January 7-9, 2013
(Posted by Xavier)

We limped into Christchurch, New Zealand after a 6-hour stop over in Auckland. Yes, you heard right, 6 hours, and that after being on a plane flight for nearly 9 hours. We scheduled a long layover because we weren’t sure how long customs would take and if we could catch our connecting flight on time. Dazed with our clocks all out of whack, along with losing a day because we crossed the international date line, me trying to kick some kind of bug (slight fever and stomach ache), and Kristin pulling a muscle in her left shoulder, we finally set our bags down in a newer YMCA in Christchurch. Oh, and I have to mention, from the time we set foot on Air New Zealand and all the way through the airport, it was non-stop “Hobbitmania”. Tastefully, humorous and with a real sense of pride for their country, though.

Catching our breath, (it’s now early afternoon on our longest day ever!) we set off to venture into and around Christchurch. It was quite clear on our bus ride from the airport that the city was still in the throes of digging out and repairing the damage it suffered in the February 2011 earthquake. Several blocks downtown are still fenced off as clearing debris and rebuilding efforts continue. Historic buildings are actively being repaired while temporary flying buttress type steel beams hold them together. We came across an inventive and intelligently built temporary downtown shopping area constructed entirely from shipping crates, bringing an active upbeat atmosphere to the community. We walked around, stopped and ate a tasty pizza, then decided to walk a little further to a large grocery store to get some items for a night time snack and for breakfast the following morning. Walking back we skirted along the edge of the city’s botanical gardens. Kristin was tired and feeling the pain in her shoulder she decided to rest up. Around 7pm, cloudy but bright outside, I decided to check out the gardens. I set out with camera in hand, and ventured across the street to the botanical gardens. Pictures don’t do it justice – it was magnificent and beautiful. On the walk back I came across a very nice looking older large Victorian type house that’s a hostel, just one block from where we were staying. And right across the street was one of those large stone historical buildings being held together by those temporary flying buttress type steel beams. Wow, coming from California, it made me pause about what can possibly, and what will probably some day happen.

Day two in Christchurch, and I feel great! Bug is gone, we both catch up on rest and sleep, so we’re ready to go! The kitchen facilities were way too cramped at this YMCA, but we made it work. We got some tidbits of traveling info from an older English backpacking couple and then made our way over to the tourist information booth at the entrance to the botanical gardens. Information was was confirmed and so we set off to adjust plans for exploring the South Island of New Zealand. Turns out a large rain storm a week earlier had washed out a main road over the mountains we were to travel on. So we rearranged our tour of the island to go in the other direction – one of the benefits of flying off cuff and rolling with the punches. A quick ride to pick up our camper van (Spaceships Rentals) and we’re off!
What the heck is going on here!
Everything is backwards!
Okay,okay,okay. I saw that they drive on the wrong side of the street here. That’s quite obvious once you get off the plane. But the steering wheel is on the right side of the car! Hey, that’s the passenger side, folks! Yikes! But in a way I’m really looking forward to this. So I jump in and as loving and trusting Kristin takes command of the maps and deciding where to go first and how to get there, I just drive. Ooooooh man, this driving on the wrong side of the street is challenging and kinda of scary at first, because you think you’re going to get into an accident at any time. Why, you ask? Because all these folks are driving on the wrong side! Not only that, you’re sitting on the wrong side of the car to drive. All in all, it’s going to take a little time to get used to this, but I’m getting really good at turning on the windshield wipers when I make a turn. Think about it, and you’ll get what I mean.

Okay, now were off. After a quick stop at another grocery store to get fully stocked up with goods and goodies for the camp meals on the road, we set off south down to Moeraki. It’s early afternoon and the sun is shining as we drive though a countryside full of grazing sheep and happy cows (happy cows is Kristin’s way of describing cows grazing on grass filled hillsides as compared to ones all penned up eating out of cornmeal -filled troughs). We finally make our destination of Moeraki. We make our way down to the beach from a deserted parking lot. Are we at the right place? Where is everybody? It’s about 7:30pm, overcast, and very low tide. We get to the beach and notice a few other people off in the distance. Wow! What’s that they’re standing on. Oh man! Did some aliens drop off some marbles? Did the Maori gods make these? Were these large boulders that rolled downed the side of a volcano and became perfectly round? Whatever and however they came to be, well, you just have to see the pictures posted. This is truly wild and one of a kind in the world. Kristin checks one off her bucket list and I just smile in amazement.

We leave the beach and make our way to our camping spot in the woods. We cook dinner and quickly call it a day. It’s 10pm, and it’s still light outside. This Southern Hemisphere time warp is going to take some getting used to. Sunrise around 5pm and sunset sometime after 10pm. Tomorrow we set off to see them march.