Good bye New Zealand, you have done us well.
So time for our last stretch on the Stray Bus and our final driver called Salty. He greeted us in the early morning pick up with a lot of swearing and exclamations…we liked him instantly! We were heading to Mt Cook for the night (12th Feb), but we had the journey first… Our first coffee break was at a place called Cromwell- well-known for fruit-growing and wine making. We then drove along Lake Dunston- a man-made lake created to generate hydro-power and flooding the old Cromwell in the process. Then through the Lindis Pass to Omarama for a toilet stop. We then made our way through McKinsey Country known who its sheep farming – not for meat but for Mareno wool used for warm wooly sock, jumpers, scarves etc. Fetches quite a price out here. We then drove along side Lake Pukaki and stopped at Peters Lookout for a picture. The lake was a bright light powder blue colour due to being fed by the Tasman Glacier; all the rock flour refracting the light making it show as a gorgeous blue. Just a little more driving and then we had arrived at Mt Cook on a stunning clear blue sky afternoon. The ice capped mountains of the national park looked spectacular. We were so lucky with the weather! We arrived at 2pm, checked into our hostel- Mt Cook Backpackers- and got our walking shoes on, heading straight out to walk the Hooker Valley trail to the base of Hooker Glacier (4 hour return). We walked up to the Hermitage Hotel, post the DOC campsite, passed an Alpine Memorial, crossed 2 swing bridges, tracked a lively pebbly river and eventually arrived at our final destination- Terminal Lake at the bottom of the Hooker Glacier. The lake had icebergs floating in it which was a bit mad and the weather stayed glorious so we had a fantastic view of Mt Cook the whole way. It was a fantastic walk but definitely further than we expected and as we made our way back the promise of food (even if it was just pasta and sauce) kept us going back to the hostel at pace and straight to the kitchen to cook dinner!
The next day (13th), and after such a great afternoon in Mt Cook, we were thinking maybe we should have stayed one more night here, but as we got outside and saw the weather we pleased we kept with plan a. The weather was horrendous. Thick fog everywhere and no mountains to be seen. So it was back on the Stray bus to our final nights stop with the tour at Rangitata. The journey was pretty rain filled, but the weather did let up for our picture stop at Lake Tekapo- the highest lake above sea level in NZ according to Salty. We then traveled back through McKinsey Country with its rolling green hills and entered the western front of the Canterbury Plains. We stopped at a place called Fairlie to visit one of the top 3 bakeries in NZ and try their famous bacon and salmon pie- it was indeed prize worthy! We made a last stop at a town called Geraldine and then arrived at Rangitata Rafting Lodge in the middle of nowhere in the heavy rain mid afternoon! On account of the weather going for a walk was out of the question, so instead we got cosy in the common room in front of the wood burner and watched The Bucket List film with copious amounts of tea! The group whiled away the afternoon and early evening with a mini film marathon until it was time to cook our last group meal with Stray- T-Bone Steak, Salad and Roasties. The T-Bones were as big as our plate and the feta salad was divine and the crispy potatoes tasty…all for $10! I think Salty might have taken a bit of a hit on our behalf there me thinks, bless him. We celebrated our last night on the bus with some wine and plenty of games of Jenga, hitting the hay at 11pm in prep for our 6.30am start the next day.
Valentines Day 2012 and our last journey with Stray across the Canterbury Plains to Christchurch. It was a dark and rainy journey and felt very much like what I imagine the weather in the UK is like at this time of the year! Our coffee stop was at a place called Rakaia, after which we crossed a bridge which is the longest 2 lane bridge in NZ and that was the extent of the excitement of that journey! We arrived into Christchurch’s Antarctic Centre car park, by the airport, around 10am and hopped into a group super shuttle taxi which would take us into town. After the February 2011 earthquakes Stray don’t stop or even do into Christchurch City Centre. All the big backpackers were taken out by the earthquake as they were all in the old High street that is now condemned and the roads are still pretty bad so it would take too long for the bus to navigate itself around the place. So that was the first sign that we had that something major had happened in Christchurch’s recent history that the city was still contending with. We were staying with my Mum’s old work colleague and friend called Helen in Christchurch and needed to meet her at work, so we got dropped off at the Women’s hospital and found the Oral Health Clinic by walking through the hospital and down the escalater…all with our rucksacks and luggage! Bizarre experience! We found Helen in the dentists and was greeted by a bubbly warm lady who treated us like old friends and not 2 people who she’d just met and were squatting in her house for a couple of days! Her generosity showed no limits either when she produced her car keys and tom-tom and showed us to the vehicle which we could use for our time in Christchurch to see the city. Amazing amazing lady. Although when we let slip that we had never actually driven an automatic before or used a tom-tom, she spent a bit more time with us to make sure we knew the ropes thoroughly before letting us run free with her assets! We survived the journey back to The Thurlow family home in a suburb called Horby without too much trouble and called Helen at work to say us and the car were still in one piece! It was so lovely to have all the comforts of home and we took the opportunity to have a good sort out of our stuff after 3 weeks on the Stray Bus, getting some clothes washing done and figuring out what we could send home to lighten the load. We met Neil and Ben, Helen’s husband and son, who were just as lovely as Helen was. That evening we enjoyed a gorgeous home cooked hot-pot with mash and peas and enjoyed watching some telly on Neil’s MASSIVE telly….bliss!
