West Bests Rest

Sunday, February 04, 2007

After some initial confusion about getting into Christchurch (the road signs in were about as unclear as it gets) we found our way to the YMCA. I was skeptical, I’m not going to lie to you, but we were pleasantly surprised. A pretty decent location only three blocks from the river, and, for this group, only a block from the police station. Which Albrie, one late night, thought was a club as she walked home. But that’s a story for later. This time, all the boys were together in a room (“Man power” as Chris likes to say) and Brad, Chris, and I took off to explore the town before dinner. We didn’t find much, but decided it was a pretty nice city, and found Chris a patch for NZ. We found a really cool Scotch store – just tonnes and tonnes of whisky – and after chatting with the owner, got directions to a wine store and the best place in the city for rack of lamb. I was not going to leave without a good rack of lamb and this place (Hay’s) was run by some people who also had a farm and took the lamb from there. It turns out most of NZ’s best lamb is exported, so finding out about a place like this was definitely something exciting.

We went and found the wine store (Hemmingway’s) and, alas, no Waimea Sauv Blanc. Finding a bottle of this has become the mutual obsession of Brad and myself. We also checked out Hay’s and decided that it was within the realm of affordability. We made our way back to the YMCA for dinner and then had a bit of a party and slideshow in our room. It was actually fun and nice to have a bunch of us together. Then, it being Friday night, we (i.e. Brad, Chris, and myself) went out with Lauren, Chelsea, and Katie to a place down the street called Dux Deluxe, which is a combination restaurant, pub, lounge, and venue, all in separate rooms. There was a live reggae band that wasn’t bad for that sort of thing, and aside from Chris, who just wasn’t feeling it, we all had a good time. We spent a bit of time striking matches backwards on the matchbox, watched the band, and hung out. Then everyone was hungry, so we wandered around for a falafel place that intoxicated Katie assured us was worth it and found it closed. So we went for some sushi (I didn’t eat) and then made our way back home.

The next morning we had to switch rooms which I was less than pleased by. It meant leaving all our stuff in a conference room which they were to keep locked, but it made me a little paranoid. After that bedlam, we went rock climbing. By we, this time, I mean Brad, Chris, and myself. Well, no, it wasn’t quite that bad, but almost. Kate, Dustin, Lauren were also there, as well as Katie (leader) and Norm. Norm got a little lost en route and I had to play guide as though I knew where I was going, with the map in my hand. We were a little shocked at how few people bothered to show up, though some had gone for tattoos that day, some slept in, and some just didn’t want to do anything strenuous. Which makes me wonder why they came on this particular tour, but then I’m not reputed as There were three cliff faces, an easy, medium, and hard (5.9). The first two weren’t that difficult, but the third cliff was definitely a trick. There was an overhang that had to be negotiated and I was definitely hanging from one hand at one point in the endeavour, but I did make it up without falling, and that’s definitely a bonus.

Afterwards, I walked around with Chris, finally bought some phone cards and called home and also called my old travel buddy from Germany and Copenhagen, Mike, who lives here. Chris and I met Mike and Simon (who I also traveled around with in Berlin) at 5:30 and chatted for a while before taking a drive out to the hills where the rich homes are and a nice view of the city. We went back to the hostel to change and pick up Brad for our meal at Hay’s. And then I realized that my camera was missing. Yup. Again. I know, I know. I wasn’t even going to tell you. I checked my bag a few times (as did the other guys) and then asked at the front desk. We looked in the conference room, our old room, the maid’s closet, but no luck. Neither Chris nor myself remembered me having it the night before, so that left it being stolen from the conference room or in the room, and Brad and I had double-checked our room was empty. But we went out for dinner anyway because there was nothing to be done, stopping on the way at Dux Deluxe to no avail.

Dinner was delicious. The second best rack of lamb I’ve ever had, after my dad’s. Unfortunately, the meal was a bit small, but we had some dessert with deep fried honey and chocolate and Brad and I split a bottle of wine. Simon wasn’t there because he had a dinner with coworkers for leaving his job, but we did bring Anthony along. It was a terrific, anyway, and for days after, whenever we’d hungry, we’d look at each other, nod, and say “rack of lamb”. We went back to the hostel after dinner because I wanted a second opinion on whether my camera had come out with me the night prior. Chelsea and Lauren were downstairs on the internet and I interrupted them to ask if they remembered me having it. Lauren didn’t either, but Chelsea said “Yup, definitely.” And then ignored my follow up questions because she was looking at some guys. Admittedly I was a little annoyed at her lack of concern, but I guess she was annoyed at my interruption. In any case, we set out to the Sushi place to ask them. I walked in and said, “We were here yesterday and I left my camera here last night” and she said, “Oh, yeah” and then spent a few minutes looking and conferring with a coworker before producing my camera from below. All of us cheered, I announced I was buying the group of people who had been looking with me a round, hugged the girl behind the counter to the confusion of onlookers, and we set off for a night on the town.

