Friday, July 5, 2013

The Travelling Trio NZ - Part 1 - Getting to Christchurch and on to Dunedin

Hubby and I are travelling with our Son who is 27. So there’s three of us…. Well four actually. We have brought Tommie our indispensible travel companion (aka  ourTomTom World).  People will tell you that you don’t need one. NZ is easy to navigate. This is true. I also have my SI Road Atlas as back up. But gosh, Tommie proves handy throughout the trip. So much easier than trying to read the tiny print in the road atlas and Hubby values being able to glance over and see what the road ahead will be doing. I was a reluctant convert to satnav but that TomTom World has been worth every penny.
Having had a very positive result from relying on TripAdvisor ratings in the past, I have continued to do so this time.
This is my second trip to the South Island. Hubby and Son have not been to the South Island before. I think it is fair to say that Son is a Kiwi sceptic.

 Day 1 - Friday 21st June - Sydney to Christchurch

Our flight departs just after 9 am so that requires getting the train at about 5:30. Before we head to get our boarding passes we try calling Son. No answer. Finally in desperation we go through security and make our way to the gate after grabbing a pretty ordinary and uninspiring breakfast from one of the little cafes. Son eventually calls. He’d set his alarm and fell asleep again after it went off. He asks our advice about whether to get a taxi or the train. He opts for the train. He’s pretty confident he’ll be here in ample time. Son travels internationally pretty regularly for work and he obviously knows what he’s doing. He times it well and rocks up to the departure gate before they start boarding. Boarding is a bit delayed. The weather has been wild in New Zealand over the last day or so and there are no flights at all into Wellington because the capital is suffering the onslaught of a big storm. We talk about IT, no jobs and 457 visas. Son feels no threat. Competent software engineers are rare in any country.
Our flight is uneventful and we’re not all seated together.  As we cross the coast the conditions are fairly clear, but we are flying into wet. Our approach gives views of a lot of standing water and the Waimakariri River is running with pale brown run off. Touch down in Christchurch is just after 2 pm.
Before we leave the airport we pick up local SIM cards. Vodafone has a bundle that gives us phone and 500M of data for $30. Son decides to get that. I just do what he’s doing. He’s a better judge of such things than me. We also took advice at Avis and upgraded from the luggage space deficient hybrid Camry to a brand new RAV 4. Excellent choice. Lovely car. Felt nice and secure in AWD under the challenging conditions. Worth the extra $15 a day.
When I get to questioning them, I discovered that Son and Hubby haven’t really come suitably equipped for the conditions we’re expecting to encounter and instructions from planned tours, so the afternoon was spent shopping at Westfield in Riccarton Road. There’s a special on at Macpac and we pick up a range of warmth inducing clothing including geothermals 3 pieces for $50. I grab a couple of extra layers of beanie and a neck warmth thingy which I figure someone will want despite their protestations at the moment about not needing any such thing. Hubby picked up a couple of pairs of trackies for NZ $10 each in Kmart. Clothes seem much cheaper here than at home. We also pick up a few supplies in PaknSave: cereal and Kiwi snack varieties. We admire fresh produce which includes things that aren't common at home.
The essentials completed we check into Lorenzo Motor Lodge and find they have upgraded us to the two bedroom apartment. It’s cosy and warm when we walk in. It’s an excellent standard and an excellent welcome. Same room I was in 2009. Still immaculate. The Lorenzo is great.
I’ve done a bit of research about where to have dinner. Options were provided to my companions and Son liked the idea of dinner at Kinji so I made a booking for 7 pm. This is Japanese and the top rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. We’re really glad we’ve got the TomTom and though we have to make a couple of passes to spot the restaurant, our navigation over to Greers Road is just so much easier being able to set the destination and leave Tommie to it.
We wander into the restaurant and are greeted by a friendly young Japanese woman and shown to a table by the front window. Son leads the ordering and we start with 3 pieces of Nigiri Sushi (Tokyo Style) $. This is followed by Kinji’s Fried Chicken (KFC) ($18) at Hubby's insistence; Soft Shell Crab & Cauliflower Tempura with salad ($18) at my insistence; and Son requested some balls. I think they were octopus balls. I didn’t notice them on the menu but the restaurant was happy to provide them.  The food is delicious and a great success for the opening meal of our trip. Dessert is irresistible. Son had the Match Affogato (Vanilla ice cream with Matcha Green Tea Sauce) $8. Hubby opted for the Green Tea Tiramisu $10, and I opted for the more conservative Crème Brulee which was also $10. Everything was great. Fabulous quality and value. All inclusive $113 NZ for the three of us including drinks. No wonder Kinji is  rated number 1.
The return to Lorenzo is just as easy with Tommie leading the way. We quickly dart upstairs to the warmth of our room and a rest. Arthur’s Pass is blocked by record snowfalls. It’s not looking good for tomorrow but we’ll see what’s going on when we get up tomorrow. Meanwhile we’re considering our options for an alternative approach to the next couple of days. The only absolute essential is to be in position in Manapouri for our overnight on Doubtful sound.

PS: Son says, "Gee these geothermals make a big difference." Uh huh. No such thing as bad weather only the wrong clothes.

