Christchurch to Akaroa – the start of our New Zealand road trip

Back in New Zealand after a few years away.

We arrrived in Christchurch from Kuala Lumpur, via Sydney at midnight. Our first “normal” flight   ( Virgin Australia) in eight months! After travelling budget airlines, mostly Air Asia it was an unexpected treat to be served unsolicited booze!

We are staying for a couple of nights at “Breakfree on Cashel” a trendy new boutique hotel right in the centre of the city. Possibly the smallest room we have stayed in so far but incredibly well designed and really comfortable.

The whole of the city centre is still in the throes of reconstruction after its destruction by an earthquake some four years ago. It was shocking to see the devastation that the quake had visited on this city but inspiring to see the way the city is rising again.

A temporary, yet novel approach to getting the shopping district back on its feet and functioning once more, is the creation of the “Container Mall” – a shopping mall constructed out of shipping containers!

Basic shopping completed we visit the iSite, the tourist information offices which are every where in NZ and are truly excellent. Armed with a collection of maps and booklets (Don’t waste money buying a guidebook!) We then jump on a bus to another shopping mall to pick up some more essential supplies – mostly clothes, as ours are definitely showing the effects of 8 months of continual use in Asia!

Time to leave Christchurch and we get the bus to the airport to pick up our Campervan from Maui. By now, it is cold and raining heavily. Fingers crossed the weather will improve before too long! Whilst waiting our turn for our van to be collected we make full use of the free coffee on offer and sift through the array of supplies donated by previous campers that have gone before us. We come away with quite a haul!

Soon it is our turn to be introduced to our van by a charming Dutch girl who explains how everything works. We have everything in this compact space which will be home for the next 7 weeks. We are completely self contained with everything from a DVD player to a toilet and shower! This means that in addition to staying at commercial campsites we can also stay at the more remote Department of Conservation ( DOC) sites out in the wilds and can also “Freedom Camp” anywhere that is permitted – this not only  saves cash, but also enables us to go pretty much anywhere we want…. and we will!

Akaroa

Just 75 kilometres from the city of Christchurch, New Zealand, Akaroa is a historic French and British settlement nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano on the Banks peninsula. It is a relatively short distance but the drive still takes a couple of hours as the road is narrow and winds its way up through the hills. Beautiful scenery and a great introduction to New Zealand.

We take the easy option for our first night and park at the Top 10 Holiday Park, eschewing the wilds in favour of a first night of comfort with power and hot showers in the morning!

As we gaze out over the magnificent views of the bay and harbour we realise that this is exactly where we spent our first night in New Zealand on our first visit seven yèars ago!

The next day we decide to explore the picture perfect town and its environs. The town is quite small and very pretty, lots of old clapperboard houses and shops  surrounding the harbour which, I imagine, are very busy in the high season. However, it is winter and the summer crowds have kept away,  but it is a lovely sunny day and it is easy to see why so many Kiwis have second homes (and boats) here.

Our second night is spent “freedom camping” in the allocated spaces by the harbour. Sub zero temperatures but we are nice and snug in our new merino underwear and the diesel heater pumping out warm air. At least we are nice and snug up until the point that the battery runs flat, the heater stops and the temperature drops rapidly!

It is 8.00pm and we were settled for the night but I phone Maui, the rental company who tell me just to drive to a campsite and get some power for the night. So we pack everything away and drive back up the hill to the campsite once again.

In the morning, after a hearty breakfast we drive into town to get the battery fixed. It turns out that the van, having been parked up over the winter just has a flat house battery and needs a bit of driving to charge it fully.

Chatting away to the mechanic, he suggests that, as the clouds have cleared, now would be a great time to set off along the high pass back towards Christchurch as the views will be spectacular. We do this and they are! (Already running out of adjectives to describe this country!). On the way back to Christchurch we stop every few minutes to admire the views, all the time accompanied by birds of prey cruising the thermals around us. The very narrow, winding roads made us glad we chose one of the smaller vans!

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