New Zealand -- November 26 - December 27, 2009
The hiking portion of this trip is rated 5 boots out of 5 on the Hiking Boot-o-meter.
The world travel portion of this trip is rated 5 little upside-down (southern hemisphere) globes out of 5 on the Globe-Trotting Globe-o-meter.
The road trip portion of this trip is rated 5 Zoomers out of 5 on the Road-Trip Zoom-o-meter.
So there we were - finally, finally, finally - teetering on the very brink of the long-anticipated and painstakingly-planned New Zealand trip, happily heading off to Sea-Tac airport aboard the Shuttle Express van at 7:30 am on Thanksgiving Day. Destination: Exotic Los Angeles - followed thereafter by the no less exotic Auckland, Christchurch, Queenstown, and Te Anau. Total time from home to Christchurch would be a mere 28 hours: 6.5 hours from home to Sea-Tac to LA, 5 hour layover, 13 hours to Auckland, 1.5 hour layover, and finally 1.5 hours to Christchurch. After a couple of days in Christchurch we would fly on to Queenstown, then take the bus to Te Anau to begin the hiking portion of the trip - 3 nice long backpacking trips spread over 12 days and 93 miles - followed by the sheer excitement of 2 weeks spent sitting on our butts in the cushy seats of a shiny new rental car, eating real food, and finally culminating with our triumphant return to Auckland.
Being experienced world travelers, we knew all about keeping well hydrated and nutritionally fortified on long plane flights, so we drank lots of water and ate lots of Whoppers prior to taking off for LA. We had lots of time for this activity, having arrived at the airport well before the LA flight. Since the first half of the trip included the above-mentioned multi-night backpack trips and their associated logistics (2 boat trips, 6 bus connections, 4 motel nights, and 9 trail hut nights, all reserved and paid for in advance), we really, really, really needed to make the flight from LA to Auckland - if we missed this flight there would be a protracted and sickening domino effect as the carefully planned hiking portion of the trip slowly fell apart.
It was with no small pleasure that we bid "Farewell" to Seattle's crappy Late Fall / Early Winter weather through the rain-splattered airplane window, looking forward to New Zealand's sunny Late Spring / Early Summer weather.
Our LA connection was via United on a Bombardier CRJ700, our first time on this type aircraft.
We took great pleasure in looking down our noses at the Beautiful People of Hollywood, recalling with fondness the day we spent city hiking there, but nonetheless happy in the knowledge that having done it once, we really didn't need to do it again.
The Bombardier, which we jokingly (and very, very quietly) nicknamed "The Bomber".
ABK! Another BK!
Now this is a real airplane - here's the inside of the big ol' herking Air New Zealand 747 into which we waltzed, all the way to the very back.
The aftmost 3 rows had only 2 seats between the aisles and windows, and, unsociable travelers that we are, we thoroughly enjoyed the lack of adjacent seatmates. We were in the very back row, on the right side.
The plane had fancy-schmantzy personal entertainment systems, but, sadly, the sole operatic offering was Mozart's Don Giovani, so additional diversions would be called for. Sue watched an assortment of on-demand movies, while the expedition leader took the opportunity to watch a series of 30-minute travel shows from NZ TV and finalize a few last-minute trip plans. For future reference, the content of these programs was documented - first the stuff we WOULD NOT be doing, then the stuff we WOULD be doing:
We WOULD NOT be doing: Hanging out in foo-foo gourmet kitchens in foo-foo gourmet restaurants with foo-foo gourmet cooks, eating foo-foo entrees, and eating foo-foo desserts.
We WOULD NOT be doing: Hanging out with the campervan contingent in the Holiday Parks, staying at fancy motels with infinity pools, golfing, eating in fancy places where waiters and waitresses bring your food to you, eating particularly suspicious looking foo-foo desserts.
We WOULD be doing: Walking over swing bridges while tramping along tracks and enjoying the great and scenic NZ outdoors, visiting the occasional big city, tramping along the shores of the Tasman Sea, and tramping around up in the mountain passes and valleys.
And, yes, the above is the painfully predictable result of having 40 gigabytes of SD memory cards, an antique 6 megapixel camera, and 13 hours of time to waste. Indeed, we ended up with 16,200 images, and took some pleasure in realizing that if the equivalent number of 35mm slides had been taken, the cost for the film and processing would have about matched the cost of the entire trip - 450 rolls plus processing would have come to about $7,650
Turns out that Air New Zealand food is right up there with the best - would do BK proud. Except for the coffee. BK wins that one.
And speaking of BK - YABK! Yet Another BK!
Happily, we only had about an hour to wait for the next leg of the journey - the flight to Christchurch.
The twins were abuzz with excitement - first time south of the equator!
Big plane from LA, little plane to Christchurch.
Our Airbus 300-something-or-other soon to be heading to Christchurch.
