Goodbye Ken, Hello Britzy Spears
Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
84Trip End Jun 11, 2011
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Where I stayed
Bealey Lodge, Arthur's Pass
With the time change we landed at 2pm a few minutes ahead of schedule. This was good news as we had to pick up our campervan by 4pm as the Britz rental company closed by then and we would be stuck in Christchurch for the day. There is nothing wrong with Christchurch, but we are a little tired of cities and are looking forward to the country, not to mention that the recent earthquake has left the town in a bit of shambles. The customs line was quite long since they only provided 1 person for the non-New Zealand/non-Australian lines. So us Americans and Canadians had to wait for a while. We finally made it through after the customs lady told me I look very different than my passport photo which was taken a year ago (guess it is time to get a haircut and shave) and we managed to grab our bags which were the last few waiting on the carousel. For 80 days of travel, we have always had a hotel/hostel/guest house/friend to stay at, but this is the first time that we had no plans. So our first stop was the tourist desk at the airport. We knew we eventually wanted to head to Queenstown in the southern part of the South Island, but we didn’t know which route to take. The gentleman at the desk said there were three options, the direct route, the west route, or the east route. We grabbed the map, along with 30 brochures of things to do in New Zealand (Amy and I did a great job of planning for Asia, but with 13 countries, we haven’t really planned for this part of our trip).
We were now finally ready to explore New Zealand. I was very excited at this point as New Zealand was the city I most wanted to visit when we planned this trip. Something about the open road, adventure sports, wine tasting, and friendly people appealed to me. After a short 10 minute wait, the Britz van picked us up at the waiting area and took us on a 2 minute drive to their office (I think we would have saved time if we just walked ourselves). Once inside, we were given a dvd player with instructions on how to use the campervan. You could see the giddy look in both of Adam and my eyes, and the terror in Amy’s. It was hard enough to get Amy to stay in a hostel, but a campervan was beyond anything I could imagine (who is this girl I married that would agree to such a thing). For those that don’t know, Amy doesn’t have many memorable quotes, but one of her finest is "Amy don’t camp." I guess that is all about to change. I think I was able to convince her when I told her that the campervan was the same price as a tiny car, but will give us more room when driving. Once the dvd was over, we are walked through the very pricy insurance options (this is no longer cheaper than a rental car). We could spend $65 a day to be fully covered (which was twice as much as it cost to rent the car), $30 a day and a $2500 hold on our credit card, or a $7500 hold on a credit card in case of damage. We thought we’d be covered by our credit card company in case of damage, so we chose the latter. Luckily our credit limit was high enough. We were finally taken to our new campervan.
Once Amy saw the campervan, she started to get a little excited as well. I believe her words were that it was “super cute.” Since the name of the rental company, Britz, is plastered all over the car, we decided to name it “Britzy Spears” (because you always have to name your car). Britzy became our fourth member of the trip. I was the first to take the wheel and after spending 5 minutes trying to figure out how to take off the emergency brake, we were on our way, driving on the left side of the road. By now it was getting pretty late and in this time of year, NZ gets dark around 5:30, so the plan was to take the direct route to Queenstown, drive as far as possible, and find a motel to sleep in for the night. However, for some reason, about 15 minutes into our drive, we decided to take the west route instead, heading towards the glaciers to start our trip. This meant backtracking all the way back to the airport and heading in a different direction, losing 30 minutes of precious daylight. The drive was fairly smooth and I was finally figuring out how to drive on the left side of the road. The hardest part was figuring out the windshield wipers and the turn signal. They are on the opposite side of what I am used to, so often when I went to use the turn signals, I would turn on the windshield wipers instead.
We made it about 150 kms from Christchurch and finally came across a town called Springfield. We decided to grab some food since Adam and I had not eaten anything up to this point. The only open restaurant in town was in the local hostel. Since I was still not feeling great, I tried my hardest to put down a chicken sandwich in order to have food in me. Amy went with fish and chips while Adam ordered an entrée that consisted of a plate of fries with eggs, a steak, ham, and sausage all thrown on top. Just looking at that dish made it even harder for me to eat. Since the motel options were as limited as the food options, we decided to press on in the dark. Adam took over the wheel at this point and as we drove, we started to head into Arthur’s Pass which is the drive between the mountains to the western coast of the country. To say that it was windy would be an understatement. It was pitch black and the only thing we could see were random small animals crossing the street every five minutes. The towns were few in number, which meant the motel options were limited as well.
We finally came across the Bealey Lodge in some unknown city (I don’t think a city name actually exists for where we stopped) in Arthur’s Pass and decided to stop driving for the night. The funny thing is it was only 8pm (which felt like 6pm since we just came from Australia which is 2 hours earlier) at this point and in the summer it would still be light until 10pm which would have given us plenty of more time to drive. The hotel was fairly empty since it is NZ’s low season and we were in the middle of nowhere, so the manager of the hotel gave us a deal on rooms. We had a choice of a 2 bedroom suite with ensuite bath or a room the size of our campervan with a double bed and a bunk bed where we had to share a bathroom. Since we were only planning on staying over for less than 12 hours, we went with the cheaper option. We threw down our bags and went to the bar since Adam was in need of a drink after the tough drive, while Amy helpfully did our laundry using sub-standard equipment, well into the evening. In the bar was the manager of the hotel, his friend who had dreadlocks, and another customer who frequents the hotel (and is friends with the manager) who looked like Barack Obama. All of them had glassy red eyes since they were probably dabbling in some illegal substances. They were quite interested in why three Americans would be in NZ driving around, so we talked to them for a bit before it was time to get some shut eye (the conversation wasn’t all that engaging anyway).