NZ Road Trip: The Home Straight

Having arrived in Christchurch late afternoon, we ventured out in the evening to explore and find food. Walking into town via the Avon river we meandered into the centre and were surprised by the contrasts the city still has. On one end of the spectrum old quake-damaged buildings, covered in cracks, and held up by girders, and at the other end the modern replacements. It makes for an eclectic mix and is further complemented by the amazing graffiti and murals you find around the derelict edges where buildings once stood.

In the centre the Christchurch Cathedral stands as a reminder of the power of the quake, fenced off and supported by a number of struts the whole front end of the cathedral, as well as the tower, collapsed and the remains are still awaiting decision on their fate. The city tram trundles around the streets from pockets of eerie silence to busy hubs of activity, it really is a city of extremes. The Botanic gardens are a tranquil place to pass the time and you can even go punting on the river. We wandered the beautiful gardens here as we made our way out towards the memorial bridge and back into the city.

Hunting out food we had a look at New Regent Street a pretty, brightly coloured street full of restaurants and with the tram running right through it. Little high is another area, just opened, this food court style eatery was packed offering a whole plethora of flavours from around the world. We ended up in the nearby C1 contemporary arts space, a quirky take on a restaurant, some of the more interesting features included a water dispensing sewing machine, an automatic door disguised as a bookshelf, and the Harry Potter audio book playing in the toilets! The highlight for us though was the pneumatic tubes that delivered our sliders!

Returning to the Enchanted Cottage, our Airbnb, we stopped at the temporary memorial; 183 white chairs. These represent the victims of the 2011 earthquake and seeing them laid out is a sad and poignant reminder of the instability of New Zealand.

After Christchurch, we made our way West across Arthur’s Pass, a long and winding route through the alpine ranges. As we approached the pass the landscape reminded us of the Scottish Highlands, with plains rising to tussock covered hills draped in mist. We had a brief stop at Castle Hill, like the Elephant Rocks, the landscape here comprises of huge boulders dotted around. Some of these are as big as houses on the hillside, they make for some interesting exploring as well as offering great views down the valley but you would have to be pretty nuts to try climbing these ones.

As we drove deeper into the pass the mountains rose around us and the roads turned to ledges on the steep valley sides. Beautiful gorges, fed by waterfalls, and carrying rivers along their beds are surrounded by forest, and because of the time of year dotted with splashes of red from the flowering Southern Rata. As we approached the West coast the landscape levelled out once more to wide rivers and ocean.

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Having made a last-minute decision to change our route and head to Kaikoura we found ourselves heading back across the country from West to East a day after arriving, this time across the Lewis Pass. Starting out on long straight roads in the bottoms of the valley our route soon turned to a seemingly never-ending series of hairpins, grassy hills and valleys. Having set off early we were in Kaikoura by lunch time.

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Out on the Kaikoura Peninsula we headed along the cliff top coastal track from the rocky outcrops below. The views are stunning with rugged coastline, and mountain peaks rising from the sea in the distance. From the grassy clifftops, we could see the seals playing below and we walked along to the Shearwater colony before descending to the pebbly beach below.

As well as a hoard of nesting seagulls, there were loads of seals on the beach basking in the sun and playing in the rock pools. They clearly weren’t phased by all of us tourists stood around watching them, some were so well hidden behind rocks or in seaweed that you nearly bumped into them! We got about three metres away from a group and sat watching them go about their day before returning to the rocky outcrops, and heading into town.

Having been cut off from the rest of the country following the quake in 2016, Kaikoura is remarkably undamaged, and a great little place to spend a couple of days. Following an amazing lunch, at Slamclub, we were meant to be going on a whale watching tour. Unfortunately, following a big storm, that we caught the end of in Christchurch, the swell was still quite ferocious and certainly a bit too exciting to be venturing out in. It was quite disappointing but the sun was shining so we headed back to town instead.

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After wandering the shops, we headed back to our campsite which had beautiful views to the mountains. On our way, we spotted Emporium Brewing so decided to swing by for some tasters, they also had an excellent mini golf course so it would have been rude not to have a putt. It was a great little course and we had a closely contended 18 holes (…not that we’re competitive…) with Guy just pipping me by 5. Thankfully still friends, we headed back to the campsite for our last evening on the South Island.

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Our final day began with a rather rude awakening to the news that they had shut our road to Picton due to slips! This set off the fastest pack up of the roof tent in history (thank goodness, we had plenty of practice by now) and a long and convoluted drive back across the Lewis Pass, taking 6 hours instead of a leisurely 2! Luckily, having set the alarm for this exact scenario paid off and we arrived just in time to check in for our ferry.

It was a beautiful sunny day again for our ferry, the Marlborough sounds were glorious, as we headed back to the North Island. Arriving in Wellington, we headed out to Kapiti Beach in Waikanae where we would be staying for the night. We spent the evening on the black sand beach right behind our Airbnb. The sun set created lovely reflections in the wet ripples of black sand, and with views out to Kapiti Island this was an amazing end to our trip, before our long drive home the following day.

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