Tuesday, March 5, 2013

From Christchurch to Mount Cook

Note this was written offline a week ago... Just back within internet range now.

We are camped on the shore of Lake Pukaki with views across the lake to the tallest peak in the country, Mount Cook. We are 'freedom camping' - that is we are not paying for a site, but are camped on public land. Some of our most lovely sites on this trip have been of this variety, with one on a glorious beach, under a pine canopy, and another beside a river near Lake Taupo. Freedom camping used to be much more common in New Zealand and is still possible in many areas away from towns.

Since our last post, we have continued south, visiting Christchurch where Chris put in an application to renew his visa. This turned out to be a pain and quite an expense - not the rubber stamping exercise we had been lead to expect. Cost - over two hundred US dollars - time to process - twenty five days - need proof of sufficient funds - one thousand NZ dollars a month plus 2 passport pics plus proof he will leave plus a NZ address to mail the visa and passport back to. Ughh!!  Suggestion for NZ immigration - most sailors will stay 6 months due to having to sit out cyclone season. Most of us have every intention of leaving and ample cash to tide us over here. So why not issue 6 month visas to all visiting sailors? We would even let you see a bank statement, if that helped!

We only spent a brief time in Christchurch, so cannot comment on how the rebuilding is going except to note that getting cheap accommodations in or near the city is nearly impossible due to all the workers who have come here to help rebuild the city and are living in campgrounds and hostels and out of trailers while they are here. I have never seen so many no vacancy signs. One local told us that they are still bringing down buildings damaged in the quakes and that reconstruction is just beginning. On a positive note, there is a strong movement to take this opportunity to rebuild a very livable city with green spaces and walk-ways.

The Banks peninsula projects into the ocean to the east of Christchurch. Mostly hilly, it is a lovely place to visit and we spent a most enjoyable few days hiking and exploring historic villages. Particularly recommended is Orton Bradley park from which you can hike the tallest hill on the peninsula [Mt Herbert at about three thousand feet]. This park was an experimental farm in the 19th and early 20th centuries. In its fascinating gardens we met a horticulturalist, named Bill Sykes, who had spent a good part of his life exploring the world looking for new species of plants. He has been to the Himalayas on various expeditions around the time that Hillary was climbing Everest and had even met the great climber quite recently, while they were both in the Himalayas. Bill showed us a plant that was from Juan Fernandez Island, where Crusoe [or his real-world model, Selkirk] was marooned. The common name for the plant is Robinson Crusoe's Cabbage - and it does resemble a cabbage on the end of a long trunk. Bill was excited because this plant was flowering for the first time since he had planted it several years ago.

We also visited Okains Bay - a tiny village in a valley off the Summit Road that runs along the peninsula. The drive down into the valley was hair-raising, even in a small car, and I had to use low gears to save the brakes. At the end of the road is a peaceful oceanfront campsite with forested sites and a long gradually sloping beach. Many trailers and tents were set up when we arrived, but were vacant. We learned that people from Christchurch leave their camps set up from weekend to weekend through the summer and pay a nominal fee for this. An interesting alternative to a summer cottage.

From Okains Bay we drove into Akaroa. This historic little town was at one time a center for fishing and farming, but is now a stop on the cruise ship routes. Two ships were in the harbour when we rolled into town. The streets were chock full of wandering tourists, despite dozens of busloads already departed for tours elsewhere. The poor little town groaned under the load and, while I am sure it is a charming place out of season, I did not feel it was worth visiting on the day we arrived.

We are now finally on our way into the Southern Alps and will set up camp near Mt. Cook tomorrow to do some day hiking. I have lined up some short hikes and a long day hike to the Mueller Hut, which promises splendid views of Mt. Cook and the neighboring peaks.

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