After leaving the majestic surroundings of Mount Cook the last couple of days of the Stray bus tour were pretty much just stops on the way to either Christchurch (hereafter called Chch by those of us who have been there) or back to Wellington or Auckland for international flights to Fiji, Oz or home.
Our first stop was at Lake Tekapo where, not surprisingly, there is a fairly large lake after which the small town was named. More interestingly it boasts an observatory (not visited as we were passing through), a quaint stonebuilt church by the lake, a statue celebrating the importance sheepdogs of the region had and, somewhat incongruously, an activity centre comprising an ice skating rink, hot pools spa and an inner tube ice luge built around a cafe/restauant. While many of the crew donned beachwear and lounged in the warm waters Mira and Killian (the latter dressed like a ninja) ventured onto the ice skating rink for a number of circuits, both displaying a remakable ability to remain upright, albeit at vastly different speeds.
The Ninja ice-skater - Kilian
A tribute to sheepdogs at Lake Tekapo
We left out Taiwanese duo (Mira and Sherry) in Tekapo and headed, via a supermarket, to our overnighter at Rangitata in the Peel Forest. Given that the resort is geared up for white water rafting and that we were out of season the place, whilst large, well appointed and comfortable (with skyscraper triple bunk beds) was quiet - ideal for watching dvds and cooking a major sunday roast (chicken and beef with loads of veg and proper gravy - oooh northern lads love gravy!!) followed by an excellent chocolate pudding prepared by our host and cooked by our group.
Brooke tucks into another helping of chocolate cake
The next day trip from the Peel Forest to Christchurch started very early due to the need for Stray to get the bulk of the bus crew to Kaikoura for the moneymaking whale watching/dolphin swim/albatross spotting tours. The drive was, not surprisingly, quite picturesque as we traversed New Zealands largest flat area (blah blah blah million hectares) and uneventful given that ET's shortcut actually worked!
After being dumped at the Antartic Centre out by the airport (Stray don't venture into the remains of Christchurch these days) Mark and I shuttled it into the town with Steve, a friendly and very informative driver who pointed out things we should try to see during our stay.
The "Around the World" hostel is run by the very friendly and efficient Lee who offered a warm welcome, guided tour of the homely establishment and concise info about where to go to see the best (and worst) of Chch.
A first afternoon stroll around the city centre proved somewhat confusing to any Fool that has not seen the aftermath of a significant earthquake before and expected to see a large wasteland. Whilst large sections are still blocked off to the public it is still possible to see into these areas - cranes abound as the taller buildings are in the process of being carefully demolished and numerous single/dual storey structures will eventually be razed to the ground. There were no buildings canting over at extreme angles, few piles of rubble and a sense of calm order as the city systematically clears the areas marked for a return to parkland.
The most unnerving thing about the whole situation is that mother nature saw fit to shake the ground for some 20 seconds and in that time killed a good number of the population, made around 10,000 families homeless and yet there is no scorched earth, no gaping chasms or flattened neighbourhoods. The damage to all of these buildings is largely unseen, being structural rather than visible with the result that people will be bringing down the old and building the new for the next 10-20 years - ironically making this a good time to be in the building and associated services sectors.
The cathedral in central Christchurch shows her scars!
The ReStart container mall in Chch
Coming down, piece by piece!
Once one has walked the Red Zone there is pretty much nothing else to see in central Chch at the moment.
Kaikora, crayfish and chips.
Having had a recommendation from E.T. to go out boat fishing with Gerry the Fool hopped the Atomic shuttle bus up to Kaikora to reunite with Crazy Emma and Frida who, despite my arrival at 10 in the morning, were still in hibernation mode in their room at the cold hostel. After an excellent coffee (and Emma's obligatory piece of carrot cake) at the Why Not cafe Gerry met us at the hostel, took us to his place literally down the road where he introduced our captain and mate for the day then it was off down the main street to the jetty, the three of us perched in the boat on the trailer behind Gerry's tractor, waving to the odd passerby, looking like a cross between a royal visit and a bizarre nautical themed float in a parade of one! Once we headed out of the lee of the slipway it became evident that the weather gods most certainly was not going to shine on us. Strong winds, choppy seas and almost artic temperatures combined to freeze and soak us as we battled out to check the crayfish pots (not surprisingly we were the ONLY boat of any kind to venture out with all commercial trips being cancelled). Many of the pots contained numerous crayfish, all but three of which were too small to keep and were literally thrown back into the sea to grow into someone elses dinner. The highlight was pulling in a pot which contained a large octopus which, whilst being wrestled from the cage, managed to attach one long, tentacled limb to Emma's leg which had her leaping around and squealing very loudly in the small boat. After crayfish duty we tried a bit of fishing but, given the cold and the conditions, we didnt need much encouragement to call it a day and head back to Gerry's for some wine whilst he prepared and cooked our catch. The wine flowed like water as we watched the cooking process from under umbrellas and continued when we retired to his converted shed/dorm, our captain regaling us with stories of his many sea based misadventures (he has a prosthetic or false foot, is missing a number of fingers and bears plenty of scars leading me to believe that his early years might have involved him being used as shark bait!).
Back at the hostel we tucked into the largest of our catch (by its size estimated to be about 70 years old and worth about NZ$150+) accompanied by chips freshly cooked by the fish and chip shop across the road. There was plenty to feed all three of us and it tasted exquisite!!
The deadliest catch - caught!
Next morning we did the coastal walk to get up close and personal with the seals before we ran into John from earlier on the bus tour and he shared our lunch of the remaining two crayfish with even more chips before I said my farewells to the lovely Em and Frida and bused it back to Chch to see out my time before the flight to Melbourne.
Farewell to Chch
My last few days in Chch comprised rewalking the streets of the red area of the city taking more snaps, an improptu coffee with Mira at the Jailhouse hostel,sharing info, experiences and stories with the fellow hostellers at the Around the World and last night drinks with Momma Bev before an early morning transfer to the airport and the flight to AUSTRALIA - the next leg of the Fools tour.
Farewell drinks with fab Bev
Looking back I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Kiwiland, taking in magnificent scenery, unique experiences and meeting and travelling with awesome people (backpackers, tour bus drivers activity hosts and guides, and friends from previous travels). I would love to list everyone but, to avoid offending anybody this old brain of mine might omit, thank you to each and every one of you for taking part in my two island adventure - you know who you are and you are all, without exception, fabulous people.
FAREWELL NEW ZEALAND AND HELLO AUSTRALIA.