We didn’t get much sleep during our last night in Queenstown, but I suppose that’s the joy of staying in a hostel on a Friday night! Feeling tired and hungry we demolished a $10 fry up before getting on the road for our epic journey to Oamaru. The 4 hour journey started out great, the sun was shining, the scenery was good…some of it even made me feel as though we were in the Wild West, but about half way into our travels the views changed and it was all flat farm land and small towns…this made for a pretty boring 2 hours. Things only got worse when we were about 45 minutes from Oamaru too, the weather changed and it was time to wave goodbye to our shorts and get out the windbreakers, again. This is starting to happen every time we go to a beach town on the South Island!
Oamaru is a small township and quite possible one of the oldest feeling towns which we have encountered on our travels, I mean where else in the world do shops shut at 1pm on a Saturday? The main centre is one long road with a few scattered shops and cafes, so after a quick drink and a cake we decided to take a wander round the old Victorian side of town. It’s pretty cool to see all the old buildings, well maintained and still in use for different things with people dressed for the occasion outside in top hats and bonnets.
I was desperate to visit the penguin colony and thought it would be free, but like everything in NZ seeing these cute birds comes with a high price tag, silly me how could I forget that you could charge to see nature? More fool them though as we actually managed to see a shit ton of penguins outside, just chilling, so I’m happy and I’ve saved myself $30.
Before we knew it, it was 4pm and knowing what the campsites are like we made our way to our chosen stop for the night, Waitaki Waters campsite. Located 12 minutes outside Oamaru centre this has to be one of my favourite campsites yet. For $13 per person, you get to play with a cute little chihuahua, JaJa, chat to the nicest owner and have free hot showers (not even a dollar for 5 minutes like the last one), it would have been more amazing if the weather was good as the beach is a short 5 minute walk away. Once we’d prepped the car for sleeping we decided to make use of the lounge, it reminded us both of a staff room at work, it’s too cute with little tables and chairs, cooking equipment, books and a TV and it sure beats sitting in a cold, cramped car all night long.
After a refreshing sleep (just what we needed after 2 nights in a hostel) we woke feeling ready for the long journey to Christchurch, that was until we got on the road. I thought that journey to Oamaru was bad, well this one took the piss…it was over 3 hours of pure nothingness, straight roads lined by farms and the occasional small town, it was bloody boring! I was left feeling grumpy until 30 minutes from Christchurch where we stopped for a coffee and a stretch, and most importantly a wee. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this, but any opportunity that you may get to go the loo whilst in New Zealand, take it, toilets are few and far between and you can often be left busting. I may have helped a few rose bushes grow when I was little, but I do have a little class now when it comes to urinating at the side of the road.
Pulling up to our next stop, Kiwi House Hostel, I was dreading checking in and returning to dorm life. Turns out I was right to be afraid, we were stuck with an English guy and his Belgian girlfriend, obviously long term renters as the room was a fucking shit hole! I made the “mistake” of complaining about said mess underneath the window of our room, and when we returned with our bags after parking the car little elves seemed to have shoved all the shit underneath the bed, I’m sure it could be better and they’re probably nice people, but it’s just not what I needed after such a long day!
After the pleasantries were out of the way we decided to go and explore Christchurch. My first impressions were similar to those of Hiroshima, a quiet city where you can feel that something bad has taken place but people are still upbeat and positive, trying to move on and restore their township. Our first stop on the sightseeing agenda was the Transitional Cathedral, rebuilt in 2013 after the earthquake, this cathedral was designed by a Japanese architect named, Shigeru Ban. Made of cardboard, wood, local steel and concrete this building should last 50 years and is absolutely beautiful with bright stained glass windows and cardboard tubes inside the ceiling pointing to the cross and alter, I couldn’t resist making a donation and lighting a Christmas candle for my nana and grandad inside.
185 empty chairs, see’s 185 chairs, all different and painted white on an earthquake destroyed site. This idea was by an artist named, Pete Majendie, and is said to represent each individual lost in the 2011 earthquake. Whilst at the site you are offered a seat in the chair which attracts you most, just to stop and think for a while. A simple idea, but so thought provoking and heartwarming.
For a busy city Christchurch has a pleasant quietness to it, even in the centre where the stark contrast between the quake hit areas and new buildings is evident. Most prominent in Cathedral square, here the main cathedral still shows sign of extensive damaged from the 2011 quake, but all around here is a hive of activity with art installations, buskers, statues and even giant chess boards. Not to far a walk from the square you can also visit New Regent Street, designed for pleasure and indulgence these Spanish inspired buildings are a bright range of pastel colours and stand out in their surroundings.
Re-Start mall had to be one of the best stops of the day! Made entirely of shipping containers, these shops and food stalls are loud, vibrant and full of unique goods, clothing and delicious snacks. There’s buskers, entertainers and fantastic smells on each corner…of course it was a huge decision for Kyle when we stopped for something to eat, but he was soon satisfied with dumplings, Tepenyaki and doughnuts! The places like this and the crazy architecture of the new builds, shows a great up and coming side of Christchurch, and I sure would like to see what this city will look like when all the developments are complete.
Though not all of our stops of the day we’re positive, it was sad to see the crumbling buildings that have not yet been touched, some of which are being held up with poles and crates. Potential can be seen as a lot of these spaces have been bought by developers, and all is not doom and gloom with the fantastic graffiti, similar to that of Melbourne, displaying positive messages in random little places.
