Just over a week ago we go back from our first experience on the South Island. Even though the majority of New Zealand’s populace is on the North Island, the South boasts the greater land mass and hosts some spectacular natural wonders.
Catching Pals from Home
One of the reasons we ended up booking our Christchurch flights initially, was because a dear friend and former roommate of mine, Hannah was planning a snowboard trip and we were hoping to meet up. Hannah’s been working on her PHD in Tasmania and we hadn’t seen her since her going away party in Calgary about 6 months ago!
Hannah’s dates had to shift a bit, but we were so thrilled to be able to have a good, full day exploring together before she headed back for a conference in Hobart.
After a long drive to the airport from Papamoa, a flight, figuring out this weird manual-automatic combo offered by our rental car, weaving our way to our airbnb, and an over-complicated time trying to sort out the wifi situation for Joel’s early-morning business call the next day- everyone was pretty wiped.
We met up with Hannah and tried to catch a later dinner (which in NZ, we’ve found is pretty iffy after 8pm, let alone, 9pm-which is what we were searching for) with no avail… we were left with Maccas, a slightly depressing, yet grateful-for-any-sustenance option.
Our First Glimpse
Having arrived late on Tuesday evening, we hadn’t yet seen Christchurch- we didn’t know how to orient ourselves or what the city looked like. We had heard a lot about the re-building process after several massive earthquakes that rocked the city just a few years ago, but the sight introduced by the morning light was still a shock.
Our plan for the day was to head out of the city, but thought it would be a shame to leave without at least a taste of our surroundings. We wandered our quiet neighbourhood a bit and took in the quaint buildings in every direction before moving on toward the CBD.
We parked alongside Cathedral Square, and were immediately greeted by the huge restoration project in process. The Christchurch Cathedral is a once-magnificent structure that often had crowds and city events bustling outside its doors, and despite having been through numerous quakes throughout its 100+ years of existence, the sequence of earthquakes five years ago proved especially destructive.
Repair had initially begun after the September, 2010 shock, but has since halted as at least three other earthquakes since have caused its spire and tower to crumble leaving little money or structural strength left to build on.
Everywhere you look in the CBD there’s either destruction or construction. Roads are diverted in every direction and buildings are either left as they await evaluation, in a state of demolition or attempting to be pieced back together. It’s a remarkable sight.
Despite the awful reality of what that city has faced, there’s a beautiful sense of pride and hope left still. Street art is everywhere- graffiti fills countless walls all through the city, and even more permanent public art works have been established- seemingly to boost morale amongst such haunting memories.
This hope through colour, art and innovation is seen again at the Re:Start mall in the city centre. Established as a response to the February, 2011 earthquake that left few usable buildings, including most of the city’s downtown shopping area, Re:Start was a temporary solution to a city in need.
The mall is built using heaps of colourful shipping containers, linked together and built in a town-centre style with loads of interesting shops and food stalls. We took some time to wander and grab some fuel for our day.
Our first taste of the city itself was eyeopening, yet short and sweet. With a little fuel for our day and a renewed collection of conversation topics, we left the CBD and headed for the Southern Alps.
Alps, Spas and Togs
Something the whole big group was eager to see was Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools. We piled in our weird little rental car and headed ninety minutes North of the city to soak for a few hours.
The drive reminded us all of Alberta. Stretches of beautiful farm land that all leads up to the snow-capped peaks of rocky mounts. I figured if I were to live here long-term, I’d have to book a few trips South for my fix of home.
The pools were really impressive, about a dozen different hot tubs to choose from- sulphur pools, spas with jets, and a variety of temperatures awaited us. We had a beautiful, sunshiney day to wander from pool to pool and thoroughly enjoyed the time to catch up.
We grabbed another mid-day snack at Hanmer Springs, and headed back to the city to drop Hannah off for her evening flight back to Aus. We shared just a little time together, but it’s always so sweet to spend time with great people- thanks for hangin’ out, Hannah!
The Alpine Call
Touring the city wasn’t our strong-suit for the first couple days.
We had checked out some weather conditions, and having already decided on a collective hatred for our rental car… we chose to do our mountain pass drive with optimal weather conditions (we also reluctantly concluded that an attempt to ski would result in certain death as we all envisioned ourselves strapped in our little tin-can car toppling down a rocky cliff-face), and headed inland the next day to check out Arthur’s Pass and the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls (a Pinterest location both Stacey and I had flagged in our research).
Although our destination was spectacular, we loved drinking in the beauty along the highway, too. The first stop was Castle Rocks- an unusual roadside attraction with wonderful rock formations along rolling hills. We had to stop for a quick wander en route (to take a million pictures).
