23rd November 2018, 50 years to the day we married at the Sydney Registry office NSW. During this time, we had experienced trips to New Zealand, Hong Kong, North and Sth America and different states of Australia. We have enjoyed all of our trips.New Zealand was a particular favourite of ours as it is a short plane ride, inexpensive with very beautiful countryside and friendly accommodating people.
As a complete surprise to me Ken decided our next trip to NZ would be to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary in my style of holiday. Normally I organise everything with discussions with him about modes of transport and particular interests. Our normal way of seeing a country is to move daily from town to town visiting the vast array of scenery and specific highlights on offer for the region. During our travels we cover a lot of ground on the premise that we may not get back to the place again and therefore want to see as much as we can. I have found myself on occasions expressing a desire to stay put for a few days and visit more of the city. I was about to get my wish. On this occasion, Ken organised everything, unbeknown to me. This is a massive undertaking for him as he is not used to the whole process. He booked the flights, organised an air B&B, planned and booked tickets for our excursions. It was very organised, and I did not have to lift a finger. I had no idea where I was going until we had to check in at the airport. As it was, he had to reveal to me that we were flying somewhere as he had encountered a small problem when booking the airfare. Apparently, he had been doing really well with the plans until he had to produce the passports. He scrounged everywhere not knowing where I had stored them, luckily came across them and proceeded to enter the details. To his horror he discovered that my passport had expired. With great disappointment he had to tell me what was happening, with the hope that I could renew my passport quickly to avoid cancelling the whole idea.
He was so disappointed in having to tell me this and as happy as I was to find out about this surprise event, I was more concerned about what he was saying as I was positive my passport was in order. As the story unfolds’ we discovered he indeed had my passport, but it was an old one which had most definitely expired. What he did not know was that weeks earlier I had needed my passport to prove identity for something and had my current passport in my handbag. It was well and truly up to date and the catastrophe was averted. I know knew something but not everything, part of his surprise was still in a secret.
We headed off on the train to the airport when I finally discovered our destination as we checked in for the flight. Once seated he handed me the itinerary all neatly presented in a folder. I was so surprised and felt very special that he had managed to do this and keep it a secret. We could have been going to the next town and I would have been happy. The surprise was the doing.
So we arrived in Christchurch airport very late 12.30 am, picked up a hire car and headed to the city. Our accommodation was at the Heritage Hotel, Cathedral Square in the middle of downtown Christchurch. It is a grand and opulent building designed by Joseph Clark Maddison in 1909. It is a restored Italia High Renaissance palazzo style building. Originally designed to centralise various government departments. It opened in 1913 and housed those government departments until 1980. The building sat idle and was in threat of being demolished when it was purchased and resold in 1995 at which time it was converted into a hotel. It is now made up of fully self-contained apartments. Our particular air B&B was immaculately clean, modern but still with the heritage air about it. Luxuriously comfortable for our weeks stay. We had the next seven days to leisurely make our way around the city taking our time seeing the sites.
Walking around the city you are faced with both destruction and beauty. The massive effort from the locals to restore their city is very noticeable, as is the love exhibited in the beauty of the memorial wall built for those who lost their lives to the earthquake of 2011. Not only is Christchurch a wealth of heritage buildings and beautiful churches it is also a modern town with modern structures, plenty of eating and entertainment areas and at the same time it is quiet and peaceful wandering the streets.
The following day we visited the Botanical Gardens and the Mona Vale Gardens. Both of these gardens are in the city and very accessible. The Mona Vale Gardens show many flower varieties in full bloom and in plentiful supply. The grounds are in exemplary condition with a river running through the centre and a glorious house open to the public. After spending a couple of hours, wandering and photographing we headed back into the city to check out the Botanical Gardens. Equally as impressive. The grounds are extensive, with lots of grand old trees and the River Avon running through the centre. There is a stunning conservatory with a very intense display of a variety of flowers and plants and some very interesting Cacti. We had lunch in the gardens and wandered back to rest a little before our planned anniversary dinner that night. My legs and feet had survived a massive walking day and were looking forward to a relaxing evening.
It is the night of our anniversary and a special dinner has been organised by Ken. I did not know where the venue was so got ready assuming it would be an upmarket restaurant. I was told we would be picked up from inside the Mall at Cathedral Junction to be taken to our destination. To my surprise an elegant looking tram arrived and our name was called to join the other passengers. What a lovely treat. The tram had been converted to a fine dining restaurant which weaved its way in and around the city of Christchurch while serving a beautiful three course meal and matching wine. The service was impeccable and the food delectable. It is amazing how much of the city you are able to see without using ones legs. A happy relief on my part. We were not hurried and when we finished the tour we wandered across the road for a nightcap at the bar attached to our hotel before retiring to the luxury of our accommodation. It was a beautiful day and night.
