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An Autumn Month in NZ

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May 3rd, 2015, 08:03 PM
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An Autumn Month in NZ

OVERVIEW

A month in New Zealand! My husband and I could hardly wait. It would be our first really loooong journey, preceded by a week in Hong Kong. In our early 60s, we had both retired and were relishing the opportunity to go somewhere for more than two weeks. We are in good shape but don't do much more physical activity than walk a lot and do some casual biking and kayaking.

We decided to rent a car for flexibility. I truly appreciated all the planning help I gleaned from the Fodor community trip reports. Besides restaurant and lodging tips, it was helpful in figuring out how long it takes to get places and how long to stay. There are too many writers to thank, but I found indiancouple's report and Mel's reports and changemaven's reports especially helpful. Indeed, it was the forum that persuaded us that we needed to spend an entire month in NZ if we could, and helped us decide on a week in the north and three in the south. We skipped the far north because we live in both Rhode Island and Miami Beach now and have lots of beach opportunities. FYI, we had stockpiled IHG hotel points and so we stayed in Holiday Inns and Crowne Plazas wherever we could to trim our costs.

Our route: We flew into Auckland. We went to Rotorua (2 nights), Napier (1), Wellington (2), Kaikoura (3), Christchurch (2), Mt Cook (1), Oamaru (1), Dunedin (2), Te Anau (1), overnight Doubtful Sound cruise, Queenstown (5), Fox (1), Westport (1), Little Kaiteriteri (2), Collingwood (2), Nelson (1), Auckland airport (1).

This will be long, but I hope it helps others as you have helped me. I found it funny to see how travelers' opinions of a place could be radically different because of the weather! Sometimes it takes "a village" full of reports to get the complete picture. Here's the beginning of mine.


SUNDAY 3/15/15: Touring Auckland as the cyclone looms

When we landed in Auckland we saw what we hadn't seen for a week in Hong Kong: blue sky in the early morning. But we were also aware that Cyclone Pam, called the worst cyclone seen in the Pacific in 20 years, had just devastated Vanuatu. It was headed toward the north island of NZ. Customs folks were true Kiwis, ie, not all that serious. Very welcoming.

By the time we grabbed the Airport Express ($16 each) and rode a half hour to the Crowne Plaza in Auckland, it turned cloudy. We crashed for a few hours in our room, which we reserved with IHG points; it was upgraded to a view room on the 26th floor. We could see the harbor, and the gathering clouds. It was so warm people were in shorts. In the lobby, we asked the concierge to call Apex, our rental car company, and help us figure out how we pick up our car tomorrow. She said they will meet us at the hotel at 10:30 am. Now it was spritzing a bit, but not enough to derail our exploring of the city. The very first thing we saw on our hotel's street was three guys going up in the "scream machine", a sort of reverse bungee jump that hurls you into the air at breakneck speed. It was our intro to NZ's adrenaline obsession.

We cruised down Queen Street, finally understanding via a fur store what possum fur is. Sounded pretty skanky in the guide book, but it's fur from a marsupial related to the koala. Super fluffy and soft and super expensive. Good thing it's so pricey; we wouldn't have to make any decisions on political correctness. We went to the Vodafone store and picked up a pay-as-you-go NZ smart phone for $59 including $20 in juice. Data use is cheaper than our US phone and calls in NZ are free so we can call ahead for reservations etc, and we can use the GPS out in the hinterlands. Plus, I lost my iPhone in Hong Kong a few days ago!

We walked around the harbor where several raucous St Patrick's Day celebrations were taking place. Lots of tall green hats. We wanted a beer and a snack and we ended up in the Hula Hut on the water for nachos ($10) and a couple of beers ($10). Someone tried to give us tips on the World Cup cricket game that's being watched all over town (Ireland vs Pakistan), but cricket is still a mystery. We walked around a bit more, seeing tributes to Dennis Conner and the '80s Americas Cup races and a WWI memorial mentioning Gallipolli and other legendary war names, with a note that it was restored recently by a "grateful refugee from Nazi Germany."

We stopped in a NZ product store where a young college guy couldn't talk to us enough about the States. He and his colleague suggested we could find a burger and a beer at nearby Velvet Burger ($45). The burgers were delicious; the velvety name seems to come from the light-as-air buns. And they have choices like burgers made with venison and lamb. But they were out of many things such as buns for the mini burgers so I had to order a regular size one, half of which I took home; all white AND red wine, so I had rose; and even sweet potato fries. Even the toilet paper wasn't in two of the three johns! The spacy waitress says, we've been so busy this weekend. Really, to run out of wine? I don't think that's EVER happened to me before. But the Kiwi humor in the menu saved them. The description of the chicken burger: the one that everyone wants but it's still as classy as your Mum. (Later we found out the sailors from the Volvo Around the World Sailing Race had landed in Auckland for a party around the harbor the day before; but still!) We went back to the hotel to do laundry at $2 a wash and $2 a dry.
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May 4th, 2015, 07:04 AM
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MONDAY: HEADING TO ROTORUA

I would agree with those who say one flight-recovery day in Auckland is enough. Lots more to do elsewhere in NZ. A young man from Apex picked us up promptly at 10:30 and drove us a few miles to the Apex office to sign out our car, a Sunny Nissan with about 130,000 kilometers on it. By using an older car we reduced our fee from $58 to $38 a day. We called it The Tin Can, but it served us well all month. About two weeks in, the trunk stopped opening with the key; we had to open the trunk with the inside release. That was our only problem.

It was drizzling, but that seemed to be the only effect of Cyclone Pam, which had been a bit of a fizzle in NZ, thank goodness. We had a drive of several hours to Rotorua, today's destination. We didn't know it but these would be the biggest and busiest roads we would travel for the next month. At least they were straight and fast for Chris to get used to driving on the wrong side of the road. Every time he went to turn on the blinker, he turned on the windshield wiper instead. That would continue all month. We stopped for gas and a bite to eat in tree-lined Cambridge, a town with an English feel. We browsed through a store on the main highway called Cambridge Country Store, housed in a 100-year-old stone church and loaded with NZ products from kitchenware to possum gloves; there's also a cafe. We stopped in Tirau, famous for its corrugated iron art. As you pass through you can't miss the giant sheep head and the giant dog head on the side of the road; the dog holds the information center.

