For our trip from Tekapo, we decided that we would head back to Christchurch, since we hadn’t properly explored the city, and we couldn’t really head down to Queenstown, even though we had wanted to. We simply wouldn’t have the time to drive down there and drive back, so we were forced to settle for Christchurch. Prior to leaving, however, we decided that we should drive up Mt. John for a parting coffee/hot chocolate at the café, because they did it really well there. Sadly for us, the view was largely obscured…there was an obscene amount of fog, so much that we could only see a few yards in front of the car before the scenery faded into mist.
Caffeine fix taken care of, we started the drive back to Christchurch. It felt like kind of a lost day, because there weren’t any really big events planned…just going and driving to a city we’d already been to. While I’m on the topic of driving, now might be a good time to mention the driving talents of Matt Edgar. The car that we’d been driving the last few days was a pretty old, beat up car, with limitations in speed. And that’s fine, because it was free and really quite generous of our hosts to lend it to us. But this had been the first time that Matt was driving in New Zealand, which is a lot like Australia in its driving rules. That is, steering wheel on the right hand side, and driving on what would be the wrong side of the road in America. So naturally, there were a couple of terrifying hiccups along the way, at least three at my last count. The worst was definitely in Christchurch itself, where, on a crowded street, disaster was narrowly avoided when Matt drove the wrong way at an intersection. After a few terrifying moments, we were safely back on the correct side of the road, but still…it was quite an intense couple of seconds.
Anyway, the plan for Christchurch was to go and check back into a hotel and then explore the city for a bit. At least with Christchurch, we had the advantage of having scoped out the best deals for motels, and as it turned out, the same room was available for us to re-claim, so we booked it. After settling in and getting our stuff out of the car, we hit the town for a little while, taking pictures of the various sculptures and the Cathedral they had. At one point, I lost Matt and Mike, and then wandered off into a souvenir shop, where I bought myself my first (and likely only) souvenir for myself: a New Zealand All-Blacks rugby Jersey. It’s quite nice, actually. It turns out Mike and Matt were checking out the Cathedral, and after going in myself, we were setting off to see more of the city.
While we were walking around, we found an information center where it would be possible to book skydiving for tomorrow, so we walked in and inquired about it. Matt wouldn’t be able to do it due to a lack of funds, so it looked like it would be me and Mike heading up into the plane to take our lives into our hands once more. The place that we had wanted to skydive was Kaikoura, because it was on our way back to Picton, and would mean less driving for us, but this presented us with a problem. You see, it turns out that the operation in Kaikoura is quite small, and thus the pilot can only take up one skydiver at a time. We had been imagining a scenario where we’d be in the same plane and would be doing it together, or at least at almost the same time. Each trip for the Kaikoura one would be 2.5 hours. To be honest, the more I’d thought about it, the less I wanted to do it. I’d already gone and done enough thrillseeking with the bungee jump, and to be honest, I felt like going skydiving would be pushing my luck a little bit. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t have done it under the right circumstances…but I wasn’t dying to do it in the first place, so I bowed out, leaving Mike to do the skydiving. It’s not like I would have been there for support anyway. Plus it’s really expensive…over $250. Mike booked his skydive and we were on our way.
Parking in New Zealand cities is a pain in the ass and quite expensive to boot, so when we were able to find free parking for an hour, we jumped at the opportunity. This, however, limited the amount of time that we were actually able to stay in the city, and after a quick look around, we were headed back to the hotel to eat our leftover pasta for dinner. After a “delicious” meal and watching some crappy television, catching up on emails, etc., we headed back in, because what the hell else were we going to do?
We stopped into a Casino in the city, and my recent run of bad luck continued. Even though there were $5 tables, I couldn’t seem to buy a break and was down $60 before I walked away. Just dreadful. Stinging from this loss, I needed something to help take my mind off of the blackjack tables, so we went to the movies and saw Terminator: Salvation. It was alright…I’d give it a B/B-. Tired out from our long day, we were soon passed out in the room.
