Tuesday 30th January 2007 (continued)
Well, after updating my blog and eating lunch, we left Oamaru on the bus to Christchurch. The journey was uneventful and rather dull compared to most of the other journeys so far. You could see mountains in the distance, and we crossed the odd braided river (one of which must have been about 1km wide) but otherwise it was a flat, boring ride across The Canterbury Plains.
First impressions of Christchurch were good, however. The river and gardens looked very English (nice English, that is - we're not talking Bradford here - especially in the evening sunshine) and it generally had a nice feel to it. There is also a free bus which does a loop around the centre, so it meant our walk to the hostel wasn't as far as it would otherwise have been.
The hostel also seemed promising. Located in a nice quiet part of town, close to the park and with a nice garden and terrace for sitting outside. The room had single beds (as opposed to bunks) and the kitchen was well equipped. And who should we bump into (again), but Penny and Dave! It was their last full day, so they were able to relieve themselves of their remaining food and make 3 people very happy indeed. Oh, and the "free food boxes" were also stuffed full of goodies. Bonus. Our food bags were bulging. I got the impression I was going to like it here.
It was a warm evening so we were able to sit outside to eat dinner - a first for New Zealand?
Wednesday 31st January 2007
Another sunny day. What's going on? Does the approach of February herald the start of summer? Usually by August at home it is already feeling autumnal. We were even able to eat breakfast outside in shorts and t-shirts... and that hasn't happened many times so far in New Zealand. Nice.
We spent the morning exploring the centre of town. I then booked a few future bus tickets at the i-site, as I wanted to sort out the remainder of my time in New Zealand. Tomorrow is the start of my last month and I wanted to make sure I had time to see everything I wanted to see. I was also thus able to get some extreme saver tickets, which allow you to go anywhere on the intercity network for $10. More bargains = happy James.
After returning to the hostel for lunch (and the now obligatory free-food-check or FFC), we went to the Art Gallery. It was nice to have a cultural afternoon for a change. We got free tickets for the Giacometti exhibition, so it was big feet and skinny bodies ahoy. There were some nice pieces but it was rather a small selection and I would have felt a bit cheated if I'd paid the usual $14 entry. The rest of the gallery also seemed a bit second rate compared to the building itself. I guess New Zealand's general lack of culture also extends to their galleries. Still, they are able to write "art criticism" (aka bull****) with the best of them. Some of the modern conceptual stuff had the most unbelievably poncy commentaries. Complete tosh, mostly.
Another al fresco dinner completed a good day... and I've been sleeping really well lately (I finally seem to be getting used to staying in shared rooms... although, of course, it helps not having someone tossing and turning in a bed 2 feet above your head).
Thursday 1st February 2007
So, I'm now into the fifth calendar month of my travels. At some point during early Feb I'll reach the halfway point of my travels and then it'll be homeward bound... (sort of - albeit in a hopping-back-to-Australia-first kind-of-way).
It's hotter than ever today. My first sweaty breakfast since Australia and a languid morning stroll into town to use the internet, book tickets for an excursion to Akaroa tomorrow, buy a Frisbee ($2 in the "It's a $2" shop for an afternoon in the park) and do some food shopping at Pak 'n' Save. It's the biggest Pak 'n' Save of the trip so far (much excitement) and much the best selection of wines I've seen since my last visit to Waitrose. Well, maybe that's an exaggeration. There wasn't anything much from outside of Australia or New Zealand, but at least Oz wines were represented by more than just Hardys, Banrock Station and Jacobs Creek. It sure beat most of the provincial supermarkets. I got a nice looking bottle of Australian Shiraz and a couple of Pinot Noirs for around the $10 mark, one of which was from Central Otago (these usually command a $20/$30+ price tag). Christchurch is proving to be bargain city. Maybe that's why I like it so much (that and the weather!).
Lunch on the hostel's fine terrace (we were actually forced into the shade) was followed by an afternoon excursion to the park. On the way out we bumped into the hostel's gardener. She was lamenting how no-one picked any of the veg she'd been growing in the garden, so we got chatting and said how we'd been looking at the rhubarb the day before and wondering if we could get away with pinching a bit under the cover of darkness (we had assumed that it was the owners private patch). She said we were welcome to take anything we fancied, so our eyes lit up at the prospect of fresh broccoli, runner beans, cabbage, lettuce and rhubarb. Great stuff.
It was lovely to lounge in the park for the afternoon, playing a bit of Frisbee and generally enjoying the warm sunshine. It reminded me of the occasional hot days we get in England. You know it is fleeting so you really make the most of it (and the parkland surroundings were so English it was like being transported back home).
Made a nice rhubarb crumble in the evening (it was huge!) and got several compliments about my kitchen skills (thanks Mum!). One girl asked if I was a professional chef as she always saw me cooking nice stuff. I guess most people just don't make the effort when they are travelling (I couldn't believe it when the gardener said we were the first people to take an interest in the veg patch for over a year). It was a really balmy evening - perfect for sitting outside - and it made the wine taste even better than usual.
