Mini South Island Adventure: Christchurch

Mini South Island Adventure: Christchurch

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Before I start this post, I want to say that this post tried to get away from the 2011 Earthquake and the impact it had on Christchurch, as much as possible as the city has a lot to offer still. However it was very difficult to get away with not mentioning it as the scars are still very very visible even 5 years on.  It is actually quite heartbreaking, you can see the pain the city has been through and is still going through, 185 people lost their lives in that earthquake.

One of my best friends from home Trudi aka the Lazy Green Girl, is on a round the world trip including a few days in Christchurch. We haven’t seen each other in about 20 months, so whilst we were both in the same country there was no way we couldn’t meet up.  It also provided me with the perfect opportunity to finally visit the South Island.

We had two and a half days together in Christchurch before Trudi headed off to the warmer climes of California.  Making the most of our limited time, we did the two main touristy things on the first day, the city tram ride.  Which is a hop on hop off tour the city, only instead of a bus you’re on a tram.  We got on at Cathedral Square, which is the heart of the city and home to the city’s name sake Christ Church Cathedral.

The Cathedral is currently in ruins and fenced off (picture above), it was the first significant earthquake damage I had seen so far.  We would see a lot more as we went around the city, but there is something particularly heart breaking about cathedral square. The majority of the tour was either new bits of the city, they have a very cool shopping area made up of shipping containers, building site which they were hoping would be finished in a few years and parts that survived the earthquake such as the Opera House and 1930s art deco inspired Regents street.

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After our tour we got on the shuttle bus from the city to the gondola, which serenely guide you up to the top of Port Hills, well that’s what the blurb says. However our experience wasn’t that serene our gondola was swaying a bit and then suddenly stopped for a couple of moments making us think we were stuck! Once we got to the top the views were so worth the ride up, you have an amazing views of snow capped mountains and lakes.  It’s what you picture when someone say the South Island to you.

On our tram tour, the art gallery was pointed our to us as it has this amazing sculpture n top of a sassy hand.  That was our first stop the next day, it actually had some really cool pieces of work in there, including a Tin Gnome not something you see everyday. The gallery itself had been affected by the earthquake and only reopened last year, it was good to see something refurbished, reopened and thriving post earthquake.  It probably helped that it was a rainy day but the gallery was pretty busy which was nice to see as Christchurch even by New Zealand standards is very very quiet.

After the gallery, we took little detour on our to get the bus out to  Lyttleton via the Cardboard Cathedral which is where the congregation of the original Cathedral now worships. It is actually an incredible site, you can see it from a long way off it almost looks like a space ship, once you get closer though and go inside, you realise what a feat of architecture it really is. The inside is light, airy and – I think most importantly for a church – warm.  It’s made from cardboard tubes, which draw your eyes upwards, it really difficult to describe see the picture below. It really made me think about what Christchurch might be like in another 5 years…

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Lyttleton, is a small town about half an hour from Christchurch and had been recommended to Trudi by a friend and is in one of the valleys you can see at the top of the gondola, from up there it looked beautiful.  Close up it didn’t disappoint, it’s such a cute little area of the city, and was the epicenter for the 2011 earthquake so had sustained damage as well.  We had a glass of wine in an quaint little bar overlooking the lake, if it hadn’t been such a miserable day the view would have been stunning (this being NZ it wasn’t too shabby even on a grey rainy day).

I said goodbye to Trudi the next day, and picked up a car to head off to Lake Tekapo to try and see the Southern Lights which will be the next blog.  Before I left Chirstchurch, I really wanted to see the empty chairs memorial to the 185 people who died in the February 2011 earthquake.  It was actually heartbreakingly sad, to see all those empty chairs and brought to mind a lyric from one of the songs in Les Mis that Marius sings after the barricades.

“Empty chairs at empty tables, Where my friends will sing no more”

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North Island Road Trip Day 4:

We spent a few days in Lake Taupo, which is right in the centre of the North Island.  

