Boarding Pass Stories: Christchurch, New Zealand

Boarding pass, Air New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ, travel, flight, airline

Boarding pass, Air New Zealand, Christchurch, NZ, travel, flight, airline

The destination, the when(s), and the reason(s)

After spending two weeks there, I flew from Melbourne, Australia to New Zealand.  My entry point:  the very livable and lovely town of Christchurch.  This was in 2009, so before the large earthquake that did so much damage to this beautiful town.  I got to see it before it suffered such destruction.

The airline

Air New Zealand.  The carrier that I chose to fly me from Los Angeles to Australia/New Zealand.  I landed in Auckland where I connected with a flight to Sydney.  After spending two weeks in Australia, I returned to NZ to explore it.

What fascinated me about this experience

Christchurch was a place I could actually live in.  The neighborhoods, the city center – it all fit my likes.  I found good restaurants and a charming bed and breakfast.  It was a great launching point too to explore the south island of New Zealand and I sure hope to return some day!

Christchurch, New Zealand, cathedral, earthquake, destruction

Indoors at the main cathedral that, unfortunately, had to be condemned after the damage it suffered during the earthquake

I sure hope to return to Christchurch and explore it and the area more!

A Very Southern City – Dunedin

Railway station Dunedin New Zealand Gingerbread George

Well, by southern I mean “geographically”.  It was the southernmost city I visited in New Zealand and I was expecting it to be frigid but, mercifully, it was not. In fact, we had some really beautiful days though one morning we had minor rain.

Dunedin with about 130,000 inhabitants is quite a pleasant town to explore.  Not far from Christchurch, it does feel very different.  Dunedin has Scottish roots but, never having been to Scotland, they were not as easy for me to identify (Christchurch is said to be more English).  However, I enjoyed the town as it was quite walkable – except for the steep hills!  Dunedin sits by the water but it is surrounded by hills.  The city’s area includes the slopes of these hills where many neighborhoods are located.  It is a nice drive to go up to higher ground and see the old houses as the road curves along, while looking down on the city.

architecture, house, Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

Typical architecture in the area in Dunedin, New Zealand

But having walked a few of these streets, I can certify they are steep!  In fact, Dunedin does lay claim to the steepest street in the world and I am not surprised.

A residential street in a steep street in Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

A steep street but FAR from the steepest!

Steepest street, Guiness, world, Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

Yep. This is the steepest street in the world.

During my visit, I explored the Otago Museum right by the university.  It is a very nice museum (and free to boot!).  It is an excellent place to take the kids.  http://www.otagomuseum.govt.nz/

I also took tours of the Cadbury factory (also good for the kids) where they kept giving us different chocolate bars along the way (not all were to my liking as they were mainly milk chocolate based and I am a dark chocolate fan) as they showed us how chocolate is made (very interesting) and of the Speight’s brewery (where, of course, we sampled their beer – very nice!  sure, why not, also good for the kids! lol ).

Dunedin’s railway station is a piece of art onto itself, both the exterior and the interior, and a must-see if you visit.  The style is such that its architect, named George, became better known as “Gingerbread” George!

Railway station Dunedin New Zealand Gingerbread George, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

The beautiful railway station built in the early 20th century

Mosaic, architectural details, railway station, Dunedin, New Zealand, Canon EOS Rebel, travel

Details of the booking hall in the railway station

Finally, the main street itself has a good number of places to eat as well as places to shop so walking it up and down a couple of time is certainly worth it.

Main street in Dunedin, New Zealand, architecture, Canon EOS Rebel

Main street in Dunedin, New Zealand

I found Dunedin to be quite charming and the people friendly.  I got there after crossing the Southern Alps and exploring majestic fjordland I am not sure how cold it gets in the winter being so far south but I counted my blessings of not finding out in person!

Random Observations during Trip to Australia and New Zealand

krispy kreme

As I used to do when my writing was in email form to friends and family, I am going to share some of the random things I observed that caught my attention in my trip to Australia and New Zealand.  These are not earth-shattering observations or anything that is better or worse in the places I visited than what I am used to, just things that caught my eye.  I always find it interesting to hear what others find curious so I will share what I found curious…  Hope no one takes offense!

