Christchurch And Akaroa
This vibrant, picturesque city is surrounded by natural wonders - the sparkling Pacific Ocean, majestic Southern Alps and an ancient volcanic peninsula. Discover Canterbury's lush vineyards, pristine glacial lakes, world-class natural wildlife experiences and Mount Cook National Park - all part of this region of remarkable contrasts.
Christchurch is still very much in the disaster cleanup mode with the downtown hit by the quake being completely fenced off and many homes and businesses in surrounding areas vacated as well. Still, they are trying to get through it. One interesting area located near the downtown is now called Re:Start where a bunch of small shops and cafes have been setup using shipping containers. Besides being practical, it has a unique feel to it, not to mention, free (but pretty slow) WiFi.
Getting A Car
Since I had mixed feelings about my experience with Stray hop-on/hop-off tour of Laos, I decided to see if I can rent a car and do a tour of New Zealand on my own terms rather than paying for another tour with Stray. I ended up spending quite a bit of time walking from one local car rental place to another in the Wairakei Road and Sheffield Circle area, where most of them are located. Finally, I settled on a dated Nissan Bluebird from Bargain Rentals for $30 a day.
Air Force Museum
The first air force base was established right here in Christchurch during the World War I to train pilots for the Royal Air Force. Now, Wigram field is home to the Royal New Zealand Air Force museum so it was a must see in my book, especially considering the admission price - free! It was not a big place with one hall filled with exhibit items and a weird history timeline that ran right to left. The hangar beside it was filled with a bunch of airplanes, including a Skyhawk and a Mustang (not the Cessna kind). For being free, it was a very decent museum, so I grabbed some overpriced food at the cafeteria before deciding to head out to Akaroa.
Trip To Akaroa
Akaroa is the first and the only French settlement in New Zealand dating back to 1850. It seemed to be the place to visit judging by the number of brochures for the day trips from Christchurch. So, off I went to, stopping along the way at places praised in those brochures, first being the old Little River train station turned into craft station with some delicious Boysenberry ice cream. Next on the list was the Hilltop Viewpoint with a decent view of the sound, followed by a quick stop at Byron's Bay cheese factory. By the time I got to Akaroa, I was craving some Napoleon - it was a French settlement after all. Strangely, I could not find one in town so I had settle down for some fish and chips.
I decided to take the 'Tourist Route' on the way back and was definitely a scenic (and a long) one alternating between the views of Akaroa Harbor and Pegasus Bay on the other side. There were a few pull over locations perfect for setting up a camper van for the night - maybe another time… Eventually, I made it back to the main road and made my final stop at Birdings Flat - a tiny town on the southern shore of peninsula with a beach entirely made up of flat stones and huge waves crashing onto it.
Chinese Lantern Festival
Even though the Chinese New Year came and went a few weeks ago, there was a celebration going on at the north side of Hagley park. Staying right next to the park at the YMCA, we went out there one night with my dorm mates to check it out. With a bunch of tents selling 'authentic' Chinese fares, it brought back the memories of food stalls in South East Asia, albeit at four times the cost and a quarter of the taste. There was also a stage set up with a band playing reggae while singing in Mandarin - an interesting combination to round up the night.