For the first part of my New Zealand adventure, I travelled by myself from Christchurch to Wellington to Auckland.
Landed in Christchurch on the 17th. Airport was incredibly quiet but I noticed signs saying Christchurch was the first carbon-neutral airport which makes sense because it is a tiny airport. My first morning in Christchurch was just walking around the city; it’s tiny, i think Melbourne CBD is bigger. Headed off to the free Art Gallery, liked the classics but modern art tends to annoy me. One of the other exhibits, ‘White on White’, I thought it was going to be a pretentious display of blank walls. It actually turned out to be quite fun as it was an interactive exhibit and there was only a few bits that made no sense such as the two LCD screens with a giant black dot on it. One display used shadow puppets and googly eyes to form animals (using great imagination). Nearby, a computer terminal allowed you to form your own and email the photo to yourself. I made one using the Vulcan salute. Another exhibit, I question if it really qualified as art. It was a video beamed on the walls of a room, of various body parts. In particular, it was a man’s back, shaking against a wall. An older couple in front of me giggled uncontrollably, saying it looked like someone urinating. My mind immediately leaped to something more disturbing and I quickly left that exhibit. Like I said, Modern Art Sucks.
Not much else to see around the city before my dolphin cruise leaves from the city centre. The cruise itself was out of Lyttleton Harbour, about 15 minutes away from Christchurch. It’s a beautiful day to be outside but anytime you’re on the water, it gets cold quickly (a lesson I learned repeatedly on my trip). Not too far out of the harbour we spotted one lonesome Hector’s dolphin but he didn’t surface much. So the skipper decided to cheat a little and followed a fishing trawler. We found a couple of pods swimming after the trawler, looking for tidbits out of the net. The Hector’s dolphin is the smallest and rarest of all dolphins, with a pretty black and white pattern, with streaks of grey. They swam up right to the boat, resulting in many pictures of my own sneakers. After the harbour, I headed up the Christchurch Gondola. To be honest, I’m sick of Gondolas, I’ve done the one in Hong Kong a couple of times and now it’s just boring. The view was lovely though. There was something I could have skipped; the ride through history at the top of the lookout. First of all, it was narrated by a young girl who was over-exuberant about her city’s history. Secondly, I was the only person on the ride. Thirdly, it was cheesy. But it was included on my ticket so I did it anyway.
The next morning (the 19th) I got up at 5:15am, to catch my train leaving at 7am in the dark. The train did have an open-air carriage, so I watched the sunrise out there…in the 2C weather with the wind rushing by. That was certainly woke me up. The train went along the coastline, with beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, and mountains on the other side. I even spotted a few seals along the waterline. After the train ended in Picton, I hopped on the ferry to Wellington. Now, my trip was built around the fact that everyone told me I had to do the South Island and especially the ferry. By the time of I got on the ferry, all of the magnificent scenery had looked alike. I still took many pictures but I ended up napping for a bit on the 3.5 hour ride.
Wellington is home to Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop, the director and special effects house of Lord of the Rings (and Chronicles of Narnia, and many other films/tv show), thus giving it the nickname of Wellywood. I did a tour of the city, seeing its many coastal suburbs and the view from Mount Victoria and quickly learned why they call it ‘Windy Welly’. Since much of the movies were filmed around the city, one of my stops was the place where they filmed the hobbits hiding off the road from the Ringwraiths. Yes, there is a photo of me pretending to be Frodo, except a grin replaces his sheer look of terror. My favourite stop though? The Weta Cave. The Workshop doesn’t offer tours; it’s an issue of confidentiality because of the other movies they’re working on, like the Hobbit. However, the Cave functions as a mini-museum including a short 20 minute video about how the workshop came together. It also functions as a shop for LOTR memorabilia. Upon entering, I discovered Alan Lee, an illustrator for the books and then for the films, was doing a signing later that day. Guillermo Del Toro, director of the upcoming Hobbit movie was there a few weeks ago. So I made a second trip to the Cave to get his signature and buy my ring (the One Ring). Even though I was quite tired afterwards, I still headed off to the Te Papa museum because I can’t resist a good museum.
Kiwis are mad about rugby and everyone supports the national team, the All Blacks. That night in Welly, they were playing against France and I was invited to join people I had met at the hostel at the pub. Unfortunately, I didn’t get her message in time, so I went to see ‘The Hangover’ instead. Hilarious, if crude. The second day in Welly, I met up with Keriann’s friend, Alastair. He took me to Karori Wildlife Sanctuary (aka Zealandia but I think that name is silly) to see the birds. I’m not much of a birder but since that’s pretty much all they have in NZ, I was willing to try. Of course, Welly is incredibly hilly, like the rest of NZ, formed by volcanoes and earthquakes. Me, being raised in the flat plains of Toronto and now Melbourne, could not keep up with Alastair going up and down the hills. In one part of Karori, there are boards describing the birds endemic to the area, and have buttons to hear the birdcalls since the actual birds are quite shy and quiet. For the last bird, the hihi (Maori name, I don’t remember the Anglo name), I saw the speaker sitting in the tree. At one point, they tried to mine gold from the sanctuary before it was a sanctuary only to realise there wasn’t any. But there were cave wetas inside, to which I only went inside when assured that they don’t jump on people. We spent more time at the Sanctuary than expected and only realised how close I was cutting it to my flight time. Luckily, it only took me about 30 seconds to check in and then my flight took off a half hour late.
As an aside, people need to be more careful with their credit cards. Someone had left their credit card in the express check-in machine. That’s the second time I found someone’s credit card in an airport; I found another in the Melbourne airport buying my flying magazine (New Scientist). Also, you know those new Dyson airblade hand dryers? They confuse old people. I saw at least 2 elderly women bewildered by the machines. They don’t even kill germs!
Onto Auckland, and Part 2 of my trip.