Inside Christchurch Cathedral.
January 11, today is the day: We are leaving for New Zealand! Should the stories we have heard be only true for 50%, than a wonderful holiday awaits us. It is Sunday and we have lots of time on our hands to collect some last things and do the last dishes, before we close the door and head off to Amsterdam Airport Schiphol.
Our flight departs at 15.15 and we are having a stop-over in Tokyo. I’m glad that we are flying with a Boeing 777-200, since this is the most modern aircraft on KLM’s fleet. This gives us personal entertainment systems and adjustable headrests, guaranteeing movies on demand and some sleep when needed.
I brought the book “The Colour” by Rose Tremain, which was a gift from our travel agent, that tells of the gold rush in New Zealand in the 19th century. The air is extremely clear and when we are flying over Russia and China we see a desolate landscape, rough as can be. Mountains, separated only by valleys that have been cut out by meandering rivers over thousands of years, with only here and there a tiny hint of the presence of mankind.
The Wizard, sharing his wisdom with the populace.
The flight takes ten hours and forty minutes, but with all those things to do, it goes by in a heartbeat. To make time go by even faster we have to put our watches forward eight hours to be in synch with the Japanese.
At Tokyo Narita Airport we immediately check in for our flight to Christchurch, which takes some time.
The lady behind the desk wants to have our luggage labels, but I didn’t really pay attention when I put it away , because our luggage was labeled through to our final destination, and now I can’t remember where to find it. After turning my hand-luggage upside down I can eventually hand over the dreaded label and, being the proud owners of some fresh boarding passes that we are, we hurry off to Terminal 2 where the day rooms are that I booked back home. We get there 45 minutes late (when 30 minutes late the reservation is cancelled and the room is available to other guests again), but even though it is a busy day today our rooms are still free. The rooms are small, but they have a bed and a shower and that’s all we need right now. We take a shower and hit the sack. It takes a while, but eventually I sink into a deep sleep and I only wake up just minutes before our wake-up call of 17.20. We get to the gate nicely in time for our flight of 18.
Cathedral Junction is a mix of shopping mall and tram thoroughfare.
30, which will take eleven hours.
The old Christchurch Tram, exiting New Regent Street with its pastel buildings.
This flight is with Air New Zealand and I am happy to learn that they have 777’s in their fleet as well. We do some more reading, tv watching and we watch a man pass out while he is waiting for the lavatories. The crew dart forward to help, but when they want to give the man oxygen from a cylinder everything slows down a bit. It looks like they are trying to figure out how the device works, good thing this isn’t a matter of life and death… When flying over New Zealand’s south island we have vistas of its wild landscape, with the Southern Alps being an important factor in that.
All of a sudden we are startled by a strange femomenon.
Crackling thunder...bolts of lightning...fizzling noises...signs of time travel... Oh well, let's just put our watches forward another four hours shall we??
The river Avon, with the old Christchurch Tram in the distance.
On the plane we had to fill out a form on which all kinds of goods are listed that can’t be imported, because they may be a threat to NZ’s unique nature. Penalties are severe when you try to get through customs with dangerous items in your luggage that you haven’t declared. We have some doubts about an open bag of sweets, but according to one of the stewards this shouldn’t be a problem. When we have landed and approach customs, signs warn for penalties varying from NZ$200 to pay immediately, to NZ$100,000 after prosecution. Unconcerned we put our cases through the X-ray machine, but when mine comes out again I am called to the counter.
In my luggage there is a small spade that I have totally forgotten about, for when we go to Hot Water Beach. In the noise of all the people talking I can hardly understand the man’s question, but he wants to know if the spade has been used before. I tell him that it is a brand new one that has never been used before. Apparently this is the correct answer, because I can go about my business.
The Bridge of Remembrance in the heart of the city commemorates the casualties of World War I.
Having completed all formalities an elderly kiwi is waiting for us, holding up a sign with our family name on it, which must be all but unpronounceable for him. The very friendly man takes us to his company car and from this moment on we have an ongoing conversation until we unload our luggage at the hotel. He hands us a second set of vouchers that we can use to “pay” for our hotels and transfers (we paid for all of this in advance), along with a bunch of brochures and some discount coupons.
The man talks about the weather and grumpy farmers, weeks of rain in spring and now drought has set in, making it hard for the agricultural sector to get enough feed for the cattle. From a touristic point of view we have picked the perfect moment to arrive, because the good weather is supposed to last for quite some time. The ride is so calm and well poised that we hardly notice crossing one of the more notorious intersections of the city.
The Antigua Boatsheds, built in 1882.
Upon arriving at the Latimer Hotel we unload our luggage and at that very moment a mailman on a moped roars off as fast as he can. Our driver looks at him and tells him (not nearly loud enough) to go back to Saigon, in a cynical tone that I didn’t expect from him. It makes me laugh though…
We check in and find out that our room has been upgraded, free of charge, because the room we’ve booked is currently unavailable.