We eventually found our way to the car park and caught our first look of the magnificent Punchbowl falls! Although… it didn’t take long before we were more distracted by a kea bird that was nabbing snacks from tourists nearby.
We climbed for a a short while amongst majestic trees and lovely views to the falls look out. Impressive, but we went beyond to get as close to the falls as we could. We had a blast climbing up rocks and skipping over streams, but a picture is worth a thousand words… so here are 18 000 words (thanks to Stacey for our fab little portrait at the bottom):
Really cool. We loved the Devil’s Punchbowl Falls, largely due to their secluded nature- the weather was still cool enough that we didn’t see many other tourist, and we just had the freedom to explore and do our own thing. Love it!
We made a quick pit-stop in Arthur’s Pass on the way back to the city, and learned a bit about the many (often illusive) native birds that are found in the area. Including the mighty kea- it’s a bit of a problem in the area, but I’m sure it’s partly due to the kea’s adaptability- nabbing snacks from restaurant goers as well its adapted taste for bits of car (antenna, the rubber lining around doors, etc.).
We think this kiwi parrot is pretty cool!
Springfield had an unexpected treasure as we headed back to the city. We slammed on the brakes (which a lovely older lady decided to submit a criticism about) to be sure and not miss our photo op with this marvellous donut!
Our day trip rounded itself out with a fun stop for mini golf (where the course cat followed us around and attacked Joel’s ball having just putted) and a fabulous Mexican feast at Mexicano’s- delish!
Early Friday morning we awoke to a blast of texts informing us of a couple exciting developments- the first being concern over a 7.1 earthquake that was recorded off the east coast of the North Island (big rating, but many in our area didn’t even feel the shake), the other was the standby notice that our niece was on her way!!!
Our Friday could not have been better as we officially became auntie Courtney and uncle Joel. She was born on our Sept. 2, but truly the 1st of September- we share birthday months 🙂 so sweet, so special.
The distance between us and home felt a little further that day, but we travel on!
With our hearts full of baby love and our bellies full of toasties and coffee, we hit the countryside again!
We headed North once more, but stuck to the coast to check out a couple of recommended spots- a confusing trek to see the Cathedrals at Gore Bay (where I had read there’s a great little walk with a ‘well-marked’ pathway, but really we just got hangry from looking and took a picture from the observation nook on the side of the road instead), and a gem of a spot- Kaikoura.
Once the fog of confusion lifted about our would-be hike in Gore Bay (even though the look-out ended up really being worthwhile), we continued North toward our final destination. Joel’s parents had visited Kaikoura and suggested we make a stop if we found ourselves in the area. We’re so. grateful. we did!
Our first stop in the area was at the Ohau Stream Waterfall just past the town centre. The waterfall is quite pretty itself, but the truly awesome thing is that after a 10 mins walk in from the main highway there are a bunch of little seal pups that use the seclusion of the waterfall to hone their swimming skills before venturing into the wild oceans where sharks and orcas threaten their wellbeing. At certain times of the year, you can see hundreds of pups. We saw about 10… and it was awesome.
From the falls, we crossed over to see the adult seals hanging out in the open ocean. If you look closely you can see dozens of little brown blobs along the shore- seals, loads of seals! We sat for a while watching them swim and bask in the afternoon warmth while listening to the heavy rocks on the beach clack together with the returning tide.
Not only did Kaikoura have some sweet as wildlife to gawk at, but it had some stunning views of the alps. Much of the farmland surrounding Christchurch reminded me of home, but it really was amazing to see the mighty mountains right next to lovely rolling hills and the gorgeous aqua sea.
What a lovely, lovely day trip. After a bit of a hustle and a fascinating podcast we were back in the city for some cider and bangers & mash. Cool.
Saturday was our last forecasted day of warmth during our stay on the South Island, so we took advantage. Joel had done some research for us and was our tour guide for the day.
We ventured toward the Banks Peninsula and set out to explore the beyond charming, Akaroa- a town that’s nestled amongst lush inlets which provide beautiful, tranquil, turquoise water and the most quaint little village centre you’ve ever seen.
We strolled in and out of precious shops and stopped for some lunch at a little cafe with a generous patio before treating ourselves to some fudge and souvenirs.
Once we had thoroughly taken in the village, we decided to check out a couple more spots before heading back to the city. We first went to the cute little light house on the far end of town and eventually made our way to the other side of Bay Peninsula.