By 4 we were sailing into Rotorua. We stopped at Rainbow Springs to get some info on seeing kiwis there; they suggested coming tomorrow for the 10 am tour, but if we wanted to come tonight to see the nocturnal kiwis rambling around in their night enclosures, we could do that, or we could do it tomorrow night. We found the Holiday Inn and checked in. It's a big modern place with a brand new wing that overlooks some thermal pools; we were upgraded to one of those view rooms thanks to our platinum IHG status. The Rainbow Springs guide had told us about thermal activity that you can see for free in the middle of town, so we drove out and walked from bubbling pond to bubbling mud puddle. A strange thing to have in your town park!

By now the sun was shining and it looked like there would be a nice sunset, so we headed to the lake that the town is situated around. The lakefront is picturesque with cruise boats and pontoon planes and lots of birds. We saw our first black swans, which were plentiful. We decided to follow a path along the lakefront, past the Government Gardens and then back to our car. It was a good long walk in beautiful golden light. There were quite a few folks at the lakefront, but almost none on this path, which followed the lake for quite a while and offered great views of waterbirds that were unusual to us. The Government Gardens were quite elaborate, with gorgeous roses. They back up to a magnificent Tudor-style building that was a bathhouse and is now the Rotorua Museum. There's also a moving WWI memorial.

From there we walked back past stores and restaurants to the lake, picked up our car, and headed to the hotel. Chris had seen the hotel staff preparing a dinner buffet before we left. It was about $45 NZ, but when we saw the array of appetizers and salads and roasts being carved, we decided to go for it. It was delicious. It was our first taste of green-lipped mussels, and I loved the smoked fishes and a couple of wonderful Indian dishes. Of course the roast lamb was very good and we were delighted to see Pavlova on the big dessert table. When we finished it was all we could do to roll ourselves back to our room. No kiwi-watching tonight!



TUESDAY: Kiwis and Maori in Rotorua

We were on the road by 9:15 because we had lots to do today. We wanted to be at Rainbow Springs for the 10 am tour because that's when any chicks are weighed; an egg had hatched in the past couple of days. After we'd paid our $47 NZ for the run of the park plus the behind-the-scenes kiwi tour, we headed to the kiwi house. The guide explained everything we wanted to know about NZ's national symbol, including that they're so endangered that private funds are raised for this program to rescue eggs from the wild, hatch them, and release the birds into the wild. This increases the survival rate from 5 percent in the wild to more than 90 percent. It costs about $2500 per bird. We were glad $10 of our entry fee was a charitable donation. The science of it all, including that the kiwi has been named an "honorary mammal" because it has at least as many of those characteristics as it does that of a bird, was quite interesting. Sure enough, in one room a worker was waiting for us and brought out an unexpectedly large chick, whose hairy feathers still looked like they were drying out, and curled him with his long beak into a bowl to be weighed. No photos. We were delighted. We spent 45 minutes with the guide and perusing all the kiwi info. The guide took us into the daytime kiwi area which was darkened to be nocturnal, where we saw one kiwi scurrying about. Our ticket allows us to return at night after 8:30 to the larger kiwi enclosure, and we hoped we'd have enough energy to do that!

Afterwards, we walked around the park. Got a peek at lots of NZ's birds and reptiles, and the signs about the trees and ferns were informative. We stopped at the 11 am bird show, but it's about non-native macaws and parrots, and we felt we could have skipped that. We were struck by the fact that NZ had no mammals until the Europeans arrived, and by what havoc can be wreaked when man interferes. The stoat and possum are still destroying native birds.

By noon we were off to Wai O Tapu, the thermal park 20 minutes south of Rotorua. A few of these exist, and we picked this one because Fodors described its freakish colors. It was well worth the $30 NZ fee. Visitors can do all three trails or just one or two depending on their time. We chose one and two and felt like we'd seen plenty in a couple of hours. Steam rises across this land, and you see gaudily colored craters and goopy, bubbly pits. A boardwalk takes you across a wide steaming area that makes you wonder what the Maori could possibly have thought when they encountered this. The colors are vivid behind the steam. (The geyser there erupts at 10:15 am every day.)

We were back at the Holiday inn by about 3, for a rest before our visit to Te Puia for a tour of their thermal lands and geyser, a cultural show and a hangi, a traditional meal cooked in the earth like a clambake. This was $150 NZ apiece -- an expensive day! But they would pick you up at your hotel and return you after 9.

We were at Te Puia by 4:30 and our Maori guide named Paul was full of info and stories, much of which answered questions we'd had since arriving in NZ. He explained how the Maori came here from Hawaii with most people staying on the north island. One scout came inland and thought other people were there because he saw so much smoke. He was seeing the thermals. He thought Rotorua with its big lake and warm rocks and pools for bathing and cooking a perfect place to settle. The island was covered with birds, no mammals. When Captain Cook stopped by he was afraid to go ashore because the birds were so loud. One Maori canoe went to the South Island and they saw a 12-foot eagle. They had to live in caves so they wouldn't get picked off. They didn't like that so they wanted to get rid of the eagles. The eagles ate moa, a flightless bird twice as big as an ostrich. So they penned moa at the bottom of the gorges, and when the eagles soared in to get them, they couldn't spread their wings wide enough to get out. So the eagles died off and the Maori promptly hunted the moa to extinction. Paul was full of stories like that. And jokes about Australian rugby players.

He then took us through the thermal area to the geyser which was erupting, which it does once or twice an hour for quite a while. It's called Pohutu and you can apparently see it from the other Maori village as well, but this is very close. This is not really enough thermal area to see all the wonders, so I was glad we had been to Wai O Tapu earlier. We did see neighborhood kids coming to swim in the thermal lake. Looked like great fun! We finished with the Carving School, where young guys were working on big statues, and the Weaving School, where women were working on creations, mostly things to be worn, made from palms and other leaves.

