From Scotland to France, by way of England

Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
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Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Friday March 19th

It turns out that if I had left yesterday and gone like a bat out of hell up the coast I would have been able to see Meat Loaf's final concert of his world tour in Christchurch. Instead I decided to stay in Dunedin to see the penguins and albatrosses, but not the world's steepest street. I wasn't sad, as two out of three ain't bad.
Woke up to a stunning sunrise to take the early bus up to Christchurch. The woman who drove looked like wild drug-addled songstress Courtney Love. It was still quite dark so she had the bus lights on, and with the sun rising over the peninsula it looked like paradise by the dashboard light.
Once in the city I was going to tell the dead-ringer for Love where to drop me off but she took the words right out of my mouth when she said Charlie B's backpackers.

Saturday March 20th

Christchurch was settled by some English religious types in 1850 is the largest city on the South Island and it's not hard to see why it's called the Garden City (there's a big park with a botanical garden). Traditional English street names abound, such as Worcester St, Gloucester St and Madras St, with the Avon River gently snaking through town.
It seems that after the wettest February for years New Zealand is experiencing an Indian summer. Today was beautiful but I couldn't really be arsed to do anything. I think that all this rushing around from bus to bus and town to town is starting to wear me down. After wandering around town for a little bit I took my book and sat by the river and a statue of Scott of the Antarctic who used Christchurch as his base before going for a bit of a walk in 1917 (to this day the city is the main base for all Antarctic expeditions).

Sunday March 21st

More of the same, but instead of reading it was a day of watching sport. Christchurch has probably the best sports bar I've ever been to. The Holy Grail is a converted cinema but they've kept the big screen and have added a few more. The day started with a few ex-pats watching Premiership highlights, followed by a bit of the New Zealand-South Africa cricket, but things really picked up for the England-Wales rugby. Then there was a replay of yesterday's Arsenal game whilst simultaneously watching the Malaysian Grand Prix. About the only thing I missed was March Madness, but then again the only US sport I've seen here is NASCAR (oh and that dude getting his neck broken in the ice hockey).

Monday March 22nd
About an hour and a half east of Christchurch is the tiny town of Akaroa. Located on the Banks Peninsula, it was first used by the French as a whaling station. Apparently they wanted to colonize the area but when the British found out about this they beat them to the punch and made the entire country part of their expanding empire. Hard fromage, mes amies!
Today most tourists come here to swim with the wild dolphins in the harbour. I couldn't be bothered to get into a wetsuit again so I went for a bike ride down to an old Maori settlement at Onuku instead.

Tuesday March 23rd
Because of the stunning scenery, hiking - or tramping as they call it here - is a very popular outdoor activity. Many trails take three or four days to complete, but there are hundreds of shorter walks that can be done in a day, including the Stony Bay Peak trail in Akaroa.
Together with a seppo and a German from the Chez La Mer hostel, I decided to climb the Peak 2,644 feet above the town before catching the bus back to Christchurch. It started easily enough, waving at the beret-wearing onion-sellers as they peddled past on their bicyclettes as I walked up Rue Balguerie. Before long we were enetring private farmland, and being careful not to upset the sheep and cows, we followed thr trail markers up into a verdant valley. The wind had picked up as we rounded the back of the mountain, exposed to the elements coming straight off the Pacific Ocean. The last half hour was the steepest and hardest, mainly because the long grass made it quite awkward to climb the slope. Thankfully I wasn't the only one who had to resort to hands and knees.
It took just under two hours to get there, but the view from the top made it all worthwhile. We didn't rest too long as the buffetting wind gave us quite a chill. It didn't take quite as long to get back down, but the hammock was very welcome when I eventually made it back to the hostel.
This was my hardest walk so far, but it's all good training for the eight hour Tongariro Crossing walk I hope to do on the North Island in a couple of weeks' time!

Wednesday March 24th
After an awful night's sleep back in Christchurch, I got up feeling awful. Not only did my legs ache, but so did my head and just about everything else. Bereft of energy and shivering, I lugged my bags to catch the bus which I had reserved a few days earlier. I was heading to the coastal town of Kaikoura, famous for its dolphins and whale-watching. I was hoping to go out on a boat to spot some sperm whales, but the way I was feeling I was just looking forward to a good night's sleep.
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