EPISODE 3: EVERYTHING IS FOUR HOURS AWAY


Panoramic View of Christchurch
Panoramic View of Christchurch from the Christchurch Gondola

BUT FIRST WELLINGTON FOR A DAY 10/21/2022 We opted for no car in Wellington, our last stop on the north island of New Zealand. Our Uber driver patiently searched for our Air B&B and eventually we found it - upstairs, inside the Cuba Mall atrium. After a slight miss-step wherein we discovered the promised elevator alternative to the steep stairs was not working, we settled in.

Author’s Note: We couldn’t help notice how low the door knobs were. Tom does not look happy about it, but it might have been that he had to carry our bags up the stairs. Our quick walk-about made us wish we had more time in Wellington. There were tons of things to do within walking distance and we had time for none of them: it was already too late to visit the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; too late to ride the Wellington Cable Car; too late to stray very far from the area where we’re staying.

Interior of Sweet Mother's Kitchen
Sweet Mother's Kitchen
Food

A restaurant called Sweet Mother’s Kitchen was on the recommended list in our Air B&B, so we walked there. The charmingly eclectic interior (and a few of the charmingly eclectic patrons) entertained us while we waited for dinner: lamb Yorkshire pudding for me and a burger and fries for Tom. Both were quite good.

Author’s Note: It was at this point that I realized my culinary education was lacking. I never really knew what Yorkshire pudding was. I thought it was, well, pudding, and therefore sweet. It turns out it’s a puffy, savory, soufflé-like pastry that works well as a base for meat dishes with gravy (especially lamb or beef). It’s almost like an alternative to a dinner roll. Next morning New Zealand Air welcomed us on board their plane to Christchurch, New Zealand: the south island. Great news for us, this airport is easy: no shoes off; no liquids/ounces limitations in any bag; no showing your passport or ID repeatedly. Just check in, get your boarding pass and get on the plane!

Christchurch Airport
Christchurch Airport

Our arrival in Christchurch was about fifteen minutes too late to pick up our car, but I expected that, so we were booked at the Novotel Christchurch Airport. Author’s Note: No taxi needed to Novotel! We just rolled our airport luggage

cart across the plaza to their front door. Dinner in the hotel was good: seafood chowder, dumplings, fish and chips and lamb.

Novotel
Novotel

In the U.S. Air Force in the late 90’s, Tom visited Christchurch in support of Operation Deep Freeze, resupply missions to Antarctica. He reports it’s one of his favorite cities in the world. Of course, that was before the devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. He hoped some recognizable landmarks remained. The first disappointment came in the airport. The water tower is no longer painted like a huge can of Canterbury Draught. Known as CD around Christchurch. In fact, the factory was damaged beyond repair in the earthquakes. Next morning on our way to the Christchurch International Antarctic Center Tom noticed an airman heading toward the United States Antarctic Program hanger.

United States Antarctic Program hanger.
United States Antarctic Program Hanger

Author’s Note: At least this building looked familiar. We chatted with the Master Sergeant but since it was Sunday no one else was around. We went ahead to the Antarctic Center and got our first glimpse of the little blue penguins.

Next we checked in at Hotel Give. Author’s Note: Hotel give is operated by the YMCA to support the Christchurch community with diverse programs and services.

Our room wasn’t ready so we wandered. We enjoyed a few dumplings, then hopped on the Christchurch Vintage Tram. We did a round trip which included some Christchurch art then headed back to Hotel Give.

Author’s Note: As we traveled around the city Tom looked for landmarks, but saw none. Finally he spotted the Christchurch Cathedral. Its façade was gone, but its shape was recognizable. Finally there are plans underway to restore it. The life-sized chess pieces are in storage waiting for their chessboard to be restored. But the All Blacks Club and Bar (run by the national New Zealand rugby team) is gone. The Brewer’s Arm, where you cooked your kangaroo on hot stone, is gone. Nothing else was recognizable. We could have hopped back on tram in search of a dinner spot, but we found a great restaurant named Duo right around the corner. We had some more (much better) dumplings. Author’s Note: Yes, this is beginning to look like the dumpling tour.

The next morning we began our four hour trek to our next stop: two nights in a “motel studio” at The Hermitage Hotel at Aorak/Mount Cook. The landscape changed as we drove from green rolling hills to stark steep mountains.

Once in our room, a paradise shelduck (or pūtakitakiin in Māori) tapped his beak on our sliding glass door. He tapped again. We opened the door and he just stood there…expectantly. I found some short bread (probably a terrible thing to give a duck) which he accepted, then joined us in our room. I worried that he would choke on the shortbread so I put a bowl of water out on the patio. He stepped out, washed his beak, apparently decided he’d milked us for everything he could get, and waddled off to the next room. We felt like we’d been conned by a professional. Next we decided to check the sofa bed to see if it was comfortable for sleeping. When we opened it we discovered mouse droppings. Lots of them. A call to management got us a serious upgrade on an upper floor in the new addition to the hotel and a much nicer view.