Next came the well-done cultural show; the ticket-selling women were singers, we noticed. Our guide for this part -- I think Guy -- was also suddenly part of the show. No one looked like they were phoning it in, as I had read in reviews of some other shows. The audience got to participate too with some of the singing games. 45 minutes and quite entertaining. Dinner started with delicious corn on the cob and green-lipped mussels. Next was the hangi food and salads, then desserts. At 8:15 we could board trams to see the geyser erupt under the stars, which most people did.

After Te Puia, we drove back to the kiwis at Rainbow Springs. A handful of us quietly paraded in the dark in front of about 6 largish enclosures, whispering when we'd spot a kiwi on the hoof. They're much larger than anyone expected. We felt grateful to be able to see these little fellows in action thanks to this fine organization. After that, we were happy to finally go to bed.
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May 4th, 2015, 06:24 PM
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Thanks for sharing your journey with us. Only went as far as Auckland and the surrounding area on our first visit; hope to get back to see more of the country someday soon.
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May 4th, 2015, 07:12 PM
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Ahem, that should be the 'other' side of the road



I'm currently doing the same thing in reverse, having just returned to the US after almost seven years in Australia.

Thoroughly enjoying your report. Look forward to more.
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May 12th, 2015, 09:18 PM
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Great report. Please write more!
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May 13th, 2015, 05:58 AM
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Enjoying your report, please continue!
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May 19th, 2015, 02:28 PM
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Thanks for this. Looking forward to your progression to the South Island, where we plan to spend several weeks next winter (NZ summer)
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May 20th, 2015, 09:52 AM
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WEDNESDAY: Napier and Hawke's Bay

We were on the road to Napier by 10:30; stopping at the BP for petrol (40$ NZ) at $1.79/liter, and an excellent rich egg and bacon pie $3.50 that we shared along with the usual $5 flat white. The steep, Hobbit-like hills began to flatten out as we headed toward Taupo. We had seen cows way up on a hill so steep it seemed like they might just tumble off. At the turnoff to Napier, a sign noted that the next gas was 136 miles away -- in Napier! Lots of logging in the area. The Maori had told us this is the Southern Hemisphere's largest manmade forest, with cutting and replanting. The road, which looks straight on the map, runs steep and twisty through a mountain range. Chris was in his best James Bond driving mode in our little tin can.

The Esk Valley Winery was a welcome sight at the end of that crazy road as we were heading into Napier at 1:30. From its perch you could just see the pale green-blue waters of Hawkes Bay. A sign said that if you don't buy, a tasting is $5. We loved the white wines, and the Syrah. The very nice manager told us they'd started buying some grapes from Marlborough because that's what foreign distributors want to hear. We also concluded that no matter how much we like a wine that we discover, we aren't going to be able to bring much back to the US or find it there. But at least we have a month here to drink it. We bought a bottle of late harvest dessert wine ($30) and 3 bottles of Chenin blanc for $48.

We headed the few miles to Napier to drop off our bags at the Art Deco Masonic Hotel, which was right on the Main Street facing the bay. Our superior queen room for $101 plus tax via Expedia netted us a nice room with a window looking across the street to the beach. It's a Beautiful old Deco building rebuilt after the other one fell down in the earthquake of 1931, when the whole town was rebuilt in Art Deco. By 3:30 we were back on the road because all the vineyards cellar doors, or tasting rooms, close at 5. We headed to the Te Mata Vineyards, which have produced many award winners. The problem with that is their wines are meant to age a bit or a lot, and so don't taste that amazing right now. They had their Colerain red blend available for tasting which was $99 a bottle, but it was meant to age up to 15 years. The drive out there was gorgeous, full of ripe red apple trees, with great rows of wooden crates lining the orchards -- one type of crate even had Johnny Appleseed stamped on it. Other fields were full of long rows of dug-up yellow onions.

We thought we might have a sunset drink at Elephant Hill Vineyards, which supposedly overlooks the Pacific, but it turned out to be across the beach road and at sea level, so we just went over to the beach. Chris met a fellow named Frank, who said the waves were pretty wild because of the cyclone. I walked the beach, which was tiny black stone, called shingle, and picked up shells and took photos. Some broad little sea stars had washed up, different than our with longer legs. A couple of pretty intact whelk-type shells still had the critter in them. Chris was still talking to Frank, whose camper van was near by. He said he was SKI-ing: spending the kids' inheritance. He said he and his wife Pam, who live in Hamilton, south of Rotorua, take two trips abroad every year. They were in Quebec and upstate New York and Vermont last fall. He noted that America serves such large portions he and his wife usually just share a plate.
It was cooling off and he offered to continue our long conversation ( it was at least 20 minutes already) in his camper, but we were hungry and declined.

It was 7-ish so we drove back to Napier. The menu for our hotel's restaurant, The Emporium, sounded so tempting that we opted for convenience. If Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip could eat here on her coronation tour (in 1954) why not us? Our young waitress recommended the fish special of bluenose ($32), a delicate fish that she said was her favorite NZ fish. She said the fish and chips ($25) was done with gurnard, a local fish, and that while Chris's dinner didn't come with much, mine came with enough chips for both of us. It was the lightest, most delicious fish I've ever had, and Chris's was very good too. We bought a bottle of the Three Bridges Dry Reisling from Waipara ($40; she didn't know where Waipara was, and it turned out to be on the South Island) and it was truly wonderful, like a very good German. The manager came over to talk to us and he wryly thanked us for coming to NZ even though we hadn't seen any hobbit movies. After dinner, we took a walk around town, admiring the Deco architecture. By 10 or so we were back in our room.



