This blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells but most importantly, the beer of what is effectively an extended honeymoon. Around two years later, I hope we have done the idea justice. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!
After getting married in September 2010 we decided to do the opposite of settling down; so we packed up our life, stuffed it in our parent's attic and hit the road for what is essentially an extended honeymoon! We started our trip on 29th December 2010 spending 4 months travelling overland through Europe, Russia and Mongolia to China. After many a train and bus journey we caved-in and flew from Western China to Malaysia, and worked our way north to Thailand and Cambodia. The time came for us to replenish our bank accounts, so we headed to Western Australia for work in July 2011 and lived in Fremantle until February 2012. After a couple of months back home seeing our families and friends, we headed back down-under. This time we headed for New Zealand and we are currently living in Wellington. Our blog started as part of an elaborate wedding present from two of our very good friends. The idea was that on our trip we should blog from every country we visit, detailing the sights, sounds and smells and most importantly, the beer. We have certainly had fun writing it - but moreso, living it!
After a gruelling weekend of punk rock fun at Groezrock, we flew from Amsterdam on 2nd May. There was a tense moment when the check-in desk clerk wasn't convinced that we'd be granted entry into NZ with a one-way ticket (we had checked already that we could), but after calling the embassy we were cleared to board. The flight took 12 or so hours to Singapore, where we had a 15 hour lay-over. We hadn't managed to get much sleep in either in Amsterdam or on the plane so were utterly jiggered by this point, and not up for an exhausted trudge around the city. Luckily we were able to crash in a hotel room at the airport for a while, and then in a public 'snooze lounge' when our time was up in the room (it was bookable for slots of 8 hours). But if there is any airport that is tolerable to be stuck in for a while it is Singapore Airport. Decent cafes and some amazing butterfly gardens, a surprisingly pleasant place to wander around! We eventually boarded our flight to Christchurch which was another 12 or so hours.
We arrived in New Zealand on a bright and cool morning, and proceeded through customs without a hitch. We had already booked ourselves into a hostel and organised a lift from the airport, and a jolly lady picked us up and took us there. This was around 10am and we were told that we could leave our bags but couldn't check in for a few more hours. Despite being exhausted and not having showered since the hotel in Singapore we decided that a trip into the city for a mooch and coffee would be better than passing out on the couch at the hostel.
I think at this point it's fair to say we were pretty naive about the impact from last year's earthquakes and what the city itself would be like. The centre of the city, including the cathedral, is in a fenced off 'red zone' that is completed barricaded off. At intervals along the fence there are flowers and tributes to people who lost their lives in the quakes. The city has lost it's central hub and as such it was hard to get a feel for what it was like before, and even outside the red-zone many public buildings are still inaccessible due to the damage. It was very sad walking around and seeing just how many buildings, homes and businesses had been affected. And the realisation that, gosh, it is going to take years if not decades to rebuild. Pretty sobering. However, there were a couple of little gems that we discovered. We visited Re:START, which is a mini retail centre created entirely out of shipping crates. They were painted in bright colours and were really very aesthetically pleasing, as well as being a lovely little hub to spend some time in. We grabbed a much needed coffee (the best coffee we'd had since leaving Perth! Sorry Europe, but they just do coffee better down-under!) and sat out on the deck in the sun. There was a live band entertaining people and successfully drowning out the noise of the construction work. It seemed like a pretty ingenious way for the city to have created a temporary central hub. We also enjoyed a lovely couple of hours wandering the beautiful botanical gardens, admiring all the autumnal colours falling from the trees. Eventually the time came for us to be able to check-in to our rooms and we slept for a long, long time before waking up annoyingly early (classic jet-lag management mistake!).
Feeling like we'd 'done' as much of Christchurch centre as is reasonably possible at the moment, we spent the rest of the weekend around the coastal suburbs. We had a good explore of Lyttelton, Christchurch's port town. Although only a small town, it seemed to have a pretty lively community and a little more alternative than you may expect from a port town. We had fun doing a spot of shopping and wandering up the steep streets. There was a lot of quake damage there too, and we stumbled upon a shipping crate turned bar called the Port Hole, set up after last years quakes, and enjoyed some hand-pulled real ale from local brewery Cassels & Sons.
We also visited Sumner, Christchurch's beach-front suburb. Happily there was a street festival complete with live music, yummy food and funky market stalls going on. We enjoyed sitting in the sunshine, eating veggie pakoras and drinking Matsons 'Quake Lager' which had been brewed to raise money for the earthquake appeal. We had a wander down to the seafront and had a bit of hike up the hillside, occasionally halted by blocked off paths due to the earthquake, but made it over to Taylor's Mistake, a little bay over the hillside. Fabulous!
All in all, it's hard to recommend Christchurch as a place to head right now, as the quake damage is just too great. However, the outlying suburbs, despite having some damage, are well worth a visit. It was a very strange place to have started our New Zealand trip but after a few days we moved on after being recommended to head to the nearby Banks Peninsula. We had only planned to stay a few days and do some walking, but we ended up staying a little while longer... 5 weeks to be exact!