The next day (15th) and time to sort out the matt of fibre on top of my head which should be my hair! AKA I got a haircut! Wash, cut, blow dry and she straightened it too…the most action by hair had seen in 3 months by far! Courtney the hair dresser did a fab job and it was nice to have a bit of day-to-day life pampering. Afterwards Hedd surprised me with a pedicure at a nearby salon as a Valentines present (lovely boyfriend), after which I almost looked like a resident and not a backpacker…the accent gave me away of course! We then headed to the flicks at Riccerton Westfield just outside Christchurch CBD to use the film vouchers Neil and Helen had kindly donated to us the evening before. We picked the film ‘A Few Best Men’ and went up to purchase the tickets thinking we would have to pay something, but no completely free! We couldn’t believe our luck and tip-toed away with our tickets like naughty children. The extent of Neil and Helen’s generosity has no end! It was an hour before our showing so we wandered around the shops to try to find outfits for the wedding we were going to in Sydney in March. And hark I found a beautiful powder blue dress in the sale at a shop called ‘Forever New’. I really couldn’t believe my luck that day- hair cut, feet pampering and a new dress! Needless to say I had a big beaming smile over my face for the entire day! That evening Helen and Neil invited some of their friends over to meet us and we had dinner and drinks and chatted away the evening in the garden. All expats- a family from Leeds and a lady from Texas- and all as lovely as the Thurlows. Chat soon got around to the 2011 Earthquakes with talk about families still living in condemned accommodation and those that have moved out having to secure their homes from squatters and prostitutes who have lost their usual haunts in the CBD and now heading out into the suburbs. Also the how way of claiming insurance from the state as well as privately sounds horrendous. And the city is still getting aftershocks so the dilemma continues. But there is still a great feeling of resilience amongst the city too which is good to see, the recovery just sounds like its taking a while. But the Christchurch earthquake was the 2nd biggest humanitarian loss in NZ’s history so it was a big deal and easy to see why it’s still forefront in residents consciousness. I felt pretty lucky to have grown up in the UK where we don’t have such natural disasters.
Early start today (16th) as I had a ‘skype date’ with Mum and Dad and then it was up and out to spend some time exploring Christchurch city. We headed to the Avon River and to Cambridge Terrace (the opposite side was Oxford Terrace- a hark back to the opposing rowing towns perhaps?!) where we enjoyed a punt down the river which took us along the cities Botanical Gardens. It was all very quant and romantic, although not terribly Kiwi authentic as the guys were all English and dressed up in the Victorian British get up with straw hats and strippy trousers. But ah well it was good fun anyway! We then headed into where the High street used to be but that is all cornered off now. But in its place the city have created a mall called ‘Re-Start’ which is all made out of shipping containers. Either single story or stacked, each container holds a shop with one side cut out and replaced with glass. It was fantastic! We had a wander around and sat outside and had lunch before heading back out-of-town and into the suburbs to complete some errands. We posted some stuff home to lighten our bags for our flight to Oz the next day and we found Hedd some trousers and shirt for the wedding at a Discount Outlet called Dress Smart. Then we picked up the food supplies to needed to cook the Thurlow’s and Thank you and Farewell meal that evening. The Baked Spanish Risotto we made went down very well, as did the chocolates we bought for dessert. There was only time left to check out their massive TV once again to watch Monsters vs Aliens animated film in 3D. It was a bizarre experience sitting on the sofa with 3D glasses on watching a 3D film. But very cool that technology had advanced so much that it now allows such things. I had to remind Hedd though that it would be quite some time before we could afford such things. Men and gadgets eh!
17th February and time to say goodbye to New Zealand and head onto Australia. Really great country and one that I think we will probably visit again in the future. Thanks again Helen, Neil and Ben for making our last couple of days in the country so fabulous.
Mt Cook, Rangitata and Christchurch:
- Weather= A real mix of sun and rain, but unfortunately more of the latter
- Food= Steak and yummy home cooking by the Thurlow’s
- Drink= Speights Apple Cider courtesy of Neil
- Best day= Being pampered in Christchurch
- Would have like to seen= The Tasman Glacier at Mt Cook (top tip- hire a bike to cycle from the village if you have time)
- Community Resilience in action= Christchurch residents after being battered, and continuing to be, by Mother Nature
Hedd’s words of wisdom:
There’s nothing like a bit of friendly Christchurch hospitality, albeit from some ex-pats. We had a really great time with Helen, Neil and Ben and are so grateful to them for their hospitality and for making us feel so at home. They went above and beyond to make our stay in Christchurch as easy as possible – lending us their car was such a nice gesture. We didn’t see too much of the damage that the city had suffered, although the pop-up mall was interesting and it was good to see the city ‘adopting a life must go on’ attitude. However we did hear a number of stories from Helen, Neil and some of their friends of how people had suffered and are still suffering as a result of the earthquake, which was quite moving. We didn’t experience any aftershocks while there and I hope the city gets plenty of time to recover, rebuilt and future-proof before they experience anything else near the events of the past 12 months.