Christchurch was supposed to be our last stop in New Zealand, but not for another two months. Following a two-week house sit in Christchurch, we planned a two-week loop around the central and southern parts of the South Island before completing a three-week house sit on the coast and then returning to fly out of the Christchurch airport.
Instead, we left New Zealand with the rest of the South Island unseen, bidding this country a bittersweet farewell and flying to Canada, our home country, to wait out the global pandemic that is COVID-19.
Though we didn’t have the opportunity to explore this area as we had planned, we did have a chance to see a few areas briefly before New Zealand increased the risk category and closed everything down.
We squeezed in an hour one day to have a quick look around the city center. We loved the historic buildings, but didn’t take the time to learn much about them. Massive restoration projects continue, but recently restored buildings and sections are stunning. Our few photos don’t do the city justice.
Sumner Beach and Lyttleton Harbour
Sumner is a little seaside suburb of Christchurch, with the residences, restaurants and shops of a small beach village. The rock formations and caves create places to climb and explore, and shady spots to hide in on a hot day.
We took what we thought would be a nice scenic road back from Sumner Beach to our house sit, and we were surprised to come across the jaw-dropping site of Lyttleton Harbour with its marina and many bays as well as a busy container port. A working rock quarry provided materials for the port’s 6.5-hectare land reclamation project, which was also supported by 2,400,000 tonnes of earthquake demolition rubble.
When our homeowner returned early from her holiday and had to self-isolate, we moved to a motel. We thought we could fit in a few days of touring and just stay in the motel for our last night before our flight out but, once again, things changed and we instead extended our time at the motel to include the remaining five nights. We took our time on our final road trip since we no longer had canine responsibilities or schedules to deal with.
Akaroa is a major inlet on Banks Peninsula, a land mass we first saw from across Lyttleton Harbour.
When we got to the center of the peninsula, we had to make a decision between taking a road down into Akaroa Harbour or taking what was labelled the tourist route–a ridge road around the summit before dropping down to Akaroa on the other side. It was quite cloudy and we could barely see the top of the hills, so we chose to drive the lower route down with a plan to return via the summit route when the forecast was for brighter skies. Our strategy worked perfectly.
While saying an early goodbye to New Zealand disappointed us, we were very lucky to have spent seven weeks roaming freely (and another two mostly hunched over computers trying to sort things out). In that time we discovered so much scenic beauty, but there were other things we loved about New Zealand that added to our experience there.
- Coffee: The coffee in New Zealand was very good. Though many AirBnBs provide only instant, the coffee shops, for the most part, serve up delicious, hot, strong cappuccinos.
- A peaceful environment: The lack of obvious military or even police presence added to the relaxed feel.
- Maori language on everything: Though we struggled with pronunciation sometimes, we loved seeing Maori on signs everywhere, from interpretive signs at lookouts, to directional signs, to names of institutions and even for the country (Aotearoa, which frequently followed or preceded New Zealand in public announcements),
- Roads: Other than major freeways, they were curvy and fun to drive on, well and consistently signed and generally in very good shape (or being worked on–a common local complaint was the frequency of works on the roads).
- Public restrooms: In almost every town and at most scenic stops we were able to find clean and serviced public toilets, which made road trips more relaxed.
- Tipping: After trying to figure out how to tip at restaurants when tips weren’t an option on credit card machines, we asked a host at a higher-end restaurant about it. We were told that tipping isn’t usual. We questioned this several times in several ways and, other than possibly throwing a little bit of cash on the table (totally optional and not expected), she confirmed for us that tipping just isn’t a thing in New Zealand. Once we relaxed about it and got used to just paying the bill as presented, ending a meal became much less complicated.
- People: Everywhere we went, people were amazingly friendly and helpful. Customer service was alive and well with staff going out of their way to make sure we were happy or had what we needed. Saying hello to strangers in the park or on the street was the norm, and striking up a conversation with anyone anywhere was easy. We found that New Zealanders were an incredibly friendly lot, which suited our Canadian sensibilities just perfectly.