Kaikoura and Christchurch

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One minute we are absolutely baking in the heart of Marlborough in 30 plus degrees and then within two hours, we are driving through torrential rain and cold winds along the east coast.  New Zealand really has got some crazy weather.

As we skimmed the coast we were looking out for whales in the water. This is one of the best places in the world to see them so we kept our eyes peeled.

As we drove past a rocky bay, we noticed that there were a couple of seal lions perched on the rocks.  We pulled over to check them out, and as we looked closer there were literally hundreds of them!  Fin was so excited!  He was watching some of the young pups playing around on the rocks.  It was incredible for him to see these awesome creatures in their wild habitat.  

We continued on to the main town of Kaikoura, but as we arrived the weather was just relentless rain.  After a testing trip to the supermarket (meltdown central!) we sat in the van having our lunch.  Checking the weather, it looked like this system would be in for a couple of days. We are most definitely fair-weather campers, so the thought of just hanging around in the rain wasn’t really that appealing.  It was cold, windy and wet and the town felt empty – we weren’t seeing this place in the best light, as it looks stunning in the sunny promotional photos online.

So we made the executive decision to keep driving onto Christchurch. We could always stop in Kaikoura again, if our route took us back that way, and so it felt like the right decision to make rather than waiting for the rain to pass.

It was an easy stretch down to Christchurch and on the way we researched a new plan of action and a place to stop.  It looked like there were only a few campsite options and so we checked into the Top 10 there.  This is part of a chain of pretty expensive tourist campgrounds.  We have mostly avoided them on the whole, as they tend to be big, over crowded and over priced.  But this one really looked pretty decent, with a massive playground, swimming pool and indoor kids zone.  We got a good spot and cooked Fin’s favourite meal that evening – Magetti Bolognesie (as he calls it!). Then Fin ran round for the rest of the evening making the most of all the kids facilities.

Waking up in the morning, the sun was shining and we were ready to explore the city.  We found the most perfect spot to park up the van – Manchester Street!  We set off walking to explore downtown Christchurch. This place was devastated by recent earthquakes that left large parts of the city in rubble.  The scars are still visible today, and around every corner is a condemned fractured building, whilst nearby, brand new state of the art buildings were cropping up.  We were educating Fin about earthquakes and he was genuinely concerned about what the city had been through.  

Around every corner, there was beautiful street art, illustrating stories of the re-birth of the city in an inspirational and creative way.  It was clear that the people of Christchurch were using the disaster as a way of reinventing their city to be even better than before.  More sustainable, more innovative and more architecturally inventive whilst being original and creative in every way as it was carefully being re-built.  

The most poignant landmark was the cathedral that still half-stands in the centre of the city.  This is where the spire crashed down and a large wing of the cathedral is still in ruins. There is restoration work ongoing there, but it looks like it will be a long time before this is complete.  

We continued our walk to the botanical gardens, which Fin loved, as he just runs round wild and unleashes his boundless energy.  We followed the river with it’s gondola’s and wandered around the vegetable garden.

Fin’s adventures turned quickly into misadventure, just as he was crossing a little bridge in the vegetable garden, he stepped on what he thought was terra firma, and fell right the through what was actually green watercress, splashing straight into a little stream!  He was really shocked and initially a bit upset… he was absolutely soaking wet, but what a laugh we had! He saw the funny side and we couldn’t stop giggling hysterically as we dried him off!  We don’t really carry around a spare pair of clothes, so we had to improvise, he wore my cardigan and we wrapped my scarf around his legs a little like a sarong. He looked ridiculously cute in his interesting new look!

Further along the river, we walked past the earthquake memorial and then it was time for the park.  This particular playground had to be easily the biggest and most spectacular of all the kid’s parks we had seen around New Zealand, and we had seen a LOT.  The slide was ridiculously big, about 5 metres wide and over 10 metres tall!  It was a bit daunting for Fin, although the even more daring helter skelter didn’t seem to phase him.  Even I was having kittens as he came flying down with his dad!  

There was one last thing we wanted to do whilst in Christchurch, and that was to go up in the cable car to check out the views from above.  The weather was still perfect – crystal clear so we headed over to the gondola station.  It was late afternoon and we had missed the majority of the swarms of tourists – bonus!  As we ascended, Fin found the whole experience amazing.  His dad on the other hand was having a little wobble as we were so high up, his legs went to jelly with a slight case of vertigo.  At the top, the view really was incredible, we could see for absolutely miles.  The landscape is so extreme in New Zealand, and you could see it all from up here.  Fin felt like he was literally on top of the world!  It was an amazing end to the day and a highlight of our stay in Christchurch.

Jen Skehan