On a whim, we decided to race the sun and see if we could take in more of the peninsula; we ended up experiencing some pretty intense roads along the way. Thankfully the road we wound up and down on wasn’t busy, but it was very high… and largely guardrail-less. Thankfully, Brandon had our little rental Fiat under control and was able to tour us around without incident- and bonus, the views were spectacular.
We made our way over to Okains Bay which had… well, a whole lot of nothing. BUT the journey ended up being an adventure and we were able to see something new 🙂
Supposedly there’s a very interesting museum there- but it was closing by the time we rolled in. We jetted outta there with some photos and a mission for sushi supper (which was delish, by the way).
Sunday Funday (as they say)
Sunday was our last full day on the South Island, and we figured it really was time to settle into Christchurch- learning a little more about this recovering city.
I love brunch. This is no secret, and something I always try to do (at least once) while in a new city is find a killer brunch restaurant and indulge. SO, that’s what we did. I read a few reviews, and we set out toward Black Betty. We were not disappointed.
We were lucky with our timing and were able to split our group as some stood in line to order and others snagged a table right before the place burst at its seams!
Great coffee, inventive menu items AND glorious gluten free treats for Stace. Joel’s French toast was lovely and balanced in flavour, and my crumpet French toast was pretty much heaven on earth- bacon, grilled banana, pecans…yum.
As we headed toward our next, Riccarton Market, destination (a massive market with every kind of vendor and more than 300 stalls) we ran into this glorious ice cream and definitely needed a picture- just one example of the awesome street art scene in the city.
We were freezing, so the market was a quick stop. We were there long enough to buy some handmade soap and Stace nabbed a really cool antique bottle.
Our day continued with several little stops and a chance to learn more about the city. From the market we stopped at a grand Kiwi bushman institution- Swanndri. Established in New Zealand over a hundred years ago, we had heard of the company, but had yet to visit a store. So we did. Joel bought a souvenir (and whatta sharp one it is).
A quick re-charge was necessary before moving onward into the CBD. Macarons were the key- we even found a burgeron (burger-lookin’ macaron 😛 )
Anytime we’ve checked out a GeoNet website it’s been made clear how often New Zealand experiences an earthquake (whether felt or not), and Christchurch/Canterbury is no exception. Christchurch has a major fault line essentially running through its middle. There’s constant movement and the city (well, country really) seems quite used to feeling the shakes. Between 2010 and 2011, however, there were a sequence of devastating tremors that rocked the city and changed it forever.
At the beginning of this post I shared a picture of the Cathedral, well- even though it was the location of many city events, it was also a working place of worship. So when the church was wrecked in the quakes they were eager to have a sanctuary yet again- which resulted in some unusual materials used to quickly get back on their feet. Therefore the cardboard cathedral was erected.
The church is an impressive little structure designed to last about 50 years with the hope that by the time it’s no longer structurally relevant, another, more permanent cathedral will be ready for use- built again in Cathedral Square.
The sanctuary is highlighted by beautiful columns of cardboard and light. The massive coloured glass window actually has images printed on it from the magnificent stained glass rose window that was in the original cathedral (the original was destroyed by a retaining wall that pushed against it in a quake. The wall was intended to save the window after the first structural instability of the church during one of the first quakes).
A very cool spot to visit, and we were treated to some stories from a volunteer inside the church- letting us into the humour that’s used now, aiding in the surviving spirit of the area.
We were able to see more public artwork yet. This suspended sculpture lives in the park across from the cathedral and just behind the church there’s a powerful installation, “185 Empty White Chairs” which is dedicated to the victims of the quakes.
Each person who lost their life in the natural disaster is represented by an empty chair and visitors are encouraged to choose a seat that speaks to them to sit and reflect. Amazing to have such a memorial and to have seen it.
As most things in the city at the moment… the installation is temporary.
The rest of our afternoon was spent in the CBD, and finally at ‘Quake City’ which is a museum set up right near the Re:Start mall which tells the city’s story. The museum takes you through stories of survival and strength in an unbelievably tough time.
We were a bit reluctant to go, but also eager to know more of what makes Christchurch the city is it today. We weren’t disappointed and beyond the tragedy, Quake City really leaves you with the sense of hope and resilience the people of Christchurch seem to have as they continue to grow and rebuild.
We had such a full experience in Christchurch and area, and were blessed (as always) to share that time with such wonderful friends! We had time to rest Sunday evening, walked to a great Italian restaurant for a NZ’s Father’s Day dinner and rested up for our return trek the next day.
Thanks for showing us so very much, Canterbury!