The end of the (New Zealand) road... The group has arrived in Christchurch, had it's farewell dinner and disbanded. So, the end of a wonderful adventure in New Zealand is here.
The last few days of riding were through the Central Otago region which alternated between slopes covered in pinot noir grape vines and arid, rolling hills. Parts of it reminded me of Arizona with the addition of high, snow-covered mountains in the far distance and the occasional lake.
Christchurch is the hub of the South Island and it's largest city, at 400,000 people. It is considered New Zealand's most English city which is evident in the architecture. It sits at the edge of the Canterbury Plain, near the coast but not on it. The city was named by one of the founders after his alma mater, Christchurch College at Oxford. The next city I found is going to be called, South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. The residents will hate me forever. With a name like Christchurch, you do get some interesting business names. Yesterday, I walked by Christchurch Casino, which made me think of interesting business names you could have in other cities. Vatican Bordello?
One other interesting fact about Christchurch. For some reason, women outnumber men by 35,000. In a city of only 400,000 that seems quite a big differential. Phil, the English gent on our tour, is seriously thinking of moving here.
A few final,random thoughts on New Zealand...
* For a country that prides itself on it's environmental 'greenness', in reality the place is an ecological mess. Before the Maori came, the only mammals on the islands were bats. Birds and insects were the only other inhabitants. Everything else has been imported. The giant moa birds were hunted to extinction by the Maori even before Europeans arrived. Dogs and rodents have nearly killed off the kiwi birds. At some point, someone thought it was a good idea to introduce possums to the islands. With no natural predators, they've run wild. You can't go more than a kilometer without seeing one as roadkill. Poison is widely used to try to control them with signs posted in places to not let your dog loose or drink water in the area due to health concerns. Most of the native forests have been cut down. Reforestation efforts mostly use non-native pine trees because they reach maturity in 10-20 years rather than the 100 years it takes for a native kauri tree.
* Restaurants are a source of many contradictions. The food is quite good although not really imaginative. You'd have a hard time distinguishing between US and NZ menus. Ordering is confusing at best - sometimes you order at the bar, sometimes at the table, sometimes you only order drinks at the bar, usually you pay at the bar, except in the place where they seemed offended that I'd want to pay at the bar. Service borders on horrendous. One woman that served us breakfast, seemed downright angry that we were there, but the food was delicious. Since tipping is not usual here, there's not much incentive for good service. But on public holidays, a 15% tip is mandatory. When I asked the server if that was his bonus for working a holiday, he said that he didn't get the extra money. It goes to the business. He also had no idea what the holiday was for.
* The coffee here is outstanding. I've consistently gotten the best capuccinos I've had anywhere outside Italy. They take their time to make them, they have dense creamy foam, often with nice swirls and twists of cocoa powder on top, and the espresso in them is very good. Starbucks should be ashamed to do business here, because they can't compare.
* If you stop a random person in the street to ask for directions, chances are the person is German. OK, that's not based on statistics, but my personal empirical study resulted in a 50% occurrence of a German-accented response. This excludes the 60-something responder in Nelson who was wearing a long-sleeve cowboy shirt, tight short-shorts and cowboy boots with bright blue socks coming out the top, as I'm not even sure he was from this planet.
* Outside the bigger cities like Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington, the smaller towns are like stepping back into the midwest, 30 years ago. Doors are usually unlocked. We went to several motels where all the doors were wide open when we arrived and the keys were just laying inside on the table. There are plenty of quirks, like the breakfast place that doesn't open until 10am or the store that sells mattresses and home-brewing supplies. There was the one-armed logger who spends the whole afternoon in the bar, is a national possum skinning champion and shoots a mean game of pool (I am not making that up.) And, they roll up the sidewalks around 8pm in the evening.
Hopefully, you've gotten a sense for the amazing diversity of this small country from my posts. It really has everything - beaches, mountains, glaciers, rainforests, llakes, rivers, quiet farms, great cities, native cultures, modern problems, earthquakes, volcanoes, wild weather - you name it. If you have a chance to come here for a visit, I'd highly recommend it!