New Zealand 2011 - Mick & Vik at large in the land of the long white cloud.

Friday, Apr 01, 2011 at 19:31


April 1st, 2011

As a firm believer in the maxim “Happy wife, Happy Life”, I surprised Queen Vik on her birthday last year with a trip to New Zealand, a place she’d always wanted to go but was yet to have the opportunity. The plan was a simple one. Fly into Christchurch, grab a luxury campervan and drive around the southern isle for 8 days. It would be a whirlwind trip but enought to provide a taste of this beautiful country. Of course we didn’t count on the tragic events of January 2011 with Christchurch all but shaken to pieces by one of the largest earth quakes in New Zealand's recent history.

The Kiwis are a resilient bunch and hadn’t let the worst of the event affect their lives to the extent that we expected. By and large they’ve simply knuckled down and got stuck into rebuilding. With the tourist dollar such a big piece of the local economy, we were encouraged to stick to our holiday plans and even bring a few extra friends with us (lol). The Kiwi's "can do" attitude was apparent from the minute of our arrival at the vehicle depot early Friday morning. The place had only just got water and sewage back on line but it was business as usual as they moved the 10 groups of fellow tourists that had arrived at a similar time to us, through the familiarisation and registration process. The exterior of the vehicles hadn’t been washed as water was still at a premium but other than that, all good.

After talking delivery of our Maui, "Platinum River camper" we were off to secure supplies for our adventure. Adequately provisioned against the privations of such harsh, expeditionary travel, we set of for Akaroa across the broad alluvial flats that surround the Banks Peninsula. The whole of the Banks Peninsula iis the remains of a massive, long extinct volcano. Akaroa and its harbour are the actual caldera now open to the sea. Highway 75 takes you south east out of Christchurch and then past the huge tidal lake Ellesmere and the Kiatorete Spit. Every now and then, long “stretch” marks could be seen in the road surface, evidence of the recent earthquake, the larger ones having been hastily repaired. Turning sharply to the east, you forge along a deep valley, past the steep sided shores of Lake Forsyth to the hamlet of Little River. It’s a steep climb up the walls of the valley to reach the crest of the ridge and a brilliant view sweeping down to the east and the walls of the of the long extinct volcano crater that holds Barry Bay and the port.

Founded as a French colony town in the late 1840’s Akaroa supported the NZ whaling industry in its infancy. The street lamps of Paris once ran on oil produced in Akaroa. Its French history is still evident in the architecture of many of the old buildings. Pulling into the wharf and waterfront area, we walked the quaint cafés and art galleries aimed at the tourist market and enjoyed a bowl of the best seafood chowder I’ve had in a long time. It was so good we went and bought a takeaway for dinner as well. Beaut clumps of succulent seafood in a rich soup, you bloody beauty. So much for the diet! Unlike the rich plains that surround the south east coast, Akaroa sits at the base of the mountains wedged right up against the edge of the bay. As a result, streets ramble up and around the hills and gullies. Flat land is at a premium and even the local cemetery is on a steep angle (the occupants are buried crossways thankfully lest they slip out the bottom of their final resting place!). I reckon the animals in these pastures have two legs longer on one side than the other just to negotiate these paddocks on an even keel.

After a wander and drive, we headed back out towards Christchurch again intending to make a little bit of distance down the coast. Rather than head all the way back into Christchurch we detoured through Lincoln and the major university housed in the area. We turned onto Highway 1 at Burnham and headed south across the broad alluvial flats. The rich pastures of the flats are up to 100 km wide here and support a variety of agriculture, the thick lush pastures making for fat, healthy cattle. The damn Jersey's actually shone looking like they’d just been groomed for a show and leaving us to wonder if it’s a milk and shampoo regime here in NZ? They looked magnificent.

We crossed New Zealand's longest bridge at the Rakaia River. This broad river bed of tumbled rocks feeds glacial melt water to the sea. The water is the same bright blue as the glacial ice. In full flood, the river would be several kilometres wide and once caused many a hazard for the locals in the area. Early records indicated that over 1000 people drowned in the rivers of the Canterbury plains over a 10 year period prior to the construction of the first bridge in 1870. So many in fact that the local authorities tried to have drowning declared as a death by 'natural' causes. Go figure!

On through Ashburton and Temuka we headed reaching the port town of Timaru and the Big 4 park that was to be our first nights stop. Timaru marks the end of the alluvial plains and the town is built on rolling hills. We head into the mountains towards Queenstown tomorrow.
''We knew from the experience of well-known travelers that the
trip would doubtless be attended with much hardship.''
Richard Maurice - 1903
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