The Fellowship of the Smiths

Trip Start Mar 13, 2010
Trip End Feb 13, 2011

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Monday, January 3, 2011


Well this entry has been a long time coming!  Apologies for the delay but internet access wasn't easy in the last few stops on our trip as it was all a bit of a rush. For example, we only had 10 days in New Zealand so I don't think we can be blamed for making the decision to enjoy our limited time there without looking for internet cafes!

So, after leaving my family in Queensland we hopped on a quick three and a half hour flight to Christchurch. This was our first flight with Air New Zealand who were probably the best airline we flew with, which is really saying something comparing them to Singapore Airlines! Although I must say, even before we experienced the great in-flight entertainment and amazing food, Mark and I were both won over straight away by their in-flight safety video! I wont say too much and will just let you watch it [at the following link].

What a great way to welcome people to your country! And as we stepped outside of Christchurch airport we had another amazing welcome - from the sun! As I mentioned in our previous entry, Queensland was unseasonably cloudy the whole time we were there and so the blue sky and warm heat was most welcome.

Our first stop in New Zealand was a Backpackers hostel in an area called New Brighton on the coast. We booked it from Brisbane only a few days earlier as that was as far as our plans for New Zealand stretched at that point. New Brighton was exactly like a small English seaside town, complete with chip shops, ice cream stalls and a distinctly deserted feel. The only thing that reminded us that we were on the other side of the word as we sat on the pier with fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, was the mountainous landscape which lined the horizon.

So, the next next day we woke up bright eyed and bushy tailed, and headed into Christchurch town centre to plan our next few days. Christchurch city is a beautiful place, but when we were there, there was a lot of evidence of earthquake damage. Although when we visited it had been a few months since their last big earthquake there were still a fair number of half collapsed buildings, and cordoned off rubble along some streets.

After a brief look around, we headed straight to the tourist information centre where we were bombarded with an avalanche of places to visit and activities to do in New Zealand. Unfortunately, as I mentioned, we were pushed for time and had a flight out of Auckland booked for 10 days later. So it was with slightly heavy hearts that we worked our way through thousands of pamphlets, having to discard most of them due to time or money constraints. Our main accomplishment that morning was simply to reach the decision that we needed to return to New Zealand in the future to see and do everything we were going to miss out on this time. We were a bit disappointed when we realised how much we'd be missing, but in context, 10 days out of a year long trip really isn't that long and it was always going to be the case when traveling for so long and doing so many amazing things, that we wouldn't be able to do everything. I will take this moment therefore to say to anyone reading this blog who is thinking of going to New Zealand, please save a lot of money, and a lot of holiday leave, because you'll need both!

Anyway, once we had realigned our expectations of what we were realistically going to be able to do in New Zealand, we booked a dolphin spotting cruise and decided to just stay and enjoy Christchurch for another couple of days before heading north. The cruise was really good, we saw the tiny Hector dolphins which live in the harbour and got to enjoy the weirdly Scottish scenery surrounding the coast. We also went on a Gondola ride up one of the mountains and saw some amazing views of Christchurch.  We also went to an AMAZING Ron Mueck exhibition at the Christchurch Art Gallery - words really can't describe adequately how good his sculptures were so I'll leave you all to look at the pictures below. All I can say is that if you ever get the chance to go to one of his exhibitions, go without hesitation!

After a couple of days enjoying Christchurch, we hopped on a coach and drove to Picton to catch the ferry to the north Island. The journey was absolutely amazing, the scenery was like being in Lord of the Rings (funnily enough), we drove through miles and miles of rugged landscape punctuated with enormous aqua blue lakes and snow capped mountains.

We had a one night stopover in Wellington and whilst we did try and have a look around, it was so windy, cold and closed that we ended up back in the pub in our hostel playing pool and gearing up for another long coach journey the next day. 

The next morning we headed off to Maureen and Ian's house in Hamilton, some family friends who had kindly offered their hospitality to Mark and I despite only having met us once before (on our honeymoon!)

Maureen and Ian were very welcoming and we were made to feel at home in their AMAZING house which was more like a five star hotel. We were also kindly offered the use of Maureen's car during our stay which was very helpful as there was no public transport to speak of in the area. During our few days there we went for some lovely drives through amazing scenery. One day we went to a place called Rotorua famous for its geothermal activity, geysers and hot mud pools. The whole town had a distinct sulphur smell about it, but once you get over that it's a fascinating place. The geysers and hot pools are just dotted around, no park entry fees or anything like that...everywhere you turn there's bubbling mud or steaming water. I even had a go dipping my feet into one of the hot pools - a very strange but relaxing experience. A lot of the pools looked like sets from Hollywood films, Jurassic Park-esque, and it was hard to get your head around the fact that they were natural, not to mention pre-historic!

Another memorable day out we had was to Matamata, an area covered in simple farmland...oh yes, and the setting for 'Hobbiton' from Lord of the Rings! It was the highlight of our time in New Zealand. Unfortunately we can't post any pictures from our tour of the set as it was being set up for the upcoming film 'The Hobbit' so we had to sign a confidentiality form meaning we'd be committing several types of copyright infringements - but needless to say it was a great experience, especially for Mark who is somewhat of a Lord of the Rings geek. The realism and attention to detail was mind-boggling and the tricks used to make the actors look smaller/bigger by tweaking perspective and using different sized props was inspired! After our tour of the set we got to see a sheep being sheared (as it is actually a working sheep farm) and even got to bottle feed some little lambs.

We had a couple of other nice drives in the next few days, including one to a hidden little forest reserve we found by accident where we were courted by some amazing birds which just hovered and danced around our heads. I don't know what they were but they looked like birds of paradise, according to an information board, there were also Kiwi's in the reserve but alas we couldn't spot them! Interestingly there were also some very basic wooden long-drops for toilet facilities. The interesting part, is how we reacted to them, both Mark and I were a bit grossed out which is laughable considering the facilities we had in Africa. It's amazing how soft you can get spending such a small amount of time back in the western world.

All too quickly it was time to leave our base in Hamilton and indeed New Zealand. It was another coach ride up to Auckland where we stayed for one night before heading to the airport early the next morning ready to fly back in time as we crossed the international date line to The Cook Islands!
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