The lake itself is size of Singapore, and has it’s own horizon due to the way the curvature of the earth.  It’s pretty cool when you think about it.  We had a wonder around Taupo, in the morning as we had a boat cruise booked in for around the lake later on in the day.  Taupo is adorable and probably the busiest place we’ve been so far on this trip, it’s full of little quirky shops and restaurants.

Our boat cruise was aboard a beautiful 1930s yacht called Barbary, as we sailed out onto the lake our skipper told us a bit of Barbabry, it was an old racing yacht so had been pretty much everywhere in the world.  Before running aground and being rescued by a Taupo local, our skipper remembered her arriving in town and had been sailing Barbabry since she was about 11.  I thought that was a really cool story, and it was amazing being taken out on the Lake by a true local.

The main focus of our cruise was to go out to some awesome Maori Carvings that date all the way back to 1981!  The carvings were commissioned as a tribute to the Maori priest Ngatororangi (apologies that is most probably not the correct spelling) who guided the original Maori tribes to Taupo over a thousand years ago.  The carvings are around 10 metres high and are meant to protect the lake from any Volcanic activity.

Which it looks like it’s doing as from the Lake you can see Mount Doom or 

Mt Ngauruhoe it’s actual name looming in the distance. It is located in the Tonagriro national park, along with another Volcano that has been erupting since 2012, but doesn’t seem to have done any damage.  There is a walk you can do up to Mount Doom that follows Frodo’s journey from the Return of the King, however due to poor weather we were not able to do it as they closed the park to visitors.

I’m starting to understand why Kiwi’s are so chilled out, as they live with the imminent threat of a volcano erupting or an earth quake so compared to that everything else is easy as.

Wine Tour in Margaret River

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Margaret River is known for its wine it’s the biggest wine region in Australia, so it only seemed fitting that we do a wine tour. Which is what we did. The company we did the tour through was called Wine for Dudes they were really good, we went to four different wineries, a brewery and a chocolate factory.

When we got to each winery we sampled 3 or 4 whites and red and if we were lucky a rose. I learnt why you see people swirling the glass and sniffing when they drink wine, the swirling releases the smell and you can tell what berries/fruits were used as well as the grapes.

The first winery we went to was my favourite, they had a really nice sweet white wine. It was family owned and had a couple of dogs running around the place! I’m by normally a big fan of red wine I find it a bit thick but I learned that it smells really nice and fruity it’s a shame it doesn’t taste as nice as it smells! 

In each winery there was a little bucket that you could pour the wine into if you didn’t like it and water available to clear your pallet, before moving onto the next wine. I think I did pretty well and tasted all the wines I didn’t pour any out until the last one of the day it was really hot and I just couldn’t drink anymore red wine so I had a sip then poured out all three of the red wines.

So we didn’t get too drunk we had a massive lunch of handmade pizzas and chips at the second winery we went too. We had to mix our own wines for lunch I thought we get a choice of wines but we didn’t it was just red wine a mix of shiraz and merlot I couldn’t drink the whole glass I tried my best but Red Wine is the only wine I can’t drink.

 The chocolate factory was massive and very busy but had free samples of their chocolate buttons on milk, dark and white chocolate needless to say I helped myself to quite a few free samples, we didn’t have very long there as if was so busy.

The brewery was right next to the last winery and had a really good vibe to it, there was a live band and a big beer garden where you could have lunch, you had to pay to sample the beers, I’m not a big beer drinker so decided to save my money for other things.

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West Coast Tour Day 7: Back to Perth via Greenough Wildlife park and Lancelin

Another drive day back to Perth but we did slightly more.  Our first stop was at the leaning Tree which because of the really strong southerly winds in the area has grown down along the ground. 

After that it was onto a wildlife centre, which rescues orphaned or injured animals and raise them so they can go back into the wild.  I loved this bit I got to cuddle a Joey (baby Kangaroo) called Martin and feed someone really funny kangaroos, along with an emu, an ostrich, a horse, billy goats and a camel! We saw come cool cockatoos who liked it at the wildlife centre so much they didn’t leave when they were let out, one of them can talk he asks what you doing and hello. Very cute!

