***UPDATE: When I was writing this yesterday evening I couldn’t have imagined that I would publish it today while still being in Christchurch. When we arrived at the airport we found out that it is no problem at all for someone from Switzerland to get into Australia after paying a fee of $30. However, for Polish countrymen the procedure is not as simple as that. At least I didn’t have to go to Wellington to the Consulate and could apply for a tourist visa online in a couple of minutes. Now I am waiting for the reply. Let’s hope the best, I really want to see this solar eclipse! ***
Today was the last day of my first and hopefully not last visit to New Zealand. The five weeks went by very fast, as could have been expected and as, indeed, everyone who had been here before, warned us: „five weeks is never enough to discover everything that New Zealand has to offer!“ they had said and it couldn’t have been more true. Even though we restricted ourselves to the South Island because it is more interesting from the point of view of a nature-lover, we barely scratched the surface of what its beauty. Nevertheless it was definitely worth coming here and I look forward to the day when I will be able to walk on this island again.
Right now we are couchsurfing at Rex’s place. Rex is more or less the age of my parents and lives alone in a house in the suburbs of Christchurch. He joined Couchsurfing only recently (March 2012) and has already hosted more than 200 (!) travellers from 50 countries, actually Switzerland was exactly the 50th country from which Couchsurfers came to stay at his place. Tomorrow morning he will get up very early in order to drive us to the airport – there is no bus that early in the morning and a cab would be around 70 USD. I hope that at least he accepts a contribution to the petrol costs as he didn’t make the impression that he’s wealthy.
IT is interesting to see that Couchsurfing is not something that only young people/backpackers to. Apparently he hosted not only an American lawyer with his Russian wife but also two wealthy Frenchpeople (she a surgeon, he working in the IT department of Renault). Although all of them could easily afford to stay in a motel or hotel they prefer to Couchsurf, ’cause „it’s more fun“. Rex couldn’t agree more. Although he’s not very talkative, his hospitality is of great value and to many other people. (Right now there are 4 young Chinese people staying here at the same time. It seems that New Zealand has a free trade agreement with China, which means that it is one of the few „Western“ countries where Chinese people can go to work. Last week when I was at a store I browsed the latest issue of Time magazine which had a cover story on „evil“ China. They even went so far as to call the Chinese system „Orwellian“ which I found quite ironic considering the fact that Barack Obama and the European Union are some of the recent winners of the Peace Nobel Prize (see my separate post below). So I took my chance and asked this young guy – who was watching some American series with Chinese subtitles on his laptop, probably downloaded from the internet despite the censorship we always here so much about – how it was to actually live in China. He replied diplomatically that everything has its good and its bad sides and obviously the Western countries had a lot of things that he envies them/us of, like freedom etc. But at the same time he stated that China was his homeland and that he loved it and had hope for the future. His horizon for radical political changes in China is 10-20 years which some might consider optimistic if not utopian, but at the same time nobody was expecting the breakdown of the Soviet Bloc until Gorbatchov’s glasnost and perestroika in the mid-1980s so who knows…)
Speaking of which, I had a couple of strange reactions when stating that my country of origin was Poland. Some not so well educated New Zealanders replied: „Ah, you’ve been part of the Soviet Union?!“ which I still consider slightly offending. Obviously there was a high degree of dependency between Warsaw and Moscow since the end of World War II but we were still an independent country, contrary to Lithuania or Georgia. During the second such conversation I was better prepared and said „no, not at all, we were independent the whole time.“ „but were you really independent or just pretending to be?“ [this was even more offending than the first statement, although as I said, there is some truth to it] „well, just like New Zealand – you still belong to the Queen, don’t you?“ [I had noticed some time before that on the back of the 1 and 2 dollar coins a picture of Queen Elisabeth II. Can be found]. This had the desired effect of a change of subject.
During the first half of our five-weeks-trip I did my first serious experiences with hitchhiking. In New Zealand public transport is very rare and quite expensive and since everyone has a car, chances are quite good that they will give you a ride. Even though we were two persons with a lot of luggage we never had to wait very long. Actually there was only one time where we waited longer than an hour and the reason was probably that we just wanted to go like 10 km to the next town but didn’t make a cardboard sign stating this fact. Very shortly after we had finally prepared something, we were already in a car going there (that was between Goose Bay and Kaikoura). Same thing happened when we were trying to get out from Greymouth. We waited a long time and finally decided to make a sign with our destination and shortly after we got a ride to the next town where we ate pizza and then continued our journey. As soon as we stood there, it started raining and in that moment a car stopped and we were invited to join them for a ride. The nice woman even stated explicitly that the heavy rain was the only reason why she was ready to take us along. The nicest thing about hitchhiking is that most of the time people will bring you exactly where you need to go. And if they just take you part of your road, they will put you in the best place for you to continue your trip, even if it means a detour for them.
