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Published: March 2nd 2016
Our flight from Australia to New Zealand was one we had prebooked on our Round The World ticket and it left Sydney on time at 1845. To me, New Zealand looks just a hop and a jump away from Australia on the map but it is, in fact, a considerable distance at just over 1300 miles as the crow flies and the flight took almost 3 hours. We flew over the Tasman Sea which is directly opposite our home on the other side of the world so I remembered to do another wave from Down Under, but it was a more subdued affair than the last one I did, so as not to scare anyone on the plane! Add the 2 hour time difference to the 3 hour flight time and we landed at Christchurch at about midnight, their time. After some 'discussion' with the Customs staff about the number of cigarettes two people were allowed to bring into the country, with our argument that their recent change in allowance had obviously not yet reached all parts of the internet falling on deaf ears, and the eventual confiscation of some of said cigarettes (nice welcome, New Zealand), we were finally allowed
into the country feeling more like marked criminals than genuine law-abiding tourists. We phoned our prebooked motel transport to let them know we were ready. They were there for us within five minutes and we were booked in to the Gateway Airport Lodge Motel within ten minutes of collection.
We had literally, just a few quick hours overnight in Christchurch on this occasion, but were due to revisit at the end of our trip to the South Island so I'll cover the city then. However, if we had any concerns about how NZ motels would measure up to the Australian versions then the Gateway immediately put those concerns to bed. Our room was stunning, with quality fixtures, bedding and furniture and it set the bar for the rest of our travels. Given how cold it was (yes, and raining!) we were thankful for the electric blankets. Just fantastic.
We'd dithered about whether to travel NZ by campervan or not. All our research had indicated that the country was well set up for this type of transport and allowed the freedom to travel at will. We were almost convinced to just do it, following our Ayers Rock campervan experience,
but then the thought of a month spent in a confined space, all day, every day, took hold. We also knew it was a popular form of travel in NZ and were a little concerned that the camp sites could get rather full. It is an expensive means of travel in NZ too and, when we considered the cost of a hire car to give us the freedom and flexibility, together with the cost of accommodation to provide some home comforts and personal space, the latter option proved more attractive and marginally cheaper. So, a hire car and motels it was to be.
After a very few hours' sleep in our motel, we were given a lift to the nearby car rental office. We initially shared the motel minibus with four Asians (Chinese?/Korean?) who spoke no English between them. Our driver was somewhat frustrated by this, but I kind of understood and admired the Asians' determination not to let a language barrier hold them back from travelling. They'd obviously managed so far, I mentally argued to myself, good on 'em, but when they too got out of the bus at the car rental office I began to wonder just
how they'd done that. I mean, there's a bit of a difference between a small, suburban administrative office and an international airport! A mixture of sign language together with the driver reloading all their luggage, which they had taken from the bus, soon got the message across that this was not the place they needed to be!
The car rental staff (Ace Rentals) had the car we had requested ready and waiting for us. We had requested a Toyota Corolla, or similar, not because we know anything about Corollas or are particular fans of Toyota but because it looked as though our luggage would fit in the boot! As it turned out it was exactly a Toyota Corolla, nothing 'or similar' about it. Also as requested, it was less than two years old, not because we're generally bothered about the age of cars but we thought it more likely that a younger car would be reliable and less prone to faults which we really didn't want to have to deal with during our limited time there. It was another automatic so I reserved judgment on performance, but at least it was silver coloured so that was one thing in
its favour. I wanted no more Blue Meanies! The Ace office had a display stand with sooooo many free AA and Jason's maps and brochures on places we were planning to visit I filled a carrier bag! A little bit of paperwork and we were ready to hit the road. The car, it turned out, was brilliant. It was really responsive, it changed gears when you needed it to (no more risking your life trying to overtake in high gear up a hill or burning out your brakes coming down the other side) and I once again became a fan of automatics. I know, fickle, aren't I? It also had cruise control but NZ roads are neither straight nor long so we never used it.