The plane was, thankfully enough, not even half full ...
... so we could stretch out and enjoy some great views of the southern reaches of the unimaginatively-named North Island,
and some eerily similar views of the northern reaches of the equally unimaginatively-named South Island.
It's sort of hard to read in this picture, but the "Hokey Pokey Biscuit" and "Grandma's Oat Biscuit" cookie wrappers rhetorically asked if we were feeling "Peckish", and proposed that we "Refuel with a yummy bikkie". This was our first actual sighting of the much-anticipated Kiwi language. Click here for further examples.
We landed in Christchurch, and stared blankly out the window at the crappy Seattle weather that had apparently latched itself to the back of the plane and followed us half way around the world, ....
... but nonetheless watched, with some happiness and no small amount of relief, our 2 suitcases issue forth from the bowels of the plane and splash their way down the baggage conveyor.
A bit worse for wear, we nonetheless were once again a complete traveling ensemble: tightly-clutched Passports, the Big Suitcase ("The Mothership"), the Small Suitcase ("The Daughtership"), the Key West Blue Duffle Bag, Sue's Backpack, the Hiking Camera Bag, and the Hong Kong Man Purse City Camera Bag. So let the fun begin...
We used the free airport courtesy phone to call for the free courtesy shuttle van to the decidedly un-free Sudima Hotel, and noted (as can be seen in the view above from the hotel driveway) that the hotel really was, as advertised, very near the airport.
Ah yes, the Sudima Hotel, giving us just a hint of the architectural pastiche that is Christchurch. We schmoozed our way to an early check-in at about 10:00 am, and grabbed a couple of quick, well-earned, and much-needed, showers. The beds were tempting, but we were determined to make the most of the day, and stay up till that evening to get synched with NZ time.
This scenic view from our hotel room - a parking lot full of un-rented campervans - suggested that maybe the summer holiday season hadn't fully kicked into gear quite yet. Maybe we got here a month or so too early?
Nonetheless, we were determined to make the best of things, grabbed our raincoats, and headed into town ...
... stepping very carefully around this forlorn cigar butt drowning it's sorrows in the remains of last night's glass of wine on the walkway by the pool.
After finding the bus stop and talking to a guy from New York who was in town enjoying some R&R between stints doing maintenance work at one of the research stations in the Antarctic, we were on the Number 29 bus to downtown Christchurch. We jumped off when we hit Cathedral Square, and immediately found ourselves in a tacky NZ souvenir shop - the first of hundreds. Hunger soon visited itself on us, and we walked across Cathedral Square and down to the main Christchurch bus station - the Bus Exchange.
Sue was getting a bit wobbly (cranky), which was understandable given the previous 30 hours' activities, but some grub from the noodley place in the food court above the Bus Exchange soon set her right. There was a smile in there somewhere, trying to get out.
DYABK! Damn, yet another BK! No collywobbles here. In any case, it was now past noon, and while choking down the big BK we took the opportunity to ponder our Christchurch options, given that we had the afternoon and evening, plus the entire next day, available for whatever. We had scoped out the best Christchurch choices before leaving home, but the crappy weather was apparently going to be a factor:
1 - Take a day trip on Bus 28 out to the Christchurch Gondola and historic Lyttelton harbor
2 - Take the Tranzalpine Train over to Greymouth on the west coast, perhaps jumping off part way for a mid-day hike at Arthur's Pass
3 - Take the Tranzcoastal Train north along the coast of the un-imaginatively named South Island
4 - Take a day trip to the wilds of Banks Peninsula
5 - Spend time playing tourist in Christchurch, starting with a guided Walking Tour of the city
We wandered back over to Cathedral Square, and stopped in at the little Walking Tour ticket booth to ask for information. We were told that the tours take 2 hours, and that the next one was scheduled to start at 1:00, giving us just enough time to hit the nearby tourist i-Site (Information Site) to ask about some of the other options. It was our first visit to an i-Site, and we were more than somewhat impressed. In addition to brochures touting the regional and local attractions, there were various books, maps, gifts, and souvenirs on offer, and the place was staffed by knowledgeable and helpful locals eager to help wayward tourists figure out what to do with themselves and their money. We discussed our options with the nice lady behind the counter: Too late in the day for anything other than option 5, plus the bad weather forecast for the next day in Christchurch and the surrounding area argued in favor of the Tranzalpine Train Trip in hopes that the crappy weather would stay along coast and it would be clear up in the mountains. It turned out that the i-Site folks could book all sorts of trips and activities and stuff on-line, so we traded our trusty credit card number for reservations - the first of many such transactions - for the Walking Tour at 1:00, as well as the Tranzalpine Train to Arthur's Pass and the requisite Super Shuttle bus trip from the hotel to the train station (way too) early the next morning.
