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Nelson

I don’t know who Tasman (or Nelson) are, but we enjoyed their namesakes.  Driving past some small falls and small towns, we arrived at Nelson Lakes park, where we’d decided to seize a sunny day.  
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The climb up allowed views of the glacial lakes, and a chance for the few descending to stop and ask if we had extra layers for the top.  We did, we assured them as we put on more sun cream.  Seemed we still had a ways to go.



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At the brisk top where our extra layers came out, we pretended to be on one of the many “Great walks” which are 3 day tramping (hiking) treks where you overnight at huts.  Visiting the hut may be where our quality time there ends for the moment, as a nice hot shower and bed are still faves.  


We failed to see a kiwi bird in spite of signs promising the possibility.  We also failed to find a lunch spot open at 2pm, so it as another pie for us.  The luck of the Irish wasn’t with us yet this St. Patty’s day.  So as Bostonians now, we found a pub with green balloons and a pint before calling it a day.

On the road again

We languished a bit in the morning, making our way around Christchurch a second time, wondering what the city will look like in the future should we get to visit it a second time.


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Eventually, we got into a much smaller car that was somehow now unfamiliar to us!  On a grey day, we were tracking north and as the sun is our favorite companion on hikes, we opted for the mineral springs instead of hiking.  So did everyone else it turned out! 



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After a while we made it to our halfway point, and with the sun’s return went for a stroll across a river. It was a beautiful night, and if I weren’t so scared of meeting a possum of enormous size we’d heard about the night before, we might have lingered longer.

Shaken

We’d slept in Christchurch upon arrival in NZ, arriving at midnight and leaving with the campervan the next morning.  Now back and saying goodbye to the van, we were happy pedestrians.  We both recalled hearing about the Christchurch earthquakes, but seeing the city changed that memory.  Construction cranes marked corners, sidewalks were being remade, and a centerpiece downtown was a container with video displays of rebuilding plans.  The first earthquake hit in 2010 and then a second round came in 2011.  185 died, nearly 2000 were injured and in the downtown and surrounding area many of the buildings that did not fall had to be brought down due to structural issues.  Slowly, methodically, urban planners seem to be making lemonade by building a new city of dreams.  Stadium plans, convention center, green spaces all look promising, but perhaps tough on the impatient.



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We saw a famous debated Anglican cathedral which is a central point in the debate.  Some say it is too damaged, and must be torn down.  Some disagree, saying large parts of the structure are intact.  Of those who say tear down, the next question is then what? Some say it must be rebuilt as it was, since it was part of the skyline and a landmark.  Others say it was a copy of European gothic cathedrals which were often copies themselves of true gothic era buildings.  This group, perhaps the same that says NZ needs a new non-Union Jack flag, says a new cathedral is an opportunity to define a truly NZ architecture and Christchurch style.  The jury is out, but I suspect pricetags will play into the resolution.



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We meandered over to Re-Start, a shipping container shopping area that is the post-Earthquake mall.  
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We even strolled into a graffiti- pardon, tagging- exhibit at the Y which was drawing more interest than the trolley or the church. A snack and a stroll later, we headed back to the hotel.  T had the wisdom to check Tripadvisor to see about restaurants, only to learn the #1 spot was meters away.  Pedro’s had no menu; “this is what we have” Pedro or maybe his employee said from inside the container shop, revealing a tray of lamb, rosemary and potatoes.  “We’ll take it.” We soon wished Pedro had other spots along our route as it was amazing.


To top off an already great day, we met with a friend of T’s family who lives in town.  We told of our travels as he told of NZ environment, his favorite spots, and more Christchurch history.  He was impressed we found Pedro’s so quickly, and we were equally impressed by his warm welcome.  The spirit perhaps is stronger at times than the ground beneath us.

Steampunk

With time to spend on the coast working our van back to Christchurch, we stopped in Oamaru which was heralded for its old Victorian architecture.  A quaint town indeed, with a good coffee stop, a historic museum and pub, a radio museum, an art museum and… Steampunk!
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I’ve a bit of a novice, but this was a cool stop.  From the outdoor train where you could drop a coin and revive the train, all signs were positive.  We eavesdropped on the gatekeepers explanation enough to know he promised some transcendental experience inside.  When we arrived at the Infinity Portal, we realized the veracity of his claim.  A trippy, fun light show with mirrors and music awaited! And outside more exhibits made this quickly a favorite stop.  Even more than the cheese factory we frequented after, that’s just how good it was!
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We went to the next beach town up and kept playing peek-a-boo with the sun.  So we stopped in for a movie before our final night with the campervan.

East coast at last

To remind us that we weren’t in Kansas anymore, this East Coast greeted us with yellow eyed penguins and seals at its lighthouse. Waddling around in pairs (mated for life?), these penguins weathered the wind better than we did.



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This side of NZ seemed less touristy.  Dinner was cheap and when T asked if they had beers at one spot, they proudly answered they had beer AND lager! And a six pack of Speights for $10 (US 7.30), which was the best we’d seen.  


To enhance the experience, we did our van camping on a bluff by the ocean.  A storm- the precursor to Cyclone Pam?- made for windy conditions and good surf watching.  The beauty of the self contained vehicle came into play this night, which was a perfect Friday 13.

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Back in the Saddle

We wanted to see Milford Sound and do some trekking, but time seemed against us with the van needing to be back and with routes taking longer than we thought.  We mapped out all kinds of options, and ended up with a coffee at a nearby town to think.


