Refuge in Christchurch
arrived in Christchurch (pop. 300,000) in late December and decided to hunker
down there for a while, since I was getting tired of fighting the crowds everywhere.
As I've learned, New Zealand gets pretty darn crowded during the summer school
holiday period -- the six weeks between mid-December and the end of
January. The two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's is the
super-peak period when it seems that everyone in the country "goes on
holiday" including the penguins, so I figured it would be smart to lay low until after New Year's.
driving around Christchurch for an hour, I found a nice motel called The Academy right across the
street from the University of
Canterbury, one of the largest universities in New Zealand. In fact, I liked
my room at The Academy so much that I stayed for eight nights.
It was a one-bedroom unit on the top floor with a full kitchen and, with
a tuition of US$38 a night, cost about half as much as it would in the U.S. so I was quite
Plus, this being a New Zealand motel, I got a free newspaper
and bottle of milk each morning -- what more could you ask for?
is the second-largest city in New Zealand and, as I mentioned in my last entry,
is a very “English” city. During
my eight days in Christchurch, I updated
I did all this in between the showers
and thunderstorms, but at least it was warm and I could wear shorts each
, worked on my photos, sent
several e-mails, walked
around the city, listened to the Oregon-Colorado football game via the
New Year's Eve
the nearby port cities of Akaroa and Lyttleton
a gondola to the top of a mountain for a spectacular view, watched
a cricket match, and generally had a good time.
The cricket match was especially interesting and I had a nice chat
there with an elderly gentleman. As we sat on the grassy outfield, he explained
some of the finer points of the game to me. It's still a strange game with
all the "wickets," "overs" and "silly mid ons,"
but at least I understand it now. Sort of.
the drippy weather, I thought Christchurch was a pretty city with a lot of interesting
things in and around it, including a great botanical garden.
I’m not much into gardens but this one is terrific.
The Avon River meanders through the garden and “Punting on the Avon”
is a popular, if perhaps a bit pretentious, activity.
"Punting" doesn't have anything to do with football, but rather
it's like riding a gondola in Venice, except… well… they’re
punts. Another difference is that
the “punters” or whatever they’re called ("puntsmen"?) wear white clothes and white
hats and, of course, speak English… though with a Kiwi accent.
Remember what I said about the accent: “weast” is west and “dee-cade” is decade.
also a great museum near the botanical garden that has an interesting exhibit on the
Antarctic expeditions of the early 1900’s, since Christchurch was the
jumping-off point for most early Antarctic expeditions.
Christchurch continues to be the world’s main link to Antarctica and
has more exhibits and museums devoted to Antarctica than any other city in the
world. This is where the Norwegian
Roald Amundsen and the Englishman Robert Scott left from in 1911 on their race
to the South Pole. Amundsen, using
sled dogs, got to the South Pole first, while Scott and his three companions
arrived a month later, found a note from Amundsen, then froze to death during a despairing
trudge back to their ship.
left: The city tram in
center: Punting on the Avon River
through the Botanical Gardens.
right: The Christchurch Art Museum.
left: Girls just wanna have fun.
center: This Sno-Cat was used in
Antarctica many years ago. Now it's in the Canterbury Museum in
right: Out on the Banks Peninsula east of town. This is the
beautiful Akaroa Bay.
left: Lyttleton (pronounced "Littleton")
is the port city for Christchurch. It's a pretty gritty town by NZ
center: A drydock in Lyttleton
Harbor. This harbor has been the starting point for expeditions to
Antarctica for over a hundred years.
right: The Rat & Roach -- one place where I didn't eat.
left: Riding on the gondola to the top
of the Port Hills, which separate inland Christchurch (in the background) from
Lyttleton Harbor. I had a great time riding up to the top and enjoyed the
360-degree view here.
center: The Lyttleton Harbor from
right: There's also a little museum in the building at the top.
Here's Captain James Cook, the first European to explore New Zealand. Cook
discovered Hawaii, among other places... and was killed there in 1779.
Brothers, Step Aside?
I spent a week in Christchurch,
then left on a cloudy afternoon and drove south on
Highway 1 across the flat Canterbury plains, bound for the coastal resort town
of Timaru a few hours away. On my
way to Timaru, I pulled off the highway, followed the signs down several country roads
and stopped at a memorial to Richard Pearse (1877-1953).
Pearse was a tinkerer and loner who lived in a small village north
of Timaru. He was fascinated with
air flight and around the turn of the century spent many hours building a primitive plane powered by a
2-cylinder engine that he designed himself.
Known as “Mad Pearse” or “Bamboo Dick” (a reference, I think --
and hope -- to the bamboo he used to construct his plane), he flew his crude
plane for about a kilometer in March 1902, according to several eyewitnesses.
Apparently, he then repeated the feat in March 1903 before he crashed.