It is day four, a Saturday and time to venture outside of the the CBD. We are heading to Akaroa to experience the only French settlement in NZ. It’s about a 90 minute drive from Christchurch . Akaroa is a small sleepy little village on the Banks Peninsula, a town deep in Maori and settler history. It is such a pretty place made up of holiday places, cafes, gift shops and the main wharf area. While we waited for our boat to arrive we sat with coffee on the boardwalk watching the cute little seagulls searching for handouts. They are totally different in their habits than the seagulls you will find on the coast of Australia. They have a distinct red beak and red feet. They seem to create their own little territory so that if another mate comes near their source of food they chase them away. Quite cute to watch. The boat arrives to start our two and half journey around the waters of the Banks Peninsula. It was overcast and quite cool but even though a little disappointing that the sun had not joined us we were rugged up and ready to go. The water is calm, the surroundings are magical and once we were underway and out of the bay area we were escorted by a couple of playful dolphins. Always a joy to watch. The next thing that caught my eye was the brilliance of the water with bright turquoise and green tones lapping against the rocks. There are several water falls cascading down the green hillsides surrounding us. A little further on we approached an inlet where the boat sat quiet so we could watch the many seals sunbathing in various precarious positions on the rock ledges. They were surrounded by several different species of birds. Our guide was informative and as we were part of a small group we were able to see and experience everything close hand. We both enjoyed ourselves immensely. On our return we wandered through the village checking out the many souvenirs on offer and settling down at one of the cafes for lunch. Before heading back to Christchurch we visited the Lighthouse and the Garden of Tane.
Sunday arrived and we were tired but relaxed. Time to use our very relaxed limbs and have a bit of a stroll through the alpine mountain pass called Arthurs Pass. A haven for walkers and skiers. We headed off early to the visitors centre. It is about a two hour drive from Christchurch. We had travelled across the magnificent Otira Gorge in a camper-van many years ago and more recently in the Tranz-alpine Train. It is the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps.The views were to say the least stunning on both occasions and we would both recommend the trip to everyone. I am sure I will be mentioning it in a future travel blog. For now, on this day we travelled by car with the intent of walking one of the many tracks near the village centre. Initially passing the village we headed up to the Otira Viaduct lookout which gives a great view of an ingenious piece of engineering involving bridges, viaducts, rock shelters and guided waterfalls. Photo’s do not do it justice. If you are lucky you will see a beautiful bird called the Kea known as the naughty alpine Parrot. There are many videos on the internet showing its level intelligence and its playful habits. We were thrilled to have one walk by very close to us. Certainly he was not afraid of us.
We then headed back to the visitors centre. Once there you have the option of several walks. We chose the Devils Punchbowl walking track which starts at the northern end of the village. It is only 2km return trip with easy walking. You will cross the river by footbridge and then wander for a while passing many Beech trees, listening to the chatter of the many birds. You then come across a fairly steep set of stairs heading upwards for around 150 meters. At the top you reach a platform to view the falls in all their glory. Absolutely stunning and very accessible. We took our time climbing around the waterfall, photographing and enjoying it’s many aspects and then wandered back slowly. The weather was not great for walking or photography so we decided to take our time looking at the surrounding area, namely the Cave Stream Scenic Reserve. We chose not to walk through the cave due to the rain. Hopefully we will get to do this another trip. As the road follows the Waimakariri river back down to the golden tussock covered lands at the foothills you will come across Castle HIll. Take the time to stop and wander across to look closer at the massive array of boulders dotting the landscape. Surrounded by hills and mountains it is quite a majestic scene. We stopped at a roadside hotel for lunch and then headed back to Christchurch to wander a little more through the shops of Christchurch. Ending the night at an Irish pub called The Bog which had a great atmosphere led by a very lively Irish band.
The second last day of our trip we took a drive to Lake Tekapo, Good Shephard Church and Mount Johns observatory (The token Observatory visit ). Lake Tekapo’s bright blue waters set against the contrasting green lands with snow topped mountains rising in the background is a very relaxing scene. We have had the pleasure of witnessing it when the sun was shining brightly helping to capture its natural beauty. Today was overcast and certainly not as beautiful but we were blessed with a stillness in the air. A place to sit and ponder ones thoughts in peace with only the occasional bleating of the sheep to break the silence.