Aorak/Mount Cook in Sunset Glow

Author’s Note: The buffet dinner and breakfast were included, but unfortunately, although they had good ingredients, the food was generally sub-par. Our star-gazing expedition canceled due to overcast skies. Author’s Note: New Zealand has several “dark sky” locations where you can view the night sky without light pollution, including Poor Knight’s Island, but we were not able to visit any of them. However there are dark sky places all over the world. Learn more about it here: www.darksky.org

However, our boat ride to the Aorak/Mount Cook glacier proceeded as planned. Author’s Note: The “1.5km/25 minute alpine walk” proved challenging for me. The guide set a pace that was far faster than I expected and told me that if I couldn’t keep up I’d have to go back to the bus. They were quite irritated with me, but I made it and ate a six million year-old ice cube just like everyone else. Before we drove back to Christchurch we were going to visit Larnach Castle but it would have added five hours to our driving day, so it came off the list. We drove the four hours back to Christchurch to stay at the Hilton Chateau on the Park.

Author’s Note: This was by far the loveliest room so far. When we arrived, the gentleman at the desk informed that I had not one but three upgrades. Champagne awaited us in the room accompanied by a fruit and cheese plate. Our second floor balcony looked into the central garden where aroma from the eye-level camellia trees beside the balcony was intoxicating. I never felt more pampered. This was where I saw a Protea plant. I’ve seen them in the florist shop, but never growing in a garden.

BBQ dinner at Smokey T’s left us licking our fingers. Next morning we headed out on another four hour journey to the Pancake Rocks and the Truman Track. At one point we were stopped by a herd of sheep.

Author’s Note: On the way to Pancake Rocks I met an ancient woman coming out of the bathroom - excuse me the toilet - as I was going in. I said, “Hello.” As she passed me she asked, “Do ya think it’ll rain?”

I said, “Hopefully not much more than a sprinkle.” She looked off across the road and said, “ The trouble is, once it starts, it forgets to quit.” I swear she cursed us. It was dreary gray skies all the way to the Pancake Rocks.

Author’s Note: The Pancake Rocks were unlike anything I’ve ever seen but we were too late for the blow holes. The tide was out by the time we arrived.

Further down the road we walked the Truman Track to the stairs to beach.

Truman Beach
Truman Beach

Author’s Note: We got an overview of the beach but I voted it was enough: no stairs. So we turned back up the tack. As we completed Truman track and returned to the car, the skies opened up and poured rain. It suspended a bit when we stopped to eat at Kitchen in Hokitika, but it drenched us as we pulled and pushed our bags into our “Charming Ross Sunset Studio” at the Ross TOP 10 Holiday Park: our home for the night.

Ross Sunset Studio Apartment

Author’s Note: The Ross Sunset Studio Apartment is directly off the beach. It’s heavily planted so that no one can look into your quarters. Made out of a shipping container, floor to ceiling sliding doors faced the beach and the side entry. When I booked it, I pictured a romantic evening soaking in the outside tub watching the sunset. Instead we were wet, bedraggled and disappointed. We couldn’t sleep with the doors open to hear the surf because it was too frickin’ cold. In the morning it was still pouring raining and our “front yard” provided a pool where numerous birds were bathing. We ditched the stop at the Hokitiki Gorge: too much rain, and drove the four hours back to Christchurch to Sherborne Motor Lodge. We went to the Sun Dog for dinner. I got a Mac and Cheese sandwich and a Ch-ch-ch Cherry Bomb Milkshake that was so good we went back two days later for another.

Author’s Note: I told Tom we were going to The Sun Dog Diner to pray at the feet of the Sun Dog for better weather. No I didn’t read the weather forecast before we went!

Next day the weather improved substantially. We rode the Christchurch Gondola, admired the expansive vistas then went to Riverside Market for dinner. Author’s Note: Anyone who has been to the Columbus, Ohio North Market would understand when I say Riverside Market was like North Market on steroids. There were inside business and outside businesses; upstairs business and businesses that went down both sides of alleys. And they were selling every kind of food you can imagine and everything from fruits and vegetables to soap to honey to clothes…well you get., right? We took the Banks Peninsula off the list. Online pictures told us it was similar to other things we’d seen and it was close to a four hour trip away. We’d been in the car enough already.

Later we drove to the New Brighton Pier. The original pier was heavily damaged in a storm and demolished. The new pier was built in the same location as the old one and opened in November 1997. It’s 300 meters long (980 ft.) which makes it the longest pier in the New Zealand. The New Brighton library sits in front of the pier, but we were too late to go inside. It closed at 5:00 p.m.

Sunday, October 30, 2022 we checked out of Sherborne, ate breakfast at Sun Dog (so good we hated to leave) and visited the Christchurch Art Museum.

Author’s Note: Many museums in New Zealand are free. The message in big neon letters across the top of the Christchurch Museum attempts reassure a city devastated by earthquakes that “EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT.” I think we all need that reassurance at one time or another. On our way to return the car, Tom stopped at the Antarctica Deep Freeze hanger again. This time he was able to go in and reminisce with current members of the team. As he entered the hanger and they talked about the trials and tribulations of the current mission, he felt reconnected with his love of Christchurch.

We returned to Novotel to prepare for our 4:00 a.m. check in for our flight to Melbourne. I can’t wait to see the little blue penguins!! Yes, everything is going to be alright!

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