Christchurch and Akaroa

Trip Start Jan 01, 2008
Trip End Dec 29, 2008

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Sunday, June 8, 2008

We were booked on the 08.30 flight from Sydney to Christchurch, in New Zealand but, being a Qantas flight, surprise, surprise, once again the flight was delayed.  Qantas really are one of the worst airlines for delays.  As usual the information in the airport was virtually non-existent but eventually a replacement plane was found and we left 4 hours late.
Not only were we late getting into Christchurch, but the immigration procedures here are the strictest we have encountered anywhere on our travels (with the exception of Sierra Leone, but that was something else entirely!).  The customs and immigration people were not so much concerned with global terrorism but with the importation of vegetables and other ecological  issues.  The first thing we had to do was to complete the immigration cards where we had to list EVERY item of food, plant or animal material we were carrying (including walking boots used during the last 28 days!). As it was obvious that the NZ took this all very seriously, we declared everything, or so we thought!!
An official checked our forms thoroughly and asked us a lot of questions.  He then inspected our boots for mud! (apparently they were OK!).  He asked us about the items of food we had declared and then sent us to have our bags xrayed.  The guy on the xray machine noticed a small jar and asked us if we were carrying any tiger balm.  When Carolyn said no, he asked us open up a bag and discovered a small pot of honey which we had completely forgotten about and asked us  to wait to see his superior.  His boss was currently dealing with an Indian guy who had been on the same flight as us and had been found to be in possession of two bananas! (The bananas had been handed out on the Qantas flight - how stupid is that? The least they could have done was to make a warning announcement on the flight.  Anyway, the Indian guy got fined $200 - expensive bananas as $100 each!! Carolyn,and yes I did let her take the rap, (only fair as I hate honey anyway!), got a stern talking to and a written warning. Take care when flying into NZ as they take the protection of their environment VERY seriously indeed.
We arrived in Christchurch in the late afternoon and picked up the shuttle-bus into the city centre.  As there were only three of us on the bus, the driver treated us to a running commentary on what to do and where to go in the city.  During the drive we pass through the more select areas of the city and were very impressed with all the houses we saw along the way.  The town itself is very pretty and reminded us of Cambridge (even to the extent of the punts on the river!) in fact Christchurch is often described as the most English of New Zealand's towns. Even on the drive in to town we were saying to each other that this is somewhere we might consider living.
We had decided to stay at Stonehurst, which is sort of a combination of motel/hostel/apartments and had arranged a studio, complete with mini-kitchen for 4 nights at NZ $80 p.n. In the main we were cooking ourselves although on the 2nd night Carolyn sent me out for fish and chips (or fush & chups, as they are known locally!). Unfortunately, it was snowing heavily outside - quite a shock after Australia!  It was worth it however as the fish, chips and mussels (a great local delicacy!) were fantastic.
The next few days were really spent sorting out the rental of a campervan for our two month road trip around New Zealand.  Campervans are a very popular over here and there is a bewildering array of choices, from very small and very cheap ($15 p.n.) to extremely luxurious and expensive$175 p.n.)  Being the middle of winter, prices are very reasonable at this time of year as apparently very few people relish the thought of living in the back of a van in sub zero temperatures! After a couple of days we (by we, I mean Carolyn), do a deal with Adventure Campervans for a 2 berth Fiat for 55 days @ $35 p.n.
Having sorted out the van we spend some time having a look around Christchurch, doing some shopping for stores for our trip.  The shops and restaurants in Christchurch are great and seem to offer a greater variety than those in Australia and at prices much, much lower.  There are masses of shops selling cold weather gear made from Merino wool and Possum fur, ranging from hats, gloves and fleeces to thermal underwear and sweaters (we even saw Merino boxer shorts - the lady in the shops was keen to point out how good they felt next to the skin!!).
Eventually it is time to pick up the Campervan and we head off first to fill up with diesel and then to the supermarket to stock up on food for the first few days of the trip.
Our intention is to spend roughly equal amounts of time in the South and North Islands and whilst in the South to head south to the lakes and then down to Queenstown and back up the West coast before crossing on the ferry to the North island. However, a slight change of plan as we decide first to head north for 70 kms to Akaroa, a small "French colonised" town, situated in the world best preserved example of a volcanic harbour, on the Banks Penisular.  The drive there takes us along the coast along flat plains and then through rolling hills up into the snow capped mountains always along tightly winding roads and ever changing scenery.  As we drive across the pass through the mountains we get our first views of Akaroa and its harbour.  It is absolutely stunning!  It is easy to see why this place is so popular as a weekend retreat for people from Christchurch.   We drive down into the town and park up by the seafront in the most picturesque seaside village we have ever seen.  It is getting late so we head up to the campsite in the hills above the village and what a campsite!  We park right on the edge of the site with uninterrupted views of the harbour and an amazing sunset.
Of course one of the problems of parking on a hillside, by the sea, in the middle of winter is that it is bloody cold and this apparently was one of the coldest nights of the year so far and, it was also very windy.  The upshot of all this is that we identified the shortcoming of the van during that first night as the wind rocked it from side to side we couldn't help but notice the gaps in the doors etc. And the resulting drafts.  The electrics also turned out to be a bit dodgy and someone had spilt some milk on the carpets and we had not noticed the smell of rancid milk until the van heated up.  Despite all this, it was a great place to stay and in the morning we were treated to a lovely sunrise and a dawn chorus of ducks quacking around the van looking for breakfast.
We phoned the van rental people the next morning who told us to bring it back the next morning to exchange for a different van. The rental people were really great and had already sorted out a new van for us to look at.  This one was much larger (4/6 berth), virtually brand new and came with just about everything you could possible want, shower, hob, microwave, refrigerator, two double beds and, even a DVD player and TV!  This truly was the lap of luxury and to top it all, Carolyn put her negotiating skills to use once again and did a deal for an additional NZ$ 200 for the whole trip or about 1.75 sterling per night!
After switching over our gear to the new van and playing with the manager's pet Rottweiler for a while (a very big, strong and thankfully friendly dog!), we head off on our way down south to spend the night at a town called Geraldine.
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