The next day started off rather lousy for me, actually. Upon packing up and getting ready to take Mike to Kaikoura to meet his destiny, I realized that I didn’t know where my digital camera was. Matt and I went back to the motel room to re-check it, but it wasn’t there, and checking (most of) my luggage didn’t yield it either. The last time I remembered having it was on our first trip into Christchurch on this leg of the trip, I had taken pictures of the Cathedral. Perhaps I’ll find it somewhere in my luggage, but my hope for finding it continues to dim.
After grabbing a quick $2 breakfast at Denny’s (an excellent bargain), we hit the road to Kaikoura to get to the skydive. However, prospects were not exactly good for this to actually happen, because the skies were cloudy and threatening rain all morning. Still, we pressed on, hoping that Mike would be able to do it.
With a little time to spare, we got to the airport…and no one was there. Mike went in and checked at the desk, which was open but abandoned. Eventually someone turned up and informed him that no planes were heading out for dives today, because of the cloudiness and the bad weather. Disappointedly, we went out into the town of Kaikoura to get food and perhaps kill a little bit of time before heading back to Barry and Trudi’s for the night.
If you’re ever in New Zealand, aside from the skydiving and kayaking and whale watching and swimming with dolphins, there’s nothing to do in Kaikoura. I know that it sounds a bit paradoxical, but really, if you’re just looking to spend an afternoon in the town and not do anything big and expensive, there’s nothing at all to do. The highlight of our time there was Mike getting shark for his fish and chips.
Now to be honest, the next part of this trip almost never even happened because of me. I was worried about what time we’d be arriving back in Picton and potentially missing dinner, because I was hungry and the food at Barry and Trudi’s was nothing short of fantastic. We’d pulled off to the side of the road initially to see the seal colony over on the coast, at which there were tons of seals. They smelled kind of funky, but it was fun to watch them hobble over the rocks and swim in the surf. There was this one big male who was staring us down, and kind of waving at us with his flipper. Cute animals, seals. At any rate, I’d figured that we’d had our fill of seals and that we should hit the road again.
After getting back on the road for about five minutes, we came to another sign that had a scenic hike to a waterfall. I initially protested, asking what exactly we were going to see that was so amazing, but when I saw it was only a ten minute walk, I agreed to come along, since I’d been sitting in the car for the most part of the day and was in need of some stretching of my legs. The walk wasn’t too bad…we were in a lush forest that had a small stream running through it. It was nice, but nothing too spectacular. Then we ran into this middle-aged couple that had stopped to take pictures of something and looked over their shoulder to see…jungle seals. I kid you not, right there in the middle of the forest, there were like 15 seals, just hanging out. We were completely baffled by this, but still got to snap some good pictures of them before continuing on to the waterfall.
What we ended up seeing at the waterfall was absolutely stunning. It was a decent sized waterfall and looked amazing, but that wasn’t even the best part of it. Right there, in the middle of the forest amongst the waterfall and the mid-sized pool of water were about 50 juvenile seals, jumping and playing in the water. It was ridiculous. They would swim around for a bit, then jump all the way out of the water, before swimming away. As if this amazing sight wasn’t enough, it turns out that some of the seals were quite inquisitive, as well. They would hop up onto the rocks and then scramble over to where we were, taking pictures. They came right up to where we were standing, one of them came over to sniff my hand and pants, but swam away when I patted its back. Matt criticized me saying that I was too rough with the seal, but had the same thing happen when he pet the seal as well. We all agreed that it was probably the most amazing thing that we’d done since we’d been here, and after getting the requisite amount of crap from the other two guys, we were back on the road once more.
As good as this trip was for me, the last part left quite a bit to be desired. Not from New Zealand itself, because this country is still fantastic and I’m quite happy that I’ve come. It also had nothing to do with Barry and Trudi, who were just as gracious hosts to us in the last part of the trip as they had been at the beginning. No, the reason why it wasn’t so great was because of things in my life that were occurring outside of the country. Not all of it was so bad…my sister graduated this week, and is going to be heading off to college next year, and my family is doing well.