After that it was back in the bus for another long drive to Lancelin which is about an hour north of Perth and has massive sand dunes you can sand board down. Which was awesome so much fun and slightly scary, the hardest part was climbing up the massive dune to get to the top…Walking up hill on sand is really really difficult and then you go down really fast such an adrenalin rush!  

I ended up with sand everywhere though, I had to wash my hair twice to get all the sand out of it, it ended up in my pockets, in my mouth, in my ears everywhere, down my top, anywhere you can possibly imagine! Was good fun though and I’d definitely do it again.

I loved this tour and would highly recommend it anyone.

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West Coast Tour Day 6: Kalbarri

Was the start of our long drive back to Perth.  We hit the road at 7:00am and got to Kalbarri where we staying for the night around 6:30/7:00 just enough time to unload our bags and head down to the beach to watch the sunset over the water. 

Not a bad way to spend a Sunday evening.  After the sunset and before dinner four of us went for little walk around the town and played on the swings like the grown ups we are! 

It’s a really cute quaint little town very like our seaside towns at Home except it has caravan parks and hostels as well as rentals and hotels.

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7 Day Aussie Wanderers Tour Perth to Exmouth Return

 
Day 1: The Pinnacles are limestone formations within Nambung National Park and the first stop on the tour. Our very informative tour guide Ben told us that there are 3 main theories about how this random Limestone Forest came into being. Scientists are still debating. He asked us to let him know which we thought it was: 

Theory 1: That the pinnacles are the remnants of tree roots, that through centuries of coastal winds and weather resulted in the sands building up around them and then erosion has lead to what we have today. Some of them do actually have rings on them like trees do. 

Theory 2: They are the result of centuries of weather, causing the sand to build up mixed with the minerals in the earth created the Pinnacles as we see them today. 

Theory 3: Is that there was once a sea there and that dried up and as it did, build ups of sand and calcium clung onto plat roots that were the only source of water. With the calcium pushing up to cause the higher structures and then erosion again to explain what we have today. 

 I personally think it’s theory 1 as you can actually see proof of that but science may prove me wrong. Plus all three have similar elements so it could be a mix of all three.

The Rock: Uluru

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As I’m running out of time on my visa I decided to pack my bags and leave Sydney, to start travelling again starting with a trip to Uluru. I did a bit of research into trips and decided to do the Mulga Adventures 3 day tour from Alice Springs, as flights are slightly cheaper to there, you however fly directly to Uluru although Alice Springs is well worth a visit.

An early flight meant that I got most of the day in Alice Springs, my first impression was that it was a lot bigger and busier than I’d expected and the heat stepping of the plane from stormy Sydney the heat was lovely. I didn’t however realise just quite how hot it was until I started walking around, the heat it felt really heavy and tiring there are free walking tours of the city but they had been cancelled due to it being 36c, too hot to be walking around in.

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Pick up for the tour was at 6am the following morning meaning getting up at 5am! Which coincidently meant I got to see the sunrise, not something that I’m awake for a lot. There were six of us who got picked up in Alice, we drove the almost seven hours to Uluru to pick up the rest of the people, with a few stops on the way we stopped one being at a Camal farm full of very pampered Camels and got a complimentary ride. There was a baby one on the farm so we got go and say hello and give him a stroke camels he was very cute. The camel ride itself was very short and just like horse riding except a lot bouncier!

Once we picked the others up we got taken to the cultural centre in the national park, to learn a bit more about the history of Uluru.  It is sacred to the Aṉangu People of South West Central Australia, and as a mark of respect you’re not allowed to take any pictures of the things in the cultural centre or certain parts of Uluru itself. 

From there we finally got up close to Uluru and did a walk around half of the base which took a couple of hours. It was amazing walking around the base, I’m not sure what I thought Uluru would be but it blew me away by its sheer size, colour and it’s not smooth there’s lots of little holes and marks from when it rains and the water flows off it our guide told us a that a type of cruststatian has evolved to live on the top! Nature is pretty amazing. The ground was sandy and red with a fair amount of green plants on the other side of the base track.

