After we left Vegas we spent a couple of days in Lon Beach, California. It was just a quick pit stop before our long flight to New Zealand. It turned out to be a really nice stop. We booked a room on airbnb.com. Karyn in Long Beach rented out her spare bedroom. This was our first time sharing in someone's house like that. She had a cute little pooch, L'il Momma, who was stand-offish at first but came around soon. We walked the beach one day and spent time in second hand stores. We wanted to buy some cheap cool weather clothes for New Zealand. We found a few things including a pair of jeans each. We haven't worn jeans in nine months. Long Beach is a nice area right on the doorstep of LA.
Our flight to New Zealand was long. We flew from LAX to Fiji to Auckland and to our final destination in Christchurch. It was about 24 hours in total. We will stop in Fiji for a couple of weeks on our way back to Canada. We flew to Christchurch so that we could start in the South Island and move north. Hopefully as the weather gets colder in winter here we will move north and get warmer. That is our master plan I guess.
In Christchurch, we booked a room again on airbnb. The couple that runs it are expat Canadians. Unfortunately, they were not home to meet them. Fortunately though, they had friends hoousesitting and running the show. Andy and Kathy (Andreas and Katerina) from Germany have been travelling around New Zealand for several months. They were very helpful in helping to create a plan for our visit. Andy has a blog, onttopoftheworld.de, which I have referred to multiple times so far. Thanks Andy! Kathy and Andy were great hosts. They are settling down to work in Christchurch.
Christchurch is a city in a state of rebuild. There were two major earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. The one in September was stronger but the epicentre was further away than the one in February. I don't think anyone died in September but 185 people died in February. I think the February earthquake was more devastating in part because buildings were weakened in September and then the February knocked them down. The central business area of Christchurch is still like a ghost town. They are trying to rebuild it though. One of the most interesting things is a new mall area made completely out of shipping containers. For example, a whole bank built in one sea can. There was a Lululemon store built out of several shipping containers.
We went to the earthquake experience centre in Christchurch. It was a very thorough history and background about the CHCH earthquakes. It was very informative. While I learned a lot about them, I left wondering why they would rebuild here. They expect big ones every ten years. I know we are cold in Canada where I live but I am not wondering if today will be the day that the earth shakes and we all could die.
We walked around the Christchurch city centre several times over four days. We had many logistics to work out for our New Zealand adventure. We flipped back and forth between renting a campervan and a car. Many people rent campervans in New Zealand and do freedom camping. It is becoming a little more restrictive these days than it used to be… apparently. We could have rented a campervan but would likely have to pay many places to camp. We also figured we would meet more people staying in backpackers (in kiwi accent… bickpickers). We decided on renting a car and staying in backpackers (hostels).
We also arranged to get a SIM card for our cell phone. We figured driving around it would be good to have a phone. We will also use it to book hostels and such. We are also trying to do some hoousesitting. We signed up for a website called kiwihousitters.co.nz. It cost $65 to join so if we get one night out of it, it will pay for itself. Our first several attempts did not pay off. I am happy to report that we have arranged a week north of Auckland later in May. So it will pay for itself and we will have free accommodation for a week. We will see if we can arrange more while we are here. Hostels cost about $30 per person per night on average.
We picked up our car on the 11th and decided to stay with Andy and Kathy for an extra night. As soon as we picked up the car we drove to Akaroa for a quick sightseeing day trip. It is about an hour and a half from Christchurch onto the Banks Peninsula. It is a very winding road up and down hill. Akaroa itself is a small fishing cove village which reminds me of the east coast of Canada. It is has a French influence as it was originally settled by the French. We spent a couple of hours walking around. We thought about going out on a penguin tour but it was hit and miss whether there would be any. Also, it was quite expensive.
Driving in New Zealand was nerve racking at first. I have never drove on the left side of the road before. I adapted pretty well quite quickly if I do say so myself. I think I was more nervous and especially driving on winding roads I think I was way too far left on the road at first. Eventually I got braver and drove in the middle of the lane. Now, I feel pretty confident.
The next day we got going on our roadtrip. We are doing a loop of the South Island. We will finish the South Island in Picton and ferry over to Wellington on the north island. Starting from Christchurch at 3 o'clock and finishing at Picton at 12 o'clock, we would have missed one and two o'clock. So, we headed to 2 o'clock. We drove to Kaikoura on the Pacific coast. Kaikoura is a beach town where you can go whale watching, swim with dolphins, see penguins (August to February), and see seals.
