After a fairly comfortable overnight flight from Hong Kong, we arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand to find to our horror that our bags hadn’t made the connection at Sydney and had not turned up. Good start.
A bus into town, a quick check-in and we wandered down the road and stopped for a beer or 7 with our friends from Sarf London, Damon and Adele. It’s great to meet friends, especially half way round the world! We didn’t sleep much on the plane so, having been awake for 33 hours, we slumped into bed with the TV on. When I woke up next morning, I recalled a strange dream whereby we’d seen on the news that our next destination, Southern Chile, had been hit by an enormous earthquake – bonkers.
Of course it turned out to be all true and not only that but we had a tsunami warning for the east coast of New Zealand to deal with to boot! Wonderful! Looking out of the window though, there was no evidence of panic – quite the opposite really. Christchurch is New Zealand’s 2nd largest city but in UK terms it’s a tiny, sleepy town and for most residents it was a normal Sunday morning.
Having picked up our colourfully painted camper vans (ours has a tiger on the side, the Threadgold-Wallace’s has a sort of scary Maori man and some flower or other), we headed off, despite the warnings, to the coast around Banks’ Peninsula. In truth, this wasn’t much of a risk as the warnings had been downgraded by then and the peninsula is quite high and we were looking for views.
If there is one thing that New Zealand does well, it’s views – we’ve been here for four full days now and some of the scenery is stunning. It seems like I’ve said that about so many of the places we’ve been to but this is something else.
Our first night was spent in a holiday park thingy near Akaroa which gave us a nice (warm showers, electricity and toilets) gentle introduction to the camping experience which we shall enjoy for the next 18 days.
We haven’t consumed all that much alcohol on this trip so far, save for a couple of big nights, but the presence of friends from home coupled with a plentiful supply of good wine has turned things around quite dramatically and, after an evening of chatting, cooking and wildlife-spotting (the first night, we saw ducks, cows, cats and hedgehogs) – but mainly drinking – we fell into bed (back of van) exhausted and drunk.
We wanted to see the west coast of the South Island so the next day we drove back towards Christchurch and across Arthur’s Pass and stayed in a clearing in the woods for the night. The drive across the Southern Alps was increasingly spectacular, climbing up into the mountains and stopping every now and again for photos and lunch. Lunch was notable for some beautiful sunshine and views but sudden gusts of gale force wind causing everything we owned to blow away. The changeable weather also ended up messing with our plans for the evening as it poured with rain all night and, with the lack of facilities in our clearing, we sat in the back of our van all night, playing cards and drinking. Dinner came in the form of tuna sandwiches which were created in just over an hour due to the sub standard abilities of our can opener, to which Damon can testify by the cut he received trying to hack his way in.
The weather had not quite cleared yet by the morning but we had enough shelter to create a superb cooked breakfast and drove up to the local village to do some walking. The trek, up what is a ski field in winter, was spectacular and well worth it for the views of nearby snow-capped mountains and the weather had changed for the better.
After a short drive to Greymouth, on the coast, a nice hot cooked meal, more cards and booze and a good night’s sleep we’d planned to get going early but more rain meant extreme laziness wrapped its energy-sapping arms around us and we failed to get out before half eleven.
50km up the coast is Panakaiki, where some unexplained process has caused the rocks to form into stacks of flat, pancake-like structures rising from the sea and the ferocity of the ocean has carved out great hollows which the water now gushes into, surging up and out in great spurts on a regular basis. We spent longer here than we planned as it was pretty hypnotic and got lots of cracking photos.
We have now settled down next to a beautiful lake, having driven back south and stopped an hour from the glaciers which we plan to see tomorrow. When we arrived, we were alone in this isolated spot but since then, several other groups have arrived and it’s like Piccadilly Circus here now. There’s 10 of us! Pah.