It took us ages to get out of Christchurch. We kept looking for the city centre to pick up the road we needed but Christchurch is still rebuilding after the devastating earthquake and the city centre now is all a bit of a mish-mash really. It didn't help that the road we were looking for appeared to have been renumbered and no longer existed in that format. After quite some time going round in
circles we eventually found ourselves on Scenic Inland Route 72, more by luck than planning. No matter. We set off into the cold drizzle and wondered if that rain cloud that seemed to follow us around in Australia had packed its suitcase and come across with us on the plane journey. New Zealand is known as 'the land of the long white cloud' and there were plenty of those to be seen.
We immediately began to notice obvious differences between NZ and Australia. There were hedges - big, tall green things that looked like the dreaded Leylandii but were, in fact, some form of spruce. They were not only used as hedging, but were often seen in long straight lines in the middle of fields, presumably as some form of windbreak. Our journey took us through lots of farmland, with cows, sheep, horses and deer. I was quite excited at the sight of deer, initially thinking these were vast wild herds and only later realising that the New Zealanders love their venison and these were farmed animals. So, 'LOOK, DEER!', eventually became 'DEER!', then just 'More deer' and finally just 'Deer'. We never became so accustomed to the sight
of them, in such numbers, that they passed without mention though. The farming looked pretty intense to me, with lots of animals squeezed into a small area, despite there being plenty of space. I saw the farmers using giant sprinklers to water the grass (yes, even though it was raining!) and I can only think they get an area of pasture ready for grazing and then move the animals and watering equipment around as it becomes 'ripe'. We travelled on well-maintained, almost empty roads which was a good job because NZ has LOTS of single lane bridges, who knows why (well, obviously, as a means to get vehicles across the rivers but why not build them with two lanes?), and we had to keep stopping to check for oncoming traffic before venturing onto them. Most were well maintained but we did cross one that had a particularly rutted surface and it shook a few bones as we crossed. I guess repairs would have necessitated closure and as the bridges were the only way of getting traffic across this was not particularly feasible. Some of the very long ones had passing places in the middle which was helpful as we couldn't
always see the other end of them, but these were a rarity. I really wouldn't have fancied getting a campervan across some of them but we saw plenty of wider vehicles on the other side so they must have managed somehow. We travelled through mountains shrouded in low cloud and huge lakes which were a shimmering blue, despite the grey skies. The moors were very British in appearance, seemingly coated with heather, and they were dotted with bee hives. Lavender and lupins also predominated. All the watercourses that would have been creeks in Australia had here become streams with the occasional culvert. We saw eagles soaring in the skies above but not many and not much else in the way of wildlife, discounting the deer.
We stopped in Staveley for our lunch and had a quick look at the little church and museum. A descendent of the guy who had donated the land to the community for the church back in Dick's days was trying to defend his honour with the custodian who regaled her with tales of his Jack the Lad escapades which seemed to include a sideline moonshine business, bankruptcy and eventual imprisonment. In the end, the
visiting great-great-whatever-grandchild admitted gracious defeat and added some funny family stories about the chap for the custodian to store in his mental archives for future use.
The detour in Christchurch, the weather and the need to stop and appreciate the journey meant we were taking longer than anticipated to reach our overnight destination so we decided to stop to stock up our now empty larder (see, Mr Newzealandcustomsman, we did dispose of those things we knew presented a risk to your country, especially all our edible items, just to be sure). We were wary that time was passing and we were keen not to fall foul of closing shops and lack of availability. Unfortunately, this part of our journey was slow and we approached a town called Geraldine with a less than positive expectation. BUT, it was open and bustling, on a Sunday no less, and the supermarket sold alcohol - imagine, being able to do all your shopping in one place and no restricting licensing laws! It was so amazing we forgot that we take this sort of accessibility for granted at home, and we revelled in the consumer freedom being offered to us. Whoop, whoop!
eventually arrived at our overnight accommodation, the Mountain Chalets in Twizel, in the early evening. The manager told us that, amazingly, the local bar and restaurants would still be open should we wish to eat out. Given how cold and damp it was we decided to turn on the electric blankets and have a cosy, early night. Besides, we didn't want to waste the goodies we had taken such great delight in buying!
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