THURSDAY: Art Deco tour then a drive to Wellington

By 9 we were at the Art Deco Center across from the hotel to buy tickets for the 10 am walking tour ($17; there are a range of tours to choose from). We grabbed flat whites ($10) and croissants ($9) at the cafe on the corner. So many people had signed up that they needed two volunteer guides with 12 each. The tour was about an hour, walking all over the compact downtown and telling us about the earthquake and fire that caused the whole town to be rebuilt, in two years, in the popular styles of the times, primarily Art Deco. The Art Deco Weekend each February sounds like a blast, with many people dressed up in '30s style. The Art Deco Center boutique was well stocked too. At the end of the tour, we watched a 20-minute film about the earthquake with actual photos and footage which was very interesting.

About 12:15 we took off for Wellington, after sending an email to our b&b hosts so they could estimate our arrival. The drive on this sunny day took about 6 hours with a few short stops. We bought fruit at a lovely produce store on the main street in Dannevirke, with a foray into the grocery store for NZ cheese (the best was a goat and cow variety called Five Forks by Whitestone; we bought that regularly the rest of the trip) and bread to eat in the car. We had delicious black peaches. It's great traveling in the fall when everything is ripening. It was a lovely ride, with sheep- and cattle-covered hills, riding alongside the two mountain ranges that run down the center of the south part of the island. In one tiny town, we even saw sheep on a very green golf course. When we passed through Masterton, it looked on the map like it would be 45 minutes "over the hills" to Wellington but it was more like an hour and a half. The road over the hills was a steep twisting one that went on for miles. The guidebook says Wellies love to go over the hills for wine tastings at the many wineries that have sprung up up in the region in the past 10 years. But I can't imagine driving through these heavily forested mountains without a clear head!

We arrived at the Carlton Gore House, our B&B, and met Janice, who showed us to our room, 1 of 3 on the ground floor. Her living quarters are upstairs. No one else was staying, so she had upgraded us to a room with a partial harbor view and an ensuite. Quite pretty in pale green with two terry cloth robes and candy snacks on the nightstand. We chatted a bit, and she recommended a "cheap and cheerful" restaurant down the road but said there were plenty within walking distance. Her neighborhood is called Orient Bay and it is straight up the hill from the harbor with houses clinging to the steep hillside. Reminded us of San Francisco. Long sets of stairs lead pedestrians down to the harbor with views of gardens and quaint houses as you descend. We passed the Bluewater Grille which was the "cheap and cheerful," right on the water with entrees in the 20s. By now it was after 7 and we didn't need to spend money for a view we couldn't see (tho there is a tall lighted fountain spraying out of the middle of the harbor, quite unusual).

We decided to check out Cuba Street, a newly funky street full of restaurants and boutiques that is supposedly helping turn Wellington into "the capital of Cool." Apparently the city used to be a bit stodgy. We felt a bit cooped after our long ride, so we were up for an urban tramp. As we walked along the harbor, we saw two young Maori boys swimming, one with a snorkel. They tossed sea urchins up to their parents seated on the sea wall. We passed lots of stores and ethnic eateries. Cuba Street turned out to be funky indeed, with lots of independent shops (closed in the evening) and even more ethnic restaurants, and music pouring out of some places, and lots of pub tables on the sidewalks and street in the pedestrian area. Entertaining.

But on the way there, we had spotted a contemporary 2nd floor restaurant at 45 Tory Street called Chow whose Asian fusion menu appealed to us, so we hiked back there ( we had stopped in and asked what serving til "late" meant on their sign and they said 9:30 would be fine. Many restaurants in NZ seem to close at 9). We ended up loving it. The menu had a tapas concept with just the kind of interesting combinations that appeal to us. We had Pekin Duck in lettuce cups, tarahiki fish wrapped in banana leaves (our kind waiter told us to not eat the leaves) with coconut sauce, and blue cheese and peanut wontons in berry coulis. Each dish was $10-$15 and we were happy sharing three. For dessert we had carmelized pineapple on sticky rice. Simply delicious. Not that wild about the Babich Riesling, a bit bland. $91 for the meal. Janice had said we could take a city bus right up to her street or a cab for $12. We opted for the cab as by now it was almost 11.
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May 20th, 2015, 09:57 AM
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FRIDAY: Wellington's many sides

We were upstairs by 8, the time we had agreed on for breakfast. Janice had to go to a funeral, but said she had plenty of time to make us bacon and eggs. The dining room overlooked the harbor in the distance. Her husband Brent came in and had coffee with us. We talked about cars, our various national health insurance woes, and the racial troubles in Ferguson, MO. I was surprised how up on American news they were. They said they have run the b&b for six years, but they were planning to close for a while because Janice has to help out with an ill family member in Australia.


By 10 we were out the door. We had seen planes flying into the airport on the other side of the hill, so we decided to take a drive out that way. We were surprised to find that the capital city has beautiful streets to drive/bike/walk along every inch of the peninsula. We parked at the end of the runway and Chris watched the planes and I walked the beach. It was a blue sky day so lots of people were walking their dogs; surfers were out in the waves.

We decided to follow the waterfront road and practically screeched to a halt at one bay with stunning views out over the next point, two faraway lighthouses and magnificent rocky outcroppings at low tide. There were even signs to be careful of blue penguins, the world's smallest, that come ashore at dusk all along the coastline. Could anything be better? I took a million photos and we walked the coastal trail and hunted shells and watched planes for at least an hour. Who could imagine this wild stuff would be minutes away from the Houses of Parliament? What a city. (Later we learned that orcas occasionally show up in the downtown harbor, hunting stingrays.) We ended up driving all around the peninsula, stopping at a couple of shops and art galleries near the colorful Chocolate Fish Cafe, which specializes in seafood, on Shelly Bay.

