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New Zealand

April & May 2003



April 1- 18



April 19 - May 13

Christchurch to Picton
































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April 1 – 18

We packed up our gear in the rain and headed to the Atomic Shuttle pickup. We were lucky enough when the bus driver got all of our gear on the bus without speaking what was on his mind. Everyone said the drive to Christchurch is straight and boring, but it didn’t look that way to us. Lots of trees and fields and sheep and not totally straight. We got off across from Cathedral Square, reassembled our packs and pushed off to find Foley Towers Backpackers. Larry’s trailer pole is cracked, so it is a good place to be. We are in a little motel type room at Foley’s. Most backpackers are big hotel type buildings. This one is 2 old Victorian homes with big courtyards and one story units lining the perimeter. We have our own bathroom and use the communal kitchen. Our bikes are in the Bike Shed. And they sell muffins every day for $1. A new flavor each day so far. Ciara and Barry who work in the office are from County Cork Ireland. Lovely …

We spend our days walking the Cathedral Square and the Botanic Gardens. There’s always something fun going on. Lots of food carts and entertainment on the Square. The Wizard is just back from a few weeks in Tasmania. Lucky for us we got to see him. Climbed the 134 steps to the Church Tower. There’s a Market and International Food Fare Sat/Suns at the Arts Center in the former Canterbury College near the Gardens. Dux de Lux is a good Brewpub there too and we enjoy a pitcher and the performing musicians. The Avon River meanders thru the city and we enjoy the Punters taking the tourists for a ride. There were lots of bridal parties in the boats and at the Gardens Saturday for photos. This would be a good city to be retired in. Always good places to walk and something going on. We took a bus to Sumner, a Christchurch area on the sea. The beach is spectacular. That would be a good place to spend a summer. Christchurch has a diverse population so there are lots of Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Greek and Turkish restaurants and food carts. Yummmmy. It is Fall now and turning colder, but some afternoons are hot and lovely.

We took the Lyttleton bus and toured the Lyttleton harbor area and TimeBall Station for a few hours. The TimeBall drops at 1pm each day. Used to drop at exactly 1pm GMT allowing ships in the harbour to set their clocks and thereby accurately calculate longitude. A pint at the Irish Bar .. then we missed the usual 2pm lunch end. The Hotel was not serving. The barkeep at the Rat and Roach Pub sent us to a little bakery where we had great sandwiches, dessert and tea for $10. Then we took the bus back thru the tunnel and got off and rode the Gondola. It costs $2 for the bus and you can transfer once within 4 hours. AND .. you can get back on the same bus .. it doesn’t have to be a transfer to another route. This is a great country!!! The day was supposed to be warm and fine, but it was really windy and cold at the top. Maybe it always is. We walked around and waited inside til nightfall so we could see Christchurch all lit up. It was too windy to get decent pictures.

Wednesday we bussed back to Sumner and met and had lunch with Candi and Tom Green, parents of Shoshanna Hill who worked with Larry at WHA in Madison. They emigrated 6 years ago from Pennsylvania and love it here. We had a nice lunch and visit at On The Beach Pub, visited Tom’s production studio in a wonderful condo unit across from that beach we love, then Candi drove us to Lyttleton to see the house they just moved to in January. It overlooks the harbor and Banks Peninsula and has wonderful views and is a grand old home nicely redone. They dropped us off in time for me to get to my 5pm appointment for a root canal. Ouch!!

Thursday Kathy & Viv Hargreaves picked us up and took us to their lovely home for tea. We met them at Blind Billy’s Holiday Park in Middlemarch in late February. We had a great dinner and wonderful visit. Thanks Kathy & Viv.

We visited a bike shop down the street and the guy had a piece of pipe to fit over Larry’s broken trailer part and drilled a new hole through, all for $10. We’re getting mine done too .. just in case. Our $5 camp chairs are falling apart too and we needed some vinyl hosing to fix it. A place we stopped in directed us to Para Rubber near the Square, so we’re all fixed up. Businesses are very specialized here, but someone is always willing to point us in the right direction.

It is now Easter weekend and Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays, as well as Anzac Day on April 25. So most businesses are closed and some closed all next week as schools are on holiday. We will meet the Greens for breakfast on Easter, then go to the Cathedral with them. There is a big rugby game today .. Good Friday .. and bars must stop serving drinks from 10:30pm til Midnight. It is a big furor. It is raining again and looks like it’ll be a cold gloomy weekend. Too bad .. because most Kiwis are traveling somewhere for a holiday week/weekend.

We have tickets to see some Irish singers Wed night, then will rent a car on Thursday and travel to Hanmer Springs to soak in hot thermal pools, maybe drive Arthur’s Pass if it doesn’t look like snow, then a few days on Banks Peninsula before we come back to have my root canal completed. Then up to Picton, drop off the car and take the ferry back to Wellington in May before we fly to Auckland, Sydney and Cairns and find a nice hot beach for a few months.

