We touched down in New Zealand - our 17th country and 13th totally new country - at 11 pm on 29 February.We'd booked a room ahead at the Hotel So right in the centre of town and it turned out to be really handy, not to mention very unique.It was also good value, possibly because we didn't have a window, but it did have every mod con and more to hand.It had a large wall-mounted flat screen TV at the foot of the bed which showed 'mood scenes' of New Zealand to wake you up in the morning, and had different coloured lighting to suit different moods (and no, it wasn't a brothel!).
Even at this late hour, because we were now two hours ahead of Australia, we managed a sortie out to a bar next door.Over some local NZ beer and wine, and heavy rain outside, we both agreed it was just like being back home.The atmosphere, surroundings and locals were very reminiscent of a weekend night out in Edinburgh or Glasgow.
This feeling continued on Saturday morning as we headed out of the hotel, again in the pouring rain, towards Moorehouse Ave, home of the Christchurch car lots.Having a look at the car lots made us think that perhaps we wouldn't get the sort of deal we were after.However we eventually came to a place called Buy it Now full of second hand cars right in our price range.Loads of them looked interesting and real possibilities until we really sat down and thought about it a bit more.Second hand cars come in all shapes, sizes, conditions and smells and we considered whether we would be happy spending time in most of them.When we'd arrived at the airport we'd arranged a six month permit/visa with a view to spending longer in NZ than we'd originally planned.If we were to spend up to six months here we'd certainly want a car that we were happy with for that length of time.A few cars caught our eye. A couple of small Mazdas that were in the right price range but perhaps a little bit 'worn'.Another two were Mitsubishi Galants (of the type we'd owned back in the UK) - one was distinctly smelly and the other had a totally black interior.One which had earlier caught E's eye but about which M was doubtful was another Mitsubishi.This was a Diamante which stood out in terms of external and internal condition and, when we sat in it, was very reminiscent of a car we were familiar with.Why M was a bit doubtful was that we'd never intended to go for a car this big and with this size of engine.However, after a test drive of the Diamante and the best Mazda there was no real doubt and we made a reduced offer and once again we were proud Mitsubishi owners.This car, like our hotel room, had all the mod cons although most of the dashboard is in Japanese! We're looking forward to working it all out - thank God the steering wheel's on the right side! Once one or two things are sorted out and registration/insurance etc is arranged we pick it up on Monday morning.
Woke up on Sunday to wonderful warm sunshine so it was off to the famous Christchurch Gondola, acable car that rises nearly 400 metres to the top of Mount Cavendish where there are spectacular views of the surrounding coastline, plains and mountains. In the wonderfully fresh and bracing air we walked to the Pioneer Women's memorial before heading back to the top station for a coffee and possibly the last cable car down that day.While we were at the top it was certainly a bit blowy and we could see the weather coming in fast.As we rode down in the cable car it was being tossed about by the strong winds and swinging about madly on the cable.M was feart and E's arm ended up with black and blue finger marks.When we arrived at the bottom station the operator confirmed that it was closed for the day.
We picked the car up as planned and moved out of our hotel into a motel where we had some cooking facilities.After shopping for the messages it was away for a spin to make sure the car was performing as it should - and it did.
Tuesday was a lovely bright breezy morning with a distinctly autumnal air about it. After a longish lie and a leisurely breakfast we strolled into the very attractive Christchurch town centre. First stop was Cathedral Square for a brief visit to Christ Church Cathedral, a typically Anglican Gothic style building. There was a lovely wee man with a red sash across his chest who would just come up to visitors and give a bit of the Cathedral's history and explain the meaning of various carvings, statues and other parts of the Cathedral. (A slight interjection at this point to say that New Zealand does its visitor information stuff really well. For example, the visitor centre is so well organised and the staff are really helpful - they have a roving 'troubleshooter' who asks the people in the queue what they're after and guide them to the various different sources of help.) After the Cathedral we were heading for the Art Gallery but were a bit waylaid by the pull of a shop selling good outdoor clothes where M bought a warm zip up merino wool top. However, we did get there eventually and were very impressed by this modern, glass structure. We were even more impressed by the excellent exhibitions of work by New Zealand artists, inlcuding many who came originally from Britain. Across the road from the Art Gallery is the Arts Centre where M, who has been bothered recently with sore and stiff neck and shoulders, jumped at the chance of a Thai massage while E scoped out the Centre. By this time it was late afternoon and we wended our way back to the motel along the banks of the Avon River which flows through the city. Here, with its weeping willows and punts on the river we really felt we were back in the South of England - and with the cooler, wetter weather as well it all feels so much like back home. We even came across Johnson's Grocers, a wee shop packed with all sorts of stuff from Tunnocks Caramel Wafers to Bassets Liquorice Allsorts to Walkers Oatcakes and tablet - a real nostalgia trip! We also found a super butcher and a great fish shop so we are looking forward to more home cooking.
That evening we'd intended to go to the theatre to see Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas and went down the road for a pre-theatre dinner. However, by the time we'd eaten it would have been a bit of a rush and, because we're still in high season and everywhere is heavily booked up - at high season prices - we decided that our evening would be much more productively spent on organising our tour around the South Island. And very productive it turned out to be - we've now sorted for accommodation all the way down the East Coast and, more importantly, for Stewart Island. So we're really pleased to have both this and the Milford Track organised.
Our last day in Christchurch, a lovely sunny day and perfect for a wander round the gardens of Mona Vale, which was an ealy homestead in the Christchurch area and is now a restaurant. The extensive gardens - rose, iris, rhodedendron, amongst others - were beautiful and were topped off by a nice cuppa coffee at the restaurant overlooking the river. After picking up the Bluff oysters for tonight's starter and popping back to the motel to stick them in the fridge (it's great having wheels again) we were on our way to Riccarton House. This was another historic homestead, the first in the whole of the Canterbury region and where Christchurch now stands. Once-a-day at 2pm there is tour of the house. Ruth, the elderly lady who sold us our tickets, was also the person who conducted the tour. She was really lovely and so very knowledgeable about the house and the family (William and John Deans who emigrated from Kilmarnock, Ayrshire in the 1830s,and John's wife Jane from Auchterflower, Ayrshire). What a fascinating and wonderful family history this was - and in such a beautiful house. What made it even more remarkable was that Ruth was actually a member of the Deans family by virtue of being married to one of the great-grandsons of the original John Deans and had such personal memories of the family and the house. This was, for us, such a highlight of our stay in Christchurch. Interestingly, Ruth's father came from Inverbervie - just up the road from Montrose - and another woman on the tour used to work in Montrose, at Glaxo.
The day we left Christchurch was the day we decided to go to the Antarctic.Christchurch has a significant role as one of the few places with direct links to Antarctica and is the centre for the New Zealand, US and Italian scientific surveys.Consequently the city is now exploiting this and has developed the excellent International Antarctic Centre.We had an amazing few hours there looking round the various exhibitions on wildlife, geology, science and exploration, history etc, as well as the chance to experience the Antarctic at close quarters.One room gave you the chance to experience in a few minutes what a day in Antarctica is like.Another was a room kept at Antarctic temperatures and with real snow, but where they added storm conditions and increased the wind chill factor - and boy did it get cold.The room also contained an igloo that you could shelter in and an ice slide, which M tried out a couple of times.Another bit of fun was a ride in one of their all terrain vehicles over really rough terrain, over crevasses and through really deep water.And then there were the penguins.As you will soon learn New Zealand has lots of penguins.The ones at the Centre are mainly disabled or injured and we were able to watch then at close quarters swimming and waddling around.
E M xxxx