Before 3 pm we were in our free-on-points room at the Wellington Intercontinental Hotel. Hurray, our new BOA credit cards were in our room, along with my new ATM card. Back in business! We allegedly had been upgraded but we saw nothing special other than the usual IC luxury. No real view. We ate our bit of remaining cheese and bread and took off for the waterfront, where popup shops were housed in corrugated iron containers. Our destination was The Te Papa museum, often called the best in NZ, which turned out to be free. We started with entry into the feel-an-earthquake house and the colossal squid exhibit with a real squid. Critter was caught off the coast of Antarctica and preserved for the museum. It has the largest eyes in the world, as big as soccer balls. Chris went to the Air NZ 75th anniversary exhibit while I had a cappuccino with a beautiful fern design in the foam. After that we browsed exhibits about life at home during WWI and also about New Zealanders' devotion to the queen. At the end we saw the incredibly elaborately carved wooden Maori meeting house, as well as an example of of the small boats they used to cross the ocean to arrive from Hawaii. By then it was 6 (gift shop was good) so we walked back to the hotel and on our way had an Allan Scott Riesling from Marlborough at a bar with tables on the sidewalk for good people watching.

After a short rest at the hotel, we headed back up to Cuba Street to look for something to eat. We read that there is a Night Market every Friday night. It was on a narrow pedestrian street off Cuba, and dozens of food kiosks had been set up along it. Lots of college students were eating and socializing, but there was really nowhere to sit once you had food. And it was only in the 50s by now. So we ducked into a little Vietnamese restaurant and sat down for some ok food and beer. Afterwards, we enjoyed some time in Pegasus, a colorful store that had both used and new books. We scored a used copy of a biography of Captain Cook, since we were now so intrigued by his exploration of NZ.

SATURDAY: Ferry to the South Island, aviation centre, Kaikoura

Left the Intercontinental and headed 10 minutes down the road for our 10:30 am car ferry to Picton and the South Island. The ferry was delayed a bit out of concern over roughness at the mouth of the harbor. But it was beautifully sunny weather. The ferry was large, with plenty of lounging space both indoor and out. The cafeteria served up a big breakfast with lots of meat at a reasonable price, so we indulged. As we entered the Marlborough Straits everyone was out on deck snapping photos of the islands and coves and fjords, some covered with trees, some smooth and dry like California. We saw a few boats and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.

We were about an hour late arriving, which was squeezing us on time for getting to the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre near Blenheim (in addition, the signage to this place is not the best). We raced into the museum and were blown away by its elaborate recreation of WWI airplanes and air scenarios. Thanks to the enthusiasm and money of LOTR and Hobbit director Peter Jackson, some early planes of WWI that no longer exist at all have been painstakingly replicated here. Others are the real planes that have been restored and may no longer exist outside of a couple of museums in Europe. Some replicas have even been flown. Some historic moments are recreated in fancy movie fashion, such as the crash of the plane and death of the Red Baron, who is being carried on a stretcher. In addition to planes, much war memorabilia is also displayed, including Rickenbacher's uniform and Goering's uniforms and his diary. My husband is an airplane buff and we have been to a few small air museums and this is a don't-miss for enthusiasts.

We spent more than an hour there but easily could have spent longer. We were trying to hit at least one of the Marlborough wineries before they closed. We screeched in to the Allan Scott Winery at 4:50 but the hours had changed since the guidebook was published and the cellar door closes at 4:30. None stay open past 5; Kiwis like their private life, and tourists had better squeeze in what they can between 9 and 5, we found. So we drove down the road to The Vines Village, a conglomeration of local crafts and home and food shops where one stayed open long enough for us to try some local olive oils and taste and buy some butterscotch and cream liqueurs. Another shop stayed open to give us ice cream cones. Then we were off to Kaikoura.

The weather had held, and the drive was increasingly beautiful in the golden light. But the most spectacular part came when the road hit the beach. The waves were wild, the sand was pure white and the driftwood was abundant and sculptural. It was enchanting, like a movie. I was so jealous of people in campers pulling up to spend the night on this wildly exotic coast. But we wanted to be in Kaikoura before dark, around 8. We pulled off as often as we could afford to gaze at the beach, and I had to walk on it. At a lookout point, a young couple excitedly called to us that there were tons of seal pups on the rocks below. It was Oahu Point, 20 minutes north of Kaikoura where a major seal colony was at rest and seriously at play. It was great fun to watch the younger ones playing in pools and waves while their mothers lounged.

We pulled into The Kaikoura Boutique Hotel a little before 8, and the owner suggested the best restaurant in town was The Green Dolphin, which I remembered from Indiancouples trip report. He called and found the restaurant could squeeze us in at this late hour, so we hastily put our bags in the room and went to dinner. It was excellent, with green-lipped mussels steamed in coriander, lime, ginger and coconut creme and lamb from a local farm with pea purée. We loved the wine that the staff recommended -- I believe it was Georges Road Riesling from Waipara Valley -- and loved chatting with our young waitress from France who was in NZ having an adventure with her boyfriend. We found that tho individual glasses of wine were invariably $10, a whole bottle was often in the $30s. Leading to overindulgence!

We drove back to the hotel, maybe four minutes away. Our room, like the others, was gathered around a flower-bedecked patio, which would have been lovely to sit in had it not been chilly. The room was quite nice, with everything we needed tho not a kitchen since it's not a motel. The owner had been quite helpful with things to do, and suggested that at some point we might want to do the walk around the peninsula with good views and seal encounters. We were in bed by 11.
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May 20th, 2015, 05:12 PM
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Your journey around the country sampling the fruits of the land sounds absolutely delightful. Cannot wait to go back.
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May 20th, 2015, 05:20 PM
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Living vicariously through your report, wishing I was in NZ right now.
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May 23rd, 2015, 06:00 AM
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Thank you! I'm hoping the report will go thru all 30 days. This is not as easy as it seems when you are just reading others' reports, is it?
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May 23rd, 2015, 07:24 AM
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No, it's not. Writing is the tome consuming bit. We appreciate your efforts!
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May 25th, 2015, 08:25 PM
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Wonderful report. We are in Greece at the fag end of our holiday and we decided next year was going to be NZ for us for our 10th anniversary and celebrate turning 40! Keep going.
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May 28th, 2015, 03:53 PM
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Thanks so much for writing this report, looking forward to the rest.
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Jun 3rd, 2015, 06:31 AM
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SUNDAY: Peninsula walk, net ball, and one gorgeous Pavlova

We were up early and at the Owl coffee truck and the Kaikoura bakery, both excellent, by 9ish, but our 10 am whale watch was cancelled because the seas were rough and the whales were too far out. We could hang around for the noon cruise in case things settled down, they said, but we opted to switch our reservation to tomorrow as we had built in an extra day just for this reason. Apparently the boats hadn't been able to go out all week thanks to the cyclone.