About nine months later,
in December 1903, the Wright Brothers made their historic "first" flight at Kittyhawk,
North Carolina. The Wright
Brothers, of course, were a bit smarter than Pearse because they had cameras rolling to document
Ah, the power of the media...
his alleged flights, Dick Pearse faded into oblivion and died a recluse,
spending his final years in a mental hospital in Christchurch.
If Dick Pearse was indeed the first person to fly, it’ll probably --
and unfortunately -- never
The Richard Pearse memorial near Timaru. This marks the spot
where he crashed in 1903, after allegedly being the first person
to fly an airplane.
At The Inn
saying goodbye to Bamboo Dick, I got back on the highway and drove to the
coastal town of Timaru
(pop. 27,000). Even though it was a
Friday afternoon, I didn’t think I’d have trouble finding a place to stay
that night because according to my AA book, Timaru had about 25 motels. As I
discovered when I drove into town, though, they all seemed to be full so I spent the next hour racing by the
“No Vacancy” signs in Timaru trying to find a motel room. It
finally paid off, though, because thanks to a cancellation, I got what turned out to be
the very last motel room in town, at the Timaru Motor Lodge.
The nearest city was two hours away so I was pretty glad to get the
searching for a room, I thought about camping that night at the local
campground. I’m glad I didn’t,
though, because a massive thunderstorm rolled through that night while I was sitting in my
warm and dry motel room. In
fact, a tree toppled over at the campground and crushed a tent, but fortunately
no one was hurt. A railroad bridge
nearby also collapsed during the storm and a train derailed and plunged into the
raging Rangitata River that night. I also thought about doing some hiking, but I’m glad I didn’t do that
either, because two hikers were killed by flash floods from the storm.
Yeah, all things considered, I’m glad I stayed at the Timaru Motor
By the way, these sorts of things have been happening nearly
every day here in what's turning out to be a very soggy summer.
Frankly, the crowded motel situation, not just in Timaru but everywhere, is a bit
draining and makes me wish I was back in the U.S.,
because fighting over motel rooms every night really isn't my idea of
fun, despite the beautiful scenery here.
It’s more crowded in New Zealand now than anywhere that I’ve ever
visited in the U.S. during July or August, and I would definitely not recommend
visiting here between December and January unless you like crowded roads,
crowded campgrounds, crowded trails and don’t mind sleeping in your car
occasionally, which I’ve almost had to do a couple of times.
I checked out of the Timaru Motor Lodge the next morning, I visited with the
motel owner, a friendly guy named Peter who, as I soon discovered, really enjoyed
talking. His eyes lit up when I
asked him about a sign I’d seen referring to Phar Lap.
I don’t know much about horse-racing, but I’d vaguely heard of the racehorse
Phar Lap, recalling that he was from Australia or someplace like that.
As Peter told me, Phar Lap was actually born right here in Timaru in the 1920s
and then was bought by an Australian.
For several years, Phar Lap was the most dominant racehorse in the world
but he died soon after his first trip to America in 1931, apparently by a
is still big in Timaru and the local track is named after Phar Lap -- as is a
road, a farm, and even a Bed-and-Breakfast.
If you said that folks in
Timaru are proud of their champion horse, you wouldn't be too phar from the truth.
left: I've seen a lot of "No
Vacancy" signs during the last few weeks.
Timaru, New Zealand -- a lively place during summer holiday.
right: The Phar Lap memorial isn't too phar from Timaru.
Peen-guins of Oamaru
left Timaru the next morning after checking out the Phar Lap memorial -- on
Phar Lap road, next to the Phar Lap Lodge -- and continued driving down the coast
on Highway 1. A few hours later I
reached the town of Oamaru (pronounced “AH-maru,” pop. 12,000).
I was going to drive on to Dunedin that afternoon but decided to check
out this pleasant coastal town first.
Here's Lyle Lovett
singing about those sensitive Penguins.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
driving through Oamaru around mid-day, I stopped at a DOC (Department
of Conservation) Visitor Center near the beach on the far side of town and there, a
cute, soft-spoken ranger told me about the Oamaru penguins.
According to the ranger, whom I could barely hear, there are penguins (or
"peen-guins," as she quietly said) just about everywhere in New Zealand,
but the best place to view them is here at Oamaru. Apparently, there's a
colony of about 200 penguins living in a protected area just a few yards from
the Visitor Center. The penguins
spend the day fishing in the ocean and then return to the colony each evening
Believe it or not, on
most summer nights anywhere from 100 to 200 tourists pay $3 each to sit in the
DOC grandstand and watch the penguins emerge from the ocean, waddle across the dirt path and head back
to their little huts. And believe it or
not, after the ranger told me about this, I decided to spend the night in Oamaru
and check out the penguin show too, never having seen a penguin except maybe in
a zoo somewhere.
drove back into Oamaru that afternoon and found a room at the pleasant Heritage Court motel.