A short visit to the University of Canterbury Mount John Observatory. Situated 1029 meters and overlooks Lake Tekapo. The clear skies and low levels of local light pollution have helped put the observatory on the international map with observations and discoveries of the southern sky. The dome houses a 1.8 prime focus reflector being the largest telescope in New Zealand. Visiting during daylight presents you with a great view of Lake Tekapo and the surrounding farmlands. An iconic landmark at Lake Tekapl is the Church of the Good Shephard. Easily found sitting on the foreshore flanked by glorious pink, purple, yellow and white lupins. These are an introduced flora species to New Zealand and considered invasive. Having said that they are also a very attractive tourist asset. Being there at the end of November was just at the start of the season. They were sparser then we have seen before but together with the yellow gold of the tussocks spotted throughout it was a beautiful scene. The Church itself was built in 1935 with the instruction that the site was to be left undisturbed. Close by is a bronze sheepdog statue, erected in 1968 being a tribute to the sheepdogs used in developing the farmlands in the Mackenzie region. Heading back along the state highway 79 we stopped for a coffee at a tiny place called Three Creeks. You will see from the photos a sign on the store says “Lost in the 50’s ” So true and so quaint. Many hours could be lost just rummaging through the amazing piles of stuff. Well worth stopping. The road takes us now through the continuing beauty that is the South Island. We detoured a little to drive via Mt Hutt. The town is nestled in a small valley surrounded by mountains. A very popular ski area and a thoroughly serene and picturesque place to drive through in the summer months. Then a pleasant drive through the outer suburbs of Christchurch and a wander around the city before settling down for dinner and a glass of wine to end the day.
The last day but definitely not the least. We started off early heading up the east coast to the Kaikouri Peninsula. Again another easy beautiful 180 km drive through the green hills, farmland and then hugging the coastline watching the waves crash on the rocks.
The roadworks nearer to Kaikouri were intense due to much damage from the earthqake. It was not a bother and actually pleasing to see the improvements under way. Arriving in the small seaside town we parked and headed to where the seals were lounging around claiming the rocks as home. One old fellow who was very large had claimed his spot under the seat on the side of the road totally oblivious to the humans nearby. Those who had taken up residence on the rocks closer to the shore would let you know when you were too close by emitting a low guttural roar. Scary enough to make one take heed and move on. The birds are in abundance and great to watch as they soar through the sky, swim in the ocean or waddle across the rocks. We decided to take a walk up to the point where the Ocean meets the Forest. A taxing walk uphill but paved, making it a little easier. Worth the trip as it is quite exhilarating at the top where the view of the mountains, the birdlife and the surrounding bushland blend together naturally. Really glad I made the effort. It was drizzling rain some of the way but it added to the experience. We made sure we headed over to the town for some fish and chips. After eating and wandering around the shops and the shoreline we made our way to our next destination, Hanmer Springs. This part of our trip was a total surprise to me. Going to a spa is something I have done before but only in a closed-in resort style spa and sauna. This was an outdoor spa which Ken had investigated and had on the itinerary. It was not something we would normally do. So the town on Hanmer springs is all about relaxation. There is accommodation, many outdoor activities, food, alcohol and thermal pools. We headed to the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools right in the centre of the town. Changed into our costumes and ventured into the first spa. It was raining lightly and just 10 degrees, so we agreed if not comfortable we would not stay long. Several hours later after trying out the many pools available we had to drag ourselves away. The pools were all different heat levels and had different specialties. Some were very hot with no activity needed, others not as warm but with jets hitting you on various parts of the body, bringing alive muscles which had been asleep for some time. Each pool had its own appeal. It was so relaxing, so indulgent and very invigorating.The light rain added to the experience. It is something that will now be added to our future trips whenever possible. It was time to leave and head back to our temporary home for one more night. The drive back mid to late afternoon took us through the Balmoral Forest and across the Jurunui River. Passing farms, rich with crops, vineyards and olive groves which the Waipara region is known for and the continuous rolling green hills of the South Island. The last part of the journey returns to the beaches of Amberley, Waikuku and Woodend. Such a beautiful day to end our time in the South Island. We finished the night with a lovely dinner and drinks at the hotel restaurant. Packed up for an early flight the next day. It will be a holiday I think we will both remember for a long time and my wonderful hubby deserves more than full marks for his effort.