Our adventure has moved from Australia to New Zealand. We wanted to get to New Zealand before their winter hit in full, as they are as far south of the equator as Montana and Michigan are north of the equator. Now, they don’t have the same weather because they are an island surrounded by a body of water that does not freeze, but it can get quite cold and snowy in some areas.
On arrival at the airport we headed to passport control and went through the staffed stations as opposed to an e-passport area. While we were, apparently, eligible for the automated process there was hardly any line and we lucked out because the woman who checked our passports was full of suggestions for things to see and do and very excited that we were coming with so much time and so little planned yet. She probably spent 2 minutes doing the passport thing and 8 minutes providing travel advice! We then had to go through biosecurity review and because we had spent time at the koala sanctuary in Brisbane we needed to have our shoes inspected. Dan was wearing the shoes he had used to see the koalas, I had to dig my pair out of my bag. The man doing the inspection seemed pleased that our shoes appeared fairly clean and devoid of anything a visual inspection would tag as a biohazard. Alas the family behind us didn’t fair so well when the packet of cookies was discovered in a kid’s bag. They were let off with a stern warning as opposed to the $400 fine that was splashed on at least 50 posters leading from the gate to the baggage claim and inspection area.
Christchurch is still very much recovering from the major earthquakes that hit in 2011 and there is a lot of construction, new buildings and old buildings being held up with support beams, and little other evidence of future plans. The cathedral and the old city hall were both heavily damaged and clearly being shored up while someone determines a path forward, other places are shiny modern buildings clearly replacing something that did not survive. There are lots of old facades with new structures built behind them. In addition to that recovery, the city was also still obviously dealing with the mosque shootings that occurred shortly before we got there. There was a block long section of sidewalk near the botanical gardens that was covered in flowers, old and new, and messages of support. As we walked down a residential street we saw a box with stickers and a pen with the note – write a note of support for our Muslim family and post it in town. We saw lots of stickers around, again some fresh, some more muted in the weeks that had passed.
We wandered around town and enjoyed finding hidden gems like a Victorian era clock tower and a fancy phone booth built in the 1920’s to commemorate the 50th year some guy had lived in Christchurch. We also came across a beam from the World Trade Center that was sent to Christchurch in 2003 to be made a statue unveiled during the World Firefighters Games held there that year. One morning we were headed to get some tourist information and came across a arts and crafts market with food vendors and spent most of the morning looking at fun things and trying some food from the food trucks!
There is a train that goes from Queenstown across the middle of the South Island to the west coast, and it is justly famous for the beautiful scenery. When we went to book the trip the woman helping us suggested that we get off a Arthur’s Pass and hike instead of staying on the train all day. The train would come back through and pick us up and we’d have about 4 hours to see the mountains, and besides she assured us that the best part of the ride was up to Arthur’s Pass. We took that option and had a great day. The train ride was as beautiful as advertised and it was nice to get off and head out for a hike. When we stopped in the information center at the park near that train depot the ranger showed us several short hikes we could take during out layover and then said “I see you have water bottles, but if you run out you can drink from our streams!” She encouraged us to drink straight from the streams, no filters necessary. We did not try that, but every bit of water we saw on the trails was startlingly clear, and the views were lovely.
After a nice stay in Christchurch we arranged for a rental car and headed out. We had a map of the South Island that had a number of pink highlighted places thanks to a helpful person at the tourist information center. We hopped on to the scenic route – they are all pretty scenic here, but this one was also not the heavily travelled main road – and headed down the coast. The east coast of the island has lots of lovely beaches and well-established sand dunes, charming towns and interesting sights.
We made a stop in Oamaru to check out a Steampunk exhibit – they have a whole museum dedicated to the contraptions made popular in Victorian sci-fi, like Jules Verne’s machines. Pretty cool stuff and that was on the outside, we didn’t feel inclined to go in as it was a beautiful day. The museum is at one end of an attractive and intact Victorian era harbor district with lots of interesting shops filling the buildings. We wandered into one building where someone was running quite the eclectic museum and talked to an older gentleman who gave us some tips about what to see a little further down the coast and how to avoid the expensive tourist trap related to the Moeraki Boulders and a lighthouse. We followed his advice and had a wonderful afternoon walking the beach to see the boulders without having to run a gauntlet of tour buses and cruise excursion groups. And the boulders were more interesting than we had thought. The lighthouse was not open to the public, but the views and the walk down to the bluff to see the seals and sea lions was everything the guy has set it up to be!
We spent a few days in the city of Dunedin and enjoyed several very hilly walks around town, sampled beer at the Speight’s brewery and found local wine, apples and pastry at the weekly market. Charming town with lots of Scottish influence.
The tourist information center there – an I Site, they are all over the country and a great resource – set us up on a nature tour that took us to see Albatross, including nesting chicks at a reserve, yellow eyed penguins, fur seals and sea lions. As we walked along the beach after spotting several of the rare and adorable penguins, we started seeing a lot of male sea lions lounging around. Now, all of the signs we had seen suggested 10 meters or more distance between you and the sea lions, we were way closer! Our guides encouraged us to move along but did not seem particularly alarmed and for the most part the sea lions seemed unconcerned as well, didn’t make me any more willing to linger though. As we moved past the large male that woke up and barked at the smaller and younger male nearby, our guide Donna got our attention and with a big grin announced “look, a fresh regurgitation!” Part of her excitement stemmed from the fact that the evidence of the regurgitation included some tentacles and the head of a barracuda. This allowed us to learn more about sea lion digestion than I ever cared to know, but it was interesting. The tour was great an they went out of their way and added a stop to take us to an area where they thought there would be some young sea lions hanging out. There was one and he put on quite the show for us! Great day!