Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Part 9 - Two of Us - Aoraki to Christchurch via Lake Tekapo and Akaroa... yeah... it's a crazy detour but that's what we did!

Day 10 - Sunday 30th June

We laze around enjoying the comfort of our room and the late sunrise with just a hint of pink in the clouds above Aoraki. The river of cloud that is flowing in from the west and down the face of the mountain continues unchanging. We expected it to move across and block the view of Aoraki but it simply flows over the mountain and down into the valley. 
More or less packed up, it’s heading on for 9 am and the sunlight is hitting the peaks of the mountains before we head downstairs, over the air bridge and past mounds of snow cleared from the parking area.The icicles that were hanging from the snow drifts on the roof are gone. 

The kids have included a fully cooked breakfast for us, knowing that’s what Hubby always prefers. I would generally prefer a light breakfast but I’m tempted by the pancakes and bacon with maple syrup.  The maple syrup is very dark and thick. Very different to the Canadian maple syrup I buy. The hash browns are plentiful but all stuck together and sort of mushy, conglomeration but I give one a go. Michael has done the works on the whole traditional full English breakfast. We settle down at a table and tuck in. Oh dear. The food is plentiful but the quality is lacking. My bacon is awful. I’ve noticed the same effect in supermarket bacon at home. It isn’t cured properly and just tastes “piggy”… and the pancake is not nice either. How have they managed that? I don’t like the syrup. It’s sickly and lacking that distinctive smokey maple flavour.  I sample it on it’s own and it seems too sweet even without the syrup. Sigh.The best thing about breakfast is the views as we eat. Oh well.

We hang about enjoying the view and relaxing until it’s time for check out, then we’re on our way back through the snow lined highway heading for Lake Tekapo.  True to our routine we note the temperature as we get settled in the car - no wonder the snow on the roofs of the Hermitage is dripping water. It’s 8C! A final few moments to try and ensure we have ample reminders of the scene with the Hermitage cuddled up in white.
 Sir Edmund Hillary should be comfy enough out in the snow!

As we pass the road to Tasman Valley all that gives its presence away are the signs, the road is closed and the ground is just a thick blanket of white. We’re retracing our steps of yesterday but the novelty of the abundant snow is far from having worn off. The road is clear and it’s a relatively warm morning. 
 The bare branches provide a vibrant slash of colour.
It's only a brief farewell to Aoraki as we drive away from him. Once you know what you're looking at he draws your eye across fields and the lake.  
 There’s not much to do beyond enjoy the scenery across the lake and in time, the snow mounded up on the trees in the pine plantation, but that's enough. I feel sure there is nowhere better on earth for a scenic drive than New Zealand.
The temperature fluctuates a little across our drive. It dips as we reach Lake Tekapo which is virtually unrecognizable under the snow. We stop at the Church of the Good Shepherd as the congregation is trickling in for Sunday services.
 Signs outside request that visitors please respect the service in progress and keep the noise down. There’s no shortage of people picking their way carefully over pathways of compacted, icy, snow and along the cleared stairs and main route for access in and around the church. We head on to try and find the picnic spot where we stopped last time I was here. I want to try for a comparison photo. The snow is quite thick, but the only picnic tables I can find are on the opposite side of the road to last time.  There’s a big new housing development. I don’t remember that. Have they moved the road? Surely not. With the mounds of snow there’s not really anywhere to pull over on the lakeside but as we move on I see a sign to a lookout. Hey! Let’s head back to the lookout. We turn in at the appropriate spot and the “lookout” seems to be just a parking area with views across the road to the lake. Parking is virtually non-existant at the moment (perhaps buried in snow?) Hubby stays with the car as I hop out to try to get the photos I want. Hmm. I can’t see much from here. 
A virgin field of snow lies between me and a concrete picnic table. I laugh as I trudge through the snow which is well up towards my knees. Oh boy this would be fun with kids! I imagine Grandson laughing as he throws himself down into the snow, like he was doing in some long grass in the backyard not long ago.  I climb up onto the seat and point the camera towards the lake.
The sun is in a very inconvenient location for photographs. Nought we can do about that. The colour is not so striking as when we visited in Spring. The composition is difficult from here. The road is quite intrusive.
I climb down and trudge back through the deep imprint of my footsteps, across to the road climbing up the snow embankment to try to get a better shot. That’s better. The colour is better if you're looking away from the sun.. of course.
Back at the car I consult the road Atlas. I can’t see anywhere else we could possibly have been for our picnic last time. They must have moved the road, but that makes no sense. Maybe there’s tables under the snow between the road and the lake or something. If so they are completely covered. 
Tommie is suggesting our likely arrival time in Christchurch will leave us several hours before dark. I mull over what to do. I don’t feel like a museum or anything like that. I’m enjoying the drive. I’m consulting the road Atlas for ideas of places we might explore. I feel OK. So Tommie, how long will it take us if we were to head out to Akaroa for a reccie?  Hmm. We should just have time to get out there and back by dark. Hmm. I leave Tommie programmed for Akaroa for the moment while we mull it over. We’ll make a decision when we get closer. See how we’re feeling.
As we climb down from altitude we make a final farewell to the snow at a popular lookout. 
We stop again in Rakaia at the ah.. salmon farm isn’t it?  We follow Tommie’s quite odd instructions for a shortcut towards the Banks Peninsula. Roads are closed due to flooding. We do our own navigating back onto the more usual route. 
The road out to Akaroa is very winding. We toy with the idea of taking the higher road, but Hubby’s more inclined to just stick with the quickest route for now. Coming this late in my explorations of the South Island, the Banks peninsula is in tough company for ranking among the abundance of spectacular scenery. On balance I conclude that the driving is harder and the scenery no better than on the Otago pensinsula, I think I would rank the Otago Peninsula a smidgen or two in front. 
As we near Akaroa we start to pass what we assume are daytrippers returning to Christchurch from their Sunday outing. Soon we are entering the township and taking a turn. Hmm. 
I’m looking for heritage buildings and there’s plenty of them, but the overall effect is lessened by some modern redevelopments here and there. Some of the pretty old buildings are draped in bare branches that make promises of floral displays in spring. An impressive stone war memorial is isolated by ugly wire construction fencing, an appeal for funds for restoration facing the street as we pull up briefly. It’s always sad to see a war memorial in such condition. I wonder what circumstances have caused to it being in this state. We don’t have time to stop in Akaroa long, but I have to confess we weren’t too troubled by that. We head on.

