New Zealand rain
Christchurch - Banks Peninsula / Akaroa - Westport / Cape Foulwind - Paparoa NP - Hokitika
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Our first two days in Christchurch on the southern island of New Zealand it rains a lot. People tell us the weather has been terrible the last six weeks and we can only hope it will change for the better. I tell Jac he should be prepared for some rain once in a while but he reads in the tourist guide of our hotel room that Christchurch has 8 sun hours a day in January. We should have an enormous amount of sun from now on to reach the average this January!
Christchurch resembles an English town. Outside the centre people have beautiful flowering gardens. The river Avon twists itself through the city and when we walk around we see the river on unexpected places. Large green weeping willows drip rainwater into the tranquilly floating river. Tourist can hire a punter boat complete with punter and see the city from the river. Not much fun as it rains, though. People here are friendly and relaxed like in Australia, but for the rest New Zealand is very different. More dissimilar than I expected. In Holland you think New Zealand is close by Australia, but from Sydney to Christchurch is a 3 hour flight. The light is unlike the saturated yellow red of Australia and tends more to blue. The trees and plants are very green. Small red trams drive through the city, a big cathedral stands in the middle and next to the Botanic Gardens is the Canterbury Museum.
The Canterbury Museum is an interesting museum about the Maori - the original Polynesian people who live here - their hunting on the now extinct Moa’s, and the invasion of the West European people at the end of the 18th century. The Moa were enormous Ostrich like birds with short legs. The Maori eat the meat, used the bones to make tools and the big egg shells to transport water. The Moa was an easy catch since they weren’t afraid at all of humans, never had experience with predators before. When all birds were killed the Maori concentrated themselves on agriculture, the different tribes got into competition and there were wars. The museum shows beautiful wood carved figures representing ancestors. The wooden carvings are nowadays everywhere in meeting houses (Whakairo or Marae - in fact the open space before the meeting house) of Maori to be seen.
The Canterbury Plains, the area to the North of Christchurch, is totally flat, but to the South you find the Port Hills. We take the gondola to the top. Luckily it stopped raining and now and then the sun even peeps through the clouds. We are amazed by the view from above. To the North we see Christchurch and the boring plains, but in the North West the South Pacific Ocean is surprisingly close by. To the South we see a big crater with a lake in the middle (in fact an inlet from the ocean) and the small town Lyttelton in between the lake and the hills. The landscape looks surreal. The strange abrupt rounded forms of the crater, the light green of the hills speckled with grey rocks, the long white clouds in the sky and the radiant blue of the lake create the illusion we are on another planet.
We follow the ‘Bridal Path’ down to Lyttelton. The descent is strong and we are happy we don’t have to walk back up but can take the bus in Lyttelton back to Christchurch. Lots of expatriates arrived in Lyttelton on their way to the Promised Land. They had to take the ‘Bridal Path’ to Christchurch, it was the only way. This must have been an incredibly tiring journey, strong uphill with everything you want to take with you on your back and on a handcart. In the Canterbury Museum I saw an advertisement dating from the end of the 19th century. One picture showed the social position of a sewing woman in England: the woman in worn clothes, hard at work, makes herself as small as possible in front of a rich man, who looks down on her. The other picture showed the same woman in New Zealand: nice clothes, small child on her lap, sitting very straight and looking happy at the adoring husband sitting next to her. Like all advertisements reality was slightly different. When the expatriates at last reached the top of the crater hill and expected to see the beautiful country they were promised, they saw instead an endless swamp, big clouds and no city at all, only a couple of wooden buildings and tents. The first winter was for every expatriate extremely difficult, some even arrived with the idea that New Zealand was a tropical paradise and they were totally unprepared for the relentless winter.
Lyttelton is a charming place, a very simple fisherman place with small cottages build uphill surrounded by colourful gardens. From everywhere you can see the harbour, which is luckily for Jacques a real harbour with lots of fisherman ships, hoisting cranes, containers and only a few tourist boats. We drink a large beer on a small terrace with a broad view over the harbour. The sun is warm and rainy Christchurch seems far away.
