My welcoming to New Zealand was very different than Australia. When I arrived in Australia I took the train from the airport and when I exited the station, was greeted with a view of the Sydney Opera House. After landing in Christchurch, New Zealand I took a bus from the airport and got off in the central business district (CBD). In 2010, Christchurch was hit with two large earthquakes and the second one destroyed the CBD. Three years later the area is still devastated. I thought I had entered the zombie apocalypse.
I’ve been told over 75% of all the buildings needed to be torn down. Some buildings still stand and are still waiting to be demolished while construction on new buildings is also happening. The CBD has only recently allowed pedestrians and cars limited access, and they have opened a mall to attract people back. A mall you say? Well this one is made only with containers from cargo ships. My initial impression of Christchurch was it’s a deserted wasteland, but it’s actually a city in rebirth.
My other initial reaction to New Zealand was ‘I think I’m gonna like it’. The people are extremely friendly. The second day after I arrived I was at a bar with a girl I met from Ireland and had literally just told her my impression when a Maori (indigenous New Zealanders) guy walks by wearing a CU Buffaloes jacket. I mean come on, I already got the impression New Zealanders were friendly but smart and good dressers as well?
From Christchurch I took a bus (which will be my mode of transportation around New Zealand) to Mt. Cook (New Zealand’s tallest mountain and the one with a sad face-I guess being tall doesn’t make you so happy). I met three kiwi’s from Christchurch here to do a hut trip. Over drinks Friday night they had me convinced to join them. However, in the morning as they were taking pain killers for their hangovers, I came to the realization I didn’t have enough clothing, gear or time for a snow adventure. That morning I walked (the New Zealand term for hiking; makes sense to me) up the “stairway to heaven” with them to the Sealy Tarns and then headed back down to the hostel. Check out this awesome youtube video shot by helicopter which shows the Sealy Tarns walk we did Sealy Tarns Video
Not enough time you question? Well my plan originally was to just see how it went and take as long as I needed in each country. That changed when I was at the airport in Australia to fly here. US citizens don’t need a visa in advance but they do need proof of onward travel. I’ve encountered this before when entering other countries and had not had an issue so I didn’t expect it to be an issue this time either. I now know that is different when the country is an island.
When I was at the check-in counter for my flight the agent asked to see my plane ticket for leaving New Zealand. “For leaving?” I said “I haven’t gotten there yet, how am I supposed to know when I want to leave?”. Well she proceeded to let me know that I would not be allowed to check in for my flight unless I had proof of a plane ticket out of New Zealand. This meant I had to buy a ticket that morning and put a limit on my time in New Zealand (4 weeks by the way). So I got back in line, fired up my tablet (luckily the Brisbane airport has free wifi) and waded through the check-in line again. This time scrambling feverishly on my tablet trying to figure out when I am going to leave, where I am going to fly to, and make the purchase. As I got to the front of the line I still hadn’t received the confirmation so I was waiving people past me and then when I finally did receive it, I rushed to the next available counter agent so they could see my itinerary before my tablet went black.
Because there is so much I want to see and do in New Zealand and I have the time limitation, I have actually started to plan ahead. For the first time I can recall, I actually scheduled out (tentatively) the next week and a half to make sure I have enough time to do all the things I want to do. Oh the horror of a schedule.
I left Mt. Cook where I enjoyed 3 days hiking and it’s 4 lodges, 1 campground and 2 paved roads (no atms, no stores, no stoplights-but it did have internet), the next day and arrived in Queenstown where I am now before heading to the Milford Sound.