In the early spring of September 2014, I decided to take a super spontaneous trip somewhere, but didn’t know where to. Work was absolutely draining at that point, and I told myself that I needed a break, no matter how little the days I could afford. And so, I applied for my leave a week before, booked my tickets, squeezed time out every night for about 5 days to plan, and I got my 5 days trip to South Island, New Zealand! Essentially minus off the flight, it was a 4 days 5 nights trip. It turned out to be one of the best breaks I’ve ever had thus far, and it’s this trip that made me love last minute trips even more.
I’d considered New Zealand as my graduation trip in 2012(Decided on Paris in the end), but after some research of the earthquake that happened in Christchurch just in 2011, I’d changed my mind, given then I wasn’t ready for such an adventurous solo trip then. The ruins from the quake was still quite apparent there when I visited this time round, but what’s amazing is when you travel out of Christchurch(and further south).
Remember to catch the beautiful alps on your window seats! The captain even told us to standby our cameras for the winning shot!
I don’t have a driver’s licence(yet), so while people have the impression that you need to drive around in NZ, it is not true at all. For this 5 days trip (and the 17 days trip in 2016), I managed to get around very well with buses, such as InterCity or nakedbus, with very reasonable prices. For instance, a bus ride from Christchurch all the way down south to Te Anau only costs $30 during peak season. Don’t have to worry about giant luggages/backpacks. The buses are well- equipped to store these for you!
But of course if you do own a driver’s license, and love to drive long distances, NZ is truly worth a self-drive because of the spectacular scenery you can get along the way. Car rental is reasonable, and if you are going for a super long trip, I’ve also heard that you might as well buy a second-hand car, because you can resell them later at the same or even at a higher price!
Day 1 — Exploring Christchurch, the Quake city
Given the little time I had to research for this trip, I didn’t quite know what to expect, which is always nice. Visited the ruins of the place, and overheard some people mentioning that many people who used to live there, either went to live in Auckland or Australia after the major quake, which was quite sad. Christchurch feels lonely to me. Empty, and the space was vast. I liked it. Simply because I love wide open spaces untainted by buildings…
I stayed in Dorset House Backpackers, and in a private room! It was nice to travel semi-off peak, as they were having a ‘Book 3-nights free 4th night’ promo. It was nice to stay in a private hostel room for the first time! The room was equipped with a tv, something I didn’t expect. I remember the Scottish independence referendum was going on during that time, so every night it was pretty exciting to watch the news. The hostel was a 5 minutes walk away from the Canterbury museum, where I took my day trips transport from. It is a pickup stop for tour buses.
Visited the Christchurch cathedral that was still undergoing restoration works.
There isn’t many things to do in Christchurch, but if you have a day to spare there, please do take a ride up the Gondola, as there are stunning views of the harbour at the top. The Canterbury museum is worth a visit as well, and admission is free.
I had a gondola-tram combo ticket, so I also took the vintage tram which goes around the city.
The tram’s route was unfortunately tailored short due to the destruction from the earthquake. Nonetheless, it gave a pretty decent coverage of the city centre. The tour though was very different from what you would normally get on a city tour. This one was pretty sad as the tram brought us to areas that were destroyed… as the operator described what they used to be.
Hagley park was right opposite my hostel and I had to walk past it everyday to get to my tour pickup point It was beautiful in the morning and evening light.
Day 2 — Quaint little Akaroa
Akaroa is perfect as a day trip from Christchurch, given it is only a 1.5 hours bus ride away. Spotted some beautiful sights along the way, and some cows too!
The first post office in Akaroa!
A popular thing to do is Dolphin watching and of course if you fancy, you can also swim with them! I was tight on time, so I skipped it and went searching for the famous fish and chips at The Trading Rooms Restaurant! Being a harbour town, seafood is definitely not to be missed. And I’m glad that choice wasn’t too bad! Loved the unique slaw, and the fish was undoubtedly fresh and sweet, coated with just a thin amount of crispy batter. Hands down, way better than the top few rated fish n chips in London.
After lunch, I wandered around the little ancient harbour town, and saw many cute houses. Even the cinema looks so vintage and cute!
I found the visitor centre, and decided to pick out a short hike to do. It was a loop through Stanley Park and traverses through private land, where I got pretty up close with some sheep! 🙂 It was about half an hour of searching and going back and forth the wrong track that I went back almost to the start and found these steps. The black sign was quite misleading… but then again without making this mistake I wouldn’t have felt that sense of achievement… so up the stone steps we go.
Stumbled upon the Kearney Rhodes House. This house was built in 1867. So lucky to have met one of the owner (Mrs Cashmore I suppose) who was out doing some gardening. The Cashmore family lives in Auckland so they have been taking trips back to Akaroa to do some maintenance and restoration on the house. Apparently they were also in the process of converting a part of it into a recording studio! Very cool.