Having done all that, we headed back to the little Walking Tour ticket booth, where we were happy to learn that we were the only takers for the 1:00 edition, so we had the tour guide all to ourselves. His name was John Reilly, and he had a good sense of the history of Christchurch and the Canterbury region. He told us lots of interesting stuff, most of which, unfortunately, we immediately forgot. Here we see Sue plodding robotically along as John led us smartly through the center of town. Happily, the drizzle let up as the tour progressed, and eventually stopped completely.
The Cenotaph Monument just off Cathedral Square: "In Grateful Remembrance of the Sons and Daughters of Canterbury Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918". Then, sadly, updated to include "1939-1945" as well. The Press Building can be seen in the background. Publishing began in 1861, and the newspaper moved into this building in 1909.
The statue of Robert Scott, the English explorer who perished along with the members of his South Pole Expedition in 1912, after reaching the Pole only 2 weeks after Roald Amundsen and his associates had been the first to do so. Scott and the remaining members of his party set up what was to be their final camp only 11 miles from a supply depot, 2 months after starting their return trip from the Pole. Ever the true Brit, Scott, no doubt with a stiff upper lip, noted in his final journal entry that "I do not regret this journey which shows that Englishmen can endure hardships, help one another and meet death with as great fortitude as ever in the past." Interestingly, the statue was created by Scott's widow, Kathleen.
This splendid grey building is the Public Trust Office. We could sure use some of that at home.
Adding to the charm of Christchurch are the restored vintage trams that make a loop circuit through the city. We decided that we would jump aboard at the conclusion of our walking tour.
The Kate Sheppard Suffrage Monument, with the Old Municipal Chambers Building in the background.
Just then, this wonderful apparition motored smartly by and visually screamed out to us. It was the first time we had ever seen a herd of giant blue penguins riding around on the roof of a bus, and it got our full attention!
The Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers.
This imposing statue of Queen Victoria elbowed her way into Victoria Park, but it was soon noticed that the cries of a cat were emanating from within. Apparently the statue had lain on the ground prior to being erected, and a wayward cat had moved into the hollow figure. According to The Press of May 26, 1903, the statue was raised and a fish was used to lure out the interloper. On top of Sue' s head is a diminutive statue of Capt'n Cook, the second European discoverer of New Zealand in 1769, after the initial European discovery by Abel Tasman in 1642.
And there it was again, visually screaming even more loudly this time.
It's a good thing that they don't offer these guys for sale.
This Mr. Whippy ice cream truck added a colorful and festive - if somewhat tacky- touch to Cathedral Square.
Here we see Sue standing at the base of Christchurch's iconic and imposing Silver Chalise.
It is 60' tall, faced with patterns of native New Zealand tree leaves, was built to celebrate the wonderful new millennium, and was dedicated, ironically, on September 10, 2001.
Jet-lag was kicking in pretty good at this point, so we headed over to the Bus Exchange and caught the bus back to the hotel. The hot tip of the day was from the bus driver - we could take the bus almost to the hotel, but get off at Russley Road which was just before we would cross into the next fare zone - thereby paying only $2.80 instead of $7.50 - then walk a few blocks to the hotel itself. We did so, and congratulated ourselves for being such shrewd and frugal travelers.
The next morning we got up really early, feeling somewhat refreshed and looking, at least to each other, surprisingly lifelike. We had reserved passage on the Super Shuttle for the requisite ride to the Christchurch train station, eagerly anticipating the train trip up to Arthur's Pass for an easy mid-day hike in the mountains - our inaugural New Zealand tramp.
At the base of the waterfall, we hung out with a couple of Kea's (Nestor notabilis) - the highly entertaining alpine parrots native to New Zealand.
Even at this early stage, the trip had already taken on a sort of "Burger Kings of the World" theme. Across from the Bus Exchange the choices were either BK, McDoo's, the Little Hong Kong Diner, or the Grocery Store. It's not so much that BK is good, it's just that is generally less bad than the other options ...
... so there were were, finding ourselves at BK yet again.
We took one last walk through Cathedral Square, then headed back to the Bus Exchange and took the bus back to the hotel where we packed up for the following morning's 8:30 flight to Queenstown, which, as we would learn soon enough, was to involve some significant amount of Travel Drama.
Southern Scenic Route
Riverton - Longwood Holiday Park en suite
Purakaunui Falls (17kms south of Owaka)
Bluff - Sterling Point and Bluff Hill
Curio Bay - Hoiho
Taieri Gorge Train
Able Tasman Track
Turangi - Creel Lodge
Tongariro Crossing - 2509' up and 3694' down
Rotorua - Waimangu, Wai-O-Tapu, Te Puia
Trounson Kauri Park
Waipoua Forest - Tane Mahuta, Four Sisters, Te Matua Ngahere
Tiri Tiri Island
Are we still there, yet?