South Island Tour – Part 1

Sunday evening (24 March) we got together and headed across the street to the Sky Tower. We had dinner reservations for 7.45pm which entitled us to free entry to the viewing platform (usually about $30). The Sky Tower, at 328m is the Southern Hemisphere’s tallest structure. The lift up to the observation decks does it in 40 seconds and there is even a glass panel in the floor to watch the ascent. On arrival we wandered around the deck and enjoyed the spectacular views of Auckland, including over to Morphie safely tucked into Bayswater Marina. Then the sun went down…..and we had lovely night views.

And of course there was some silliness aided and abetted by the on-site professional photographer.

Later on we headed into the Orbit restaurant and had a fantastic three course meal. The service was a little slow but it didn’t detract from the evening. It was a great way to start our next adventure. Afterwards Val was tired (unsurprisingly having just flow in from London), so her and Clive retired to their apartment while Richard and I headed back down the hill to have a few pontoonies on the wharf.

Monday morning and we all went for a stroll down the hill and found a local cafe for breakfast. We then continued downwards to the harbour and walked around the wharf area admiring the views back to the Tower. Richard also fancied getting his hands on the Americas Cup. All too soon it was time to return back up the hill to our apartment and we picked up our bags and waited for the shuttle to the airport. This arrived bang on time and we drove over to the domestic terminal.

On arrival we got checked in easily enough and then headed to the gate. This was a different end of the terminal than we were used to so it was a bit confusing especially when we came across security scanners. As we were flying internally this was a new development for us but, hey, no problem. Going through easily enough we waited at the gate until it was time for our flight to Christchurch.

We landed in Christchurch late afternoon and collected our large SUV, a Toyota Highlander.

Richard drove us to our rented house on the outskirts of South Hagley Park having stopped at a supermarket on the way to pick up provisions. I had printed off the entry instructions only to find that the code on the door did not work. Hmmmm…… So we tried again and eventually had to phone the owner. She gave me a different code to use but this still didn’t work. So she agreed to come over but would take 30 minutes to get there – not great, but what could we do? Val and Clive went for a walk while Richard and I minded the bags. After a while I decided to try again and, lo and behold, it worked. So I quickly rang the woman and told her we were in. Have to say we were disappointed at the exterior of the property as it was pretty shabby and looked unloved….

Anyway, inside, we found three bedrooms, two bathrooms and loads of other amenities. The place was pretty clean and very well found with lots of extras including chocolate! Sadly the bedrooms were a bit small and we only had one with a double bed (and no ensuite) so we flipped a coin. We won so we got the upstairs double bed and separate bathroom and Clive and Val had the downstairs bathroom and twin bedroom. At least we had privacy in that we were on separate floors.

By now it was getting on for about 7pm so we headed straight out to the City to find somewhere for dinner. We wanted to go to a particular area and appeared to be heading in the wrong direction but then this woman came along and adopted us and showed us the way. Well, it was miles, and she went at a pace. Finally we arrived, couldn’t find the actual restaurant we were hoping for, but found another one and settled down for dinner.

Food was fine and it was warm enough to sit on the pavement and watch the world go by. By 9pm, however, the place was emptying, the kitchen was shut, and the whole area was shutting up. So we returned to our house (in a taxi) for pontoonies while we planned our next day.

Tuesday morning we had breakfast then walked into the city crossing the river and enjoyed the birdlife.

We found an alternative route and realised that we had walked a lot further the night before than was necessary! Oh well….never mind…. Walking along we came across the huge flower wall which was dedicated to the victims of the recent terrorist attack. Was quite sobering and emotional to walk along reading the various tributes from every part of society. If this attack was designed to create racial and/or religion tension than it was clear it had failed spectacularly. The overall message was one of love, peace and inclusiveness…..

Moving on, our first destination was Quake City, passing some beautifully restored buildings along the way, as well as some currently being renovated. There were also some pretty impressive modern buildings.

Christchurch was hit by two deadly earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which left 186 people dead. We looked at exhibits explaining how the earthquakes hit and watched some frightening CCTV footage of actual buildings collapsing as people tried to run through the streets. The upward pressure was stronger than gravity so many people were actually thrown into the air. Inside the exhibit there were moving stories of heroism, loss and heartache. The two clocks at the entrance to the exhibit are from one of their damaged historical buildings which are set at the time the quakes actually hit.

Since then, entire streets and neighbourhoods have had to be abandoned and Christchurch’s heritage architecture is irrevocably damaged. Some areas – such as the historical port of Lyttelton was badly damaged – with roads and bridges crumpled and residential suburbs in the east were also inundated as a process of rapid liquefaction saw tons of oozy silt rise from the ground. In fact, many of these areas remain to this day, abandoned and too dangerous. Emotional stuff indeed. But the underlying theme was that the City will rise from the devastation stronger and better than before, it will just take time and vast amounts of money…..

Leaving Quake City we got on the hop-on, hop-off tram ride around the City. The beautifully restored old trams trundle around a 17 stop loop leaving every 15 minutes or so and the driver commentary was really informative. The funniest thing was seeing signs near the seats that the Queen had sat here…and Prince Harry had sat here…. at different times obviously. But the Americans were loving it and taking photos and selfies with the plaques LOL.

We sat around one complete loop then got off at the Anglican Cathedral. This was terribly damaged and remains untouched to date. The sheer power of the earthquake was evident here. The City are hoping to renovate it but this is just one on a lengthy list of jobs to be done.

