21 - 23 August 2010: Christchurch
So let the epic adventure-telling begin...
On Saturday, after lunch time, Gabe drove Erika, Sam and I (the first trio of travelers) to the airport to embark on the first leg of our journey. Sam's flight left a few hours after ours, so Erika and I kept him company for as long as possible in the Auckland airport shops area before heading to our gate. I must say, New Zealand airport security is the most lax system I have ever experienced - using the instant kiosk check in, giving my bag to the desk attendants, and going through the security check point took all of two minutes, I was allowed to leave all of my clothing on, take my full water bottle, and even a small knife on board if I desired, and was NEVER ID'd... not once... anyone could have been masquerading as Sarah Booher...
After a very quick, hour-long plane ride we arrived in Christchurch, landing right at sunset to a spectacular view. The pink and gold glow of the sinking sun illuminated the clouds that stretched beneath the plane like a thick white blanket, with the South's towering snow capped peaks breaking through to greet us.
Within minutes, we had our bags and were driven by the very nice shuttle man to the car rental office near the airport. Within no time, I was driving on the left side of the road like a pro...*cough* we just won't mention the three times that I hit the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal (since it's opposite down here) *cough*. We successfully navigated the streets, despite some faulty directions, and finally found our hostel, just in time to check in and leave again, in search of kebabs before picking Sam up at the airport.
That evening, we explored the city by foot. Highlights include the extremely drunk, defeated-looking kid, being led away by the cops after what looked like a scuffle (judging from the dirt and grass stuck to his face). "Please let me go..." he slurred. I'm going to take a wild guess and say that they didn't... Oh, and did I mention this was at 10 p.m? I suppose we can cut him a tiny (very tiny) bit of slack since it was a Saturday night, but really?! Also, we stopped in an Irish pub named The Bog for some refreshment and live music - aka an older man singing and playing the guitar, accompanied by a younger guy on the bongos... strange combo, but actually really good!
Our hostel was called The Base and lets just say it was far from my favorite. To sum up in a few words: big, dirty, and our ten-bed mixed-dorm smelled like B.O. (I later determined it was the man sleeping below me, who reeked of Smirnoff and feet... yum). There was a bar downstairs (called Saints & Sinners... hmm...), where, upon check in, what appeared to be a transvestite offered us shots from a water bottle - don't worry, we declined. I'm being a tiny (just a tiny) bit over-dramatic; it was fine for a few days and I had a blast in Christchurch (thanks to Erika and Sam :), my amazing travel buddies).
The next day, we got bagels for brunch at a local shop and walked around town once more, through the art gallery and a street market by the botanical gardens.
Erika and I by the cathedral in the town centre, near our hostel, (Cathedral Square):
Erika and Sam practicing some lunges (hahah long story... just be prepared for several other lunging pictures in the future):
Tree-climbing in the botanical gardens... :( too bad the rose garden was dead:
Sam and I by the lovely fountain:
Highlights of the street market include the very large, very hairy, topless, Scot sword-swallowing street performer, who called me out from the crowd and posed especially for this picture...
Yes, your eyes do not deceive... he is shimmying:
And believe it or not, THIS is where it gets interesting...
After having walked around the night before, moving the car so as to avoid parking fines the next day, and continuing to roam in circles for several hours on Sunday morning, exploring the town (which I must say, has a VERY confusing lay out), when we went to go find Sunny (the model type, and thus, the name of our lovely Nissan Pulsar) where we had parked him...we could not find him... for almost 3 hours...
That was a stressful afternoon. Luckily, we did not panic (thank you Erika and Sam for not freaking out, because I almost did). When we had reached the point of deciding whether we should just split up and start combing random streets, we FINALLY wandered in the right direction and found Sunny. From then on, while in Christchurch, we took pictures of the street signs and area near our car each time we left him... just in case.
We wanted to escape the city at that point, so we opted for a leisurely drive out to the coast, stopping at the beaches along the way.
Erika took the kids to the beach:
We made it all the way up the hill on the peninsula and played on some playground equiptment - definitely the prettiest view-from-a-swing I have ever had. The most memorable part (sorry Erika) was when our lovely friend from New Hampshire slipped and fell down a muddy hill on her run towards the teeter-totter. She was a very good sport about the whole thing and made the best of her new muddy look.
Lookin' good, mud works for ya Erika:
Afterward, we went back into the center of town, got some supplies from the grocery store and made a spaghetti dinner in the hostel. The pasta was alright, but our mood music was fantastic - a group of random Spaniards (?) who were having an acoustic guitar jam session, while playing the mouth trumpet (aka making trumpet noises with their cheeks). We finished up the night watching The Dark Knight and Couples Retreat on the blotchy-colored TV in the hostel lounge.
At 8:30 the next day, we had cheap toast and ( insert your chosen spread here ), which was marmite for me, vegemite for Sam (ewwww hahah) and peanut butter for Erika, for breakfast, which would become an everyday occurrence and set out for Hanmer Springs. A few hours north, this tiny town is known for its hot pools. We had a relaxing day there, and coincidence of coincidences, ran into two of our friends from Hamilton who were also traveling on the South Island by camper van, making the same loop as us, yet opposite, and happened to walk into the exact same hot pool at the exact same time. We had a light dinner with them before heading back to Christchurch.
Saying goodbye to a giant stuffed kiwi bird outside a shop, on our way out Tuesday morning: