The Christmas/New Years holidays are finally over. We had a really good time. For Christmas we had a visit from the Finley clan (described in earlier posts). It was great having family here for Christmas and I think they all enjoyed their first big international trip. They headed back to the US early on the morning of December 30. Shannon went with them to spend some time in the cold and snow and to watch college football bowl games. Sandy and I left later in the day for ten days in New Zealand.
I had been to New Zealand once before, way back in 1982. The scenery on the South Island is spectacular - mountains, lakes, fjords, beaches. I was anxious to go back and Sandy had never been there. But the big question mark for travel to New Zealand is always the weather. It can be nice or it can be miserable. All you can do is make your plans and roll the dice. Because of the uncertainty in the weather we did not try to plan a mad-dash, fully-packed, every-day-something-different itinerary. We picked a couple of spots to use as bases and stayed at each for several days. That way we could wait out at least a day or so of bad weather if neccessary.
Packing was tricky. We usually pride ourselves on packing light, but it was hard to tell what to expect. Checking on the web, the weather in Christchurch was quite cool - highs in the mid-sixties. But I also knew that it could be quite hot in some places. It was the middle of summer after all. But if it was that cool in Christchurch maybe it would be even cooler in the mountains. Plus we could get either rain or sunshine. We had to put a lot of thought into packing and both of us ended up moving one or two things from our luggage to our carry on packs so we could squeak in under the 20 kg limit that Singapore Air sets for checked bags. We didn't want to repeat our frantic repacking effort at the check in counter from last summer at the Paris airport. Well, at least not on the way out at Changi Airport.
Our flight left in the evening and flew overnight. From the US it is easy to get the idea that in Singapore we are close to Australia and New Zealand. Actually it's quite far. The flight from Singapore to Christchurch is ten hours long. That is the same as flying from San Francisco to London. It still is much easier than flying to New Zealand from the US however. With connections and such I would bet it would take a full 24 hours of traveling to get from Wisconsin or Idaho to New Zealand. It isn't as far west as Singapore, but it is a LONG way south. The 45th parallel runs through the middle of the South Island.
I guess I better actually talk about our visit to New Zealand. We flew directly to Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. Most of the people in New Zealand live on the North Island but all the spectacular scenery is in the South. Christchurch has about 400K people but the airport was smaller than the ones in Boise, Milwaukee or Madison. In New Zealand, places are either pretty close or really far away. The hire car (that's rental car if you speak American and not English) counter at international arrivals wasn't even open at 10 am on a Monday morning. It took us a while to find out where we to get our hire car. Then we experienced our trip's first glitch. Somehow I got messed up with the date change overnight and had booked pickup for the day before! It's always confusing when the day you land is different than the day that you take off. They didn't have our car anymore, but when we agreed to upgrade to a better car we were able to get something. I still think it must have been an error in the booking software.
We were staying at a hotel right in the center of Christchurch. We dropped off our luggage and spent most of the day walking around the center of the city. It's very pretty there. Christchurch is known as "The Garden City". The Avon River makes a big bend around the city center and there is a strip of parkland all along it. The Botanical Gardens are right downtown and next to Hagley Park. At the very center of the city is a large square in front of Christchurch Cathedral. It is filled with all kinds of people and vendors and street performers. We found out that the "World Buskers Festival" was going to be held in Christchurch later in the month and it seemed like a great place for it. Several streets are closed off as pedestrian malls. Christchurch also has very much the look and feel of an English city. There are a lot of old-English-style stone buildings. There is an old-fashioned trolley car that you can ride around the central city. Or you can ride punts on the Avon River - long shallow-draft boats. They have a guy in the back who uses a long pole to push the boat along who wears an old-English costume for a bit of atmosphere. But there are also very attractive modern buildings like the art museum. A very pretty city center area.
The weather in Christchurch was nice but it was definitely cool - in the mid-sixties just like the web said. It was a refreshing change after the heat and humidity in Singapore. Since it was high summer I guess it never does get that warm in Christchurch. It reminded me of Port Angeles in Washington state. It was actually the coolest place we visited on our trip. It was even warmer up in the mountains. But then again, we didn't go to Fjordland.
We figured out pretty quickly from checking the souvenir shops that there were lots of interesting things we could buy in New Zealand. Or to put in more accurately, I found some tshirts I liked and Sandy found lots of other stuff. In one souvenir place she found some sample fabrics that had been made at a small shop in Christchurch. That started us on a search for it. It was in a place called The Arts Centre (Sandy thought that sounded promising) that was supposed to be nearby. We found The Arts Centre quickly but finding the particular shop turned out to be a challenge. Some old buildings from the University had been converted into a shopping area with boutique shops for arts and crafts as well as restaurants and coffee shops. It was a fun place to wander but finding a particular business was tough. We finially found the tiny shop where a lady made hand-painted fabrics. Talking to her it turned out that she was originally from Detroit, but had moved to Christchurch 25 years ago. She still hadn't lost her American accent though. Sandy picked out a set of fabrics to do a "convergence quilt" (I have no clue what that is) when she got back to Singapore. Sandy was really excited about the fabrics that she had found and I was already doing weight calculations for our luggage in my head.
Since it was New Years Eve there was a big party planned for the square in front of the cathedral. There was a big stage for a band to play and people were already staking out their spots at 7pm. But we hadn't really slept much on our overnight flight so we turned in early and were ready to head out the next morning.