Happy Birthday to our Webstress Deirdre .. and to friends Mary Zmeskal Tighe, Diane Gerl Sedlacek and Barb Sheehy.


April 19 – May 13

 Well .. we did all the above and it was all great.  Easter was sunny and we enjoyed the Anglican Service at the Cathedral.  One more round of the Arts Center Market and some Czech food.  Monday we bussed out to Brighton and took a look around and walked the new pier there and a bit of the beach.  Later that week we (meaning Larry) packed up the bikes and Thursday a guy from Shoestring Car Rental picked us up with our rental car.  We ordered a station wagon, but the renters kept it longer than expected, so we have a big old sedan.  Everything fits .. so all is well.


We drove to Hanmer Springs and didn’t go soak in the thermal pools that night in the rain .. which would have been great.  But we did go the next 2 days and it was soooo relaxing.  It’s a great tourist place summer and especially in the winter when there is skiing in the hills.  There are a whole range of pools you can use, from fresh water to sulpher and all temperature ranges.  And the whole town is surrounded by beautiful mountains and fall foliage.  We drove Arthur’s Pass, the highest over the Southern Alps, and spent the night at Lake Brunner .. which is a beautiful lake with lots of trout.  Back over the Pass the next day and to Akaroa on Banks Peninsula, an amazing peninsula outside Christchurch .. there is discussion happening about it being incorporated with or amalgamated by Christchurch .. since it is a playground for the Cantabrians.   The horseshoe shaped Peninsula was formed by volcanoe eruptions and there are high high sculpted mountains down to coast roads and Akaroa on a harbor on the inside.  Scary driving …


We had a wonderful room at a backpackers right on the main drag.  The next day we drove to 2 of the fringe bays.  There was mucho cloud covering the peaks and clear sunny weather when you dropped down to the bays.  We wanted to go to Le Bon Bay Backpackers because they include breakfast and cook a wonderful seafood/vegetarian dinner for $10, but they were all booked.  It was out in the middle of nowhere … not even on the water … and surprised us that it was full .. but Lonely Planet gives them a rave review.  We parked on a hill above Little Akaloa Bay and “Bob” was outside his house and led us through a sheep field to get better views.  He suggested that we visit the church there too, as the builder did wonderful wood and stone carvings.  It is a beautiful little church and always open.  We tried the French Winery for lunch and a tour, but it is closed for a few weeks.


We thought about driving in from Akaroa early Thursday for my root canal appointment, but instead left a day early and drove from Akaroa to Diamond Harbor, then Lyttleton along beautiful coast roads.  Lunch at a great little bakery in Lyttleton, then up and drove Summit Road above Christchurch, that we saw when we rode the Gondola weeks back.  It is a spectacular view with lots of bikers and joggers and trampers and even rock climbers.  NZ’ers do get out and enjoy their beautiful country often.  We drove out Godley Head Road where we were disappointed that no parasailors were out that day .. but it was pretty calm.  We shared the space with free range cattle.  We spent the night at a great backpackers in Sumner.  It is a converted hotel with bar below .. all quite newly redone.  We had an opening onto a veranda on the second floor that is just off Main Street.  Wonderful pizza and beers and a walk along the beach topped off that day.  We still might spend some summer there.


Finished off the root canal, got groceries, had blood drawn.  My liver function ALT is now at 54, where 9-50 is normal.  It keeps coming down, so I’m going to declare myself healed from the damage done by the Hepatitis A I had in October .. and do some light drinking.  Yeahhhhh …   Then we headed off to Kaikoura, a whale watching spot.  We postponed other boat opportunities to see dolphins and such, to ride in Kaikoura.  But the cost is now $110 and the weather not grand, so we decided that we did our whale and dolphin seeing in Alaska and the San Juans .. and will save the $$$ for some boat adventure in Australia.  We passed through some fantastic mountain ranges getting to Kaikoura and regretted that it was too dark to appreciate the terrain.


On the way to Picton we detoured to Havelock for lunch and to retrace the Queen Charlotte Drive that was our first NZ biking adventure back in December.  It is amazing that we didn’t quit that first day.  It was a torturous ride and we’ve been remembering it as such because it was our first day.  Today we confirmed that it is just a torturous hilly beautiful ride. Good on us!!!


