On 28th of March 2015 we boarded a Kangaroo Flight (Qantas) and continued our journey to Christchurch, the Kiwiland, New Zealand. New Zealand has always been a fascinating place for us, being on the exact opposite end of the world (seen from Europe) we know very little of this country. We had a one hour delay on our flight but since we would have five weeks’ time ahead to explore we didn’t worry too much about that. J YinRu was pretty lucky with her seat and had a 2year-old behind her who apparently has affinity for touchscreens. We arrived in New Zealand at 1am. When we went to Australia and we thought Aussie’s custom check was particular and annoying, we would correct our statement after experiencing the NZ’s boarder check. So the cute little custom dog we had in Australia followed us here, and caught us for having two apples and a banana. We did declare all the foods and fresh products we had so we were not fined, the apples and banana had to be confiscated though. We had in total 3 individual controls to get through the custom: the dog, a custom officer manually screening the bags and another x-ray of luggage. Our hiking shoes were also checked if they were dirty. We finally got out of airport looking like tired backpackers who did not pack their luggage well (after they checked everything we did not have time nor the patience to pack our luggage nicely obviously). Roman was pretty happy arriving at NZ as things look of good standard (and expensive) as it is back home. A happy boy enjoyed drinking fresh and tasty tap water here, and colder weather pleased him too.
We woke up to lovely weather the next day, sunny and a comfortable 18 degrees (however as soon as the sun sets, it gets cold so fast that only a pullover or cardigan would not be enough to keep you warm!). We got up late and searched for a long time for breakfast as the town was not so busy and did not offer a lot. The next two days we spent some time browsing in Christchurch, witnessed how much damage earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 brought and have permanently changed Christchurch. One could see remnants of Earthquakes everywhere in city center, buildings have collapsed, the once proud Cathedral of Christchurch partly destroyed, etc etc. In fact we reckon the entire city center of Christchurch is now one big construction side. However some nice graffitis around the city has brought some colors and life back in city. There was only one tram line in the city center and it even passed through a shopping center where we had our breakfast so it was pretty funny to eat a sandwich and see people waving at you out of a tram passing by 1 meter away from you. We did some essential organization stuff like walking 2hours to get to a telephone shop (for an NZ SIM card) only to find out that it was closed in the end and enjoyed the botanical gardens of Christchurch (one of the few sights not being destroyed). We wanted to have some dinner at a restaurant on Sunday, walked for 20minutes and realized that the restaurant did not exist anymore. The place is now a construction site so apparently the building collapsed during the earthquake. The address written online was just not up-to-date. By the way, we saw some funny guys with black rope and long long beards who look exactly like Gandalf in Lord of the Ring, some Maoris, and many people with tattoos in the city and found them all amusing.
On Monday the 30th of March we went to collect our “new” campervan and yaaay, that would be our house on wheels for the next five weeks! We were curious how much space this campervan would provide as it has a toilet/shower in a van measuring about the same than the one in Australia. At first glance the campervan looked “more used” than the one we had in Australia, but still looks cool. With around 185’000kilometers on it’s wheels it travelled much further than the Apollo we had in Australia with only 74’000km on the back! We went for some general (mainly food) shopping (always the first thing to do after getting a campervan) and drove on to Banks Peninsula, a small town called Akaroa located about 80km to the south east of Christchurch, for our first evening. We took some time to install ourselves in our new home the same evening after arriving at Akaroa, amazed that we’d have hot water heated by engines to wash dishes, hot showers and portable toilet for small/big businesses in here (in emergency). However, it took some effort to get our bed installed but we’re sure once we get the “fling” of it, it will be pretty fast. We were very excited about our new home on the wheels! And excited about refilling petrol because petrol is significantly more expensive than Australia and we initially planned a route with way more than 3’000km! One good thing that we can be happy of is that in NZ it is officially allowed to be camping in the wild on non-private properties if you have a self-contained unit. Which means if we want to, we can park up at a public campsite (free or cost a few dollars only) the whole time. So our first night with our new camper of course for free.
Akaroa is a small town near Christchurch that is pretty well known for its stunning landscape and wildlife. Since the Harbor Lyttelton which was nearer to ChCh was damaged by an earthquake, Akaroa recently attracts more cruises and tourists. The town’s vicinity offers amazing views of some mountains created by volcanic eruptions some 8million years ago (with Akaroa laying in the crater itself which is flooded with seawater today) and some wildlife that is only seen here in south NZ waters. Hectors dolphins, with its population of around 7500 individuals, are the smallest and rarest dolphins in the world. Blue penguins are also the smallest penguins in the world and can be seen here. Late evening we searched for tours to have a cruise the next day. We called Tony (a tour operator) at 10pm the evening before to book for a tour that was at 10am the next day. He was prompt enough and so we could join this well-worth tour.
