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Trip Report The Earth Makes Music for Those Who Listen; Siblings on the South Island

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The particulars:

Blame it on the enchiladas. The topic of my brother returning to the Southern Hemisphere came up back in April during dinner at a favorite Mexican restaurant in Colorado. We went our separate ways to digest and ponder the possibilities, me returning to Australia a few days later. By early June the decision had been made and I got busy planning, New Zealand here we come.

I monitored airfares for many weeks, playing around with the dates in an attempt to find the lowest fares and maximize Bob’s vacation time. Much research and frustration ensued, but eventually we were booked, and by complete coincidence, our travel dates were the exact same as last year, thanks in no small part to American Labor Day.

Bob was to fly United Airlines from Colorado Springs to Denver (15 minute flight) then connect to another United Airlines flight to San Francisco. From San Francisco he’d connect with an Air New Zealand flight to Auckland, and then another flight from Auckland to Christchurch. Although all of these flights were booked on the same ticket with Star Alliance partners, something went awry in the Colorado Springs Airport as it so often does. United Airlines did what they do best; screw things up.

I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say, it was a needlessly stressful day for a relatively inexperienced traveler and an inauspicious start to a ~24 hour journey.

Things were a bit more straightforward for me. Air New Zealand has a once daily flight from Perth to Auckland, but it’s a brutally timed overnighter. Mama didn’t raise a fool; I wasn’t about to hop into a rental car and drive the infamously narrow winding roads of NZ after an uncomfortable sleepless night in a metal tube. So, I opted to fly from Perth to Sydney on Virgin Australia and connect with an Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch, arriving around midnight the day prior to Bob’s arrival.

I left Perth at 10 am, arrived Christchurch at 11:30 pm, not quite as bad as it sounds, as NZ is four hours ahead of Perth. My Virgin Australia flight to Sydney went well, they even unexpectedly fed and wined me, and as a bonus the food was surprisingly edible. The Sydney terminal shuffle was new for me, but easy. I just presented my VA voucher for the transfer bus and viola, I was transferred. I was surprised at the distance between terminals and I found the international terminal poorly signed and confusing, but hey, it worked.

My Air New Zealand flight from Sydney to Christchurch also went well, and they fed me again, but this round was foul. Interestingly enough, the middle seat on both flights was empty, so sufficient room to breathe.

Bob left Colorado on Saturday, August 30. I left Perth Sunday, August 31. We met in the Christchurch Airport on Monday, September 1. Six years in Australia and this dateline thing still wigs me out. I have to really pay attention when booking.

Because flights from Auckland to Perth and flights from Auckland to SFO/LAX don’t coordinate particularly well, last year Bob was stuck with some pretty miserable layovers, including seven hours in Auckland prior to his return flight to San Francisco, then another seven hours in SFO before his flight to Colorado Springs. Gross is an understatement.

In an effort to prevent him having to do this again, I left Auckland a day later than he did, spending a night at the Auckland Airport Novotel after seeing him off on his flight to LAX. This served multiple purposes; it gave us an afternoon to explore a tiny bit of Auckland, a room to stash our belongings while we explored, and a place for Bob to shower and relax before his 9:30 pm flight to LAX; it worked a treat.

The itinerary:

Christchurch – nine hours at an airport motel (Mel)
Hanmer Springs – one night
Picton – three nights
Kina Beach/Ruby Bay – four nights
Punakaiki – two nights
Akaroa – three nights
Auckland – one night at airport hotel (Mel)

During last year’s visit, Bob’s first, we concentrated on the ‘highlights’ of the South Island, e.g., the glaciers, Wanaka, Queenstown and Milford Sound. This year was to be all about water, tramping and a slower, more relaxed pace.

Day 1 - Christchurch & Hanmer Springs

I arrived in Christchurch just before midnight: I took the Super Shuttle ($15) to the nearby Airways Motel, collected my room key from the lockbox, checked the status of Bob’s flight online and went to bed. The motel was perfectly adequate, but not a place I’d pick for more than a nine hour stay (clean, compact, free WiFi, plentiful road noise, complimentary shuttle back to the airport, easy in and out, room #1, $130).

Bob’s flight from Auckland was due at 9:20 am the following morning; I took the 9 am motel shuttle to the domestic terminal, locating his baggage carousel just as he crept up behind me from the escalator.

We called for the APEX shuttle and collected our rental car, me giving into superstition and renting a set of snow chains, just in case. My theory is if you have them you won’t need them; so far it’s worked every time ($588.00 for 14 days, including $25 snow chain rental).

As expected, Bob was wrecked, so I’d planned a slow and easy first day. We located SH 1 and headed north, easily done when fresh and excited (the driver anyway), less so when tired and distracted as we learned later in the trip.

Our first stop was about 17 km north of Christchurch in Kaiapoi, where we effortlessly found a New World supermarket to pick up the obligatory Tim Tams, Rashuns and even a few healthy items for the inevitable road trip munchies. Bob curiously examined the unfamiliar products. It’s good to know I’m not alone in my fascination of grocery stores when traveling.

We were in no hurry to get anywhere in particular, so we made a few detours, randomly following signs to beaches, taking a nice long walk along one of them and generally enjoying the fresh air and Pacific Ocean views.

Our route took us directly through Amberley, home of the Nor’Wester Café, where we rocked up too late for the waffle/bacon/yogurt/bananas Bob so enjoyed last year, but just in time for lunch. He went whole hog with the steak and chips, I had the tomato bacon soup, flat whites for both, very nice $42.

Back on the road we left SH 1 near Waipara and joined SH 7, countryside on full display in the brilliant sunshine, eventually reaching our destination, the pretty little alpine town of Hanmer Springs, some 130 km northwest of Christchurch. Hanmer Springs boasts a population of 843, and is built around its thermal pools, made possible by a hot spring discovered in the 19th century.

In an attempt to keep sleep-deprived Bob upright for as long as possible, we explored town and walked several well marked tracks in the beautiful Hanmer Forest, for which we had ideal weather. After two hours soaking in the thermal pools ($20 each), we split a tasty little pizza ($17) at Piccolino’s, which shares space with the Springs Deli on the main road (café by day, pizzeria by night). It was all the poor guy could do to chew at this point, so it was back to the motel where he collapsed, giddy with joy to get horizontal after ~36 hours without sleep.

Our accommodation for the night was GlenAlvon Lodge, a small motel complex conveniently located across the street from the thermal pools (clean, spacious, warm, quiet, too soft beds, reliable WiFi; a great little place, room #8, $100).

Photos here:

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