Our drive up the West coast of NZ was at a faster pace than we had hoped. We tried to negotiate with Mighty Camper for a couple extra days with our new Mercedes campervan so we could linger a bit longer. However, the camper needed to be returned on schedule – so we hustled.
We crossed over the twisty steep roads in Mt. Aspiring national park and entered onto Haast canyon created by ancient glaciers. The road hugged the cliff on one side and a gravel lined river on the other. Even I could probably cast a fly line in this river – with hundreds of yards on either side without a tree or snag! Unfortunately we didn’t pack our fly rods in the backpacks, so I just imaged all the fish I wasn’t catching.
As the sun set we pulled into a lonely place called Haast where we discovered why people had been talking so much about sand flies. In Te Anau we first encountered these little beasties; they bit us, but we didn’t seem to have a reaction like we expect with mosquitoes. No swelling, no itching – it seemed that the Sherry’s were genetically immune to this scourge of the South Island. Yea for us! Then day two came, and the swelling, itching, and scratching came on with a vengeance. We were lucky because it was not a big sand fly season, but in Haast we had an open air kitchen in the camp site, and there were plenty of flies to motivate us to cook, eat, and clean up in a jiffy. The kids expended cooped up energy from the day of driving on the trampoline, but they too were soon driven back into the campervan by the biting flies.
The drive up the coast is beautiful. The lush birch and fern forest grows right down to the Tasman Sea, and the play of sun, clouds, sea, and forest creates an incredible visual feast, at least for the passengers of the vehicle. I found a few opportunities to enjoy the scenery, but my attention was usually needed to keep us moving safely up the road. The key sight we took in was Fox Glacier, which terminates only a couple of kilometers from the highway.
Our final night with the campervan found us at a holiday park in Hokitika. That is really all I have to say about Hokitika.
Then as fast as it started, we needed to turn East and head back to Christchurch across Arthur’s Pass, a steep windy road that crosses back over the mountain backbone of the island. We happened to be crossing the pass the same day as the NZ coast-to-coast biathlon (run-and-bike) race. We passed many competitors, transition stations, and fans as we did our version of the NZ coast-to-coast biathlon (drive-and-eat). We were pretty proud of ourselves as we rolled into Christchurch ahead of some of the competitors.
It was with mixed feelings that we returned the Mercedes. I was now on first name terms with most of the Mighty Camper customer service folks, so I called Rose and reminded her about the Cursed Camper and asked her for two days credit on our rental due to the problems. When it became clear that the Sherry family intended to hang out in the lobby until we got our way, the manager came out and credited our account.
We rented a minivan for the remainder of our time in New Zealand and then settled into the motorlodge where we would stayed for the next few nights. Feeling somewhat guilty about our non-aerobic coast-to-coast, we set out on a bit of a walking tour of Christchurch. We discovered a beautiful botanical garden and walked around the downtown area a bit. Christchurch suffered a huge earthquake in 2011 (2 years ago) and is still recovering from the damage.
Surprisingly most of the downtown has not been rebuilt, local people told us that this is due to warring political interests between land owners, real estate developers, zoning changes, insurance, and government officials.
What a mess! The frustration was palpable with everyone who talked about the situation.
A touching memorial for those lost that day is set up near one of the destroyed buildings. There is one white chair to represent each person that was lost on that day. It is sad to see so much damage to such a beautiful city. With time we hope the city will revive its downtown. But it will take longer for the citizens to recover from such a great loss.