And it was a good night. Mike took us to several clubs, starting at a converted movie theatre called the Holy Grail that was like a cross of the Odeon and the Hose & Hydrant. Three levels, huge, and isolated. We vowed to have a drink on each level and did. I bought ouzo shots for everyone, ouzo being surprisingly expensive here and also rare. And then we all took turns buying rounds and Chris started issuing the challenges. Anthony’s was to find out where two girls were from. He asked them and the poor girls hightailed for the door right after. Chris’ was to bring back one of the few hot girls that had just gone downstairs to the upper level, which he didn’t quite succeed in. It is of great interest to me that there are so few really pretty Kiwi girls. They’re not ugly by any stretch, but none of them really are head-turners either. A couple of the boys can attest to that particularly.

We got in at about 5:30 AM after a stop at Burger King after a few of the guys had sampled that particularly large whopper, and got a couple hours. The day prior, Mike had been surprised to learn that our tour doesn’t do much if anything on the west coast, and so he promised to take us out there the next day. Chris and I met with Mike and Simon at 11:00 and we took off. It didn’t take long to get to the mountains and they were instantly beautiful. It was a gorgeous day and amazing scenery. Driving along, I thought I saw something that looked like Weathertop from Lord of the Rings, and soon we saw quite a few cars pulled over alongside some hoodoos. Sure enough, we’d stumbled on Weathertop and also the ‘valley’ where the final battle of Narnia was shot. That stop alone made the day great. We climbed up into the hoodoos and rock and had a look around and on the way back down met a girl and her parents from Texas who had overheard us. The girl was quite attractive, shall we say, and her parents were nice, so this was also a nice thing to have happen on that particular day.

We drove away and not far along Simon claimed he’d seen a guy on a unicycle which would’ve been quite the feat through the mountains. Even on flat road, it’s not exactly designed for distance. Mike turned the car around and we went back, passing the Texans again (sure they thought we were stalking them) and sure enough, a unicycle. We got some photos and turned around again to take some more photos, and he took ours too. Then off into Arthur’s Pass, where the mountains got quite a bit more rugged and wild. We passed the Texans again, quickly becoming a running gag, because they were driving pretty slowly, and carried on to a town in the middle where we grabbed some meat pies. And wouldn’t you know it, the Texans stopped at the same place for a bite. With the amount we’d been running across them, I felt like I had to get a photo, so I went up to the table, visited some more, and the girl asked if we were in Christchurch that night. I took this as a sign that she was looking to hang out a bit with some people her age, so I invited her for a drink at 11 that night. Then we were off once more.

It was really nice being in the mountains in a car, especially a Mercedes, because with the vans full of people and toting trailers full of gear, we really don’t get to ride these roads. Zipping around the bends and up and down the slopes was a lot of fun and something I’d been aching to do since we first hit some of these really nice mountain roads a few weeks ago. Mike and Simon were great guides with lots of little insights and stories, and we stopped to check out a new fairly impressive viaduct that won some engineering awards, and just cool scenery. The rata trees, which grow red, were really cool accents on the mountains, although I didn’t get any great photos of them, it was amazing to drive through the rusty valleys on the way to the west coast. It was also neat to see the vegetation changing as we went west, moving more into rainforest. The west coast itself was spectacular, lush, jurassic, and breathtaking. We went through Greymouth north to see the pancake rocks and some blow holes but the holes weren’t blowing and the rocks were hard to photograph.

Then we headed back, making it in at about 10:30, just enough time to go change and meet Bethany. Mike and Simon were really awesome to take us all that way to see the coast and Arthur’s Pass. All said, it was almost a full 12 hours and we would never have seen some of those things or learned some of the things we did on our own tour. Much as I like Katie and Norm, they really don’t qualify as guides so much as drivers and planners. We don’t get any information about the places we visit, and we to be honest, we’ve probably put on close to 100 kms in U-turns already. There are no guided tours through the cities or countryside to see and learn about certain things, and it’s fine to do it on our own but it was also nice to have a wealth of local perspective too. Given that I only traveled with them for a week, I’d say they definitely went above and beyond. So a public thank-you is in order.

As for the drink with Bethany, it was nice to meet someone new after traveling with the group so long and she was definitely a nice girl. We had a glass of wine each, which I got for free because we left at closing time and they’d forgotten my tab and all cashed out, and then sat on the river and talked some more before parting ways. Then, another late evening, and back home where I had to pull my backpack out of the room to pack it for leaving the next morning.

Christchurch Photos

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