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Friday, April 24, 2009

First days in New Zealand

Long before the Lord of The Rings brought up to everyone's TV the amazing scenaries of New Zealand, I was already fascinated by this small country of 4 million people and 45 million cheap (according to the bus driver from the Akaroa shuttle). Don't ask me why, I can't answer that question, but the excitement to being here at last is big.

In New Zealand me and Tiago went separate ways. Our objectives were different so it was better that each followed his own way and in the end both of us will probably be happy with the Kiwi experience.

First days in NZ
The day before leaving Sydney I booked a flight from Auckland to Christchurch, in the Southern island. This is where most of the things I want to do and see are located, so this way I save time and money.

Christchurch
Christchurch is a nice city, close to the coast. It appears to have grown around the cathedral square. The Cathedral itself is an old 200 years building, really beautiful, specially at night, when it becomes really mysterious. My flight arrived two hours late, had some problems with the first hostel I had contacted and the second I contacted didn't want to take a booking but told me to show up. After spending 5 min finding north, I managed to find Coachman Backpackers. I had to ring the bell 3-4 times before someone answered... It seems like the reception closes at night, so the guy from the hostel didn't feel like letting me in, but in the end he did! And I'm very happy for that, it is a really nice place, with a huge lounge where I spent my time planning my trip before going to sleep.

I stayed 2 nights in Christchurch, but didn't see much of it. Since I am going back I can leave that for later. My first objective was to get a train ticket in the TranzAlpine to Greymouth, on the west coast. I went to the i-site for that. The information centers in this country are fantastic. Really well organized, they provide all the information required and offer non commissioned bookings. Good and efficient as all tourist offices should be. I left the i-site directly to the Akaroa shuttle. I decided to spend the first day in NZ exploring the countryside in Banks peninsula, about 80 km from Christchurch.

The Banks Peninsula
The journey to Akaroa takes around 2h30m because the bus follows a touristic route that takes us to Birdlings Flat (where I first see how rivers can really look grey in this country due to the sediments they carry as they flow through the grey stones), Little River and then through the mountains, from where we get fantastic views over Pigeon bay and Akaroa bay.

There's not much to tell about Akaroa. It's a small city, proud of its French origin. You can see this in the names of some shops/hotels, the streets names and in some houses you even see the French flag waving in the wind. One thing I start to realise in this day trip is on how Kiwis make tourist attractions out of nothing. At least to me who comes from a country with almost 900 years of history.

As I have nothing planned and don't feel like going on a tour to watch the dolphins, I decide to make one of the many walks through the mountains that they have organized. The Akaroa Heritage walk takes me through steep hills, initially surrounded by trees, and later by grass fields where cheaps get scared by my presence and run as fast as they can from me. Once I reached the top I relaxed in the shelter and organized the rest of my day.

The return journey to Christchurch could be done in an hour if we hadn't stopped in a milk house where a tray with cheese was waiting... Great, if I liked cheese...

Back in Christchurch it was time to plan the next couple of days. I booked a bed at the Glow Worm hostel in Franz Josef and then tried to book a bus trip from Greymouth to Franz Josef. The answer from the shuttle company left me worried. Apparently the storms that caused floods in Southern Australia last week crossed the Tasman sea and... Caused floods on the West Coast which washed away part of the only road that goes through the West Coast! I decide to stick to my plans and call back in the morning when I catch the train to see how the situation is.

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