Unfortunately for me, the news out of the US was not so great for me. For a long time, I’ve been trying to work on getting a volunteer opportunity locked down, because a.) it involved being at my favorite place on the planet, Star Island, b.) I like to do volunteer work and need to do volunteer work, I used to do a ton of it, but it’s been less, and c.) I needed the experience if I’m going to try to get into graduate school, and furthermore, my summer is incredibly vacant because I no longer have a job. So I’d sent in a proposal in the hopes of being able to spend the entire summer out on Star Island volunteering in their Marine Biology lab, but unfortunately they don’t really have anyone who could supervise research, so it wouldn’t be an internship. But I was still hoping that I could go out there and perhaps run some programs as a volunteer, and I just got an email back saying that they couldn’t accommodate me. Which would be fine, normally, but they took so long in making their decision that I can’t line anything else up for the summer and am kind of hamstrung. In addition to that already bad news, when I asked if I could take up one of their weekly volunteer spots, which had been open when I had started my process of trying to volunteer there for the whole summer, and they said that they were entirely full up, so I can’t even volunteer there for a week when I had originally been hoping to be there the entire summer.
I’m not sure what I’ll end up doing with myself this summer…no one is going to hire me for a month and a half of work, so I suppose that I’ll just have to paint the house and do other menial tasks…it’s going to be a long, boring summer. At least this means I’ll be able to go on my vacation with Kristin without having to ask for time off…there’s always a little bit of silver lining. I guess that I’m just going to have to keep my head up and keep on working, things have a way of working out if you put in the effort.
The last post ended with me and the guys back in Picton with Barry and Trudi. We’d gotten into town in time to enjoy another wonderful home-cooked dinner and dessert from Trudi, who really is a fantastic cook. We spent a lot of the night talking with Barry about a variety of topics including the automotive crisis in Detroit, chocolate, and rugby. The night ended for me with a movie…Barry recommended “The Sting” with Robert Redford and Paul Newman, and I got to enjoy and old-time movie before settling into a comfortable bed and the promise of sleep (because I sure as hell wasn’t going to be getting any the next night).
I actually overslept a little bit; by the time I was awake (10:30), Barry had left for work and Matt and Mike had gone off for a run. Once they had gotten back and we’d eaten some breakfast, we went off into Blenheim, where we picked up some housewarming gifts for Trudi and Barry for being so kind and generous towards us. We visited Barry at his office (he’s an optometrist; an eye doctor). We made our own boutique of flowers and bought a card (which Matt “hilariously” signed for me without telling me…and I was forced to correct it. I didn’t quite see the humor in misspelling my name with a backwards B in handwriting of a five year-old, but perhaps it’s beyond me). Soon we were back for lunch and got a taste of New Zealand steak pies, which are actually quite good, and before we knew it, we were packing up to head out to Picton for some last minute-souvenir shopping and our ferry out.
After picking up some final gifts for my sister, my mother, and my girlfriend’s parents (I’d already bought my Dad something earlier, from Byron Bay), we stopped for one last cup of coffee before we boarded the ferry. Sadly for us, the weather on this day was kind of crappy…it had prevented us from doing anything outside all day and was continuing to rain into the evening, meaning that there wouldn’t be too much breathtaking scenery for us to marvel at in our last day here in New Zealand. Soon it was time for us to board the ferry and say goodbye to Trudi, and we were soon on our way back to Wellington for another night of no sleep and video games, most likely.
So do I have any final reflections on New Zealand? Well, it’s a pretty easy place to fall in love with. It does have absolutely breathtaking scenery even in this, its winter season, and each town and city has several surprises to share if you take the time to look. The people are really friendly, everything seems a lot more laid back than it is at home, and it just feels like it would be a good place to call home. Perhaps I’ll be fortunate enough to visit or even live here later in life, but if not it’s surely left me with an experience that I’m not likely to forget.