  • I arrive in Sydney, my first main stop in the trip.  After surviving the strict customs and health things they do at the airport, I leave the secured zone and what is the first thing I see?  Krispy Kreme.  Don’t get me wrong: nothing wrong at ALL with a KK doughnut.  And Aussies sure have a right to enjoy them like I do. But it’s funny that I travel halfway around the world and the first thing I see is an outlet of a doughnut chain founded in the southeastern U.S. where I live!
  • Alright, I get past KK (without stopping), handle a few things (ATM, buying SIM card, etc.) and eventually get to my friends’ place (a train and a metro ride away – plus a short hike).  I shower, unpack somethings, and venture out to combat jet lag.  But first, let me load up on caffeine!  I look around and there are coffee shops EVERYWHERE!  I did not know Aussies were so into coffee.  Not that it should surprise me, coffee is good but there were coffee shops not just in every corner but in between corners and multiple ones at almost every corner.  Wow.  That’s a serious devotion of coffee.

  • So I pick one coffee shop – a hard thing to do with so many around.  I ask for a coffee.  I get a blank stare.  I repeat myself.  The young woman has an accent (eastern European, perhaps) so I assume my own accented English is too new to her ears.  I repeat my request “a coffee, please”.  She asks if cappuccino, latte, or flat white.  I didn’t want either of the first two and the third option sounded like a cup of milk – just white, flat white, only milk.  I say no I just want coffee.  It occurs to me that perhaps I needed to explain that I meant coffee with nothing else.  I get a blank stare.  Eventually, the other clerk joins us and I repeat the last statement.  I succeed in getting black coffee.  I wasn’t sure what the deal was but, heck, I got my black coffee.  Only to discover it was horrible.  And then it dawns on me:  perhaps black coffee here is not as good as say, PR, France, Italy, hence they must always add some amount of milk and/or foam.  Got it.  But I still didn’t know how I should have asked for black coffee… Nor did I get what a flat white was… (until later and then I loved them).
  • It is not “how are you doing?” but “how are you going?”.  At first, I wanted to say by bus or by train until I caught on.
  • There are these “stores” called TAB in Australia.  I wasn’t quite sure what they were and my friends explained they are sports betting places.  Mind you, not glitzy or big like casinos (they have those too) but like small stores.  And they can be quite a common sight in Sydney and Melbourne – one every couple of blocks?  (an exaggeration on my part but it felt like that!)
  • Air travel is a breeze here.  Not sure if that is good or bad but for domestic flights, just show up 30 minutes beforehand.  Security doesn’t even require shoes off.  My belt and shoes set off most US airports’ machines.  Not here.  Nada.
  • Driving:  in some places, it felt like these were the best drivers in the world and, in others, pretty bad.  No locations shall be named…
  • The times I ordered salads, not once did I see regular plain lettuce.  I love these countries!
  • More than a couple of times, I think I was fed some mis-information by eager-to-share-knowledge guides.  Like Lake Taupo being the largest lake in the southern hemisphere.  It IS the largest freshwater lake in Oceania (616 km2) but that is a far cry from Lake Victoria (69,485 km2)…  Another was the “world’s longest bridge” somewhere between Dunedin and Christchurch…  I didn’t buy either of these claims but I wonder how many I “bought”!  Now, I am sure Dunedin DOES have the world’s steepest street (it is so according to the Guinness Book of Records, I checked).

Dunedin’s most famous street

  • Constant references to something being the x-most in the southern hemisphere.  It felt like everything wanted to claim something.  Best example:  the Christchurch airport signs telling the travelers that the company that runs the airport was the 1st airport company in the southern hemisphere to become carbon neutral.
  • Rainfall in the north island of NZ is measured in inches but in the west part of the south island, it is measured in meters!  (I am raising this not because they used different measurement systems when giving me these data points but because it points to the significant difference in rainfall amount.)
  • Train restrooms were clean (as opposed to those in many other countries I have been to; ahem, Europe…).
  • Power outlets have a small switch immediately next to them to turn them on.  If you don’t realize this, that electric razor you are trying to charge up won’t be doing anything the next morning!
  • Upon arriving at a motel or B&B in NZ, the person at reception ALWAYS offered me milk.  It took me a while to develop a solid theory on why (outside of “they just love drinking milk here perhaps”):  since it was winter and the rooms had electric kettles, maybe it was in case I wanted tea/milk or coffee/milk?
  • Many places had windows with 2 positions for closing the window.  One was to entirely shut it but the other was to leave a slight crack open yet have the window locked.  It was hard to see that the windows were slightly ajar.  At first, I wondered why motel rooms had a draft…  I figured it out on my own, thank you very much.
  • Every motel or B&B I stayed at had towel warmers.  I loved that since it was very cold.
  • Airlines had a bit of an obsession that the safety card in the seatback pocket must always be the FIRST thing in the pocket.  Before landing, flight attendants requested this and/or would fix it for you if they noticed the items in the pocket were not in the right order…
  • Public restrooms in every town’s central area!  And easy to find!