I have an abhorrence of retracing my steps, so with a little clock watching we head across to Pigeon Bay and travel around via Port Levy, little settlements on the northern side of the pensinsula that I had found enticing when doing my research on this area.  This is more fun than the main drag, but the scenery is very similar to what we’ve already seen. I’m determined to take the meandering road less travelled back to Christchurch. This decision takes us on a quite hair raising dirt road through steep farmlands and around picturesque little bays. As an “off the beaten track” exercise this route is paying dividends. I enjoy exploring a lot, but it’s not really a tourist must do. Time is always so short on a New Zealand holiday, even scenery as good as this has to struggle for time on any itinerary. 
A short stop near Port Levy, we decide there's probably not much point following the signs to the village centre and opt for a short stop to stretch our legs and enjoy the bobbing boats as the light begins to fade.

Back through Diamond Harbour, we stop to see if there’s an easy viewpoint to try and capture a pretty sunset. I find a steep walk heading down to the ferry wharf, but pike. It’s getting late. We should just move along.
We’ve told Tommie to head us towards Pedros House of Lamb, not remembering that it is closed today, I guess we may have taken the same initial route if we’d headed straight for Lorenzo, but my decision to explore is rewarded by wonderful views across the lights of Christchurch as we wind our way down a long steep hill. Hubby is chastised as he drives straight on past the lookout. Grr. Sometimes I wonder about is situational awareness.. or is it the reflexes… sigh.
Our studio room at Lorenzo is lovely. It’s more like a one room apartment, have we been upgraded again? There’s no vacancies so that seems unlikely. The Lorenzo Motor Inn is excellent. Why would you stay anywhere else?
So, Pedro’s out of the running, Costa’s Taverna is our default dinner destination tonight. If we can get in.  All the actual tables are full, but they have a small perch on high stools in the bar under a funky blue light and we can order food there too. We make ourselves comfortable against a decorative partition wall of white pebblecrete made of negative space stars. 
Hubby starts with a Mythos beer. When on holidays he always likes to try something different and he’s not disappointed with this one.  He starts with the Dreaming of Dolmades. Vegetarian, Gluten free, steam softened grape vine leaves, filled with sticky Arborio rice and fine herbs, dressed with extra virgin olive ‘n lemon oil and served with a thick ‘n creamy tzatziki $11.90.  I can’t resist testing Grandma’s Cheese Pastries, vegetarian, just like our grandma used to make, flaky triangular pastries, filled with four types of scrumptious melted cheese, served with thick ‘n creamy tzatziki - also $11.90.
Our last night. I can’t resist trying a mocktail. How about a Blueberry Mojito which they spruik as a magical blend of blueberry, mint and lime, a remarkably refreshing drink $9. Lovely. Refreshing.
Oh, do I need to say, the starters were delicious. Goes without saying doesn’t it for the no 2 ranked restaurant in Christchurch on Tripadvisor.
Hubby decides we simply must try the Ferrero Rocher mocktail despite my not having finished the Blueberry Mojito. He's too manly to have it himself. It's for me....Indulgent chocolate and hazlenut flavoured, creamy mocktail $9. Delicious.
Mains. Hubby – Legendary Lamb Shanks, Dairy and Gluten free, slide off the bone lamb shanks braised in fresh garlic, tomato and red wine sauce, served over fragrant jasmine rice and a medley of fire roasted Mediterranean vegetables. One shank 24.50 two shanks 29.90.  This was heavily spiced with cinnamon, hubby relished it, my mum would hate it.
I won the competition easily with my choice of Grilled Canterbury Lamb from Costas Souvlaki Platters. Export quality Canterbury lamb marinated in our delicious herb ‘n spice mix and blasted on Costas flaming chargrills to absolute perfection! I go for the regular at $24.90 (one skewer). An extra skewer in the Grand version would set you back $29.90.  Each mouth-watering souvlaki platter comes with toasted village pita bread (Sooooo gooooood), garden salad, hummus, sweet tomato sauce, roast capsicum mayonnaise and tzatziki. Along with a choice of herb and spice rice pilaf; rosemary ‘n oregano potatoes; or golden fries. I chose the rosemary ‘n oregano potatoes. A very filling and delicious meal. And those pita bread were truly scrumptious.
We’re way to full for dessert. We play it safe and don’t look at the options. Costas was worth the drive.
On the way home some road closures give Tommie some entertainment, but we work it out by just going a bit further on the main road that is open and before long we are skipping quickly inside to our cozy studio. Very early flight tomorrow so we get ourselves packed up. Set alarms and head for the land of nod. I’m enjoying my Seaside Knitter’s Mystery. 

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