After a lazy day in Kaikura, Carrie and I were ready to get back on our steeds and head south. Between Kaikura and the south island’s largest city Christchurch is a long expanse of road with few places to stay the night and little to see. Our first stop on DAY 22 was an inland town called Chevoit. On DAY 23 we continued to Waipara, a village surrounded by more wineries. On DAY 24 we made a half-day journey to the outskirts of Christchurch, where we holed up to plan our full-day tourist assault on the city on DAY 25.
That’s all you’re going to read about those days because there’s nothing much to say aside from easy grades, a tailwind (woo-hoo), sheep and grape vines. Instead I’d like to talk about some of the small things that really make New Zealand New Zealand.
First off, you know when you’re in New Zealand when you walk into a room, any room, and you notice there are switches for every single electrical appliance and that the switches can be anywhere on the wall. Let’s say you enter a kitchen and you want to use the overhead lights, the ceiling fan, the toaster and the stovetop. Most likely the switch for the lights is in the last spot you’d expect it to be. The ceiling fan switch will be near the ceiling and out of reach for most of the world’s population. The toaster and stovetop will have their own separate switches next to their respective outlets. You also turn the switches on by flipping the switch down.
In the US, everybody drives cars. Gasoline fuels our lives. We pay a lot less for gasoline than most people do in the world. In New Zealand, everybody drives cars, too. Gasoline is expensive by US standards, so I can’t say gasoline fuels Kiwi’s lives. What fuels the Kiwis though is cheap and delicious ice cream. You can buy ice cream everywhere. Every small town general store has at least 8 choices of ice cream that a friendly lady will scoop up for you and plop on those plasticky tasteless cones. There’s nothing more that satisfies a tired cyclist than a heaping scoop of cookies n’ cream. Yum.
Every country has its share of bizarre sports and past times, and as a result, magazines that cater to said sports and past times. New Zealand is no different. My favorite so far is “More Pork”, a magazine dedicated to pig hunting.
And finally, New Zealand is the land of extreme sports. Bungy jumping originated here. Tourists are constantly being lured to go skydiving, white water rafting, paragliding, ATVing, driving a tank and even zorbing. The real thrill ride though is apparently bicycling. We’ve talked to many Kiwis who thought we were nuts for riding our bikes around the country. They have good reason to think that way.
On DAY 25, our expensive siege on Christchurch, we picked up a local paper with the headline “Three cyclists injured, one killed.” The story included some shocking statistics. In 2006, 820 cyclists were injured after being struck by cars, around 50 cyclists were killed. And on our bus ride to the motorcamp later that afternoon, an ambulance passed us with sirens wailing. We later passed the ambulance on the side of the road, its crew was assisting a cyclist lying on the sidewalk, his bike mangled in front of a car.
The Kiwis must have a lot of anger bottled up from being so friendly to each other and patient with the hoards of tourists because when they get behind the wheel of a car, their smiles can turn to snarls. Perhaps they treat driving like just another extreme sport; It’s a thrill to see how close you can get your car to a cyclist without hitting him. Bonus points for scaring the cyclist with your horn as you pass. Double bonus points for honking while passing the cyclist on a one-lane bridge.
Now more on our day losing money in Christchurch. From our motorcamp, we took the bus into the city center to visit the large botanical gardens, have lunch and take a shuttle to the New Zealand Antarctic Centre, a highly advertised “unique experience”. At the botanical gardens, Carrie was in her element, naming a lot of trees and plants that she recognized from home. As lunchtime neared and the sun grew more intense, we headed for a cafe listed in the guidebook that served good, cheap Mexican food. The guidebook was right. It was nice to eat some refried beans, which are rarely found in grocery stores. A can of beans in New Zealand means navy beans in a sweet tomato sauce similar to watery ketchup or Spaghetti O’s.
After lunch we headed for Cathedral Square to catch the shuttle to the Antarctic Centre. The main reason to go was to see the blue penguins, the smallest of the penguin species. The centre had a neat storm room where we dressed up in rubber boots and heavy jackets to experience the typical sub-freezing weather of Antarctica. The huge icy continent is not only the coldest place on earth but also the driest. Also, most flights to Antarctica leave from Christchurch. The US has a research facility right next to the airport.
The penguin exhibit was fun but sort of sad since the 14 or so penguins on display were all in some ways physically deformed. One was blind in one eye, a few had broken wings, one was just really old. They were still cute though, waddling around and squawking and taking dips into their little water tank.