Do you share any of these random observations?  Any others from your travels down under??

Criss-crossing the southern island of New Zealand

sun light ocean, New Zealand, travel, vista, view, sea

Besides flying into and out of the country and riding the TranzAlpine train, buses (or coaches) were my main mode of travel. I was surprised that trains were not talked about much in my readings about how to move about the country but it seems buses are the main way to get around (outside of driving).

Backtracking a little, I did not sign up for a standard guided tour but instead bought a package of transportation and accommodations based on the places I wanted to visit. The agency that helped me basically ensured the places were sequenced in a logical manner and handled the synchronization of schedules when connections were required or when special linkages to other events were needed. The package also included a couple of main attractions (like the ferry ride through Milford Sound). I really liked the idea of an independent tour, as they are called, since I wasn’t looking forward to the “confines” of a guided tour nor of driving around solo.

The “Bus/Coach Experience”

I was not sure what to expect from taking a bus around and in between towns. I was not expecting a regular public transportation bus (as I know them in the U.S. and Europe) but also was not expecting a major tour bus type. These inter city type of buses (InterCity seems to be the largest bus company around but there are others affiliated with tour companies) pretty much go everywhere and are fairly comfortable. Many will have a restroom (or “toilet”) on board and, if not, they will make frequent stops every couple of hours or so for nature breaks, food breaks, and even some photo opps. The drivers for these buses will even do some narration of what you are looking at or going through which was a very nice surprise so that you could understand better the land you are observing. Some of these drivers were a veritable fountain of facts and knowledge! The buses were also on time and some even picked you up/dropped you off at your hotel. In researching the options, there were buses that seemed to be focusing on college-aged tourists – I sensed as much and stayed away from those as I am well past that age. Make sure you understand the focus of any bus company you choose!

sun light ocean, New Zealand, travel, vista, view, sea

Early morning view of the Tasman Sea from the southern island coastal road

Following a circuit around the south island of New Zealand

Another curious thing about doing an independent tour and using the bus system to get around in the south island is that, more likely than not, you are really following a circuit that goes something like this with variations possible: Christchurch, Greymouth, glaciers, Queenstown, Milford Sound, Te Anau, Dunedin, and back to Christchurch. Some of the variations include the Catlins, Invercargill, Stewart Island and a few other places at the very south and very north of the island. (I didn’t do the same type of travel in the north island so I am not as familiar with what a good circuit might be there.)

New Zealand, driving, roads, travel, explore

Nice roads on New Zealand’s southern island

The neat thing for me was that I began to run into the same people at different stages of the circuit (people who were going counterclockwise on that circuit; the opposite direction is also possible!). Sometimes we would be in the same bus 2 or 3 places in a row. Sometimes we broke the sequence only to reconnect later in the trip. It took at least a couple of times of coinciding before really chatting them up. And I actually enjoyed running into the same people later in the trip. Grace from NJ, Chris from London, the Lees from Hong Kong, a couple from Delhi, etc. were some of those folks I ran into a few times. I also did meet other folks whom I only saw at one spot but got to chat or hang out (Ben from Tamworth and Ryan from Melbourne).

New Zealand, southern island, lake, mountains, snow, road, travel, nature, outdoors

One of the most majestic segments of the circuit – I wish I could have sat there for a few hours!

Finally, because of the various stops the buses make, you get to see a couple of smaller towns even if for a short 30 minute walk. We are talking small towns (the largest I reckon was about 4,000 people) so 30 minutes gets you at least a peek at the town center which is better than a drive-by. If you like seeing small towns, clearly driving around would be better as you can decide how long to stay somewhere but I enjoyed seeing places like Wanaka (on the shore of Lake Hawea and somewhere I would stay instead of Queenstown if I ever return!), and Hokitika near Greymouth.

Wanaka southern island New Zealand lake mountains travel nature outdoors explore Canon EOS Rebel

The town of Wanaka by the lake of the same name was peaceful and in an incredible setting

So, among the various good ways to travel the country, the bus system gets a thumbs up. And you will never be a total stranger to everyone while going around NZ!

%d bloggers like this: