So, we were on our way to Lake Tekapo, stargazing paradise and.. also… a lake, I guess. To be honest we didn’t really know what there was to do here, other than the fact that it was prohibited to have your headlights on after dark in order to stop light pollution – Tekapo being a light reserve and as a result home of New Zealand’s biggest observatory. As accurate as this fact may be, as you’ve just realised it’s also hideously boring and hard to explain, so I promise not to mention it again. Please keep reading. I have children to feed.
(I don’t, but that is what those in the trade call “artistic licence“, or, in layman’s terms – “lying“)
Our driver introduced himself as Dave, then offered us all cuddles. As it turned out I had misheard, and actually his nickname was ‘Cuddles’, which made the man hug I had initiated on hearing this even more awkward than it already was. After hastily pushing me away, Cuddles drove us off towards Tekapo, or as he called it ‘Lake Take-a-Poo’. I immediately decided I liked Cuddles. I always feel comfortable around anyone as immature as me, which is usually only limited to my Dad and the occasional toddler.
Cuddles talked us through all the important things, including life tips, his lack of minibus driving skills and how you really needed to be putting your money into stocks after major events in order to gain maximum benefit. No, really. Even I’m not weird enough to make that up.
Cuddles made me laugh throughout and especially so as he fumbled reversing us into a parking space and came out with one of my favourite lines of the trip – “Would you take financial advice from a man who reverse parks like this?”. Advice for life there: Always check someone’s reverse parking skills before you enter into any arrangement with them.
After a brief stop at Lake Pukaki, which was, well, another lake, we arrived in Tekapo early in the afternoon. After being rinsed of all our cash and the blood of our firstborns for a bunk bed, we dropped our stuff and set out to explore Tekapo. 3 minutes later, finding an impressive abundance of nothing, we decided that we would climb up a giant hill to see Tekapo from up high. Katie was rather reluctant about this plan, but I was insistent and so off we went.
Now, guys: a quick but essential tip. If you’re going to make your girlfriend do something she doesn’t want to do with you, do not make that thing climbing a mountain.
In fairness to Katie she was remarkably calm about the fact I’d dragged her for an hour long climb, and here we are still together afterwards. Either I’m really worth it, or she’s very patient. I’ll leave you to decide.
The view turned out to be nice, if slightly tempered by the cloudy skies. However, the beauty of this is that you can always stick an instagram filter on it and it’ll be right:
Descending took us all of 10 minutes, which is a damning indictment of my (lack of) fitness, and we returned to the hostel to cook, catch up with Alex and the slightly mad Naomi who we had met in Kaiteriteri what felt like months ago, and then go to bed. They say if a man is tired of London he is tired of life. Tekapo is beautiful (see the picture below), but if you’re tired of Tekapo I think you’re just, well, tired.
(PS – London ain’t all that, get yourself to Manchester for cheap rent, cheap pints and good music. As you were)
We woke up in the morning and cracked on to Christchurch with Cuddles. We were flying from Christchurch to Wellington so this was both our second and last trip with the man who had made himself my favourite Kiwi Experience driver in the space of around 5 minutes the day before. I appreciated every second, but the bus to Christchurch was a long and uneventful (read: boring) one and we departed at Christchurch, left the group and made our way to the blissfully nice and quiet YHA.
It seems to have happened on this trip that when we visit a new city for the first time, I make an instant decision on whether I like it, and then stick with it. Both Katie and I has not been the biggest fans of Melbourne, which having reflected we have decided is because it is basically Manchester (without the history, culture, music and innovation). Cold, grey, full of bars and restaurants, a big grey river in the middle, no major tourist attractions to speak of, but great if you live there. On the other hand, we had both quickly decided we liked the feel of Brisbane, which had no tourist attractions, a very grey river and was stuffed with bars and restaurants. Who knows.
In any case, I immediately decided I liked Christchurch. In 2011, the city suffered an earthquake which demolished the city centre and claimed the lives of 185 people. The centre is still being rebuilt 6 years later, and one of the most iconic images of that earthquake – the Cathedral – remains as it was after the earthquake struck. It was humbling to see the destruction that had been caused in the centre of a major city, and one that had clearly been so pretty before it happened. The whole city has the feel of Oxford – an old university town with green spaces, a river running through its heart and beautiful buildings.
The way Christchurch has reacted to the earthquake has also been impressive – despite the funding not being available in New Zealand to repair it (a country of 4.5 million people barely generate enough taxes to build a road, let alone rebuild a city), they have persevered and creatively solved problems caused by the earthquake. The highlight for me was the Re:Start Mall, a shopping centre made up of shipping containers. People in the UK make funky shopping centres like that for fun/money, but in Christchurch it was that or nothing.
After a wander round on our first day and an appreciation of the beauty of YHA kitchens and bedrooms (clean and with a plug socket, basically) we headed to Quake City on our second day. This was a museum about the earthquake – its history, the events of the day and the aftermath. Having paid $20 each to get in I was fervent for value for money, and to be fair, did I get it. (God almighty that was cheesy, apologies all.)
Beginning with Maori beliefs about the origin of earthquakes, the museum took us through the events of both the 2009 earthquake and its more devastating 2011 counterpart, before we spent an hour close to tears at the stories told by survivors and relatives of those who didn’t make it. Emotionally worn out, we wandered around the rest of the museum slightly more appreciative of just what the city had gone through.
Honestly, if you are in Christchurch, I would say this is a must visit. Yeh that’s right, this blog just got mildly serious kids, so either get on board or get off.
Just kidding. Back to the inane humour now.
Our final night in Christchurch involved a reunion with Pippa and the last time we would see her on the trip. Queenstown had been the start of our goodbyes on this trip and it wasn’t getting any better with virtually no hellos presenting themselves at this late stage. Anyway, after treating myself to a beer we walked with Pippa back to the prison she was staying in for the night. Not a reflection of Pippa’s activities in New Zealand, which as far as I was aware were all in accordance with their laws, but more to do with the fact that the prison in question had been converted into a hostel. Also known as a ‘downgrade’.
Our final goodbye with Pippa said, we wandered back through Christchurch to our hostel, made our tea, crashed out in the room and the next morning saw us in a taxi to Christchurch Airport. We gave ourselves just over an hour to get through security, as it was only a domestic flight. So, imagine our surprise when we got to Christchurch Airport, checked in at an automatic desk, but our bags on a conveyor belt, tried to find security and only found our gate, waiting for us expectantly.
My kind of airport. Not a queue or a grumpy worker in sight *COUGH* MANCHESTER AIRPORT *COUGH*.
Sorry. Had to.
After sitting around in the time we had expected to be queuing through security in, we boarded the plane, which was a charmingly tiny propellor driven dwarf. But, we were with Air New Zealand and the staff were lovely – and not just because they gave us free Cookie Time cookies and drinks.
If a smiley person gives me free coffee and cookies I’m bound to be smitten and so I was with every aspect of this tiny domestic flight, which was the aeronautical equivalent of a cosy pub in a village in England serving local beer and full of nice, quiet people. It was a stark contrast to our recent Jetstar (or Ryanair) flights, which were more ‘regret-filled club in Leeds that’s open until 8am’ style.
So, with Christchurch disappearing behind us and a return to Wellington imminent, I sat back with my cookies and coffee and pondered our final week in New Zealand to come.
Just kidding. I ate the cookie, drank the coffee, and then thought about the cookie and coffee. Duh.
Alex Odlin’s dentist, unsurprisingly, hates him.
NEXT TIME: Gandalf. Eagles. Massive statues of New Zealand War heroes. Rain.
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