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Archive for the ‘Christchurch’ Category

We had a poor night’s sleep (always seems to be the way after having restful days) but dragged ourselves up at 8am for final packing, cleaning and departure. Our first stop was a shopping centre to the south-west of Christchurch, recommended by Christine, and here I successfully replaced my tatty and stained microfleece with its broken zip. So what? Well, I’d just about given up on finding such a garment in New Zealand, and this represents my first new item of clothing in nearly six months of travelling (bar the hat from Cusco). That’s a clothing budget for me of about 13 pence per day so far (about the same as at home, then…)

We pressed on to Hanmer Springs a good hour and 40 minutes away, stopping for lunch (a savoury muffin followed by cake) in Culverden, half an hour before our destination. On arrival we were lucky enough to find a free parking space near the entrance to the Springs, but the vast numbers of cars foretold something of a scrum inside. We paid our $35 family admission, got changed, stowed our belongings in a fancy computerised $2 locker and picked a random hot pool to begin with. It seems that each pool has a unique temperature and chemical composition, and we started off with the 33C with sulphur, sodium and magnesium (presumably not in their pure elemental forms). Don’t put your face in the water, we were warned at every turn, and even when I floated on my back a ‘lifeguard’ came over to tell me (via Kirsten) to find another non-mineral pool or else keep my ears out of the water.

We sampled various aquatic environments, including the rock-and-concrete-lined ‘river’ connecting some of the pools and the three large and hot hexagonal tubs bearing a barely-humorous sign saying ‘beware of the honey bees’.
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The girls particularly enjoyed the cooler children’s pool with a little crocodile water slide – just the thing to boost their confidence, especially when Ellen managed it on her own without needing me to catch her at the bottom of the chute.
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Yes, it was all so much busier than last time, not just the Springs but the whole settlement which now offers bungy jumping and the full range of thrill-seekers’ activities. A shame – I don’t want to see the whole country turned into a giant Queenstown.

We spent two hours in the water (the time limit of our locker code), then emerged, got changed and had an ice cream. It began to rain and we continued our car journey to Kaikoura under dark skies along mountainous and twisting roads, arriving around 6.20pm.

Our penultimate stay is called The Kiwi Bach (no, it’s not the former residence of some talented Antipodean composer) and its slightly dog-eared, quirky charm is typical of so many seaside holiday homes here. The variety of accommodation here has been fun – many have had their little shortcomings but at least we haven’t been stuck in a series of nondescript and indistinguishable motel rooms. We’ve had the tree in the house (Motueka), the house in the trees (Punakaiki), the smart new fully-equipped townhouse (Christchurch) and the tatty old bach with no storage and water restrictions (Hot Water Beach). Kiwi Bach has lopsided curtains for some reason (i.e. they don’t meet in the middle of the window), moths in the bathroom and a fine sea view.

I met up with the owner (who lives two doors down) to settle up for our two nights here and then we drove into town to find somewhere to eat. Now we stayed in Kaikoura during our previous trip but apart from a walk along the beach in a gale we have zero recollection of anything else here. Scary to find one’s memory failing so spectacularly; you tend to think that it all gets stored away somewhere and with the right trigger it’ll all come back to you. It’s as if we’ve never been here before, and the beach episode may be down to a snippet of video we took rather than the original experience.

Anyway, we found The Black Rabbit Pizza Co. on the main road and ordered a Hawaiian pizza, garlic bread and spaghetti (well, tagliatelle as it turned out) with venison mince. Not a lot of ambience – no tablecloth or candlelight – just benches and a basic slatted wooden table for those strange customers (such as ourselves) who didn’t want a takeaway meal. Still, the food was good and more than enough to fill us up; even Hannah (who is not a great pizza fan) was impressed.

It should be a pleasant sunny day tomorrow – not sure we’ll be whale-watching, but we can get outside for a change.

