Okay, so it’s only 3 hours from Sydney to Christchurch, one of the main reasons we chose New Zealand as our first family holiday overseas. What you quickly realise is once you add the hours you need to be at the airport before your flight leaves, the hour or so you need to allow in getting to the airport in case of traffic and then the time it takes to get through customs on the other side, pick up your hire car and drive to your first night’s accommodation; your whole day is completely shot!
4.30am we had to get up to catch a 10am flight (mind you, we didn’t really sleep prior to that anyway – I was awake all night long) and we checked into our hotel south of Christchurch around 5pm. That’s a long long day!
But you know what? New Zealand is worth it!
We spent our first night in Ashburton about an hour south of Christchurch and, we hoped, far enough away not to be caught out by random earthquakes. Who knows when these things are going to hit? Not us. Christchurch airport is fine by the way, nice and compact, easy to navigate. The hire car area is right outside the main door. All nice and easy in an open plan sort of way.
Our excited, though very tired eyes, were fascinated by the NZ need to hedge instead of fence paddocks and the very short distance between airport and totally rural region we found ourselves in. The hedges are very high by the way, not your usual English garden type of hedge. After a few kilometres we noticed the sheep and a few cows sheltering from the cool breeze (okay, it was a fairly cold wind) beneath the hedges – wind and weather shelters perhaps? At any rate, the hedges were different, as were the driving styles.
As an Australian, I think myself fairly laidback, but one thing I’ve learned is that the New Zealanders are probably even more laidback than Aussies!
Take the issue of personal space. Drivers come up close behind, overtake and then cut back right in front of you. Coming from a 3-car lengths kind of world, this took a couple of days to get used too. In shops, people push past you, squeeze in close to you and generally don’t seem to care that you’re standing there at all. For awhile there I thought I was invisible. We figured it out though, and made allowances, but it was a bit of a culture shock at first. Mind you, at that point we still had a lot to learn. Personal territory might be reduced for New Zealanders but it’s non-existent to people from other parts of the world. I’ll get to our Milford Sound experiences later though.
Our overall travel plan was a circle encompassing the southern tourist route and then cutting back in to Christchurch just past Hokatiku (I may have spelt that wrong, it’s been a few weeks). It was a bit of a grey day and cold, but we’d been expecting lower temperatures. Our first real day of travel we spent mostly in the car with liberal stops along the way to eat, drink and stretch our legs. We found a lovely heritage place at Oamaru (I’m pretty sure that’s where we were) with an interesting art gallery of sorts at the Steampunk HQ. The building was closed, but interesting sculptures could be seen over the fence such as a skeletal truck driver and oddly-decorated steam engines, etc.
Next door to this was a beautiful garden that followed a river along until it reached the beach (not far off). The other side of the river looked like the industrial area. It was all a little random really, but very interesting. To think, we found it completely by accident!
We spent a couple of hours exploring and then hit the road for Dunedin. Lovely drive down the coast, but that’s a whole other blog post!