The morning of our boat trip was grey and overcast with misty clouds hanging around on all the hills (crater walls) around us. After a short breakfast inside of our van (outside was definitely too cold for us this morning) we got to the main wharf and met Tony and his dog Fluffy on board his boat. Only two other couples (all four of them in the age of retirement) were on the boat so we had nearly a private tour. Tony (a probably 1.6m “tall”, bold guy living almost all his life in a small little village next to Akaroa and who prefers to commute by rowing with a boat to his workplace) shared many stories and facts about the area and his life while cruising around the bay with us for 2.5hrs. We got to see some local mussel and salmon farms as well as wild seals, cormorants, albatrosses, blue penguins and, highlight of the cruise: Hectors Dolphins surfing around our boat numerous times. During the boat ride, Tony showed off his fishing skills and caught a fish within 1min! No joke it was that fast! Tony showed us how to fish NZ-style, the very fast NZ style. The day started off with grey sky and drizzles, when the tour ended it was blue sky and sunny. The down side of such a tour: we both do not have the strongest stomachs. We were both encouraging each other not to throw up when we were on the boat and we managed not to. As soon as we were back on land, YinRu did not feel sick anymore and was already craving for fish and chips. We drove back to “mainland” and south to follow our initial route after lunch. After around 2hrs and a part of it on shitty gravel road for about 20min we arrived at a village called Hakatere at the ocean for an overnight stay. It was a pretty weird, so called society-town, village. We went to pay at the caretaker’s home but the caretaker was not at home but he did leave some chickens outside to watch his house for him. At the beach there was a huge colony of cormorants and it stunk like hell from the brids’ poo (something like old dead fish and bird pop – we hope you get the impression how it would smell like). In the evening we checked the map of NZ and realized how big the South Island is (eeehm, how far did we drive the last two hrs? What? Only this?) and decided to cut out some of the stops of our intended route and to continue differently. While we were cooking dinner two locals stopped by. The first young fisher guy gave some advice on where to go and what to see and obviously disliked all Australian stuff. The second visitor stopping by our van was a grandpa who told endless stories for about half an hour (stuff like that he was going to sell his house to marry in four years when he will turn 80 or that he was going for knee operation). In the end he said: Enjoy your trip in paradise! …and off he went.
We woke up in paradise the next day, still alive and not eaten by the Maori villagers or the birds from the colony, but in beautiful paradise with fabulous weather, blue sky and 20+ degrees. What more could we ask for? After having breakfast at paradise, we drive inland to central Canterbury. The hills got bigger and bigger and they soon became high mountains. Somehow not many plants were growing in this area, it had very dry vegetation with only few bushes and trees and the rest were mainly dried grassland. After about an hours’ drive our jaws dropped when Lake Tekapo offered some first views on its crystal clear water. The views got even better as we went up to almost 1’000m high Mt. James to overview the area. Lake Tekapo felt more like an appetizer after seein the next of these two glacier lakes: even more jaw dropping Lake Pukaki proudly situation in front of snow covered, 3’700m tall Mt. Cook. We were so blessed with the weather to be able to view Mt Cook with clear blue sky and a reflection on water as we were told by a tour bus driver that 70% of people coming here only see (or actually don’t see) Mt Cook because of its heavy cloud cover. We spent the evening and overnight at a scenic parking with the lake. Once again we realized how blessed we are with our self-contained campervan as we could stay in areas where most tourists couldnt. We tried out the showers which are not too bad – practical but not the same as normal of course. It was not the most spacious one ever. And you try to save water so it has to be veryyy efficient! We were surprise that two people can easily shower using less than 30l of water. In the evening we had some gin and tonic with two girls about our age from Iran and South Africa who live together in London (apparently a couple) and ended up in bed late.
We bet not many people have experienced waking up surrounded by tour buses. Well we have! The next morning we were woken up Chinese and Japanese tourists jelling at each other where to pose for the perfect picture. The tourists were so loud (sad to say mainly Asians, some Indians even played their pop-Bollywood music loud. Geez!), we couldn’t sleep any longer. At least we got our revenge by having our underwear in their souvenir photos. They must be very happy about the nice contrast of our underwear hanging to dry with Mt Cook as background (ok it was not so bad. The underwear were decent ones. I mean they were not really in their photos no worries.).
After having a breakfast with tourists around us we drove through nowhere land on State route 8 to the Southern Alps part. It was a hilly/mountainous drive for 2 hours with only 2 or maximum 3 villages on the way. We arrived in Cromwell (a tiny town with a population of about 3’000 and some of best wines from region, even well-known worldwide for its excellent Pinot Noir) early afternoon. It was our first time to visit a proper campsite with toilets/laundry etc. since we got to NZ. The campsite is managed by YinRu’s friend’s boyfriend and his family. So we were warmly welcomed and could stay the night for free. We had some wine tasting at a scenic house overlooking endless wine yards. We bought a bottle of (maybe overpriced, we don’t know) nice Pinot Noir to support the local economy. In the evening we had some long chatter with our new friend Cameron. It was once again interesting to see how different people of different regions speak, for instance the friend of ours, southlander, says “egg” as “uugg”. We are not linguists and hence not able to explain it well but the vowels were shorter or flat. Well google it and we are pretty sure you will find some good examples. As Cameron was free the next day we decided to have some fun 4WD track driving in the area the next day to experience the real wilderness (hopefully YinRu’s stomach will remain strong…).