I present the voucher and then I am asked the question I fear most at the moment: Can I have you credit card, please? This deserves an explanation. Back in Holland a new way of paying with credit card has been introduced: the PIN number instead of the good old signature. On the evening before our departure I found out that the PIN number of my credit card was incorrect and since it was a Saturday night and all the banks were closed for the weekend there was no way of retrieving it before going on holiday. I never use the darn thing, and with me about 95 percent of all the Dutch, that’s probably the reason I managed to misplace the code without memorizing it. On top of my misery I read on the internet that New Zealand was also on the brink of changing to the new system, and since this would render my credit card useless I was seriously worried. Understand my relief when the “casual swipe” still worked the old fashioned way, giving me hope that this would be the case everywhere in the country.
The Botanic Gardens are a haven of quiet in the city.
The Gothic Revival buildings of the Arts Centre have served many years as the Canterbury College.
Even though our room is all we can wish for (an eight metres long L-shaped suite with washer, microwave oven, DVD player, LCD screen, the works) we don’t stay here long. We have a cup of coffee and then stroll into the city. There is a walk in the Lonely Planet (a trusty companion this will prove to be) and this is one of the things we will be doing today to kill our jetlag.
We start at Cathedral Square, where I first change my ancient Thomas Cook Traveler’s Checks for crisp NZ dollars. I have owned these things since my second trip to Indonesia in 1993 and most of the time they weren’t of any use, so actually I’m glad to finally get rid of them.
To get used to New Zealand traditions our lunch consists of a German bratwurst with sauerkraut and on this fuel we set off. We visit the Christchurch Cathedral, watch people linger on the square and listen to The Wizard sharing his opinion about things going on in the world today. From the square we walk to Cathedral Junction, a lovely building with a glass roof that is supporting a giant egg with a kiwi on it. The Junction has some shops (we buy a SIM card here to make incoming calls from Holland A LOT cheaper) and is a regular thoroughfare for the ancient Christchurch Tramway. A little further on is lovely New Regent Street, filled with pastel-coloured houses, where we actually see the old tram drive by. We walk to the calm Avon river that runs through Victoria Square and then towards the Bridge of Remembrance and the Antigua Boatsheds. The Botanic Gardens are a haven of quiet in the “village grown big” that the city looks like. The Arts Centre is worth a look, although we aren’t real art lovers .
A stained glass window in the Arts Centre.
The buildings are nice and so are the courtyards. At the end of the walk we briefly return to New Regent Street to buy a couple of painted thimbles for a relative of ours and then we pay a short visit to our room again, it’s actually more a drop-off of groceries we have done, because we are almost immediately out again. The Bus Xchange on Lichfield street is where we are going, because we want to be on the next bus to Lyttelton, where the Gondola goes up Mt Cavendish. Bus line 28 takes us to the Heathcote Valley terminal for only a few dollars (even though it is a 30 minute drive).
One of the courtyards of the Arts Centre.
The man selling the tickets in the valley terminal is extremely cheerful and despite the fact that we are a bit tired, it does rub off and makes my mood even better than it already was.
The one way ride up the 500 metre high mountain costs 11 dollars per person, but it is worth it. While we swoosh up the mountain the views get better by the minute, although clouds gather in the distance. We had planned on having dinner in the restaurant of the upper terminal, but plans are made to be changed, aren’t they? The three story terminal is almost abandoned, the staff of the shop on the lower level have probably already gone home and the restaurant on the third floor is open, but there’s nobody there either. There are some people in the restaurant on the second floor, but according to my wife (who has a better nose than I do) it smells of urine, so dinner is not an option here either. The views outside are pretty nice and we spend some time in the hilltop winds before walking down to the valley again, using the Bridal Track, which was the main route from Christchurch to Lyttelton in the 1850’s. Poor buggers had to drag all their goods up and down the track, which is so steep that Trudy and my dad (yes, my dad is with us) make nice skids, using their bottoms for crumple zones every once in a while.
The view from the top of Mt. Cavendish.
The walk down takes roughly an hour and on the way we pass several old stone benches, that commemorate people and occurrences in the years of the first settlers.
The Christchurch Cathedral in all its nocturnal glory.
Bus line 35 takes us back to the city centre and from the bus Xchange we start looking for an open restaurant on the double. We end up in a Chinese place where the food is alright but nothing very special. After our meal we walk to Cathedral Square again, just to take a picture of the cathedral in all its nocturnal glory.
Back in the hotel I activate our new SIM card, using the internet in the lobby of the hotel, so my mother can call us through extremely cheap 0900-something numbers. I send her an e-mail telling her our number, otherwise the whole operation would be rather silly, wouldn’t it?
It’s been quite a day and when at 23.30 the lights go out In our room, it doesn’t take long before we are all sleeping.