I forgot how draining dorm life was, especially when all you want to do is chill after a long days drive and your room mates want to watch a film…thank the lord he suggested headphones. The morning wasn’t much of a breeze either what with his 6.20am wake up call, leaving the room 8 times and slamming the door for affect on each occasion. But all those negatives were pushed aside when I discovered that you can surf in Christchurch and I was even happier when I realised how hot and sunny it was outside! A quick bowl of coco pops and a shower later we were on our way to Sumner Beach, a neighbourhood we both fell in love with within 3 minutes. The houses are a dream, the beach is huge with soft sand and stunning waters (even if it is still freezing) and the best bit is it was pretty damn quiet, even for half term. Unfortunately for Kyle the waves just weren’t big enough so he was stuck sunbathing with me, I don’t think he minded too much he did need to work on his tan!
New Brighton was our second beach stop of the day, bigger than Sumner but with more of a family/local feel. It was still a nice beach and the pier out on the sea made for a lovely cooling walk thanks to the sea breeze, but if we ever moved to Christchurch I know where I’d chose to live! As the day progressed it just got hotter and hotter, so hot in fact we were sweating, almost Asia style, so after tea it was off to the shade to relax.
The drive from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs saw us on a “motorway” for all of 20 minutes, though it did speed us up a little it was more like a dual carriageway with people filtering on from the right…which just doesn’t make sense at all. The rest of the journey passed quickly, there still wasn’t much to see until we actually arrived in Hamner but the kids in the camper in front kept us entertained, pulling faces, waving and writing us messages. Kyle reckons that they thought we were Santa’s helpers thanks to our cool new Christmas headwear….which we purchased in an attempt to feel festive.
Hamner Springs was a bit of a let down for us really, as nice as it is there just isn’t much to do. We found a campsite, Alpine Adventure Park, registered our details and went in search of a waterfall. Our map took us up a dirt path alongside Mt.Isobel, it was a bloody horrible journey and you couldn’t actually get to the waterfall from up there, we did get a great view of all the surrounding mountains though. Righting that idea off for the day we decided to relax at a river, another wasted journey, attack of the sandflies was back! We were covered top to toe in the little twats within 2 minutes! So it was back to the town centre for a casual stroll around, I did find walking around the old hospital, Queen Mary’s quite interesting though. Shut down in 2003 due to lack of government funding, this hospital has been left as a historic reserve for people to visit. Through the windows you can see the old beds, wheelchairs and desks in the main hospital, and further down in the Nurses hostel you can view the dorm rooms. It was also interesting to note that the thermal water from the springs used to be used in a hospital building to aid relaxation and healing of some patients.
Our main reason for visiting Hanmer Springs was actually to visit the hot pools and being the bargain hunters we are, we used Book Me once again to get a discount entry on an evening ticket ($15 instead of $25). Relaxing in the hot springs was just what we needed after so many long car days, though there were still a few children around we managed to relax for the better part of our experience. The temperatures vary from 36 - 42 degrees with the hottest pool being the sulphur one, we spent 2 minutes in it, it stunk worse than Rotorua and the smell stuck to your skin…gross! Speaking of skin, even at 6pm the sun was burning hot, this was evident on all the red bodies with their silly white tan marks, people obviously thought the springs protected them from the suns rays, tits!
I obviously had a good hot springs look, after being chatted up by a nice young lad from Hull, who quickly scattered once Kyle popped his head out of the water! We could of stayed for hours but after an hour of relaxing we were pretty bored and had come to realise that we were essentially sharing a hot bath with 6 or 7 strangers, maybe next time we’ll book a private pool.
We spotted a bargain for tea, $7 fish and chips, an offer not to be missed we thought. Well I wish we had missed it, frozen fish and chips with no vinegar and no curry sauce, what the hell is this? Where were our home made chips and hand battered fish? Bullshit! Not even my ice cream could cheer me up after that disaster.
There’s a problem living in a town with only one road in and one road out, (I should know I lived in one for 18 years, thank you Dalton-In-Furness, Cumbria), if anything goes wrong with said road you have no alternative for exit, or extreme delays. But in NZ do they adopt the age old strategy of completing road works at night when nobody is around? Do they shite, they close the road from 8am - 5pm and open it on the hour, every hour? So do avoid the inevitable delays we were up on the road at 7.30am. The journey took us back up the centre of the island, through the mountains, before turning away before Nelson and heading towards Picton.
Almost 5 hours we were on the road for before we reached our bed for the night at Tombstone Backpackers. It was another scorcher of a day so after a short walk over the cute seaside town we headed over the bridge, past all the flash boats in the marina and along a dirt track through the hills to Bob’s bay, a small secluded beach perfect for sunbathing, but not swimming, that sea is still fucking freezing!
An early tea and an early night was our plan for the evening, but no surprises our 6 dorm mates had other ideas. These guys really took the biscuit, the lights were on, they were off, bags were opened, closed and beds were made. EVERYONE, and i know everyone has torch on their phone, if the light is off, use it! As for the bed, make it earlier and have your wanker wash bag out ready. Basic dorm rules all backpackers should know, bloody drainers.
Our early morning ferry was a lot smoother on the return to Wellington, which was a surprise as the weather was shocking, heavy rain and strong winds persisted throughout the journey. I was well chuffed when we arrived as we were the first ones off the ferry this time, must of been our Christmas headwear putting the crew in a good mood.
I don’t feel that one month was long enough to see all of what the South Island has to offer. It certainly felt a lot busier than where we have been in terms of tourists and camper vans, but we loved every minute of it and each place which we visited….I’m sure if/when we move here it will become a winter destination.
So now we’re back in Wellington for Christmas and New Year, it’s going to be an odd one, enjoying a BBQ on the beach in the sunshine but I’m really looking forward to it.
Love Carrie xxx