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Doldrums

Nothing hugely negative here, just a personal impression of being becalmed, no wind in my sails, lacking momentum as we approach the end of our time in New Zealand. Perhaps it comes down to the weight of expectation we imposed on this country; a sort of Obama effect, we had such unrealistically high hopes that it couldn’t possible live up to them (through no fault of its own). Our trip divides roughly into five two-month chapters, and after the newness and challenges of North and South America we were to have a comfortable, familiar, restful time here showing the girls all the things we love about New Zealand, before heading off into the unknowns of Australia and South-East Asia.

But I wasn’t prepared for the significance of the shift from exploration to expectation as the dominant theme; that if you have been somewhere before you *can’t* simply switch off your recollection of ‘last time’ – there’s an automatic comparison going on constantly, however much you remind yourself that you can’t step twice into the same river.

So the dismal grey summer here (it’s the coldest January on record, they reckon) wouldn’t bother me nearly so much had we not basked in warm, sunny days before; we wouldn’t have known what we were missing in the deluge in Milford Sound but for the clear views we had last time; the merely moderate tourist crowds are only irksome because of the comparative solitude we remember from nine years ago.

Perhaps it’s to do with wanting the girls to enjoy the country as much as we did – they missed out first time around, and any disappontment I now feel is on behalf of them rather than myself. The irony is that the girls themselves are experiencing everything afresh, quite happily accepting things just the way they are…

This ear-and-throat virus is still hanging around me after a good two weeks and I’ll be glad to be shot of it – yes, it’s probably painting the world greyer than it really is. Time for the therapeutic effect of a dose of Sydney sunshine and a country bigger than Western Europe to explore – and all of it new to all of us.

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I was woken up at ten past four this morning by an unpleasant sound and thought one of the girls wasn’t feeling well.  It turned out that the neighbours’ guests were only just leaving! 

When we first arrived here, Caroline had warned us about noisy neighbours who had had parties the last two nights prior to our arrival.  She even looked up a phone number we could call anonymously in case we get disturbed.  I must say that we have been absolutely fine, with only the occasional thumping of music.  Let’s hope it will stay like that for our last night tonight…

After breakfast we gathered up our things to take to Christine and Rod; i.e. spade, little rucksacks and home made biscuits and arrived in South Brighton shortly after 10am.

Almost immediately I managed to get through to my parents via Skype.  As always it was lovely to see them and catch up on each others’ news.  The girls loved putting the headphones on and having a chat with Oma and Opa, it had been quite a while since they last spoke.

Whilst talking to my parents, Christine had layed out her best china cups (so Denise, your daughter *does* get those cups and saucers out every now and again!) and made a lovely pot of coffee.  The grown-up sat around the table enjoying their coffee with a slice of freshly home made marble cake.

Little Oliver joined us at the table, while his big brother Alex, Hannah and Ellen watched “Finding Nemo” in the lounge.  Oliver was really fighting sleep but after a good hour was more than ready for his morning nap.

I don’t know Christine all that well, so it was lovely to spend some more time getting to know her and her family.  It was interesting to hear that she too finds it hard to teach her boys Flemish/Dutch when based in an English speaking environment.  We both find it impolite to speak our own language in front of our friends, but at the same time really want our children to be able to communicate in Flemish/Dutch with their family and friends in Belgium.  Any advice here would be more than welcome…

Tim finished checking emails, uploading our blog and noting down our first address in Australia (thanks Christine for letting him use the computer), the girls finished watching the film, and all too soon it was time to say goodbye to two lovely little boys and Rod & Christine.

We returned home for a lunch of crackers and cheese and another peaceful, relaxing afternoon.  Later on Tim had the brilliant idea of visiting the local park and playground.  It was great to get some fresh air and let off some steam, kiddies as well as grown-ups.
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After our afternoon snack, Hannah offered to get our supper on the go.  She oiled the baked potatoes and, under close supervision, put them in the oven and then made the topping of tuna/mayonnaise.  We even had to phone her restaurant and book a table!

