Good afternoon from Christchurch, New Zealand! We have been here on the southern island for five days and are enjoying every minute of it. As of today, we are 18 hours ahead of Kansas City time but on Sunday we’ll fall back an hour since it’s daylight savings time. Yes, we fall back because they just entered autumn here! It seems that Matt and I missed out on spring entirely this year which is a bit of a bummer, but the weather here is gorgeous so I can’t complain. It’s been averaging 70F during the day and 55F at night, with low humidity and not much rain. Perfect hiking weather, sitting outside with a book or leaving your window open for a breeze.
Everything about New Zealand seems to be benevolent: the weather, the people, even the wildlife! Unlike their closest neighbor Australia, New Zealand has very little in nature that can kill you. There are no large predators (like bears or mountain lions), no poisonous snakes, and only three spiders you have to worry about, but even those aren’t fatal. In fact, two of those spiders were accidentally introduced from Australia, a land where EVERYTHING wants to kill you. New Zealand is also one of the safest and least corrupt countries in the world. Its weather in most of their cities isn’t as extreme as back home, and yet if you want to venture out to the more extreme locations, you can climb glaciers, go skiing, see penguins in the wild, and visit a rainforest here. Oh, and they also have beaches. It’s also ridiculously remote, because it’s very clear upon arrival that no one goes through New Zealand to connect to somewhere else. It’s the final destination for all travelers that come here, unless they connect by boat to Antarctic research stations. I realized *how* remote we were when I looked up the distance between Kansas City and Christchurch and realized it was about 8,100 miles! The only downside of Christchurch is the seismic activity of late. I’ll talk about that in another post, as there’s a lot to say about it and not a day goes by that we don’t hear someone talking about the impacts of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, much of which is still visible to this day. That said, everyone was willing to help each other out before but the earthquakes and subsequent rebuilding just brought them closer together. The people here are incredibly kind and generous and everyone we met hasn’t hesitated to help us or give us advice. Matt encountered that first hand when he went to buy a car.
Side note: yes we bought a car! The Asian import market is really strong here since it’s basically impossible to keep a car in Japan after it’s about 3 years old due to lobbying interests from auto companies, so Australia and New Zealand get all of Japan’s used cars. The backpackers that come to NZ find having a car is easiest to get around (imagine wanting to travel around the cooler parts of Wyoming or Montana for a couple months and not having a car – it’d be impossible. Same deal here) so they buy cheap old cars for $1500 or less, drive them for a few months, and then sell them to another backpacker. Combine that with a convenient short term liability car insurance that costs very little, and a really simple car registration process (no DMV! yes!) and all of the sudden it would be stupid to do anything else. Even if we can’t manage to sell our car and have to leave it behind, we will still get out with gas, insurance, registration and car purchase for about $17/day while we are here. Totally worth it in my opinion, given the freedom and mobility that that affords us and the lack of other good options (their rail system is expensive and not as comprehensive as countries like Japan or France). . We can use our Missouri drivers licenses as long as they aren’t expired. We just have to know the rules of the road. The major differences: they drive on the LEFT side, they can’t turn on red, and they are not allowed to use phones at all while driving. It felt like I was 16 again at first as I made a few mistakes of going the wrong way on a road, but we’re catching on quickly enough and it’s less and less stressful to drive. End side note.
So, we bought a 1997 Daewoo that we named Penelope with only 100,000 miles on it, and when Matt went to go buy it from the American backpacker named Colin on his gap year before he entered med school, he introduced Matt to his hosts. Colin has been here for 5 months and a while back he was stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire and a couple pulled up and offered him a hand. They invited him to live in their spare bedroom for a couple months for free, and he’s since been living with them to finish out his time here – in between road trips that is. When the hosts met Matt, they immediately asked him to stay for lunch, and told him he should bring me by sometime to say hi.
The first week here we’ve been staying in an AirBnb since we wanted to have time to settle in and find a car, and tonight we’ll take over at our first housesit here. The housesit lasts for all of April, and we’ll be watching over two really sweet Jack Russell terriers. The AirBnB hosts have been fantastic, and made us feel right at home. We had an entire wing of the house with our own bathroom and office and use of their washing machine, along with a separate entrance into their beautiful backyard. They have a pet chicken with a big personality named Queenie, and a sweet puppy named Billy. Queenie likes being up high away from exuberant Billy, so sometimes she’ll just decide to jump up on your knee or shoulder.
Christchurch isn’t that large (only 400,000 people) and has adequate public transit with their bus system so if you stayed within the city you wouldn’t need a car. There’s also plenty of great day trips nearby with booked tours you can get.
We have been on two hikes so far, and with so many just 20 – 30 minutes outside of downtown it’s hard to say no to a lovely trek along a canyon rim or next to the ocean. The first was the Canyon Rim trail along Governor’s Bay. This was the second day we were in Christchurch, and despite being really jetlagged, I wanted to get out and get into nature. There was a Meetup group doing an easy 3 hour hike to the Sign of the Bellbird, one of several rest stops that were built over a hundred years ago for carriages to stop as they traversed the mountain pass. It burned down a long time ago but holds a great view along the ridge, overlooking the bay on one side and the valley of Christchurch on the other. I had a stupid grin on my face the entire time, as we passed amazing view after amazing view, climbing stairs to pass over farmers’ pasture fences, and picking nectarines, apples and blackberries from wild bushes and trees. I talked with the other hikers, who were from New Zealand, India, Italy and the UK, and learned about the flowers and birds we were passing.
The second hike was one that Matt and I did together, starting at Taylor’s Mistake (a bay where a captain got confused and ran aground in the wrong spot). This is one bay over from Governor’s Bay. As we hiked up we saw surfers taking advantage of great waves down below and some hang gliders above us. Everyone here seems to have an outdoors sport they love, but no one’s snobby about it.
Can you tell that we love it here? 🙂
Categories: New Zealand