15th - 22nd December (From Christchurch to Mount Cook - Is this summer?)
At 04.45 (20 minutes after some German lads came in from their night out), my alarm went and I caught the Skytrain to the airport. My flight was with Jetstar, which I think is the budget arm of Qantas. The flight and the plane was fine but there was no free food or drink, not even a cup of tea or a water. I had tried to get rid of all my Australian dollars and they didn't take visa, it was lucky I'd had a sausage and egg McMuffin or I would have starved. They even charged $10 for the mini dvd player which had 'Scanner Darkly' on, which I really wanted to watch. I listened to my music instead. I did have the emergency exit seat with the extra leg room though, and it was a window seat; as we came in over the south island, the sky was clear and I could see miles and miles of snow capped mountains that just stop abruptly and become miles and miles of seemingly flat farm land with circular fields (for rotarty irrigation systems). I stared out at the mountains in astonishment, I honestly had no idea this is what New Zealand looked like, it's amazing. I realized that I spend too much time thinking about what to write in the blog as I looked out of the window thinking of superlatives to describe the scenery; I'll settle for 'stunning'.
I checked into the Christchurch YMCA (something told me that it's fun to stay here!), it's clean and tidy and it has a gym and a climbing wall which I checked out straight away - I need a climbing partner. I went into the cold town, traded my Oz lonely planet for a NZ one and had a lovely $5.50 Speights beer. The NZ dollar is weaker than the Oz dollar; about 2.9 dollars to the pound. My room mates arrived; Brad from the U.S. and some guy from Brazil, chatted for a while, went to bed, woke up shivering but found a blanket.
33 today. Read some birthday emails. Brad and I took the bus to the Gondola but decided to save $19 by walking up the hill instead of taking the gondola ride. It was pretty hard work but there was a nice breeze. There were some nice views from the top although it was cloudy. We stopped for a coffee at the top and I treated myself to some rocky road birthday cake. We took the gondola back down the hill for free. In the afternoon we climbed the walls at the YMCA for a couple of hours which felt like really hard work but good fun. Later we went for some nice (expensive) food followed by drinks at 'the Bog' Irish bar where they had a decent covers band playing. Their version of 'Fairytale of New York' was the first and only time I've felt like Christmas was on the way.
The next day I checked out, did some internet banking, made a sign reading 'Mt. Cook / Twizel', left about 11.45, and walked for about an hour, mostly along minor roads until I got to route 1 where I was picked up fairly quickly by a couple of young kiwi lads going home after a big night out in Christchurch where one of them had got into a fight and they both looked a bit rough. They both work on dairy farms. The driver (whose name I forget) bought drinks at the service station and wouldn't let me pay for them or towards the fuel so I gave $5 to the firemen collecting for a kids cancer charity there. The stereo started with REM and went on to Arctic Monkeys. I was dropped off at Timaru, about 150km from Christchurch and about the same again to Mt. Cook. I checked in to the '1873 Wanderer backpackers' (the owners are very friendly and helpful) and wandered in to the reasonably sized but very quiet town (it was a Sunday), found the Speights ale house which looked like the kind of trendy place that would be expensive but had a good plateful of bangers and mash for $16 and discovered Speights Porter ale, a dark rich ale that is probably the best thing I've tasted in a long while for $5.50 which seems to be the price of every beer everywhere so far.
In the morning I walked to the supermarket and got some porridge and milk for brekky, after that walked the other way into town to buy a sleeping bag $135 and managed to haggle for a free pair of thick walking socks as the bag was ex-display. Sonya, from the hostel drove me out of town just before midday. I walked about four steps with my 'Mt. Cook / Twizel' sign before getting picked up by Sam who is from the U.S. but hasn't been back there for years and probably never will, he spends his time between NZ and Israel, travelling and working. He is on his way to work at 'Buscot Station' a backpackers near a place called Omarama where he goes to work every year, it sounds really nice so I decide to go there. The weather started out very hot but got cooler and cloudier as we got nearer to the mountains. We stopped at the amazingly turquoise blue lakes Tekapo (with a picturesque little stone church on the edge) and Pukaki before arriving at 'Buscot Station', more like a home than a backpackers, surrounded by acres of farmland and mountains and rated at 93% in the guide book (one of the best in the country). Tony, the owner, is very nice, Kevin is working there for board and is an ex-retained fireman from Avon, Sam is also working for board and is trained as a chef, on the first night he cooked mussels which I had never tried before, very nice. I contributed some wine and ice cream. We witnessed two orthodox jews lighting the Hanukah candles and performing the whole ceremony with prayers and little hats - quite an interesting experience. I asked one of the jews several questions about his religion as I know very little about it and tried not to offend him as I find it all rather difficult to understand.
After my porridge, phoned mum with my new phonecard then sat around drinking tea. Kevin had talked about driving to Mt. Cook today so I waited for him to finish working but he eventually postponed it until tomorrow. Tony made a light lunch. I walked Fitzy the dog up the hill behind the house for about two and a half hours. In the evening Sam made pasta and a nice salad. We drank red wine and experimented with different camera settings for the sunset over the mountains. After last nights unusual Hanukah goings on, tonight we had a strange 'new age' woman going on about positive energy and all that mumbo jumbo, she wanted to perform a 'raike' on Kevin who was having none of it!
It's not like staying at a backpackers here, more like Tony's home. The only problem is that Tony keeps playing the same Christmas cd over and over again and the weather is so miserable that I'm spending most of my time indoors. Quite a few cyclists here today sheltering from the rain. I played backgammon, read, did emails, ate Sam's cooking and watched a video about Mt. Cook (it may be the closest I get to going there!) In the evening Sam cooked lovely roast chicken with Rhubarb crumble and custard for dessert. Finished the day with a game of shit-head.
Porridge with honey - beautiful. Spoke to Carly and Dan on the phone. Kev told me that a Korean American named Sung was heading to Mt. Cook so I cadged a lift. I booked into the YHA there and walked along the hooker valley trail with Sung. It was pretty cold with a few gentle snow flurries. I took some nice photos despite the thick cloud. We reached the glacier at the end of the trail, some large chunks of ice had broken away and floated on the lake which looked pretty cool. The glacier itself looked pretty dirty as it was carrying a load of rocks and gravel but I was quite impressed to be looking at a real life glacier having recently read about the part they played in forming the earths features during the ice ages in Bill Bryson's 'A short history of everything' which is quite tough going but fascinating in places. At the YHA, I cooked a pizza, after 20 minutes of the recommended 35 it was burnt to a crisp, I ate it and missed Sam's cooking! Read all of 'skipping christmas' by John Grisham in one go - a nice easy read with no thinking to do, just what I needed after 'A short history...'. Watched 'Snatch' video.
In the morning, I did the two hour 'Red tarns' walk; much steeper than yesterdays gentle stroll. The weather was superb; clear skies, boiling hot with a cool mountain breeze. There was still plenty of snow on the mountains and I drank from the icy stream. The snow formed massive ledges that looked like they should fall at any moment and create a huge avalanche, my camera was ready. I did the easy 'governer's bush' 45 minute walk straight after and met a total of seven people on both treks. Pretty quiet. I went to the Hermitage coffee shop for a sandwich and sat in the sun for a while. I spent most of the afternoon reading 'The Coma' by Alex Garland who wrote 'The Beach' then walked to a bar for a pint of Speights Old Dark, also very good, also $5.50. The food menu looked expensive so I went back to the YHA for noodles and shepherds pie in the microwave (a good balanced meal!) Watched 'Angela's ashes' on video which was pretty good.