The usual routine after supper of tidying up and writing diaries, followed by getting ready for bed and reading time.

Tim and I have done most of our packing and made a good start on cleaning the house.  Not much left to do tomorrow morning and we’ll have until 11am to finish before heading up north to Kaikoura via Hanmer Springs.

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Fallow day

We all managed to have a slightly earlier night yesterday and all felt a lot fresher this morning.  On the way back home from Akaroa yesterday afternoon we all voted for a quiet day today – so if you’re after excitement you might need to look somewhere else …

Every so often during this trip I realise that if we were to go on a short holiday, lets say, 1 – 2 weeks, we would pack in as many sights, walks and activities as possible.  But when you’re travelling for a little over 10 months you’ll need a lot of stamina to keep this up.  Well, we find that pretty hard and we wouldn’t do that if we were to stay at home during the holidays.  Therefore we all agreed to stay at home today and do “homely” things like reading, watching videos (and rubbish tv) and baking and decorating yummy biscuits.

We did venture out this morning though, just around a couple of corners to the nearby Eastgate shopping centre.  The girls and I are still in search of a light cardigan and Tim desperately needs to replace his microfleece.  We popped into Warehouse and had no trouble finding the three cardigans (grey, light pink and fuchsia), at last, but finding a microfleece seems quite a challenge.  I think we’ll try again in Australia, but then again, the weather over there has been pretty hot lately, so I doubt he’ll need it!

Tomorrow is our very last full day in Christchurch and our plan is to take some of our homebaked biscuits to Christine, Rod and the boys, who have invited us for morning coffee.  We will also pass on our spade, which we bought at Hot Water Beach, as I don’t think we’ll be allowed (or want) to take it on the plane with us.  The girls have also agreed to pass their free Air Tahiti rucksacks to Alex and Oliver.  Instead Hannah and Ellen will be using some cotton shoulder bags I had been given with some of my purchases.  I thought they would be reluctant to give up the little rucksacks but fortunately I had something to replace them with, *and* the bags are more grown-up.

One more thought : whilst travelling it is so easy to just try and concentrate on things to see or do and you lose track of the people you’re with.  Today was a time to simply *be* together with lots of hugs and cuddles.  “Alles mag, niks moet”; freely translated as “everything is allowed, nothing has to be done” – I just *love* those days!

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Dolphin Diary

A mixed forecast for today but we decided to risk a visit to Akaroa anyway. Lady TomTom took us over the hills and far away rather than along the main road route, adding a few extra minutes to our journey and we arrived in the French settlement with barely enough time to buy our boat tickets, collect fleeces and cameras from the car and get on board the Black Cat cruiser.
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An utter contrast to our 2001 visit when we waited around in an empty Akaroa for hours until things opened up, and the cruise was a small-scale operation. Today the town was crawling with people and full of bistros, cafes, restaurants, hotels, holiday homes – and our boat was largely populated by elderly American cruise liner passengers wearing name badges (in case they forgot).

But this still turned out to be one of our more successful boat trips; good weather and not too much of a swell. Within a quarter of an hour we were spotting Hector’s Dolphins playing in the water between us and the ‘swimming with dolphins’ craft. (The latter excursion is something of a misnomer. From what I could see, it would be more accurate to describe it as ‘floating around self-consciously while dolphins occasionally zoom past’; it would take quite an athlete to keep up with them.)
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The Hector’s are the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin, but they are flourishing in Akaroa Harbour (which is an ancient flooded volcanic crater) and they don’t seem to mind all the human attention. We were also lucky enough to see a little Blue Penguin near Cathedral Cave (not to be confused with the Coromandel’s Cathedral Cove); it darted around chasing fish and came unusually close to our boat, according to the guide.
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The girls were given ‘Hectors Activity and Fun Book’ to pass the time – a mixture of activities from dot-to-dot to some fairly challenging quizzes, as well as some nice colour photos on and inside the cover (the sort of leaping dolphin action shot we’d never be lucky enough to get).

