New Zealand- Round The World Tour 3 2004 Day 358 (168)

Flight to Christchurch

Tuesday 1st March (2005)

After a good two and a half months in Australia, we are now finally on our way to our next, new and wonderful destination. All in all, Australia has been very good to us. We’ve done a lot, seen a lot, experienced a lot and had a few laughs along the way. We’ve spent quality time with family and have had plenty of time to re-charge our batteries, ready for the next phase of this trip. Australia has always been a high priority on my life’s to-do list and I feel quietly contented now that I can place another check mark on that ever-shrinking roll call of must-do-before-I-die items.

The one remaining action item for Australia is, sadly, to leave the country. This unfortunately involves getting up at an ungodly hour this morning to catch our shuttle to the airport. The alarm went off at six. This at least brought with it the end to an uncomfortable night’s sleep. It was quite warm during the night and our room did not have air-conditioning so I had to open the window to let in some cooler air. The problem with that was that there was a lot of street noise nearly all through the night. Several backpackers were sitting in the doorways of our building and having a jolly old time making lots of noise. The noise I can usually tolerate but they were also smoking marijuana for most of the time and the stench kept wafting up towards my window. I kept opening and closing the window throughout the night as first the heat and then the smell and then the heat again kept getting too unbearable. I lost count how many times this game of tag went on. There is a desktop fan in our room so I put that on at one point to help blow some air over my body. This is something that Sandy absolutely detests and so she decided to take the bed coverings (all of them) over to one of the bunk beds and sleep there for the rest of the night. The temperature in the room must have cooled off a bit by six, as I woke up quite shivering and clutching my pillow for warmth. This bed covering theft often happens even when we are in the same bed all night.

We made swift work of packing and tidying up the room and went downstairs to the kitchen. Unfortunately, although we could enter the kitchen, it was closed. The lights were off and all the cupboards were locked so we weren’t able to fix any breakfast. Sandy still had some bits and pieces in our food bag so she fashioned a few titbits for herself to eat. Our ten-seater shuttle bus arrived to collect us and a rather nice Russian speaking man threw, literally, our bags into the bag. He screeched away shortly after we were in and we were off, with very little regard for any other road user all the way to the airport I might add. Oh well, at least we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

The usual queues that we’ve come to expect and loath from large, International airports were flowing thick and slow and we reluctantly tagged on to the end of the right one to check in. It frequently amazes me just how much wasted effort goes into so-called airport security. Every now and then, we are singled out for a routine security check. Nothing wrong with that - after all, it’s in our best interest too that the airport security staff do their jobs well, right? One of the more common security checks nowadays is a test for traces of explosive materials. The security screener swabs various parts of our bags and our clothes with a piece of material stuck to the end of a hand-held wand. Once he is satisfied he has swabbed enough areas, he then takes the material and places it into a machine that quickly tests the swab for the presence of anything dodgy. Assuming the all clear is given, he thanks us for our patients and we’re on our way with no fuss. What could be simpler, right? Well, here at Sydney’s International airport, they have a slightly different approach to this testing. First, they stop someone in the queue and, without telling that person anything, they proceed to run the piece of cloth on the end of the wand over the various items of baggage. So far, so good, even if a little impersonal. Next, they slap on a ‘this bag has been screened’ sticker onto the items of luggage and without checking the material for anything in the machine, they move onto the next person in line and repeat the procedure. They repeat this procedure several times but with the exception of skipping the odd passenger here and there. Now, this strikes me as completely bizarre. For starters, they aren’t actually doing any screening of any kind since. All the time we were in the long queue, I didn’t once see them put the swab into the machine to be tested. Secondly, if a passenger in front of me did have any dodgy substances on their person or luggage, these bloody security idiots would have transplanted traces of it onto my bags and the bags of the person behind me and so on – ready to be picked up by the screening process at the next airport no doubt! All too often it seems that there is no security at airports, only the perception of security. I mentioned all of this to the check-in desk clerk but she didn’t seem to be too interested. I toyed with the idea of mentioning this to one of the security staff but something told me that might land me in trouble with them if I pointed out to them what idiots they were so I erred on the side of caution and kept quiet. I’ll send an e-mail to someone instead.