We decided to take our hotelier's suggestion and do the peninsula walk from the hotel into the hills, then around the cliffs, down to flat rocks and seals and back out the main road returning to the hotel. It is suggested that this is possibly a 3-4 hour walk; it took us five. And though we quite liked most of it, the walk down the road back to town was tedious and we were tired. I needed a taxi! Fortunately, a well-known seafood truck, The Original Kaikoura Seafood BBQ, was there serving food to revive our spirits, and we had a hearty snack of whitebait patty and a garlic scallops sandwich. The cliffs portion of the walk provides beautiful vistas, and at two points in the walk you see fur seal colonies (mostly sleeping). Toward the end you walk on a fascinating expanse of flat rock where some fur seals were, and we were wondering where all the people suddenly came from since we hadn't encountered many on our hike. It turns out a big parking lot is right there and people walk out to see the seals. That would have been easier! So if you don't have much time, the parking lot is an option. One fur seal was hamming it up right in front of the parked cars.

Back at the hotel, since the weather was still holding, we jumped in our car and went back to see the seal event that we had missed at Oahu Point, which was a waterfall across the road where pups climb up an amazing length of rocks to reach a waterfall where they can play in the pool. We saw just two pups but at other times of year many more are going at it.

By 7, the weather had deteriorated into a depressingly cold drizzle, so we found our way to the Pier Hotel at the end of town. The dining room was busy, so we retreated to the bar, where a lad from Minnesota was behind a gorgeous vintage wood bar. We had appetizers and wine and beer and then took advantage of the homemade Pavlova special. It came out wreathed in hard meringue and was a beehive-shaped vision that elicited many comments when I posted it on Facebook. The entire month, we would never have pavlova that looked the same way twice. We ended up watching a women's quarterfinal net ball game on tv with four women who were here on a golf long weekend and were huge fans of one of the teams. They explained the game to us -- mainly, basketball with no dribbling. One of them had spent quite a lot of time in the US last year, including a bus trip following Route 66 from Chicago to LA. Kiwis continue to amaze us.

MONDAY: Whale watch, wine tasting, Governors Bay

Woke up to no rain -- yay! Stopped again at the Coffee Owl for flat whites and at the bakery across the street for pastry. This time had a "split" piece of bread filled with tomato and olives plus a raspberry cream cheese muffin with a deposit of cream cheese at the bottom. Delicious. $12 for both. The whale watch departed on time at 10 with what they called ideal sea conditions. Very organized. For the three-hour trip you're on the water about an hour and a half but you see plenty. A spotting plane was flying overhead, plus the captain was using some sort of hydrophone to locate the resident sperm whales, and soon they were on to one. A big sperm whale had surfaced and we and another boat circled it, watching it spout then turn tail and dive. Our mission was accomplished; we'd seen the guaranteed whale and they wouldn't be refunding any money.

We took off for an area where they hoped to spot dusky dolphins, and we saw probably 40. Some were jumping, putting on a show. Much more entertaining than the whale. Since they hadn't had any news of more whales, we went to a big rock island where some NZ fur seals hang out and saw babies playing in a pool. Back in port, we had lunch in the whale watch cafe and made a hotel reservation for that night.

We left a little after 2, heading toward Christchurch thru a mountain range with a million hairpin turns. This is the main drag down the coast, Route 1, with a ton of giant trucks on it. They don't tell you this why it takes so long to get anywhere here: There's always only one two-lane road. Not even a shoulder most of the time, but there usually are a decent night number of designated passing lane opportunities. Nevertheless, you see a sign that says "give way" and suddenly you're passing over a 1-lane bridge!

Since we were passing thru the Waipara Valley at the decent hour of 3:30, we decided to stop for a couple of wine tastings before 5. Georges Road, home to my new favorite Riesling, did not appear to have a tasting option, so we stopped at Waipara Hills, which is on Route 1. They have an imposing stone European-type building with cathedral ceilings, and plenty of folks were stopping in for a tasting (or the coffee option) in a pretty outdoor area with views of the now sun-washed mountains. Loved their Riesling and their Chardonnay. Resisted the urge to buy as we have two more bottles of Chenin blanc in the trunk and we haven't cooked or had time to sit around and drink yet! We moved on to the most famous of the vineyards (apparently), Pegasus, which was maybe a mile away down the next road. At this elegant property, the restaurant was gourmet and the tasting room was friendly and dark; huge barrels of wine were visible in the next room. We chatted with a guy who seemed to be their barrel maker, and he has known the family who owns the winery forever.

We pushed on in the sunshine, leaving the flatter lands of the vineyards for more dramatic mountains. We bypassed Christchurch heading toward Lyttleton and Governors Bay at the start of the Banks peninsula. As we entered Lyttleton on a road high above the harbor we saw a huge ship and realized it's a working port, in fact the main port for the South Island. The next 8 km to Governors Bay were just as scenic. The Governors Bay Hotel, on the main road, is a clapboard antique that looked straight out of New England. The deck in front had a great view of the bay and if it weren't chilly and 7 pm I'm sure more than the two tables would have been occupied. There was no lift to the rooms upstairs, so Chris dragged my suitcase up. We checked out the very weak wifi, and headed downstairs for dinner.

