So then, time to leave the lakes, the nature, New Zealand itself behind. I left Mount Cook village in the morning for the long schlep back. Naturally however I couldn’t resist a stop at a couple of interesting sites on the way back.
The UoC observatory overlooks Lake Tekapo, and is a turn-off just before the village of the same name. It’s a fantastic vantage point for seeing the area, even on a dull day, and there’s also an ace cafe at the top. There’s a NZ$5 fee to use the road, no great hardship and it would be seriously entertaining on a bike- Great hairpins all the way up! This area of the country is designated an international dark skies reserve- Not quite sure what measures or restrictions are in place however I imagine the stargazing would be amazing. This is a former USAF satellite tracking station and a great deal has been invested to study the Southern skies in greater detail by both NZ and Japanese Government bodies.
Despite my desire to see EVERYTHING, I didn’t stop at Lake Tekapo village, although it looked pretty decent in terms of shops and traveller facilities. Nothing new for me to see. Just leaving the town I spotted a couple of hitchhikers on the verge. I like picking up hitchhikers, and haven’t been murdered yet, even by the couple of incredibly sketchy Mancunians I picked up on a motorway trip a few years ago. Since I had the space and time it was good to be able to ‘return the favours’ I’ve received travelling via Couchsurfing and just generally so far.
These guys had really lucked out- Their sign and my destination were Christchurch, still several hundred KMs away!
My new German passengers were good company. 18 and 19yrs old, taking 9 months out to think about choices for Uni, a sensible strategy although one that in my case yielded no particularly earth-shattering changes in direction. I chatted with them about why there were so…many…Germans on the road everywhere, and they said that it was because of the recent shortening of the education system by a year, meaning that many youngsters needed a year to take stock. Sounds a decent plan, especially with the ease of obtaining a 1 year working visa here.
En route we also stopped briefly in the town of Ashburton for me to grab a coffee. By a stroke of luck the Christmas parade was rolling through town exactly then, a slice of bizarre small town New Zealand life. Floats from local clubs, schools, companies and then the lone rangers: a man towing a bee on a tractor, Bananas in Pyjamas, two men ‘dogfighting’ in motorised biplanes, that sort of thing. And obviously… SANTAAAAA! Even still, full Christmas spirit in 30degree sunshine: Irrepressibly odd!
I dropped my German friends at a supermarket in town, and continued on to the evening’s accommodation at Jailhouse. Quite literally a historic jail, now hostel accommodation. One of the quirkiest and best places I’ve stayed in NZ, although eerily similar to the inside of the older wings of HMP Bristol which I have visited in the past. They haven’t done much to the cells except to remove the secure doors!
After dropping my stuff at the hostel and scrubbing the van inside and out, I returned it to Cal’s house and headed out for a few beers with Chris. This was fairly short-lived as I developed my usual night out “nodding dog” stance pretty soon in the evening, not helped by a carb-laden dinner and the previous night’s slight lack of sleep under Mt. Cook.
There’s not much I can say of major interest about Christchurch or Auckland. The latter’s just a big city really, a pleasant one but I keep reminding myself that cities aren’t my thing. Still, a useful stopover to sort out travel arrangements for Argentina and stock up on a few bits and pieces that I needed.
I stayed in one of the Auckland University of Technology’s student halls. This seems to be a fairly recent scheme whereby rooms are rented out during holiday periods. It’s an absolute bargain too, at 40 bucks a night for a single room, only a couple of bucks more than the cheapest dorms in town. They are right in the centre of the city too.
Onwards then, and off to the airport for my flight to Buenos Aires. Divine providence was with me when I booked my tickets, the direct flights from Auckland via Air NZ only started on the 1st December- exactly one week before my departure. The alternatives involved far more faffing, expense and connections in Chile or, shudder, the U.S., rather than the direct, cheap flight I did secure.
Air New Zealand are, from my brief experience, fabulous, and the flying experience on a new 777 excellent in terms of entertainment and comfort. Despite a little wrangle with the check-in agent about the onward tickets, I managed to bag a bulkhead seat and settled in for a comfortable, if somewhat sleepless, night over the Pacific for the 12 hour duration.
Arriving in Buenos Aires 4hrs earlier than I’d left, on the same day will remain profoundly confusing to me.
So, onwards and upwards. The arrival of my mum in a week or so, a three week whistlestop tour of Argentina’s highlights and then a prolonged wander around the continent. Stay tuned, folks…