This was the St Andrew’s Anglican Church, made almost entirely out of wooden planks. Rather mesmerising, but then it got too dark for my comfort so I took some pictures and left…
The waters of New Zealand seem to have such a beautiful shade of blue. Loved walking along the harbour, even when the wind was so cold.
Day 3 — Scenic TranzAlpine to Arthur’s Pass
My friend was there on his first trip to NZ as well, and he highly recommended this TranzAlpine scenic train ride. I love train rides, so this was definitely something I was looking forward to. Tickets were not cheap, but I had no regrets at all. Operated by KiwiRail, it runs daily between Christchurch and Greymouth and traverses the Southern Alps. Man, the alpine landscapes passed me by so quickly each time, and left me so absolutely awestruck. The train moved fast and there were just so much to see as the landscape changes at almost every minute. The weather also changes very quickly in such mountaineous geography, so at one part it’s sunny, and then on arrival it just turned gloomy and rainy, yet stunning to look at. Oh yes, there is an open deck at the front end of the train, and I was out there pretty much for the entire 3hrs journey, just soaking in the wild wind in the open air. There’s a cafe on board as well. I had an eggs ben bagel for breakfast!
So it rained the entire day when I arrived in Arthur’s Pass, so I had no choice but to put on my raincoat and hike in the rain. It was nice, with some waterfalls along the way, and lots of green vegetation. Unfortunately due to the weather, I didn’t manage to hike up to any viewpoints.
A shelter felt so great when it’s so cold and wet outside… I then called it a day with some carrot cake, vanilla biscuit and chai latte at Arthur’s Pass Cafe And Store. Like an excited fat kid with no self-control, I think I over- ordered…
It was then time for the train back to Christchurch, and I had a pretty good spicy chicken tikka on board. Yum!
Day 4 — Exploring Lake Tekapo, Lunch at Kohan Japanese Restaurant, Astro Cafe at Mt John
Tekapo was beautiful. I’ve not seen such blue lakes in my life before, so I practically could sit on the rocks and stare at Lake Tekapo forever. The shade of blue seemed to change depending on the sunlight, so I found myself peeking out into the lake just to check out the colour changes!
It was semi off-peak season, so I only saw a few Japanese tourists then. This picture pretty much describes how quiet it was. So empty that I could leave the tripod standing a distance away and not worry about it being stolen… that’s me over there.
One of the recommended places to eat in Tekapo is Kohan, a Japanese restaurant. I had the Nigiri sushi platter and salmon sashimi.
I’ve got to say this was one of the best tasting meals I’ve had in this trip. The taste of the fish however was slightly different from those I’ve tried in Japan/Singapore though. The Salmon for instance, had a very orangey flesh, and was slightly saltier and firmer. So I asked the waitress and apparently the salmon was caught from the waters of Twizel. So I googled and indeed:
“Twizel is important to a salmon eater because there exist several canals in which the salmon can swim. These canals carry water between lakes Tekapo, Pukaki and Ohau and Benmore. Intensively farmed salmon does not have to exercise, because the water is generally not moving ; however the Twizel salmon have to swim against a fast moving current.” and so “seawater salmon have a firm flesh and a stronger taste, whereas freshwater salmon have a sweeter taste.”and true enough,” wild sea-run Salmon generally have much more orange flesh”.
I’m not usually a salmon otaku, but that was interesting stuff to know I suppose! Hahha!
After lunch, I went to check out the lake again as the blue was once again yet another different shade of blue! Then I decided to hike up Mt John for the Astro Cafe. Having just started hiking then, the 1.5 hrs climb was quite a feat for me. The view though, was totally, absolutely worth it.
And 1.5 hrs later… I saw this after a last steep climb and instantly I knew this was the last!!! The view was kind of golden… literally too.
This was the stunning view when you sit at one of those grey stone tables at the Astro Cafe, located on the summit of Mt John, 300m above Lake Tekapo. The climb was so worth it. Of course, you could take the easy way out by driving up. The perk of travelling in between seasons, is that you got to experience both, if you’re lucky! It snowed for a good 15 minutes up there! Amazing!! I took a video below, watch it for the snow, in HD please!
The most famous landmark in Tekapo is most definitely the Church Of The Good Shepherd. Didn’t manage to go in during this trip, as it was closed then. I did on my second trip, and the premise is small, yet peaceful and inviting.
Day 5 — next plane home
On my last morning in Christchurch, I had breakfast at Vic’s cafe and then took a shuttle to the airport. It was such an amazing, unexpected trip, which preceded the more epic one in February 2016, which I am writing and hope to share very, very soon.