The next day we leave Christchurch and because of our good experiences in Lyttelton we visit the Banks Peninsula to the South West of Christchurch before we start our journey to the West side of the island, where it usually rains a lot according our Lonely Planet guide. Banks Peninsula consists of two volcanic craters, one of them is the crater at Lyttelton we saw yesterday. We follow the small road over the hills and have beautiful views on the hills, the Lyttelton crater with the harbour, different lakes and at last the second crater enclosing Akaroa harbour. We find a camping from where we have a wonderful view over Akaroa, the hills and the harbour. The weather is fine and we sit outside till late in the evening, when the sun disappears behind the hills on the other side of the crater.
Akaroa is an enchanting place with many old colonial houses, well-preserved and painted in cheerful colours. We buy a guide of the place and look at the houses. In a park close to the centre a lot of oldtimers are assembled. The drivers take each other for small tours. A funny sight, all these old cars driving around in this rather old fashioned place. New Zealanders like to talk and are very welcoming, but bottom line they are self sufficient people. When you want to live in New Zealand and you don’t like fishing and don’t have your own boat, then the only alternative is to have an interest in old English cars, preferable have your own car to restore and to drive around in. In the evening we find a small Italian restaurant close to the harbour, where at last I eat pasta with blue cheese. Blue cheese and indeed all kind of cheese are not popular in Australia and New Zealand and after more than six weeks I really start to miss my gorgonzola pizza! But this pasta with blue cheese and pumpkin is nice, the restaurant owner is very attentive (a bit to much to the opinion of Jacques), the local wine, made on the other side of the harbour according our restaurant owner, tastes strong and the small cosy fire dispels the cold of the wind outside, which build up after sunset.
The next morning it rains again. We put away our wet tent and drive from the East to the West coast. It goes on raining so we don’t see so much of the mountains we drive through, the Lewis Pass and the high walls of the Buller Gorge. In Westport, a small place to the North of the West coast, we have little difficulty to find a camping but the ground is soaked. Luckily they have some small cabins for hire, cheap and much better then trying to pitch our tent in the mud. We worry a lot about the weather but when we wake up the sun is shining and it is very humid and hot.
We drive to Cape Foulwind, extending to the West in the Tasman Sea. The weather can be quite terrible over here as you probably guessed from the name, but at the moment it is hot and not very windy. When we look out over the Tasman Sea we see a hazy mist hanging above the water. The coast is green, palm trees, all kind of ferns and flowering plants grow here. We look for the New Zealand fur seals who should have a colony over here according our Lonely Planet and indeed, a signboard brings us to a platform from where we have a good view over the wild sea. A mass of black and brown rocks rises out of it, every flat and not so flat surface occupied by seals. I see them but I can also hear them, barking loudly to protect their rightful place against intruders. Although the wind is not strong, the surf at this point is extremely violent and we worry the seals will hurt themselves when thrown by an ferocious wave on the sharp stones. Seals disappear for a minute in the surf but then you see a tail emerging above the foam. Seconds later the head follows and the seal turns itself happily on its back to float a bit further. ‘Watch out for the rock!’ I want to scream but with one flip of a fin the seal avoids the sharp point. Now and then an enormous wave spills over the big rock. The seals seem to be very happy and I start to feel sorry for their relatives, living in animal parks all over the world where they are supposed to be happy in a small motionless pool with a rock in the middle in a pitiful attempt to imitate their natural environment.
We drive to the South and visit Paparoa National Park. Apart from lots of trees and a kind of tropical jungle this park is famous for its ‘Pancake Rocks’. The rocks resemble a bit the rocks we saw at Cape Foulwind, but these are even more layered, like pancakes stacked on top of each other. The heat is oppressive and we see dark clouds gathering above the sea. Of course, the good weather couldn’t last. Beautiful light, a good moment for pictures but then we have to run for shelter. Fat raindrops fall slowly out of the sky, thunder threatens far away and then it starts to pour. It is not cold and we watch the rain from a sheltered terrace. We hope it woll only be a short shower, but the rain doesn’t stop until later in the evening. We run to our car and drive further South to Hokitika – it takes some time to get used to these Maori names, people who live here call the place ‘Hoki’ to make things easier. On a desolated camping we again rent a small cabin. We’ve seen already enough of the New Zealand rain and I tell Jac it is about time to stop his in Mexico developed rain god tricks.
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