We turned in the car and now have a few days in Picton to reassemble the bikes and get ready to catch the ferry back to Wellington.  We took in a Mail Boat excursion of the Marlborough Sounds.  We picked the Tuesday run that had us at the docks at 10 a.m. and returned us to Havelock by 5 p.m.  and van return to Picton .. again via the Queen Charlotte Road.  It’s like an adventure ride when a Kiwi drives it.  Fast, curvy, scary.  The day was perfect .. a warm Fall day with not a cloud in the sky all day.  And just a few people on the boat.  What a remote life the people lead that we delivered mail and supplies to!!  And we saw lots of mussel farms.  They bring mussels from the top of the North Island and plant and anchor them below black floats .. then wait 18 months for them to grow, and harvest them.  It’s a great NZ export product .. suffering at the moment because of the Iraq war and the SARS virus because people aren’t eating out as much.  A few young school girls interviewed us for a school project just before we took off in the morning.  We had nice chats with 2 Auckland fellows and later with an Auckland couple, originally from Scotland who lived in Canada for awhile. 


In Wellington we’ll get ready to fly to Sydney and on to Cairns May 13 .. then head further north til we find a good settling place for a few weeks … hot sandy beaches.  Can’t wait.  And we’ll have a beer with Danielle that we met in Middlemarch in March. 


We have enjoyed our first retirement leg .. and love New Zealand.  It has wonderful campgrounds and backpackers with all sorts of accommodation options, full kitchens for many people to be cooking and cleaning up at the same time, and great ablution blocks with showers (usually free) and laundry facilities.  All prices are as listed and include GST.  No taxes tacked on.  The terrain is wonderful and varied … even the mountain ranges vary from all evergreen looking like Alaska to vine covered like Napa Valley to grazing land for sheep to scree and rock where it looks like nothing will grow.  Much land is Reserve land and available for tramping.  The Kiwi’s are friendly and there are sooo many foreigners to chat with.  We felt safe biking, especially on the West Coast, despite the fast drivers and many buses.  The roads are wider on the East Coast and have shoulders to ride on, but there are so many more big fast trucks that it wasn’t as pleasant.  New Zealand has long been thought of as the place with many more sheep than people, but that is changing.  Cattle ranchers are buying up the sheep stations and farming thousands of cows, milking 24 hours a day.  There is a big export market for powdered milk.  And of course foreigners are buying up land and raising prices on real estate.  Shania Twain from the U.S. is buying a big sheep station outside Wanaka for $16million, it is rumored.  The coasts are wonderful and varied and the bird life abundant.  It was fun to see the penguins, albatross and seals and sealions.


The few downsides include the sand flies on the West Coast, lots of young drink drivers and boy racers speeding around at night, Bakery here means meat pies and sausage rolls and “slices” of sweets … few Danish’s and such though good carrot cake sometimes … and I did get addicted to the odd caramel slice, food in general is the same everywhere and a cheap dinner would be Fish & Chips for $15+ in a bar or restaurant (much cheaper at Take Away places), and half the toilets “wet themselves” when they flush, so you always have to check and wipe first.  More interesting food in better restaurants, but closer to $30 for a “main”.  Coffee is rarely “filtered”, usually instant, and costs $3 with no refills .. just a smallish teacup size.  You also choose from Long Black and Flat White along with the usual Cappacino, Latte, Espresso, etc.  Possums are everywhere, mostly dead on the roads.  They look like a cross between a squirrel, a cat and a ferret and are a menace, but now being used with wool for Possum Merino jumpers/sweaters and such.  They were one of those imports that seemed a good idea to someone at the time but turned out not to be.  Same with rabbits.  There was a great “Easter Bunny” hunt that saw thousands of rabbits killed Easter weekend.  You are supposed to swerve to hit any possum, then back over to make sure it’s dead.


The news of the day includes the recent death of Peter “Possum” Bourne, an international race car driver.  On Good Friday, he was checking out a road track that hosted a race the next day .. a windy dirt road outside Queenstown.  He was heading back down the road as a convoy of 12 other drivers doing the same was headed up.  Possum and the 11th vehicle collided and Possum suffered massive head injuries.  They pulled the plug 2 weeks later and he died.  Seems the whole country loved him.  He leaves a beautiful wife and 3 young children.  Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhh …..    Of course the Iraq war is a hot topic everywhere and Helen Clark, the Prime Minister, is always in hot water for her stand on it and her comments, such as that the war would not have happened if Al Gore was President.  She had to apologize to W. for that one, but it shows up in the paper EVERY day.  And SARS … Lots of foreign students come to New Zealand to study English so lots of Chinese come and what to do with those returning from school holiday?  And of course both are affecting tourism and exports.  One vineyard suffered during the war because it sells to US restaurants and people weren’t going out to eat  and to drink wine during the war.  There was little rain in the South Island this summer, so lakes are low and hydro scarce.  So an energy crisis looming for the winter and the poor and elderly will suffer.


So check back early June and there should be an Aussie report.  Til then ... G’day Mates.