And so my 18 day stay in New Zealand is at an end. Tomorrow I depart at the horrifically early time of 6.35am on my Jetstar (the Oceanic equivalent of Easyjet) flight to Sydney, which is scheduled to take 3 hours 25 minutes. Given that Australia is 2 hours behind New Zealand I think I will be rather tired by tomorrow evening, so I hope my hostel dorm is not too loud.
My last day here has been spent in the South Island's largest city Christchurch, which I visited earlier on the tour. There isn't an awful lot to Christchurch and I saw pretty much all of it in my morning here last Sunday. It feels like a small city even though its population is a respectable 372,000. Last night we went out for some drinks after our final group meal and despite it being a Saturday night it was hardly buzzing. There was a nice district named Sol Square, which was a small agglomeration of bars somewhat reminiscent of Temple Bar in Dublin, only much smaller and more modern looking. We had attempted to go and see a comedy show at the theatre but tickets had sold out so we ended up in a small bar on the square. There were an amusing amount of barely dressed girls out, much like you would get in England on a Saturday night, but there was still very little atmosphere. Christchurch reminds me a little of Lincoln - there are a similar number of people about and it has a similarly laid back, small town feel. Its strange to think that if Lincoln were a city in New Zealand it would probably be globally known and significant in the way that Christchurch is, simply because it would be one of so few big settlements here. Alas, Lincoln is in over-populated England and nobody I meet ever has any idea where it is.
The last remaining thing I had to do here was the gondola (cable car), which takes you up 450m to the rim of one the old volcanoes just south of the city. It was a 15 minute ride on a bus crammed with Asians to get there, and then just a few minutes on the cable car to the top. The view was pretty dour given that the weather was drab. You couldn't see anything towards the Banks Peninsula for heavy rain, but there was a nice lookout across Lyttleton Harbour - a famous departure point for the original Antarctic Explorers. Included in the over-priced gondola ticket was a 6 minute ride on a Jorvik Viking Centre/Tales of Robin Hood style car through cringeworthy displays on New Zealand history, all narrated by an annoying 8 year old girl. Some kids on my car were panicking when they found out their country was shaped by volcanoes, and they seemed to get the impression one was about to erupt beneath them imminently.
I am now wasting time ahead of my flight. Most people on my tour flew home, or elsewhere, this morning so I am on my own at the moment. In summary I've really enjoyed New Zealand, and it probably takes 2nd place to Peru in my favourite countries so far. The tour was a tad rushed and there were so many places I would have liked to have stayed longer, but then again the weather hasn't been that great and you really need your own car to get the most out of this country. All in all I am satisfied I've seen the best bits of this country - I've covered an awful lot in the amount of time. The scenery on south island in particular has been magnificent, but even the north island contained some beautiful hills and mountains. The coastal scenery of Abel Tasman National Park and Cape Reinga was also surprisingly beautiful. The Kiwi people are the friendliest I've ever encountered and the pace of life is nice and relaxed, even though my tour was the exact opposite. I will be so grateful for a rest in my 6 days in Sydney as I've been absolutely non-stop the last 15 days. Anyway, I will say kia ora, which in Maori means "be well" (and is used as hello and goodbye), for the last time from New Zealand. Next stop Australia!