The captain tells us that we will be en route to Christchurch for about two hours and forty minutes. As usual, we have no idea where we are going when we leave the airport terminal building. We do have a rental car arranged and a number to call to alert the rental car agency that we have arrived so that the can send a shuttle to pick us up. We’ll just take things from there.

We’ve since arrived in Christchurch are now tucked snugly into our city hostel. However, it hasn’t been an easy transition into New Zealand so far.

We didn’t get a particularly good seat on the plane to have a good look out of the window. The wings obstructed our view for the most part. What we did see reminded us both very much of the landscape we’ve seen in England and Ireland. Compared to Australia, there is a lot more green countryside as opposed to arid desert. At first glance, New Zealand on the ground is also very much like England in almost every respect – including driving on the left, just like Australia. There was a chill in the air and I suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that we only have warm weather clothing with us. I wonder how this will affect us over the coming month.

First order of business before we left the airport terminal building was to call the rental car agency to have them send over the shuttle to pick us up. We pre-booked over the Internet with a company called EZY. Fortunately, they had e-mailed me the toll-free number to call from the airport and we hung around inside the main terminal building, where it was warm, waiting for the shuttle to arrive. EZY’s rates were pretty good as far as I could tell with a base rate for a basic small car of NZ$27 (€15,66) per day. Whilst waiting for the shuttle to come and get us, I called around some of the other agencies but it seemed that we were already getting a very good rate and everyone else was having a hard time trying to match it. The ride over to their premises was just a few minutes long and we set about sorting out the contract as soon as we arrived. For another NZ$1 (€0,58) per day, I was able to add Sandy onto the contract as a second driver. After taxes and other charges, the all-in total for the twenty-two days was NZ$630 (€365,40), which works out to a daily average of NZ$28,64 (€16,61). We ended up with a very small Ford Ka that has seen some better days, but it will more than suffice for our needs.

We still hadn’t yet arranged a place to stay but nor did we yet have a functional SIM card our mobile phones so we weren’t really in a position to call around to see what the current availability was like. After driving away from the car rental agency, we made the nearest shopping centre our first destination so that we could pick up a couple of SIM cards. The ‘ultra-mega-huge shopping complex’, as the young lady behind the counter that the rental agency put it, turned out to be a regular one-story shopping mall with about a hundred or so retail outlets. Vodafone is the only mobile phone network in New Zealand so we weren’t exactly spoiled for choice with options but for NZ$35 (€20,30) each, we able to re-activate both our phones with new SIM cards. After topping up on some additional phone credit and a bite to eat from the food court, we sat out in the car and went through the guidebook calling all the hostels in Christchurch. Fortunately, there were a dozen or more listings in our price range. Unfortunately, all but the last one that we called was fully booked with no rooms available. We were really starting to sweat after a half hour or more of listening to people tell us that they had no rooms available so we were over the one remaining hostel in town with a room like a rash. We made a beeline for that hostel in the middle of the town centre and managed to find a metered parking slot just outside the main entrance. As it turns out, the room is rather nice and the price quite reasonable. At just NZ$57 (€33) per night, it was cheap compared to what the guidebook was quoting for the average room elsewhere in Christchurch.

Having settled in, we thought about getting something for dinner and set out into the city to see what we could find. It was now outside of normal business hours and the town looked like it was closing down. Instead of finding a restaurant, we made our way to a nearby supermarket to top up on some rations that we can take with us on the road also. After fixing a bite to eat in the hostel kitchen, we sat and looked through some of the myriad brochures that are all over the place here to see just where we are going to head for tomorrow. I’m more than a little concerned that almost everything worth doing here requires a lot of walking or heavy winter clothing. It really is quite chilly here at the moment but I’m told that this is just a bit of a cold snap that has been here for the past couple of days only. We can only hope that the temperature climbs a bit before we really start to get into the swing of things. We may otherwise end up having to buy things like sweater and thick jackets. With glaciers and such to look forward to, I’m now really starting to regret having just sent home my hiking trainers. We are only just starting to get an idea for where to go and what to see here so it will be interesting to see just which direction we pick to head off in tomorrow.