Last few days on the South Island

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Sunday, December 18, 2005

By chance, I was arriving back in Christchurch on the same day that Jeli from Nelson was touching down, so naturally we'd arranged to meet up. I'd recommended The Old Countryhouse to her and she was successfully booked in, whereas I had to stay elsewhere as there were no more vacancies when I called - charming! It didn't matter though because I got booked into Stonehurst which was closer to the city centre, meaning I had less distance to cover the next morning.

I met Jeli in Cathedral Square at 6pm, and we headed straight to the bar for a few quiet drinks. As is becoming commonplace, I helped her with her itinery and recommended the best places to stay on the South Island. I was quite jealous of her because I knew that I only had a few days left before I returned to the North Island - I wish I could have joined her!

At 9pm, we were politely asked to drink up as it was closing time. That's right, 9pm in a major city! It wasn't a problem though, and we soon found ourselves in Winnie Bagoes enjoying a rather large pizza each, so large in fact that we saved the last few slices for breakfast! Come 10.30pm though, we were on our own again, so we called it a night and I walked her back to the hostel.

In Noosa, Jeli had declared herself the Connect 4 Queen, and I was given the perfect chance to knock her off her thrown when she invited me into the hostel. Sure enough, I emerged triumphant, winning 3-1...although she beat me, somewhat controversially, at the elegantly named card game...Shithead!

It was an early start the next morning as I was booked onto the 8.30am shuttle bus to Akaroa. I was looking forward to spending a couple of nights in this historic town on the Banks Peninsula, as Mum and Stu stayed there when I was in Brisbane...and loved it. They said it was lovely and peaceful, with a few nice backpackers on the main street, so it sounded good to me.

The driver on the bus had a really dry sense of humour, and he gave us lots of information along the way, although it was quite grim as we looked out of the window. He assured us that it would be clearer in Akaroa, and he wasn't wrong. Making our way up and over a steep hill, the harbour came into view and we stopped for a photo as it looked lovely.

In the 1800s, some French settlers chose to make Akaroa their home, and to this day it retains the feel of a French village, with street names including "Rue Lavard" and "Rue Jolie." My backpackers was even called "Bon Accord," and it was a charming little place with very friendly staff. I immediately got talking to a German girl called Simone, and I ended up walking along the fronts with her - I desperately needed a pie from the local bakery!

Eager as ever to take advantage of the glorious weather, I picked up a few leaflets from the Information Centre detailing local walks. The vaguely estimated 4-7 hour Round the Mountain walk sounded perfect, if a little challenging. I was used to it by now though, and presumably my fitness levels have improved in recent weeks!

I stocked up on water and chocolate bars, and off I went with a hand drawn map detailing the route. I soon ran into problems when I came to a junction that looked completely different to the one on my map, but luckily a couple who were also on the shuttle bus arrived, and we eventually settled on the right way to go.

After about an hour walking uphill, through farmland with the sun beating down, I reached a shelter at the entrance to the Heritage Park. I was gasping for a drink, and spent 15 minutes talking to a few old locals who were doing a shorter walk. They pointed out Stony Bay Peak to me, way up in the distance, and said it was well worth a detour on a beautiful day like this. I wanted to do it, but I said I'd see how I felt when I got closer...

I walked up the winding Long Bay Road for a further 2-3km, and by this stage I was quite high up and the view of Akaroa was great. I was happy to reach the crossroads at the top, known as The Cabstand, because I knew that the track levelled out for a few kilometres. You could now see over the other side of the hills towards Long Bay and out into the open ocean...and there was barely anyone else on the track.

About an hour later, after joining the Purple Peak Track, I had to decide whether I wanted to go to the summit of the mountain, along a "steep, rough track." I couldn't resist as it was such a nice day, but it certainly was steep and at times, not very well defined. The grass had overgrown so you couldn't always see where you were putting your feet, leading to a couple of slips that I'm used to by now. It was just as hard as the Meuller Hut walk, but I had plenty of stops and it only took 40 minutes to reach the top...and it was definitely worth the effort!

It was a nice surprise to see Simone at the summit, and we enjoyed the views and talked about the walks we'd done in New Zealand. She was a much more serious tramper than me, and had done an 8 day walk in Fiordland! I do like walking, but I also like to get back home and have a nice warm shower, and get into a comfortable bed - much better than freezing in a miserable hut!

We walked back down the mountain together, with Simone winning (or losing!) 2-1 in the slip stakes! I had a few near misses, but often I'd grab hold of large clumps of grass to stop me from going the whole way!

Simone was doing the walk in the opposite direction to me, so after completing the 1.5 hour diversion, we went our separate ways. It was all downhill from here thankfully, and I literally didn't see one other person. It was so peaceful, and I had a couple of lengthy stops on the way down as I was in no rush, and the scenery surpassed my expectations.

I went to the Fish and Chip shop that evening with an Australian girl who was really nice, complete with a hyena like laugh! We took our food back to the hostel as the seagulls were vicious, swooping down and pinching people's chips at will! Afterwards, I just relaxed and read the gossip magazines that seem to be obligatory in New Zealand's hostels, before calling it a night just after midnight...

My final day in Akaroa was a much more relaxing affair, i.e. no more walks to the top of mountains! I couldn't resist doing a short walk up L'Aube Hill though, but it was tough going as it was even hotter than the previous day. The bright sunshine made the water appear turquoise, and I followed this up with a walk to the lighthouse at the far end of town.

I went to the cinema at 5pm to watch a movie called Crash that I'd never heard of, but there wasn't much choice to be honest. No matter, as it turned out to be one of the best films I've seen for ages, and the seats were so comfortable! I was in a good mood after seeing such a gripping movie, so I splashed out on fish and chips again, bumping into an English guy called Paul from the hostel. We ate together and then had a quiet evening reading National Geographic magazines - they have some great articles in there.

I now had just one more day on the South Island, and by chance (again!), my final stay in Christchurch coincided with Cobain arriving there - so, we arranged to meet up! Honestly, I've met up with so many people in Christchurch (Jill, Yumi, Jeli and now Cobain) that it's now second nature what we'll do together. This time the plan was to go and see the newly released King Kong, but I made sure I pre-booked the tickets as it was sure to be a sell out.

I spent 3 hours typing up my journal on the internet, before booking my shuttle to the airport for the unearthly time of 4.30am...too early! And with King Kong being a 3 hour epic, I wasn't likely to get much sleep. Still, I was going back to The Mount so I didn't mind at all.

I met Cobain at 7pm and we went to Burger King - also a tradition when meeting people in Christchurch. I ordered my usual BK Chicken Meal (no mayonaise) with raspberry sundae, and obain filled me in on what he'd been up to. He eventually told me (somewhat bashfully!) that he had a Japanese girlfriend in Nelson and he seemed head over heals, and I was delighted because Cobain is the nicest guy you could ever wish to meet. There are some people who I'll probably, over time, lose contact with, but Cobain (along with Yumi, Rie, Ali and Claudine) doesn't fall into that category. I definitely want to visit him in Korea one day!

The movie turned out to be amazing - my second triumph in successive days! Bizarrely, we were sat next to Paul from Akaroa in the cinema - all the seats and cinemas in Christchurch, and we ended up sat next to eachother! Spooky. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I was so looking foward to getting some sleep (all 3.5 hours of it!) before my alarm sounded...I was going 'home!'
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