Friday, 25 March 2016

There and Back Again: Castles Down Under-er (Part 3 - South Island Adventures)

Welcome back to the third installment of the Castles Down Under-er, only 7 months after episode 2, and only one month before the anniversary of our trip. Life happens and blog posts get a pin put in them. What are you gonna do, eh? Anyway, here we go again...

Part 3 of our adventure begins on the InterIslander Ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. As mentioned in Part 2, we spent the 92 km, three hour journey eating, resting, and reading up on our South Island activities.

This ferry trip is a treat in itself; your South Island experience begins as you slowly wind your way through the Marlborough Sounds on calm, clear waters bordered by steep green hills on all sides. Picton doesn't disappoint either - it is a picturesque little seaside town with a charming marina and restaurants overlooking the water.

After we disembarked from the InterIslander, we enjoyed a lovely lunch at a cute little café on the harbor before heading southward towards Cape Campbell to hopefully see the Cape Campbell lighthouse.

This lighthouse is not accessible by road, but rather via an unmarked "tramping" (bushwalking/hiking) route along the windswept, curving coastline to the tip of the cape. It is a track that can only be followed at low tide, as there are points where waves cover the rocky outcroppings at high tide, cutting you off from a return if you dilly dally. We were lucky with the timing of the tides, and began our hike in the early afternoon, planning to return before sunset.

No one else (bar a group of wandering sheep, it is New Zealand after all) appeared to be taking on this somewhat lengthy hike on this lovely, albeit windy, fall afternoon, and we enjoyed our adventure.

So windy!!

The next morning we woke up in Kaikoura, where we had hoped to go whale watching. We ate breakfast on our little hotel balcony looking out over the South Pacific, and lo and behold, we saw a water spout. Everyone we met for the rest of our trip insisted that we must be mistaken, but WE think we saw a whale. We would be far from the first people to spot a whale in Kaikoura from the shore. Whale-spotting controversy aside, we were quite disappointed later that morning when we arrived at our pre-booked whale-watching tour only to find out that incoming high winds had caused our tour to be cancelled.

Fortunately, the person at the whale watching place who had the sad task of informing people of cancelled tours all morning had another suggestion for our day. He told us about the Ohau Point Seal Colony, which can be seen a short way back up the road.

As it turns out, we were in exactly the right season to see the baby seals on the Ohau Waterfall Walk. This experience was one of our favorites from this trip. There is a short walk up a pretty stream to a waterfall that drops into a little pool where the baby seals learn to dive and play. The seals make their way up the stream to the pool by themselves, leaving their parents to hunt in the ocean.

After watching the unbelievable cuteness of dozens of seal pups frolicking under a waterfall for as long as humanly possible, we headed back down the trail to check out the parents (and older siblings?) sunning on the rocks at the edge of the water.

The afternoon saw us make our way to Christchurch to check into our hotel. After checking in we drove out to Akaroa, a cute historic town on the Banks Peninsula, where we had fresh fish and chips for dinner.

Our whole next day was spent hanging out in Christchurch. For those who don't know, Christchurch was struck by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in February 2011; 185 people were killed, and the damage was widespread and devastating. More than 4 years later, the city is rebuilding, but many buildings still lie as rubble, and yet more are shrouded in scaffolding. Cranes are abundant, and construction is omnipresent.

However, the residents of this city are resilient, and every person we met was cheerful, friendly, and optimistic. Christchurch is on the mend, and their positive attitude is contagious. One interesting revival project is the Re:START Mall, a temporary shopping center built from colorful shipping containers. It opened only 7 short months after the quake, and has food trucks, cafés, outdoor eating areas, a museum-like exhibition, markets, and a variety of boutiques and shops. We enjoyed the morning eating, sipping our flat whites, and perusing the stores before exploring the city.

As we drove through the streets, we were reminded that the rebuilding of a devastated city is a slow, complicated process. Whole city blocks remain flattened, and piles of rubble still wait for attention.

Christchurch Cathedral, a beautiful church located in the center of the city, originally built between 1864 and 1094, sits partially in ruins, awaiting a long-debated decision with regards to its demolition or repair. As of the end of 2015, it sounds like restoration may be considered for this historic structure. In the meantime, you can view the existing structure from the "greenhouse" structure (a viewing hut covered with living plants from which you can look through the safety fence) and the cathedral community worships at the Cardboard Cathedral, which we visited the next day.

We finished our day over at Hagley Park. Hagley Park is a large city park located in the center of Christchurch. It is home to the Botanic Gardens, sports fields, grassy lawns, and...a golf course! Hagley Golf Course, established 1873, is a 12-hole course that sits on the north end of the park. We only played 12 holes (you can play 18 by repeating 6), as the sunset was catching up on us, but it was a fun afternoon of golf; we had the course to ourselves, as no one else wanted to brave the cold wind, I guess.

Dinner was at a cool restaurant near our hotel with delicious food (what's new? Everything we ate in New Zealand was absolutely fabulous) and a friendly server who regaled us with stories of his life in and around Christchurch. We didn't know how willingly people would want to discuss their earthquake experiences, but the ones we met were happy to share stories.

The next morning we visited a memorial to the lives lost in the earthquake - an artist created an installation of 185 white painted chairs, each representing one person killed on the February day. It is an eerie sight, and a poignant reminder that while this brave city is growing, changing, and moving on, it will never forget each of those individuals.

The installation sits across from the Cardboard Cathedral. As I mentioned earlier, this cathedral is the temporary space for use by the community who lost their Christchurch Cathedral to the 2011 earthquake. It was opened in 2013, and is airy, colorful, and another optimistic symbol of how forward-looking the residents of this city are.

As we bid farewell to Christchurch and set our sights on Aoraki/Mt. Cook, we leave you one more time. Come back for the 4th and final installment of the Castles' trip to New Zealand, where we take a hike and see icebergs, conquer a maze, taste wine, cruise Milford Sound, and more!