The New Zealand Chronicles – Part 1

Our bags are packed, our passports and tickets laid out neatly. Our plane leaves in a few hours. I am happily unemployed and have time to while away. But he has to go to work. For a little while at least. He promises to be back home by 2:30 PM so we can take a taxi to the airport. It’s 2:00 PM. We talk again. He’s caught up. Unplanned work has a way of popping up at the most inopportune moment. We decide that I should move ahead and get us checked in; he would meet me straight at the airport. Padding around comfortably in my flip-flops, I take our passports, tickets and our suitcases down to the curb and hire a taxi to the airport. Mistake #1.

The airline staff member messes up my middle name and surname. Nothing new there. I spend five minutes explaining her that I do not have a surname. I sweet talk the other airline representative to issue me a boarding pass for my husband too because “he’s running late” but we don’t want to miss the flight and “I’m sure there would be a long queue for security too.” She accedes and whips out the second boarding pass. On the flip side, she demands to keep his passport but tells me “Come right over when he reaches, you do not need to stand in the queue.” I grin and thank her. We retrieve his passport and proceed to security when he arrives. Wearing formal shoes. Mistake #2.
And then in a few minutes off we go. To Middle Earth. To the land of Hobbit. And Lord of the Rings. And yes, I Hate Luv Storys too from Bollywood. But I don’t find out about that until much later. And so, apart from a few screensavers and desktop wallpapers where I have seen New Zealand appear, apart from the NZ cricket team – I do not know much about New Zealand until then. On the five hour flight, I read ‘Culture Shock New Zealand’ and learn a bit about Pakehas and Maoris, their history, culture, customs and traditions. If you’re planning to visit New Zealand, do pick up a copy of the book. There are times where you’d feel that the writing or everything about “my country” as the author writes is a little over the top. You might even wonder what’s the big deal, that’s how it’s done everywhere! But on the whole, it’s a good read; gives you some good insight into the country. And yes, Culture Shock series comes for a whole bunch of nations.
We land in Christchurch around 10:30 PM. New Zealand is two hours ahead of Australia. Fellow passengers tell us that NZ is very green but right now everything outside just looks pitch dark and black to us. We go through the normal routine of filling out the forms, collecting the keys for our rented car and make our way to the motel (For those who asked, rental car expenses for the complete eight day trip was almost $1000 including insurance, excluding fuel) And thus starts our 2000 km seven day road trip in the South Islands of New Zealand.
Christchurch is touted as one of the four largest and most populated cities of New Zealand. But the next morning, the sights that meet our eyes tell us a completely different story. In early 2011, earthquakes shattered the heart of the township and ravaged the city for the most part. Christchurch is now being completely reconstructed and we are surrounded by debris on most sides. There are many cars on the road, people still walk around but there’s a ghost town feel in the city. Our motel owner tells us a bit about how it affected their lives; how their friends had to close shop because structural engineers determined that the surrounding areas weren’t safe anymore. Streets close to the epicenter have been closed down entirely after engineers were sent around to study potential impact, businesses had been hit. The Cathedral is one of the main structures that has been majorly demolished by the quakes. I try not to associate Nature and God.
Christchurch being rebuilt after the devastating 2011 earthquake.
Christchurch being rebuilt after the devastating earthquake. 

It’s been two years since but the city is still fighting to get back on its feet. And through their conversations and actions, we see the city’s fighting spirit, working together against the treatment meted out to them by Mother Nature. City center buildings, where multi-storied malls once stood, are now being rebuilt as single storey strip malls because New Zealand continues to be a “possible target” (Read more here). Walking through the City Center, a very innovative fundraising idea catches our eye. The Kiwis have decided to use the earthquake to raise money for the city’s reconstruction. They have shows comings up where people can pay a fee to live the earthquake experience! And of course, it’s uplifting to see how someone still managed to maintain an excellent sense of humour through the years!

A restaurant signboard at Christchurch, New Zealand attempts to infuse humor and strength through tragedy.
A restaurant signboard attempts to infuse humor and strength through tragedy.

The other thing the earthquakes failed to dent is the sporting spirit of the nation which considers rugby as its main religion and the rugby coach and captain as Gods. All through the parks, we watch various rugby matches in different stages of play. We now drive towards Hanmer Springs, which is a quaint little town about 140 kms north of Christchurch. 
Driving from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, the land of the hot water springs.
Driving from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, the hot pool place.

Hanmer Springs is famous for its natural hot water springs. Hot as in from 38 degree Celsius up to even 42 degree Celsius. Absolute natural heavenly spa treatment! (Well, except it’s filtered and cooled – because the originating waters are upwards of 100 degrees)! 

A scenic lookout on the way to Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
A scenic lookout on the way to Hanmer Springs

We have an early supper at the township and then follow it up with some New Zealand ice cream. Though I haven’t heard it elsewhere, New Zealand ice cream is relatively famous in Australia. I honestly don’t see any difference though. Again, usual dine in lunches cost about $15 or so per head. The NZ dollar at the time of this writing is about Rs. 44. Take away dishes like Mexican, Chinese or Greek are relatively inexpensive – about $10 per head. New Zealand does have a cuisine of its own but most of it is non-vegetarian. Deer meet or venison is considered an absolute delicacy and you then realize why there are so many deer farms along the routes from one city to the other. Venison pies are very famous and for a non-vegetarian, there are many different kinds of meat that could be tried.

The beautiful peaks which tower over one end of Hanmer Springs create a feeling as if the town were born out of a valley. But the other sides are all level. We roam around for a long while soaking in the sights and sounds of the beautiful little township. Our fellow passengers were right. Everything’s so green. Different shades of green. And blue. Skies. And white. Clouds. And clean and clear. There’s no pollution. The colour contrasts create some stunning views. 

Motels and residential houses line up at Hanmer Springs, New Zealand
Motels and residential houses line up at Hanmer Springs.

New Zealand sits in the southern hemisphere, because of which, even as many other places face harsh winters, at this time it’s peak summer in New Zealand. I see some Indians playing mini golf on a course nearby. Cart type family bicycles are available on rent and I see a family of four peddling by on a yellow one. There are park benches and lots of trees where families are having picnic lunches. On Day 1, lazing around in the lap of nature, I am definitely smitten by the idyllic lifestyle. But how much longer until I start missing city life?

For Part 2 of the New Zealand Chronicles, click here.
Please note: I have put in effort to crop personal images to make them non-personal for the blog. Because I have had a couple of requests – If you wish to use these pictures elsewhere, please feel free to. And even though there’s no obligation to, I would love it if you would let me know of it or better yet, pass on image credits! 

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