Having completed the tram loop and jumped off and on a few times admiring more architecture and other modern art installations, we had a sandwich lunch and talked about what to do next.

We didn’t fancy the botanical gardens or punting on the river so decided to go for a drive out. So we walked back to the house and picked up the car. We drove through towards Lyttelton and came across numerous road closures – the views were not as spectacular as we had hoped – and we certainly couldn’t continue driving up through the nature reserves as the roads were too steep, unmade, and only suitable for trekking really…. But we did find some lovely beach scenes down in Brighton.

Heading back to our house we were relaxing with a glass of wine in the lounge and turned the TV on to find out about the horrendous weather on the West Coast. We watched the footage in horror of the road bridge being swept away and heard reports of numerous land slips and dangerous conditions. And, of course, this area was next on our itinerary! So before we headed out for dinner we emailed the properties (one in Arthur’s Pass and one in Franz Josef Glacier) to find out the situation (especially as we had non-refundable rooms booked). Emails fired off we headed out to a local pub we had spotted the night before and had a really good meal.

Arriving back to the house later we checked emails to find that Arthur’s Pass was still open to traffic from Christchurch. But Franz Josef was blocked by a land slip one way and the bridge collapse to the other – with lots of tourists trapped in the area too….. So we were able to cancel Franz Josef without charge and agreed that we would still drive up to Arthur’s Pass in the morning as planned.

Wednesday morning and we were on the road after breakfast for the four hour drive to Arthur’s Pass. As we drove through into the mountains and valleys the scenery was absolutely spectacular. Amazing….really difficult to describe.

Having checked into our (crinkly tin built) side-by-side cabins at Arthur’s Pass Motel and Lodge we went for a walk and visited the smallest Post Office ever! The road was running with water and we found the river in full flood….moving very fast. Was quite a sight.

We were going to walk the trek to a famous waterfall but it was marked up on the information board as ‘moderate’ with ‘rocky and muddy’ conditions to be found, and that was before the biblical deluge from the previous day so decided that we were not equipped for that type of hiking (or tramping as they call it here in New Zealand). We then spotted a car being allowed through the road block – interesting! So we chatted to the guy manning the stoppage and he said that, providing we had a high sided vehicle, we could go through for a drive. So we picked up the car and headed off past the long queue of traffic. We saw signs of road slips that had been cleared, where the rock was porous and the rain had generated little waterfalls wherever we looked and, where we could see streams and rivers they were running scarily fast. We then came across a bizarre sight – a diverted waterfall and a tunnel, controlled by traffic lights. This was actually a culvert cut in the late 1800s to reach the gold fields. Can’t even begin to imagine the conditions these guys must have lived through during that period.

Afterwards we came across another small single lane bridge that was under a couple of inches of water. Either side there were diggers trying to move the gravel that had been washed down and to save the bridge. We drove across anyway……realising that, if the rain came again, we would need to back track very quickly. More spectacular scenery (along with evidence of roads being undermined and roadworks everywhere) and then there were rain spots so we turned around quickly and headed back the way we came, including past a very strange hotel…..but a great driftwood horse! We didn’t want to end up trapped without supplies nor (suitable) accommodation LOL.

Arriving back at Arthur’s Pass we sat together outside having a drink. Richard headed off to the local (only) restaurant The Wobbly Kea to check what time last orders were. He was told that we had to be there by 6.45 pm latest, doors were closing at 7pm, and that we would need to be out by 8pm. No worries… we rested up for a while (with heaters and heated blankets plugged in for later as it had turned chilly)…and headed up the road at 6.45 pm on the dot. On arrival we were rudely told we were too late but could have a takeaway pizza. Richard said, hang on, I came and checked and this young lady told me differently at which point the blond waitress denied ever having spoken to him. Definitely not impressed!!! So we ordered two takeaway pizzas and asked for a drink while we waited for our food – the answer was NO. What?!? Outraged. At this point Val and I returned to one of the cabins and waited for Richard and Clive to return. When they did we perched on beds and ate our pizzas washed down with a nice Sauvignon. Thankfully we had supplies with us…..and, as Richard said, it probably did us a favour anyway as the staff were rude and the place had the ambience of an undertakers. However, we did do a bad review on Trip Advisor later, as it is one thing to be given duff information, it is another to be lied too!

In the morning it was cold and misty as we retraced our steps back towards Christchurch. We had decided to book a motel in Akaroa which had been one of our favourite stops on our earlier cruise. So we headed through the valleys and mountain ranges down to the coast, enjoying the views again, and noting how the water levels had dramatically dropped overnight without any more rain.

We arrived in Akaroa, checked into our motel, and went for a walk through the town along the coast road. Really pretty place and it’s French influence makes it quite different. It does feel like you are walking onto a movie set…..especially with London buses and concrete cows!

Clive and Val wanted to rest up but we weren’t tired so we took a bottle and sat on a bench at the water front of the property and enjoyed watching the birdlife whilst taking in the warmth of the sun.

Later on we got together and headed to a French restaurant, Renaissance, for dinner (we had made reservations earlier as one bitten twice shy and all that)….. The food was fantastic, the ambience lovely, and the service great. Was definitely a worthy replacement for the glaciers, although still sad we didn’t get a chance to see them.

Part 2 to follow – bye for now