Arrowtown maintained storefronts from its gold rush heyday, including a Post and Telegraph storefront which is still an operating post.
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We followed a town map around to the Gaol, which fittingly was locked, but had a note to come borrow the key at the info site if you wanted a closer look.  


To get an adrenalin fix on our way out of Queenstown area, we stopped to bungee spectate.  T spent his energy admiring the old bridge and gorgeous water, while I talked myself into jumping 3 times and talked myself out of it four times.
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The other cardio workout of the day was biking the Otago.  We spent two days on the rail trail, catching up with sheep, deer and cows along the way.  The area is a fruit growing region and home to many Pinot Noir vineyards.  Though the rails have been removed, the tunnels, bridges and nearby aqueducts make for interesting cycling, as do the occasional falcon sighting.  Still, T’s face was happiest after a real shower at the bike rental store after many days of campervan showers.
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Uphill both times

Uphill both ways

To get our hike on (& our Asian weight down), we had a morning and afternoon hike.  We were inclined to summit the smaller peaks, which in the AM meant a great view of Wanaka.  


In the road again, T passed the switchback driving test in style.  I took the wheel for a heartbeat, then we pulled over to a scrim lookout to watch a drone fly.
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This thankfully gave me the chance to give him back the wheel.  When I wasn’t bearing down on the armrests (like the kangaroo did to my hand with its sweet potato), I managed to take a brief video of the last one!


At the bottom, Queenstown with all its adventure activity awaited.  After a stroll by the lake, we went up a “hill” to enjoy the views and see the paragliders sail down.  Again cursed with not enough time and many compelling options, we drove outside town to set up van for the evening.  A group of kiwis backed us into a spot and insisted we grab chairs and beers for a chat.  T swapped sports knowledge as they were volunteering at the NZ Golf Open and asked him if he was into gridirons (aka football) or soccer (which they thought we called football).  I didn’t have the heart to confess that I thought they were called Kiwis after the fruit, not the bird, but I doubt this jovial group would have minded!


The climbs were all paying off.

Road tripping

Leaving Aoraki was sad, as there was more to climb and maybe even swim.  But NZ is too vast and beautiful, so we forged on.  


We didn’t get far before a sign for fresh salmon called.  Out if respect to my dad, we pulled over and did a new tasting.  The clever store owners had pellets you could feed the salmon, a Japanese barista in training and a fishy man packing up crates.   While waiting for my 67th flat white, we watched the fish jump.  Then we had sashimi, which sounds almost cruel but maybe it’s just river to table at its finest?


Our next detour led us to Bryce Canyon- or a cliff walk.  After testing our patience and the van’s suspension on the gravel roads, we arrived at some pretty cool cliffs.  I tried playing hide and go seek with T in the slots, but he was consumed by his Ansel Adams ways.  I chatted with the few others there who marveled at the beauty, and then I marveled at the calves and fortitude of the senior bike riders who joined us.
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Some winding road and mountain passes later, we arrived at our campsite by a river.  T went for a run and I did a bit of laundry; maybe Darwin was had selected is for survival on our trucking trek after all.

Aoraki

Day 2 with our van and breakfast started well.  We said goodbye to one flock of sheep and hello later to another, wondering which had donated their merino wool for our Icebreaker clothing which thankfully cut down in stinkiness and laundry at the same time. Smart wool indeed!
Then we feasted our eyes on Aoraki, who you may know as Mount Cook. This sacred spot to local Maori has its own creation story which goes something like this: the Sky father (named Raki) took as his bride the Earth mother.  Raki’s four sons, including Cloud in the Sky (or Ao-raki) descended from the sky in a canoe to greet and explore.  They were out at sea, and said an incantation to return home.  Instead, the canoe flipped and turned to stone and the four brothers scrambled up, also turning to stone.

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Some say that like a king, Aoraki doesn’t always show itself, but rather hides in clouds.  We had a lovely royal audience, including hikes over swing bridges.



At night, we set up camp with the other van people at a lovely lake with a view of the mountains.

Turtles

Seeking new experiences, we went the turtle way in New Zealand traveling with our home on our back.  Campervans aren’t familiar to us, but here a zillion companies offer you the chance to be free! Stop where you wish, cook your own meals, stay for free (possibly) at one of the roadside spots worshipping Mother Nature.  Put me in coach!


Then the orientation: turn this valve to activate the gas, press that one to power the fridge, plug the van in for power here if the gauge here goes below this number, lock the toilet here or if not, well, people only make that mistake once.  Conclusion? It’s good to travel with an engineer.  


Effectively, we became truck drivers for the week.  I now understand why the inventory for what jobs you are suited for never recommended me as a truck driver.  I believe another quiz suggested I partner with an engineer; that one was on the money.  Not only did he lack my fear of propane but he also didn’t mock me when buses passed us when I was at the wheel.


So yes, we turtles set out with a posh campervan- shower, toilet, gas stove and all for an 8 day Southern Island tour.  As we pulled in at Lake Tekapo to admire the glacial lake (& change drivers) the jury was still out.


The voting was swayed in a positive direction at our stop that night.
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In dark sky territory (literally, and only a few zones exist in the world) we could have an 11:40pm tour of the observatory and stargazing for $140 per person or step out of the van with sweatshirts and a beer.  Not bad, especially with advice from a neighbor expert who guided us out of our first spot (where he was sure we’d roll out of bed) to a flatter, restful spot.