I talked to the friendly owner for a while and he gave me directions to the best
fish & chips place in town. As I'm discovering, fish & chips are
dish here in New Zealand, so I stopped at the takeout restaurant and got a huge
plate, and for only US$1.60. I quickly discovered that fish and chips,
when served with malt vinegar and some ketchup (oops, I mean "tomato sauce," as
they call it over here) are much better than the disgusting mutton dogs which
I'd been consuming for dinner (see
News: January 1, 2002).
After dinner, I bundled up and headed
back to the Visitor Center for the Amazing Penguin Show. I'm glad I got there two
hours early because the grandstands were soon full and the latecomers packed in,
peering through the crowd to catch a glimpse of the penguins (or "peen-guins")
as they emerged
from the surf and waddled across the road -- the penguins, that is, not the
tourists. All the while, each penguin was quacking with its
high-pitched squeal, sounding like a duck being strangled.
was certainly interesting and I’m glad I saw it, but sitting in a breezy
grandstand for two hours on a chilly evening while waiting for penguins to
waddle by is probably not something I’d do every night.
only does Oamaru have penguins, it also has some amazing architecture and
it's probably the prettiest city I’ve visited in New Zealand so far.
Some parts of town made me think I was walking through London in the
1800’s – and there are even horse-drawn carriages, old penny-farthing bicycles
(with the high front wheels), and a coal-powered train to complete the picture.
Oamaru is a delightful town and I spent several hours the next morning
walking around and soaking up the 19th-century ambience. This is definitely a place I’d like to visit again, even
without the penguins.
left: The penguin colony (left) and DOC
Visitor Center (right) in Oamaru.
center: Sitting in the chilly grandstand
that evening, waiting for the penguins to waddle in.
right: Sure enough, the penguins showed up a couple hours later.
left: The folks in Oamaru are pretty protective of their penguins.
center: "Dairies," or
convenience stores, are found throughout New Zealand. They're kind of like
7-11's or Circle K's in the U.S. but they have a lot more character.
right: Riding a carriage through Oamaru's historic district.
left: Tyne Street in Oamaru's historic
center: Street scene in Oamaru.
right: I really love the layout of towns in New Zealand. The
shops are all packed together, not spread out like in the U.S. This is
Sunday morning, so there aren't any shoppers.
left: The architecture in Oamaru is
right: Santa celebrating with Jim
A Wee Bit O'
I said goodbye
the next morning to the cheerful owner of the Heritage Court
motel (are there any other kind of motel owners in New Zealand?), left Oamaru, and continued driving down the beautiful
southeastern New Zealand coast.
The latitude in this area is about 45 degrees, or half-way between the
equator and the South Pole, and the
scenery here reminded me a lot of the Oregon Coast. That's not surprising
considering that Oregon is at the same
latitude but, of course, is north of the equator. No huge sand dunes here,
Mo's Clam Chowder restaurants or wonderful State Parks, but it still reminded me
a lot of the Oregon Coast.
Late that afternoon, I pulled into Dunedin (pronounced “Dun-EDEN,” population
114,000), the second-largest city on the South Island and the site of a massive
Scottish immigration during the late 1800’s.
While Christchurch is decidedly English, Dunedin is definitely Scottish...
been in Dunedin for six days now and, thank goodness, still haven’t had any
haggis, though I did see something called "black pudding" in the meat
section of the store last night -- which looked horrendous so I didn't buy
I’ve spent much of my time here in Dunedin trying to fix my Canon D-30 digital camera but to no
avail. After giving up, I bought a Canon EOS Rebel film camera so, like I say, I'm once again
shooting slides. Between the demise
of my D-30 camera, the cloudy and rainy skies, and the pervasive crowds (not to
mention the "black pudding"), my
visit to Dunedin hasn’t been a real high-point of my trip, unfortunately.
seems like a wonderful city though, and if it stops raining I might have a
chance to check it out. I suppose I could go visit all the museums and art galleries
in town, but the place I really want to see is Baldwin Street, which,
according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the steepest street in the
world. Considering that my car’s
brakes have been squealing a bit, though, I think I’ll probably walk it.
left: Lunch stop on the way to
Dunedin. This area reminded me a lot of the Oregon Coast.
center: Kelp on the beach.
right: The nearly perfectly-round boulders
at Moeraki are a world-famous geological oddity, at least among geologists (or
perhaps odd geologists).
Left: The town of Karitane, just north of
Dunedin. Because of the rain, this would be the last time I'd see the
ocean in six days. I think it's still out there.
16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
3, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
3, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
18, 2001 (Watertown South Dakota)
17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
New Zealand Trip
> January 12, 2002 (Page 2)