sounds heavenly.
But for now the Milky Way is elusive, and given winter is the best time to see the magical green and pink Southern Lights, I can't be too unhappy.
Instead, I make for the spa, where Ruby has her work cut out for her. I have 2020 written all over my face - the dark circles, deeper wrinkles, and frown lines. Before long, Ruby's facial working its magic, I'm sleepily marvelling at the change from the Mackenzie Country of my childhood.
When I grew up there, Twizel was a temporary town, teeming with workers building the mighty Upper Waitaki hydropower scheme. Now the area is all salmon farms, starry skies and hot springs.
Put it on your bucket list.
Even as city dwellers, we three knew 9am was no respectable time to be finishing breakfast before setting off for a morning's fishing. Brad Staley, our fishing guide and embodiment of calm and competence, said nothing. We could jump in his double cab in about 20; that would be fine.
A quick loop to the PostShop for our day licences (adult $21 and child $5 for New Zealand residents) and Brad pointed the ute around the back of Mt John and up the western edge of Lake Tekapo. In 15 minutes, we had left the road, picked our way across farmland and were parked up with the vast lake to ourselves and not a breath of wind. A vision lifted from the opposite shore - the Two Thumb Range with a fresh dust of snow.
Brad pulled a reassuringly compact set of rods and tackle from the ute. A relief! We had the option of lure fishing at this spot – do check, many places are fly fishing only.
Harry was in his element, ready to traverse the loose, stony lake edge with Brad in search of a spot and to beat dad to the first trout. It was going to be a close contest as the young fisher diligently followed Brad's instruction and was casting cleanly within minutes.
The lake here dropped off steeply and the trick – it soon became clear – was letting the lure sink all the way to where the trout feed, then winding. A few snags here and there until Brad asks: are you sure that's a snag? "Harry, keep your rod up, keep winding." He'd done it, beaten Brad and dad to the first fish; a 3lb rainbow trout, and we'd been there less than an hour.
A photo, a grin as wide as the Mackenzie Basin and a quick discussion about the good luck that releasing the first fish brings. Off it went into the cold water.
Things went quiet and, as soon as we suggested leaving, a hit had dad's line peeling off the reel and Brad reaching for his net. A longer fight, with Brad co-ordinating efforts, and a larger 5lb brown; now that's good luck, and dinner! Brad said it was a pretty decent lake fish, and the chef where we were staying at Peppers Bluewater Resort could do it justice. He did.
Top tips for your South Island road trip
• There's tons to do in Christchurch, so allow plenty of time. Take a tram ride to get your bearings (it's a day pass so you can hop on and off, and kids ride free); the central Library is brilliant; check out the gondola on the way to Lyttelton; punt on the Avon; visit Orana Wildlife park; pack a picnic and take in a game of cricket at Hagley Oval.
• On the three-hour drive from Christchurch to Tekapo there are two must-stops. The first is the Barkers store in Geraldine, where you can get a scone with your choice of amazing jam. The second is the Fairlie Bakehouse. You can't miss it - it's on the main drag and the queues are always out-the-door for their tasty pies. The steak and mushroom and mince and cheese were big hits - next time I'm having the pork belly with apple sauce and crackling.
• In Tekapo, check out the stars at the Dark Sky Reserve (Mt John Observatory does tours); take a drive to Twizel along the canals (and stop to buy salmon); drive to Mt Cook village - or better still, treat yourself to a breathtaking flight above those majestic Southern Alps.
• If you fancy a fish, tell Brad Staley from Guide Masters we sent you. He's an ace guide - we got two trout to prove it.
Stay at the Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square and Tekapo's Peppers Bluewater Resort and make use of Accor's Take Two promotion, which offers great prices on accommodation around the country, for bookings made before January 31. all.accor.com/nztaketwo