Once we’d finished the base walk tired hot and dusty it was time to do the Mala walk which is a guided walk of the parts of the rock that show how the Aboriginals lived around Uluru the Mala are their spirit people who guide them and teach them the right way to live. We saw some cave drawings and places where the Chiefs would have sat during spiritual ceremonies cooking and a cool overhanging cave sort of which had 4 figures or what looked like figures coming out of the wall who represent 4 Aboriginals who were killed due to ignoring a warning of danger.

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We walked past the part of Uluru which you can climb however the Aboriginals don’t want you to, which is part of the right way to live teachings, they leave it there for you to make the decision for yourself to live the right way. 

It was closed though whilst we were there as it had been vandalised a few days ago and part of the chain that you use to pull yourself up with as it’s so steep had been broken.  I personally would never have climbed it anyway out of respect for the Aborigonals culture and that you come to look a Uluru there’s nothing but desert around it, I don’t get the appeal of climbing it. Also 32 people have died from climbing it because it is so steep, the chain only  goes part of the way up, plus there’s the heat and some people had heart attacks on the way up or have fallen on the way down, my tour guide said that she had seen people going down on their bums and hands it’s that steep and dangerous.

It was getting close to sunset so we went to a look out to have champers and nibbles whilst the sun was going down, unfortunately because it was overcast we didn’t actually see the sun but it was still a nice way to end a very long day. Once we got back to camp and had dinner it was time for bed in out swags, under the stars, it was overcast we couldn’t actually see the stars which was a bit of shame.

Our wake up call was for 4am to leave at 5am to make it to Uluru in time to see the sunrise.  The sunrise was absolutely amazing and so worth the early start its not often I’m awake to see the sunrise, this was the second morning in a row, from where we were standing we had a view of Kata Tjuta as well another rock formation in the national park, there was a double rainbow over Kata Tjuta as it had been spitting on and off  which was just the icing on the cake.

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After sunrise we headed straight off to Kata Tjuta to do a hike through the rocks there, the hike was 6Ks and took us about 3 hours so we were done about 10am.  It’s think in a way I preferred that to Uluru because was were actually walking through the rocks and the views were just stunning from some of the look out points, whereas with Uluru we just walked around the base of it. The path we were walking on  was lots of rough stones and it was really easy to twist an ankle or trip, I wish I could’ve appreciated the view a bit more but was so concentrated on where I was putting my feet that I missed a lot.

On the way to our next camp we stopped off to have a look at mount Conor which a lot of people confuse with Uluru they drive all the way out form Alice Springs see mount Connor take a photo then head back. It does look fairly similar from a distance but it’s not red like Uluru.

The camp that night was on a cattle ranch with a million acres of land -that definitely puts into perspective how massive this country really is and how few people live here – there was a new mummy cow and her calf along with a baby camel by the shop and camp ground that we got to make friends with.  We were able to have a camp fire so we had a massive camp fire and all slept around it in our swags after dinner, I woke up a couple of times in the night to see the stars shining above me, it was so beautiful such an amazing experience and once a dingo even popped his head out of the bush then went back about his business. 

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The next day we did a hike of kings canyon another 6k hike, that started with 500 steep steps up to the top! Someone started singing the friends theme tune on the way up to distract them from the stair, everyone else joined in it actually worked pretty well. we were encouraged to go at our own pace and all had a couple of stops. Once we got to the top, the view was so worth it we could see right down into the bottom of the canyon and the sides went high up over us on every side was pretty special.  Once we got past the steps it was pretty much flat well as flat as a massive rock formation can be, there were a few fairly big step downs which were not designed for people with short legs, so it was again watching where our feet were going but not as much as the day before.  We stopped at a little waterhole that has sprung up at the bottom of the canyon called the garden of Eden it was a very idillilic little spot amongst all the rock. 

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Imagine in the background of this flies buzzing around everywhere, in your eyes in your ears everywhere. I would recommend getting a fly net to wear on your head and we were always advised to have a 1.5 litre water bottle with us at all times to beat the dehydration.

After that it was back to Alice Springs. I loved this tour and would highly recommend it to anyone.