Hello New Zealand! So I’ve wanted to visit NZ for a long time, not just because they love rugby and Lord of the rings was filmed here. I’ve got a month in NZ and started off by flying into Christchurch for a couple of nights before I picked up my car to explore a bit on my own for a week.
Now I landed in the late afternoon so that day was a bit of a write off. The next day I had a bit of an explore myself, got a much needed haircut, and then went to a walking tour of the city from outside the Canterbury museum (right next to my hostel). Now the city centre here is small anyway but my first impressions were how calm and laid back it all feels, granted my time here was on the weekend but still there are a lot of open spaces and not really any heavy traffic about. Also the city has lovely backdrops of hills which are actually part of an old volcano crater. The walking tour was actually really interesting and we got to learn loads about not only Christchurch but the history of NZ, for example the first four boats of Europeans came over to Christchurch to settle landing in 1850, which was a lot more recently than I thought!
So after we walked around the museum with our guide (by we it was me and a Korean couple) and learnt about the history we then went on to see the city. Now there is a lot of character and different architecture seen here and you really wouldn’t guess it’s less than 200 years old. They still have old gentlemen’s clubs with oil lamps and hitching posts for you horse outside. Obviously the biggest thing to note is the earthquake that happened here and destroyed a lot of the city, strangely some buildings had no damage and others had lots. So the city is a mixture of empty plots of land (many being used as car parks), empty buildings awaiting a verdict, buildings under construction and of course the buildings undamaged or now repaired. The biggest evidence of the destruction is the cathedral and cathedral square area you can see pictured, this used to be the centre of the city with building all around and a big tourist spot, however the two earthquakes that happened here really destroyed the building. The cathedral is still unrepaired as there are arguments as to whether they repair it or demolish and build anew (it’s likely these will continue unfortunately). However there are still lots of people about going around on the old tram, busking or playing chess on some of the boards around.
A couple of bits definitely worth mentioning in regards to the reaction to the devastating earthquake here that killed 185 people. Firstly as I’ve mentioned the cathedral was significantly damaged, when deciding what to do a Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was contacted. So this architect specialised in post disaster buildings and designing buildings using cheap resources that were available that could provide a temporary purpose. Long story short the result was the ‘cardboard cathedral’ you can see pictured. Yes that’s right the place is predominantly built from cardboard, now this was meant to be temporary but the venue was so popular it will now revert to a local church once the cathedral (whatever they decide) has be rebuilt, and they even made additions and reinforcements so it would last over 50 years. Another example of ingenuity after the disaster is the ‘ReStart Mall’, not this is a shopping area where all of the shops are in old shipping containers. It actually looks really cool and if I didn’t know there was an earthquake here I would have thought it was just a cool hipster idea. Once again it’s been so popular it’s likely to stay or move site once permanent buildings return. I wanted to mention these as yes Christchurch is still under repair and suffered huge losses in the earthquake, however there are lots of really ingenuitive things happening a lot of which I haven’t mentioned to rebuild the city that are really great to see.
After my couple of nights in Christchurch I went to pick up my car for what was going to be my first ever solo road trip. The rough plan was to stay on the East coast for a couple of nights then explore the north of the South Island, basically the area my Contiki wasn’t going. After picking up my little red suburu I arrived in Kaikoura and settled in to my lovely and homey hostel filled with guitars and even had a piano. I spent my full day here exploring the town and local coastline managing to spot a lot of seals! In the afternoon the sun came out from the clouds and I suddenly spotted the incredible mountain backdrop which had been hiding most of the day. After my time exploring here it was on to my next location which I had decided was to be Abel Tasman national park right at the top of the South Island. Some of the best bit about this time was the long drives through stunning scenery, also New Zealand is SO green!!! The greenest place I have been without a doubt, and there are indeed a hell of a lot of sheep as stereotype would suggest.
I was actually staying just south of the park in a place called Motueka, the hostel was called White Elephant for reasons I’m not too sure but was absolutely lovely and really homely feeling, the owners were an older couple who had been there around a year and lived on site and they also had a piano! Not to mention the extremely friendly black cat. This was a great base for exploring Abel Tasman national park and the pictures show you how beautiful it is. Now the beaches were golden and waters so blue, I felt like I was back on a tropical island. Also just having a car here is essential, my first day I followed tracks as far as they could go and probably drove five hours or so exploring around. Luckily my little Suburu which had already done 250,000km, made it successfully through little streams and very rugged terrain probably suited for heavy duty 4×4’s as opposed to the cheapest rental car available… Anyway as a lot of my time here I explored and hiked around to see some of the best that the area had to offer and it really did feel like an adventure!
After my three nights I decided to stay in Arthur’s Pass in the mountains not too far from Christchurch (where my car was to be dropped off) but far from my current location. My reason for this was it looked pretty different to where I had stayed so far and was handy for my drop off. So after a long days driving and a lot of beautiful scenery I arrived and settled in. I spent my full day here hiking the local trails and catching up on some boring life admin with laundry and such. I didn’t see too many Kea’s, the bird you can see above but luckily saw one on my way up without knowing what it was. They are as the signs suggest extremely inquisitive and not afraid of humans at all, also kind of cute! I hiked around the valleys and saw the best of what the area had to offer as you can see above.
So as my solo road trip comes to an end and after many hours on the road, probably an average of 3/4 a day I’ve actually really enjoyed it. Yes it would have been better with some company certainly but it’s amazing what some music and an audiobook or three will do to keep you from feeling too isolated. Also having a car in New Zealand is needed to explore, the freedom in going where you want when you want is great, driving along and seeing a sign post for somewhere that looks interesting so you go, or only planning your next destination based on advice from other travellers. It’s been really enjoyable and good to mix up the travelling style for a while. So tomorrow I drop off my car back in Christchurch before beginning my 16 day Contiki where I hope to bungee jump, skydive and do all sorts of crazy things! Bring it on