Day 2 - Saturday 22nd June - Christchurch to Dunedin

We’re supposed to head across to the West Coast, but the weather has mistimed by a day and Arthurs Pass and numerous other roads around the South Island are still closed when I check the highways website again this morning. This is no minor situation and the news is reporting that this is record snow falls for the first week in the season – over a metre and a half and more is forecast. Luckily, booking conditions allow me to cancel our helihike and accommodation at Fox Glacier without penalty. It’s time to implement the back up plan. However, I discover that conditions don’t make my back up plan very appealing. We had thought we would head to Akaroa if the pass was blocked, but it is still bucketing down rain and there’s flooding and landslips around the place. We can drive an hour and a half in steep winding terrain to Akaroa and explore that in pouring rain, or we can spend the whole day driving to Dunedin. There is only one not negotiable thing on our trip. We leave for overnight on Doubtful Sound on Wednesday. All things considered Dunedin seems to be the best option and gives us greatest flexibility no matter what the weather does. Dunedin it is.
It’s a pretty purposeful drive through heavy rain. I’m a bit surprised to find that the bare trees are really lovely, especially along the rivers. They present a tracery of gold and as we travel over coming days the various colours of the bare branches are a real feature in the gorgeous landscapes. The warnings for the highways heading to Dunedin include areas where there is water over the road. Luckily this is not too much drama, but we need to drive carefully.
We pause to admire the big trout at Rakaia.

 We stop in Timaru for lunch. We like Timaru. It’s hillier than I expected. I do a quick internet search on TripAdvisor. What’s good around here? There’s no trouble getting a convenient parking spot on Bay Hill and admire the views over to the water before retreating indoors to Fusion restaurant. On our way in I’ve been rather taken by the daily fish special – Pan fried Gurnard on a pumpkin spaetzle with tomato salsa & hollandaise sauce. The full menu doesn’t offer me anything to tempt me more so I stick with it. Hubby has the Paella styled rice with chicken, vegetables, chorizo sausage, greenshell mussels, squid and prawns, cooked and served in the pan with tomato salsa, olives and fresh lemon. He’s always tempted by seafood paella or pasta. Son decides he will try the Hot and spicy Cajun chicken breast with tomato salsa and minted cucumber yoghurt dressed salad of lettuce, parmesan, bacon, boiled egg and sweet corn croutons. Each of our meals is very satisfying and tasty. I threw caution to the wind and accompanied my meal with a delicious Ginger Kiss mocktail - gingerbread syrup in apple juice. Yum! Among the cappuccino options was to have cinnamon sprinkled on the top instead of chocolate. Son is surprised and hasn’t come across that option before. He decides to discover why. Ew. Not very nice!

We've realised more things we've forgotten, and Son takes a wander down the street a bit to see if he can see somewhere nearby that sells toothbrushes and save us another trip to the supermarket.  He's back soon having had no joy and we end up at the local New World Supermarket. I love the clever use of the silver fern in the company logo.

It’s fairly late in the day and the rain is taking a break as we’re passing the Moeraki Boulders. We decide to check out the café and its closer access. $2 for members of the public to use the well graveled track this private enterprise has provided for patrons. That’s a reasonable charge we think, but they decline our offer of payment because they are closing up. We wander down among the boulders and they are worth the effort we have taken to stop. We have the place to ourselves. We spend a while hanging out on the sand. Just soaking up the place. Watching the local Oystercatchers feeding among the rocks. 
The rocks along the beach are REALLY slippery. Hubby slips on the stairs too leaving a long dirty strip of sand down his back.  It’s treacherous in the wet, but good to stretch our legs. We clean our boots on the scrubber station provided and flick sand up into our faces and we laugh and have a joke.
Onward to Dunedin. We pass an area with lots of snow all around. We pass Orokonui Bird Sanctuary in as we pass through a snowy area. Ah yes. That’s somewhere I’d like to go while we’re here. We have booked rooms at Bluestone on George. This is a fairly new and immaculately maintained block of self contained apartments with additional communal lounge area and a gym. Our tariff is $165 NZ for each double room which translates as $138 AU or thereabouts. We think it's great value for the standard.
Dinner is had at Fish Hook, which is a few hundred metres down the road. Between us we got crumbed blue cod; battered blue cod, a serve of seafood chowder, a couple of scallops and Hubby fed his spring roll addiction. Well. The blue cod is a must of course. We preferred the crumbed to the battered option, but both were good. Our table has a fish hook embedded in it.
It’s a brisk walk back to Bluestone on George in the chilly conditions. Temperatures have been only about 4C and as darkness falls it gets even colder, but the exercise is welcome. Bluestone on George has a long steep driveway and it’s quite steep even from the car parking spaces. No problem for us, but people who are less mobile would find it challenging. Our accommodation is excellent. They have even provided a selection of pillows and told us what they are filled with. One is filled with feathers and we can call reception to have it removed from the room if feathers are a problem. Ample free internet is provided in our room, but we can buy more if we need. It’s so nice to be back in Dunedin.

Oh, I should have noted, internet is free at Lorenzo in Christchurch too.

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