Friday 2nd February 2007
It was an early start to catch the bus for our day-trip to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. Typically, it was fine when we work up (06:45), but had clouded in by the time we got on the bus. It was also freezing cold - such a huge contrast from the night before (I later read that it is quite common to have a cold southerly blast immediately after a hot northwester).
The drive over to Akaroa was nice, although the dull weather (and mist hanging around the hills) meant that the views weren't as good as they should have been. The Banks Peninsula is an amazing place - the way it juts up from (and contrasts to) the Canterbury Plains means that it seems more remote and otherworldly than it actually is.
Akaroa prides itself on it's French heritage. Although in practice this means little more than French Street Names, touristy shops (with French names) and smelly toilets (I hope this isn't bringing back bad memories for anyone, Mum). Still, it is a nice little place and if you block out the American tourists, it makes for a pleasant day trip.
We went for a ramble behind the town in the morning and discovered an apple tree for scrumping - much to my delight. We also found a plum tree, but the fact that it was in someone's garden (and we could hear voices) meant that our plunderings were limited.
It was nice countryside and there were occasional views across the inlet. It was also freezing cold and when we sat down for our picnic lunch it began to rain (an icy rain, that I could swear had sleety bits in it*). We scoffed as much as we could and then beat a hasty retreat to a cafe to warm ourselves up. It was just as we went in that the sun came out, so we were able to transfer ourselves to the sunny terrace and hang ourselves out to dry.
From then on it was a lovely afternoon. Akaroa looked beautiful in the sunshine - the water was blue (rather than the grey of the morning) and we even spotted dolphins playing offshore. We were lucky to have the sun we did because it was raining by the time we got back into Christchurch and, judging by the puddles the following morning, continued to do so for much of the night.
*this is probably an exaggeration, brought on by the first stages of hypothermia, but it was damn cold and if we had stayed there much longer I wouldn't have been able to feel my legs below the knee.
Saturday 3rd February 2007
It was a cool start (breakfast indoors today), accompanied (as so often in New Zealand) by Solid Gold FM (a radio station which only plays music from the 60s and 70s - it's nostalgia galore here [inventing a past they don't really have]). It strikes me, whilst listening to Suspicious Minds, how much Elvis and Cher sound alike. Odd.
After this fascinating discovery I decided to have a wander around the botanic gardens. Emelie and Mathias wanted to go clothes shopping, so it was nice to have a bit of time to myself. The gardens were lovely (again, very English - herbaceous borders, rose gardens, a hot house, cactus display, etc.) and it began to warm up as lunchtime approached.
After meeting up for lunch back at the hostel, we decided to head back to the park for another afternoon of Frisbee and lounging in the sun. It wasn't as hot as before (cool breeze) but it was just right for running around like an idiot after the Frisbee.
Sunday 4th February 2007
I had another look around the botanical gardens in the morning (this time with E and M), taking in the bits that I hadn't seen on Saturday. Similar weather (fluffy white clouds in a mainly blue sky with a cool breeze)... giving me the impression that Christchurch is a nice sunny city, with lovely gardens and a generally pleasant atmosphere. It will be a shame to leave (especially the free food bins and the hostel's veggie patch), but leave we had to.
The bus left in the afternoon (after a leisurely lunch and a final harvest to take with us!). It was a scenic ride up to Kaikoura, especially the last 20 minutes or so, where the road hugs the coast. After the plains around Christchurch, the mountains rose up impressively and the sky had cleared to set them off nicely in the evening sunshine.
On arrival (still in the evening sunshine) Kaikoura seemed like a nice little town, although the hostel wasn't particularly great (this was probably in contrast to Dorset House in Christchurch, which was particularly good, but we decided to move to another one for our last 3 days anyway - one which even boasts a swimming pool, so we're hoping that the sunny weather continues).
Monday 5th February 2007
Sunny again and the hostel seemed better this morning (must have been overtired yesterday!). Spent most of the morning sitting/lying on the pebbly beach (could have been Branscombe, but for the black stones and the lack of a stricken cargo vessel offshore). Nice to be by the sea again. Had a paddle (still freezing) and threw stones into the water (my arm still aches from Frisbee!). Kaikoura is certainly a nice place to be when the sun is shining.
Had a long lunch (enjoying the uncrowded kitchen - there were so many people the night before) and then came here to upload my photos (absolutely useless - so slow) and update my blog (more success with that one, although Gmail won't allow me to be logged into different picasa and blogger accounts simultaneously). There's actually free internet at the hostel (the reason we decided to stay there), but you can't use USB and it is so slow it would almost be quicker to use Royal Mail.
So there we go, I'm now back at the hostel to use the snail internet to upload this (I hope it works okay). Just had a nice beef stew (sat outside in the sun, which was nice - well, until it went down and got a bit too chilly) and will shortly be going to bed (it's been sunny today and I've got that tired "fresh air" glow which should hopefully lead to a good night's sleep.
Hooray - I'm back up-to-date again (and only a short delay this time). Maybe I can keep on top of it now that I am getting back closer to civilisation. Or maybe not. We shall see...