It's something like one of two of the oldest continuously operating pubs in NZ. Somehow we suspected the food might be average so we skipped the $32 salmon and $35 beef Wellington and ordered fish and chips ($20) and the pasta special with chicken ($23). The fish was the typical fried crunchy fish, plus a nice salad with loads of cukes and tomatoes. Chris's chicken pasta was just ok. The folks next to us ordered the beef Wellington special and it looked rare and awesome. We lingered, trying to send friends some pix with the stronger wifi in the dining room. By 9:30 we were upstairs, being frustrated by the lack of Internet connection in our room.
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Jun 14th, 2015, 10:10 PM
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TUESDAY: Godley Head, earthquakes and Christchurch

My side of the bed was curiously slanted and I had a rather uncomfortable night. Turned out Chris's side wasn't slanted at all! We didn't even attempt to use the shared shower ( tho we should have used the washing machine which was in one bathroom). I went out on the balcony that the four front rooms share and saw boxes of blankets and hot water bottles for sitting out at night. Would be fun for a group I bet. But room 5 had no outstanding attributes. Bed was big but there was no room for night stands to put your stuff on. Sink in room tho. We ate a continental breakfast in the small breakfast room next door, with coffee and toast and cereal, as well as a bowl of apples and oranges and a Nespresso coffeemaker. No one was manning the reception desk, and there was a plate to leave your keys on so we considered ourselves checked out. Hope they charged us the right price! The hotel with its purple window boxes looked quaint in the sunshine. She, a business across the street that supposedly makes great chocolate, was not open yet when we left.

We had the choice of going about 50 miles into the Akaroa peninsula to the town of Akaroa, but we decided against pretty shops and galleries and fine dining in favor of a drive out to Godley Head at the very top of the peninsula. On the map it appeared that the legendarily twisty and beautiful Summit ridge road went all the way out, but after we drove part of it, the rest was closed. It was a beautiful day and many people were out walking, running and cycling. One runner told us that the road no longer goes through because of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. Hmmm. So we headed a few miles away to Lyttleton, which we had seen from on high the night before. We love a good working port anyway.

We stopped at the tourist center off the small Main Street to ask about getting out to Godley Head. There we were enlightened about the earthquakes. Lyttleton was the epicenter of the fall 2010 one. Much was destroyed, and the town is still rebuilding, which was obvious all over the main section. The tourism lady said in addition to the 2011 quake which destroyed the downtown of Christchurch, the area endured 14,000 aftershocks. She said it brought everyone together and made them all realize that nothing but each other was important. She said they weren't afraid after the first one, because nobody died. It was at 4 am and rolled like jelly. The second was straight up and down and 185 people died, mostly in Christchurch. It was at 12:50 pm. Buildings weakened in 2010 fell apart in 2011. About 70 people died in the collapse of a television station building, whose floors pancaked. And yes the Summit Road collapsed and is not yet fixed. However, she said, we could go thru the tunnel toward Christchurch and then go up to Godley Head on a road from Sumner town.

So we visited the port and saw one of two steam tugs left in the world (rides only on Sundays) and where ferries leave for nature walks on Quail Island. We admired the huge ocean-going freighter in port -- we'd seen a car carrier glide out majestically the night before -- and inhaled the good wood smell from thousands of logs piled up waiting for a ship to take them away. A long train came through with open-topped cars filled with coal. We stopped at the town bakery for bread, but no more bread was available so we went up to the organic coop on Main Street and got three kinds of local cheese and a loaf of wheat stone ground that had been delivered two days ago but was still good. We needed gas, but there was none in Lyttleton, so we went thru the tunnel to where the tourist lady told us the nearest station was, but they were out of gas -- expecting a delivery in the afternoon. The gas fellow sent us off to a station in Sumner where we did find some, thank goodness. That gas fellow directed us around the beach road where the tide was out and the hugely wide beach was stunning. I was tempted to stop there but I wanted to get to Godley Head while the sun held. We started climbing up up up and at every turn it was more beautiful. Finally at one turn we could see the bay below and a huge sweep of coast, edged in crashing waves. Breathtaking. We were confused a bit at the forks on this astonishingly steep, no-guard-rails-anywhere road high in the sky, but friendly bikers helped us out. We told one middle-aged fellow that we were surprised to see so many bikers on this tough route but he said it wasn't that difficult if you arranged your gears right. "Anyone can do it if you do 10 miles at a time. Even my Mum still does it at 75." Something to live up to!

So we pressed on, hoping no other car was coming around these sharp one-lane curves, very nerve-wracking. Finally we were at the top at the Godley Head Reserve with a parking area and a few picnic tables. By now it was 2 pm and we were starving so we brought our cheeses and bread to the picnic tables. We ate, gazing at the long NZ coast on one side, and the milky blue fjord on the other. We saw just two sailboats lost in the fjord's immensity. A bicyclist had told us to make sure to go the 300 extra yards to the "goonery" which we figured out was the gunnery. After our lunch we set off for what the sign said would be an hour trek thru the gunnery and coastal trail. We headed down down down, which meant we'd have to come back up, and inspected several different gunneries from where the Kiwis (often the Wacs) kept watch day and night but never had any action. The Americans had come to NZ to protect it while the NZ soldiers were in Europe. Also, the U.S. ran some of the South Pacific operations out of Wellington. Going back up, we came to a fork in a meadow and fortunately chose the right path to the mountaintop parking lot. The other would have gone way down to the town called Taylor's Mistake. We've noted that the signage is not always obvious to us foreigners.

We carefully drove back down the cliff side to the beach at Sumner. The tide was still out but the light was not as good for photos. Still, we parked and walked in across the huge sands and Chris looked at his email and realized our realtor had sent us a message that there was an offer on our house, which we had been trying to sell. As Chris was dealing with the email, the sun came out and I took lots of photos in the clear light. Teenagers, families, just folks were all scattered on the beach doing their thing, running in the waves, playing around the rocky outcroppings in some hobbit-like caves. A very striking wall of containers runs for several blocks at the bottom of the high cliff facing the beach to hold back quake rubble from the busy beach road; some were decorated with artwork. Apparently some of the houses high up on the cliff had fallen during the quakes.

