Wow, that was an awesome trip!
Or, as some of the students who most desperately wanted to come along on it would say, "That was siiiiiiiiiiiick!" (which means in a good way, of course.) I had let my geography class (12 and 13 year olds) choose this particular trip for me: either they were trying to get me as far away as possible, or the South Pacific just sounded really alluring, or there are some massive LOTR fans. Possibly all three.
To start, of course, this was ticking all the boxes of "not recommended": a short trip, both islands of NZ and then Fiji, winter, not driving. Somehow, though, (and partly because I am unaccountably blessed with good travel weather) we managed to see and do a whole lot. "We" includes my two nieces, J (26) and L (17) along with auld auntie, 51.
We flew into Christchurch on Fiji Airways. This was actually a cheapskate move, as it saved $500 per person over flying into Queenstown, but it turned out to be a really, really good choice.
We arrived in the afternoon to Rendezvous Hotel in the CBD. The hotel was quite nice and the service very obliging. We went out into the cold blattering rain for a bit of a look round. The area around the hotel and the Cathedral is still very much influenced by the 2010-11 earthquake and, from what I understand, the indecision about how and even whether to rebuild some of the businesses. In truth, literal location of brick and mortar business is much less important than it was, say, twenty years ago. It's actually rather excitingly post-apocalyptic in look, though, and would be an incredible location for expansion of the New Zealand movie-making scene. (I hesitate on leaving this in as I don't want to sound insensitive to the horror that happened here, but the resilience of some places, like the restaurant I'm about to mention, means that a new normal can be realized.)
So, as we were finding our way about in the chill, we came across a restaurant: Iconic Restaurant Club Bar on High Street. It was open, so therefore quite inviting! Turned out to be a truly inspired choice: a wonderful steak in mushroom sauce with a great fresh salad and chips for $15NZD and rugby playing silently on the two bigscreens. Rugby--and I say this with quiet veneration and a deep appreciation--is completely bonkers. <Insert profanity of your choice here>
those dudes are tough. (Cough andwellfit cough.) Anyway, the restaurant has delicious food and a nice warm atmosphere; I found out later that it is newly reopened after tragedy in the quake.
All three of us loved that meal so much we kept wanting to go back, which of course wasn't possible as, the next morning, we got on a nice tour bus at our hotel and were whisked away to Lake Tekapu, Mt. Cook, and the like on our way to Queenstown.
As this was a startlingly brilliant sunshiny day, our trip across the Canterbury Plains with various stops was an absolute trip highlight. Now, I don't generally care much for buses in the way that vegetarians don't care for entrails or mice don't care for cats, but this, well, this couldn't be beat. (And my first decaf flat white at the pit stop in Geraldine was amazingness.)
Okay, this trip report is gonna go on forever if I don't get on with it, but a shout-out to Intercity for its "Awesome New Zealand" tour. http://www.awesomenz.com/choose-your-awesome-destination/mt-cook/mt-cook-aoraki/ Turns out we went by "Great Sights" bus on this one, its top of the line, for all of $129NZD per person. (For those in the US, NZD at the time was about 25% less than USD, so this came in a bit under $100USD. I'll keep all prices in local currency just to be consistent.)
We stopped for lunch at Mt. Cook (although I can't forget to mention the breath-grabbing feeling of looking out through the window of Church of the Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapu) at the Hermitage Hotel of Sir Edmund Hillary fame; okay lunch, spectacular setting.
We rolled into Queenstown in the dark, about 7PM, and took a wee walk to the Queenstown Motel Apartments where we would spend the next three nights.
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Wow, that was an awesome trip!