Preparing for the Journey
We got up really early (4:45am) to pack and then had an early breakfast in the cold restaurant at Hotel Blue. Next, we took a taxi to the airport. I’m not sure what the issue was, but something was odd about our tickets to New Zealand. It took some time, but the agents fixed whatever the problem was.
The Sydney airport is more aggressive than most airports in forcing passengers to go through the endless stream of horrid, smelly (perfumes) stores. At one point, you can’t even figure out how to get to the gates through the morass of stores. The aisle to the gates is deliberately disguised to be a narrow path meandering through the aisles of numerous shops. I always find this utterly annoying! The airlines pay ungodly attention to how much your bags are going to weigh on board, but couldn’t care less how much (or how heavy) junk you buy after going through security. It’s absurd.
We arrived at the airport 2.5 hours before our flight. Getting through customs and security took that entire amount of time. We waited at the gate for only a few minutes before boarding.
The Air New Zealand plane did not have a business class but had noticeably more space for all passengers. The seats were both wider and further apart—in fact, I would say they were several inches further apart, perhaps as much as 8 or more.
Additionally, everyone was served a nice breakfast on the flight. I remember when the US airlines treated their customers like this. Now, however, US corporations only care about gouging every dime they can get by cramming the seats as close together as is physically possible, even in business class now.
The flight over the Southern Alps was simply stunning. Unfortunately, we had been directed to turn off all electronic devices at that point in the flight or I would have at least shot some iPhone photos. The snow-capped mountains were draped in very low, clinging, puffy clouds. The jagged mountain peaks jutted out from the soft billowy clouds. Additionally, there were two cloud layers. One was very, very high (well above us), thick and whispy. So the lower puffy clouds were gray with a lovely blue tinge. These are really beautiful, rugged mountains.
Getting into New Zealand was a time-intensive process. They take protecting their unique environment very, very seriously. Officers with trained dogs were snooping everything, everywhere. They questioned everyone (individually) entering the country about anything edible, epsecially fruits and vegitables, as well as hiking boots and outdoor shoes.
Steve had a pair of hiking boots; so, we had to go through extra screening. They carefully inspected every nook and cranny and seam on the top and bottom, inside and out of his shoes. Since they looked as though they were new, they didn’t sanitize them to kill any organisms he may have picked up while hiking outside of New Zealand.
Arriving in Christchurch
The hotel in Christchurch is exceptionally nice–beautifully redone. We decided to skip the $129 per person dinner–and that’s NZ dollars, which are strong against the US dollar. We walked to a nearby local restaurant that features New Zealand cuisine. It too was pricy, though less than half of the hotel’s dining cost.
We had some kind of (what turned out to be mostly very rare to raw) beef shank for two, onion rings, a delicious beetroot salad, french fries, and apple pie. The meat was the toughest piece of beef I’ve
ever attempted to eat. Steve had a rhubarb fizz drink and claims to have really enjoyed it. (Yes, he’s strange, but everyone knows this.) The restaurant was a quaint, old, spacious house with lots of wood work and a roaring fire. (Remember, it’s winter down under.)
The numerous and severe earthquakes (from 2009 through 2011) have left the city severely damaged to this day. This relatively small city of just over 300,000 (one third of the south islands population) sustained about $30 billion in damage. In fact, the city has the sad distinction of having the most powerful earthquake to ever strike an urban area. Having so many in succession just made a terrible situation all the worse. According to our driver, over the past few years, Christchurch has literally had thousands of earthquakes and aftershocks. What they classify as an “aftershock,” we call an earthquake in California.
The Christchurch Cathedral remains in ruins. They have an incredibly unique shopping area that is constructed of shipping containers, where the original shops were destroyed. And I suspect that the exceptionally nice renovations here at the hotel, The George, are actually recovery from earthquake damage. (BTW: heated bathroom floors in the winter are the bop! And the bathroom is palatial!)
Numerous large, empty lots abound. Numerous areas are still under contruction. And some areas just sit in ruins. I didn’t realize how severely damaged Christchurch was! The area along the Avon river, which runs through city center and is directly across the street from our hotel room, is where most of the destruction took place.
I hope to grab some pictures around town tomorrow as we head south to leisurely drive the south island. The adventure continues…[hr]Numerous photos will be added once they have been downloaded from my camera, resized, and uploaded to a slideshow for my blog.