By now it was 5. We broke out the phone GPS to help us find Designer Cottage B&B, which would be our home in Christchurch for the next two nights. It was quaint and stylish. The owner, Chet, has bought several small houses and has them in a compound to rent. Simple but well appointed rooms, very attractive. The courtyard was handsome too, showing Chet's gift as a landscape designer and the influence of Asian style. Chet took us into the breakfast room building, which was fashioned out of corrugated sheets. He gave us a map that he had put together himself for his guests and succinctly pointed out all the places he liked to eat between the house and downtown a mile away, as well as sights along the way. This was the nicest presentation by an owner that we've ever seen in a b&b. So helpful!

We took a little rest and then walked into town to eat at Beer and Burger. We weren't that hungry yet, so we walked farther on to make reservations for tomorrow night at Cafe Valentino which Chet had recommended for good reasonable lamb. Then we came back to the burger place, which sells wine and beer too. The burgers were even better than the ones we had earlier in NZ. Once again the buns were amazing, like real bread, almost English muffins, instead of boring like in the US. I had the burger with bechamel sauce and onion rings; Chris had the lamb burger. Totally delicious. The burgers were $13 apiece, so dinner was about $40 NZ. We walked home and hit the sack at about 11.
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Jun 14th, 2015, 10:29 PM
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WEDNESDAY: The Christchurch experience

The breakfast table was stylishly laden with fruit and continental breakfast goodies. Chet was directing all the action, seating guests, making coffee, suggesting locally made lemon-line jam and other items we might not be aware of. We chatted with two couples from Holland about our experiences so far. Chet made suggestions re our plans for the day and generally helped keep the gabfest going. Sometimes the b&b breakfast experience, like this one, is so entertaining and relaxing that you don't get going quite as quickly as you had intended! We finally were off, walking downtown and noting all the artistic touches resulting from the earthquake recovery. My favorite was a beautiful armchair made of a mosaic of broken China in a tiny garden. Huge wall murals were here and there on the street.

We ended up in the container shopping center, made from metal shipping containers to house retail outlets that had to be relocated when their buildings were damaged. Very fun and funky, with lots of small places to eat and to sit outside. The arch of remembrance (a war memorial) was shrouded in scaffolding, being bolstered. We continued on to the city center where it finally dawned on us: 70 percent of the downtown had been destroyed by the earthquakes. Big buildings still sit there condemned; others have been torn down into empty spaces; new ones are being built. The huge cathedral the square is named for lays half in ruins. It's a dramatic sight.

The info center in Cathedral Square told us we'd missed both the hour-long bus tours that explain to tourists what happened in the quakes (11 am and 1 pm). A more general tour was available in an hour but we decided to mount our own. We walked along various streets to get to the Cardboard Cathedral which is basically taking the place of the ruined cathedral. After the earthquake, Christchurch citizens contacted a Japanese architect who had built a cardboard cathedral in Japan after the earthquakes there. He came to Christchurch. The result is astonishing: a huge church with a soaring peaked ceiling, all made of cardboard. The roof structure looks like gigantic paper towel tubes. The church has stained glass too. It's just beautiful. I found the spirit and effort of this quite emotional, tho I felt that way about the whole city. A 70-ish volunteer inside told us that she had moved to Christchurch from London several years before the quakes. When the second quake struck, she was walking outside, having just come from the doctor. She couldn't retain her footing; neither could those around her. She was not injured in her fall, and she went home and checked on a 90-year-old neighbor who said she knew she'd be all right because she had gone thru this before: as a child, she lived through the Napier earthquake! The volunteer said she didn't yet know all her neighbors but the earthquakes quickly brought everyone together. We heard that over and over again; it taught people what was important in life, and it's people, not houses.

We decided to go back to the container shopping area to see "Quake City," a small museum and movie dedicated to the quakes. On the way we stopped at an info center and asked if they knew the location of a statue representing a fellow named Godley, who was an ancestor of our neighbor back home. "You mean John Godley, the founder of Christchurch? He's right over there; he's just been put back up," she said. Apparently the statue had fallen during the quakes. Now it was back up, tho still shrouded in scaffolding; we snapped a photo for our pals. We took a quick pass through the elaborate Botanical Gardens (the redwood trees and the roses were enchanting) and consumed a flat white in the cafe. I would have loved to go "punting" down the Avon River (in a kayak or the more traditional boat), which winds through the middle of everything as tho this were England, but not enough time (geez, aren't we here for a month?!).

Quake City is well worth about two hours, which is longer than the hour we had (like everything in NZ, it closes at 5; why were we surprised). The museum desk person offered to let us come back the next day but we were scheduled to leave, so we saw what we could. The exhibits are so enlightening about earthquakes and their effects; one video shows a street security film of about 40 seconds of the quake, with a building falling apart, people falling to the ground, and a sidewalk cracking open. This was just one block and it was not Hollywood or Peter Jackson! In an hour-long film that I would love to have finished watching, residents are interviewed about what happened to them when the 2011 earthquake struck. One woman was in a tower of the cathedral in the square and was buried; another lost her fingers trying to get out of a collapse; another told of trying to find the husband she was meeting downtown for lunch. It was riveting.

We walked back to the b&b, relaxed, and returned to town for our 7:30 pm reservations at Cafe Valentino, which was lively with after-work types. It looked perfect now, but a menu picture showed how the restaurant had been damaged by the quakes and then repaired. We had the lamb shank and the filet of lamb from a menu more varied then our choices would indicate! Both were delicious. I told the waitress I loved the unusual flavoring on the filet, and she said, "It must be star of anise; they love star of anise here." But she went back to the kitchen to make sure, and indeed it was, plus cinnamon. We were home by about 10.
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Jun 15th, 2015, 04:13 PM
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Still following along...
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Jun 15th, 2015, 06:49 PM
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So glad you enjoyed Christchurch - I found Quake City fascinating - we had a few hours there and it still wasn't enough. I personally find post-earthquake Christchurch much more interesting than before - such a testament to the Kiwi spirit.
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