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Tuesday, December 28, 2004

New Zealand - Day 9

Tuesday, Dec. 28 – Greymouth to Christchurch

As in most of the places we stayed at during this trip, the Alpine Rose motel had huge, soft beds that entice you to stay in them even when you know it’s time to get up. Thus, when the alarm clock went at 8am, I just turned it off and continued to sleep. By the time we left Greymouth it was checkout time, 10am. One other thing about the motel rooms in New Zealand: they all have two taps in the sinks! That means that unless you want freezing cold water or scalding hot water, you need to plug the sink and fill it up with water from both taps before you can use warm water. How British, and how so very silly.

From Greymouth to Christchurch there are about 250 kilometres. The weather was not so good today: overcast skies, but no rain.

Our first stop on the way was Lake Brunner. There’s a small village there, by the lake, but it seemed mostly deserted (T. asked: where do these people buy their groceries?). Almost every car that went by us around this area was towing behind it a boat; apparently Lake Brunner is where you go if boating is your thing. We saw two small girls paddling in their own kayak-like boat in the lake.

From Lake Brunner we headed to the mountains of Arthur’s Pass National Park. The two tallest mountains there are Mt. Rolleston (2.3km) and Mt. Nurchison (2.4km). These are the “New Zealand Alps” and every couple of miles there is signpost to a ski field or resort. This being summer, only the top of the mountains were capped with snow.

Out next stop was Otira, basically about 10 small houses in the middle of the mountain range. We bought some drinks there in a bar/saloon/restaurant/hotel that looked as if it was built in the 19th century and has not been renovated or redecorated since. The bar room had a musty smell to it and the jukebox machine was ancient, an antique. Outside, we saw three girls that looked as if they were gypsies; they were perhaps 7- or 8-year-olds but one of them had bright blue lipstick on. I asked if they could pose for a picture, and they agreed.

A few kilometres up the road is Arthur’s Pass village, a quaint little holiday retreat. We had coffee and met a busload of Japanese tourists who were having lunch at the restaurant. At first, T. thought they were Chinese (as we see many Chinese-speaking tourists here), but after she saw they were seated so quietly and politely at the tables, she realized they must be Japanese. We met them later on down the road, taking pictures of the mountains and we exchanged a few words in Japanese.

From Arthur’s Pass we drove straight on to Christchurch. The road was much more populated that the roads we took in the past few days, but still very light traffic. Speed limit here is 100km/h and there are many one-way bridges along the way that make you stop and let incoming traffic go through first (or vice versa). However, there are so few cars on the road that you hardly even need to stop.

We reached Christchurch around 3pm. This is the 2nd largest city in New Zealand (population: about 330,000). Our hotel, Latimer, is not far from the city centre. After checking in we went for a walk around the city and had a late lunch at a vegetarian restaurant run by some Indian-guru-following, meditation-aficionados, sari-clad girls (but very polite and cheerful). The food was good. At first, we tried across the street at some vegetarian Indian restaurant, run by Hari Krishna people, but it was closed for some private function. It was a startling sight: about 40-50 people, all dressed in Hari Krishna clothes, complete with the face painting stuff. We looked like a sore thumb in there with our plain clothes.

After eating, we took a stroll around Cathedral Square, the heart of the city. As the name suggests, there is a huge cathedral that goes by the name – you guessed it – Christ Church Cathedral. From there we walked down to the Avon River; the streets have many English-looking Victorian buildings and if you ignore the big-city signs, the city is distinctly European-looking.

Then it started to rain, so we went back to the hotel and took the car for the rest of our explorations of the city. We saw more historic buildings and had a quick look at the Botanic Gardens.

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