Then out into the open Pacific (thou swell) to see some fur seals and pups lounging on the rocks before motoring back to port. A two-hour trip, but time passed rapidly thanks to there being plenty to see. The girls loved seeing dolphins at last – we’ll have to see if the budget will stretch to include Kaikoura whales next week.
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By the time we disembarked it was 1pm so we headed straight for a fish and chip shop; three battered hoki and two portions of chips filled us up nicely. Then a stroll along the French streets of Akaroa, popping inside a couple of churches (one Anglican, one RC) before cooling off with an ice cream.
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The hour-and-a-bit drive back to Christchurch, pausing at a Pak ‘n’ Save supermarket to top up supplies (we’re into that running-down phase now). The girls watched ‘101 Dalmatians’ again – so wonderfully 1950s – before supper and diaries. We got them into bed by 8pm and we hope they’ll catch up on some sleep.

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It’s such a relief to be staying put in Christchurch for a full week; we haven’t had this degree of stability since Christmas in Motueka. Time to relax a bit, time off from long days of driving, time to get to know the area we’re in.

This morning we met up with my parents for the final time in the Southern Hemisphere; they’re flying out of New Zealand on January 27th, the same day as us, but our paths won’t cross from now on – they’ll always be one town ahead of us. Anyway, we agreed on what they could take back for us (mainly valuable and personal items: backup memory cards full of our photos, some of the girls’ artwork, cushion covers from those Titicaca floating islands, etc.) and we’ll post a bundle of scrapbook leaflets back home. It’s been a special bonus for all of us to see Nana and Grandad out here, to share our experiences with them, and now it’s not too long before we’ll be back home again.

My mind is slightly more at ease because we now have our first week in Australia booked; an apartment in Ryde near the Olympic Village. Nothing’s cheap in Sydney, but this place comes to a very reasonable $109 (£60) per night and we’ll be doing without a car to start with; public transport should suffice. Once again the phone is mightier than the web – according to their site we weren’t allowed to arrive on a Wednesday, but the man on the phone assured me there would be no problem, as long as we arrive before 8pm. As the girls would say, ‘OMG! That’s next week!’

We wondered about a trip to Akaroa today to go on a dolphin cruise, but the morning sky looked ominously grey so we returned to the city centre to look in a few shops and maybe visit a museum. We packed a sandwich lunch, hoping to get some drinks from a supermarket on the way. In the end we had to pay a ridiculous amount for a couple of bottles of water and a stack of plastic cups – but we’ll reuse the bottles as our current ones are getting a bit smelly… We had our picnic on the banks of the Avon while chasing off loitering seagulls (we haven’t forgiven them for Fleur’s Cafe).

Then a short walk to the Botanical Gardens; everything impressively labelled bar the mis-spelled Fuchsia (you feel that they really ought to know better). We wandered past hydrangeas of every litmus shade, cork oaks, ginkgos, golden elms, a circular rose garden with perhaps a hundred varieties clearly documented and a double asterisk marking the most fragrant. Just past the cafe we came upon an open-air pool with paddling/splashing areas, highly tempting now that the sky had cleared (thanks to the rain jackets we had packed) – but sadly we had no swimming things with us or even a towel to dry our feet.
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Next stop Canterbury Museum, just next door to the gardens; free entry, except that they invite a donation of $5 per person. Why at the beginning? Won’t people think it’s worth it as they leave? But there was enough to occupy us until our legs had had enough (after nearly five hours out and about), even without the supplementary ‘Discovery’ centre for children. Not nearly as interactive as Te Papa, for example, but the girls enjoyed the early 20th century fashion display, a skidoo and a horse to sit on and a huge slowly-spinning globe on which we traced our journey thus far and our journey yet to come.

The Paua House – Home Abalone
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A welcome rest for our feet in the cafe, then the long haul back home via various shops. I hunted down a new notebook in Whitcoulls (which seems to have links with WH Smith) but no joy with clothes for anyone, even in the huge Ballantynes department store; it’s so difficult to find a microfleece or a cardigan. (But expensive merino Icebreaker garments are everywhere.)