When travelling on the West Coast our time was slowly running out and also there is less traffic there so a couple of times we decided to take the bus and we made some mixed experiences although it was quite good in general. We spent a bit more money on the bus journeys than necessary because we weren’t aware that prices can rise up to 50% in two days. For the next time we will remember to buy the tickets as soon as we know on which day we will be travelling. The strangest trip was the first one, from Nelson to Greymouth, with Intercity bus. The main problem was that our driver was a demon or at least possessed by one. We were at the bus stop early and after putting in the luggage I wanted to get out of the bus and get a sandwich from Subway. The driver didn’t allow me to go because there wasn’t enough time. This didn’t really convince me so he reminded me that it was forbidden to eat in the bus and that I wouldn’t have enough time to eat it before we left. After he mentioned that we will stop after two hours to get breakfast I decided not to take any chances with all my luggage and Lea on board of the bus – you never know what to expect from such people. It wasn’t until the last stop, though, that I became convinced of the demonic character of this driver: we wanted to take our money and documents with us but he said that we could leave them in the bus, where they would be „safe as in hell“. Go figure…
Christchurch is where this part of our world-trip is about to end and Christchurch is where it began. My first memory of New Zealand is a terrible jetlag 😉 the first two-three days it was hardly possible to do anything at all besides eating and sleeping. Nevertheless we met a friend of Lea, a Swiss guy who came here with his parents 10 or 15 years ago. He showed us around the centre explaining that it was quite deserted after the earthquakes (two or three heavy ones in the last two years) destroyed most of the original town centre. Even the cathedral could not be saved and was in the process of being torn down. On the next day I witnessed the first proper earthquake of my life, 4.7 on the Richter scala – luckily the epicenter was quite far away so it was felt as if a giant slightly shook the house we were in.
After we finally got used to being on the opposite side of earth, we decided to stay in Christchurch for a couple more days. First Lea wanted to profit from the opportunity of participating in a Parkour training with the local crew and then I decided to run my first ever 10 km race. I had run twice in the Altstadt-GP in Berne in 2011 and 2012 which is a bit less than 5 km and was confident that I would make it. The question was only how long it would take me. My goal was to be faster than 60 minutes.
The race was organized by a (Hindu?) sect, their Guru’s name is Sri Chinmoy () They have a vegeterian restaurant in which we ate on our first day in New Zealand after finding the restaurant on . It was the best vegeterian burger I ever ate! The race was held in a big park in the middle of Christchurch and there was not only a 10 km race but also a half-marathon. Lea and I decided to try to run together and on the last of four rounds she continued running in my tempo although she could’ve ran a little bit faster. Like that we ran through the finishing line hand in hand, a beautiful moment! My time was much better than expected around 52 minutes and 30 seconds. The next goal is to be able to run 10 km under 45 minutes and then to prepare for the half-marathon. In a couple of years I would like to be able to run one or marathons per year. And a couple of years later to participate (and finish!) a Iron Man race 🙂
On my way to the race I lost my passport. I realized that it was gone a couple of hours later and the next day we went to the place where we were changing our clothes on our way to the race and where I was expecting that I probably had lost it. Unfortunately it wasn’t there so we went to the police station. Luckily for me – the next polish consulate is in Wellington on the north island – somebody found it and brought to the police. They were making jokes about my long hair – even offering me a free hair cut – and that I had to pay 10 $ to get the passport back; strange humour indeed…
After the race we stayed one night in the house of a girl that Lea met in the Parkour training. It was a bit weird because she was sharing the house with other people and they were watchting strange stuff on the television the whole evening in the living room where were were supposed to sleep. But at some point they finally went to bed and we got our well-deserved sleep.
The next day it was time to start hitchhiking but first I had to take care of my passport. Till we were ready to go it was almost getting dark and we were lucky to find someone who at least took us to a village like 30 minutes from Christchurch. There we met a very nice English guy who was working in the wineyards with his girl-friend and gave us lots of tips about New Zealand and travelling in general.
On the next day we made one of the few serious mistakes of our trip and decided to stay in Goose Bay although the driver could have taken us directly to Kaikoura. The reason we stayed there was the we didn’t know how expensive it would be to go Dolphin watching and we were hoping to see them from the beach and also from the information we had found on the internet it seemed that it was much cheaper to camp in Goose Bay. The next day we went to Kaikoura anyway because we had found a prospect with the prices for Dolphin watching and decided that it was worth the price of app. 80 $.
So the next day we found a ride to Kaikoura (see above) and booked a boat trip to watch dolphins for the next morning. Although I got a little bit seasick, it was definitely worth the time and money. First it took us a while before we found any dolphins – we just met some that swam in the opposite direction and ignored us. Finally after about 30-40 minutes we found a huge group of these lovely animals. at least 60 or 70 swimming together around the boat. suddenly most of them disappeared and a few stayed to swim with the people who were courageous enough to get into the cold water. After a while we found the big group again and the made a big show jumping as in a competition who could jump higher. Definitely, one of the highlights of my trip so far! (pictures coming soon).
In Kaikoura we had to wait a while till we got a ride. During the wait we even got offered a cup of tea from somebody who had a bar or something on the opposite of the road. The first car that took us went directly to Blenheim where we had to wait only 10 minutes for the next car which took us to the next village from where it would be much easier to catch a ride directly to Nelson where we were hoping to arrive that evening. And indeed after another 5 minutes waiting a guy driving home from work picked us up and dropped us off 90 minutes later at our friend’s place in Nelson.
Lea’s friend Nathalie who was travelling through New Zealand a couple of weeks ago stayed at his place for one night via Couchsuring and recommended him to us. A great recommendation indeed 🙂