Christchurch to Kaikoura was a couple of hour drive. Gas is expensive here. About $2.14 per litre in Christchurch. About 10 cents higher in Kaikoura. We arrived in the late afternoon in Kaikoura. We booked into a hostel for $70 for a double room with ensuite. The hostel also had a hot tub and a heated pool. We cooked our own meals in the kitchen. Since arriving in New Zealand we have only eaten out once. It is expensive to eat out and we are trying to get healthier. We have been eating out for the last nine months so we are happy to cook our own meals.
We went out for a run the next morning in Kaikoura. Again, part of our get healthier plan. We are doing a run/walk routine trying to work up to running a longer distance. Our first run/walk was about 10km. I felt pretty good afterwards, surprisingly.
After our run we made lunch before heading out for some exploring and sightseeing. We ended up doing a 12km hike. The hike is around the peninsula up and over the hill cliffs that line the shores. You walk from the town centre along the shoreline until you hit the end of the road and the beginning of the trail. At this spot there is a seal colony. It is funny to me to see seals laying on the beach and around bushes and loads of onlookers. For the most part they are just sleeping and being lazy. One little guy was a bit edgy and approaching people. I am not sure if they stay here all year or whether they head south for winter.
The hike was about 12km and took us about 3+ hours. After running about ten kilometres and then hiking 12+ km, I was exhausted! It was a good day but tiring no doubt. After dinner I tried to watch a bit of television but I needed to sleep. Our first night in Kaikoura, we sat in the hot tub for more than an hour. This night however I just wanted to sleep.
Coincidentally, when we woke up our first morning in Kaikoura, I listened to the news on the radio. The top story was two large earthquakes in the Solomen Islands. There was a tsunami warning for New Zealand. As we ran and hiked that day we discussed where we would go if we saw a tsunami coming. As it turns out the warning was cancelled when the size of the earthquake was downgraded to 7.6 from 8.3.
Since we have been in New Zealand the weather has been crap. It has rained almost every day. We have gone out in the rain everyday but it is miserable. This is autumn in New Zealand, normally it is a little cool but everyone here is saying this is bad. Worse than normal.
After Kaikoura,mew drove to Hanmer Springs. It was about a 2 hour drive. Hanmer Springs is popular for its thermal pools. As it turns out it is a cute little town as well. It reminds me a bit of Jasper, but smaller. The types of shops and restaurants in the Main Street area I think are why I felt that. We checked into a backpackers right near the town centre. We had a private double with a shared bathroom for $64. It had a massage chair that each guest could use once per day.
Internet in New Zealand is not great. Wifi is not readily available and you generally have to pay for it. In Christchurch at our airbnb place it was free. In Kaikoura and Hanmer it was not free. We did not pay for it in Hanmer but did in Kaikoura. We do have internet on the cell phone but are trying not to use it if possible.
After we checked in and ate some lunch, we went to the thermal pools. It is $20 admission per person. It is more if you want to use the water slide. We were happy to sit in the hot pools. We spent a few hours soaking and getting wrinkly in the thermal waters. After that I was extremely relaxed.
At the hostel that night, there was a group of people who sat around chatting. I know that hostels are not for everybody. However, when you are on the road this long it is nice to sit and chat with other people who are also travelling. In hotels people do not really mix. In hostels, it is quite normal for total strangers to sit and talk the night away. This night there were Germans, British, Dutch, Aussies, French and of course Canadians (us). It was nice.
Today when we got up at the Hanmer Backpackers we went for our second run. This time we ran through the Hanmer Forest along some really nice trails. Again we did close to 10km. It was a little easier this time because Nicola did not try to kill me with a 3 hour torture hike afterwards.
We got the car packed after breakfast and hit the road. This time, we drove about four hours to Methven. We are now further south than Christchurch so we have doubled back from 2 o'clock and are now at about 3:30. We are inland now and our route today was along the scenic inland route #72. What is Methven known for? Who knows really. It was not our destination. We got off the #72 to come to the i Site (a NZ tourist information place in most locations).
We are heading for a bit of a Lord of the Rings experience tomorrow. Specifically, we will be going to Mount Sunday. It is Edoras, the capital of Rohan. More accurately I guess it is where Rohan was filmed in the LOTR. I guess no visit to New Zealand would be complete without some Middle Earth experiences. I am no LOTR officianado but I did enjoy the movie.
Our road trip continues…