Our ‘tenderised’ steak for supper at home was still ridiculously tough; we grilled it, but are we doing something wrong? The girls caught up with their diaries and then watched ‘101 Dalmatians’, but they seem more tired nowadays; their body clock has shifted later thanks to some late nights, but Australia may help with that.

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The olden days

A quiet start to the day with a leisurely breakfast and some play time for the girls.

We decided to follow Christine’s suggestion and visited Ferrymead Heritage Park, only a 10-minute drive from our accommodation.

The park was set up by local heritage enthusiasts in the 1960s and lets visitors explore Moorhouse township and discover Christchurch as it was in times past – from colonial times to the 1920s.

We started off visiting the tiny church which was originally used as the Ellesmere Methodist Church and represents many country churches as they were in the 1920s. We then walked down the main street where we had a look at Cob Cottage. This cottage was made out of mud and was very simple in style. Any repairs were made by using manure! As we carried on down the road we also visited Curragh Cottage, a more upmarket house as it had lino flooring in the hallway and stained windows in the front door, both indicators of better off families.
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The Heritage Park also houses a few exhibitions, but as they are mainly run by volunteers not every exhibition is open to the public on a daily basis. We only managed to visit the “Hall of Wheels”. Here we saw old cars, fire engines, trams, washing machines, telephones and a couple of old prams.
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On the way out we all had great fun looking at ourselves in the distorted mirrors. One made you look extremely thin and tall (I particularly loved my long legs!), especially funny when sitting down. In the other mirror we looked very small and very fat and absolutely hilarious.

The Prices looking slightly less global…
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and much more global.
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After visiting the model train sets we started to feel peckish and thirsty and popped into the railway station for a light lunch of sandwiches, small fairy cakes and drinks.

We then hopped onto the tram (unlimited tram rides are included in the entrance fee) and enjoyed a ride around the whole park, which took about 15 minutes. Visitors can hop and off at any of the stops around the park, except stops weren’t clearly marked.

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After we got off again and visited the general store, we decided to have a look at the cinema. We paid an extra $3.40 and were led into the tiniest of rooms where the volunteer pointed out the last four empty seats. Here we watched a handful of short films, with Tom & Jerry and the Queen’s Coronation being the favourites. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a lollipop each.

General store.
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At the printers’ we could read articles about the 1960’s olympics and Kennedy’s assassination. This is also the place where the Ferrymead Heritage Park leaflets, maps and little calendars are printed.

The last building we visited was the school classroom. The original building came from Coutts Island, just north of Belfast in Christchurch. It was transported to Ferrymead in the early 70’s. The really old style desks are typical of New Zealand schools in the 1900’s and even as late as the 1950’s. Hannah enjoyed being the teacher whilst Tim had a go at playing the piano and Ellen and I pretended to sing “God save the King”.
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We spent over three hours at the Park and enjoyed our time there. I personally would have liked to see more people dressed up in heritage costumes and the girls were slightly disappointed that they weren’t allowed to wear the typical school uniform. But all in all, we thought it was well worth a visit.

On the way home we stopped at Woolworths to stock up on juice and fruit and back home the girls had quiet reading time and watch a Snow White film whilst Tim and I had a go at baking apple & boysenberry muffins.

John & Angela came round late afternoon. They very kindly offered to take back home some of our stuff; i.e. some souvenirs, brochures, christmas presents and books. They also treated us to a gigantic Chinese take-away which unfortunately we couldn’t finish. We’ll see them one last time tomorrow morning when we will visit their B&B to pick up Angela’s hairdryer and any of our stuff that won’t fit in their suitcases. After our last farewell tomorrow, it will be strange not having them around to meet up with for coffee or supper. We’ll have to keep ourselves very occupied so we won’t miss them too much …

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