3/15 – 3/21
I found an AirBnB on the south side of Christchurch. We ended up staying in the spare bedroom of a nice newlywed couple, Georgie and Tyrone. We had nearly a week to relax, take in Christchurch and stay somewhere for more than 2 nights. Our hosts were nice enough to let us drop our stuff off early so we could get the rental car back on time, then McKayla and I figured out the bus system to return to our rental room in the hills. I started with a much needed haircut; I’d shaved my head back in Vietnam and it was looking a little ragged.
Christchurch proved to be an interesting little city that was still reeling from the Earthquake that hit back in 2011. While most were over the initial shock, there were still some fresh wounds and the city’s delays in rebuilding were frustrating and apparent in everyone we talked to. Condemned buildings were common and wrecking crews were still more active then building crews. While it wasn’t the strongest quake ever, its epicenter was close to the surface and several buildings in Christchurch weren’t built to withstand the jolt. The death toll of 185 had left nearly everyone knowing someone who’d died in the quake.
Anyhow, it was still a vibrant community with good food and friendly people. We enjoyed a random St. Patrick’s Day that included walking into a random whiskey store, having a taster and getting directed on where to go in town. Sure enough, Christchurch had a big Irish community – who knew? However, The Bog was packed so we had Guinness, listened and danced to some Irish tunes and continued walking. We stumbled across a nice outside bar playing acoustic Irish music with good beer deals. We also managed to run into 2 of the only 4 people we knew in Christchurch, Barry and Celena. They were the other couple staying at our AirBnB. So we got comfortable and shared St. Paddy’s Day with a true, bearded Irish ginger. It’s like having our own leprechaun, right? He was Irish, she was English and they lived and worked in D.C. I was able to answer some of their questions about the American South (their next stop on their adventure) and give a few suggestions on what to seek out and what to avoid.
While in Nelson Lakes National Park we talked to Basil, a Swiss guy who was bicycling around New Zealand. I thought it sounded great, McKayla didn’t. While traveling together has been incredible, a little time apart sounded like a nice breather. So, I rented a bike with some panniers, found a route and headed out of Christchurch for a few days.
My original goal was to bike up to Akaroa, a lake town about 70 miles southwest of Christchurch. I took a bus to a shady part of town where I met Craig who seemed to run, or at least have keys to, the shadiest bike rental place you could imagine. It was across from a cemetery, next to a dump with no sign and a 12 foot metal wall around an old warehouse. Had the inside of that warehouse not been so well organized with rows of similar bikes, each with their own section (mountain, road and touring) I would’ve assumed I was renting a stolen bike. Then again, I did pay cash and the guy said an associate would grab the bike from the AirBnB in a few days after I’d get done (update: as of March 31, about 10 days later I got an email from Tyrone saying, “So… this bike’s still here”).
The first day of my bike trip I ended up doing about 45 miles with a slight head wind. I keep most of mountain bike rides fairly short and sweet, so it’s safe to say that in the last 6 years (since Ireland) I’ve maybe been on about 3 rides over 20 miles. Somehow, I thought I could just jump back into the saddle and do three 40+ mile days. My arrogance was quickly humbled when I reached the town of Little River, got off the bike and felt my legs burn like the fires of a thousand suns. Okay, it wasn’t that bad but I definitely got my ass kicked. Ass being a key word here – bicycle shorts are a wonderful thing, even on short rides they protect some of your most intimate areas. However, I didn’t have any on this trip and in my rush to get moving, picking up shorts got knocked off my to-do list.
I ended up staying in Little River both nights. There was a really nice, quiet campground (minus a bunch of kids the first night) just outside of town. The second day, I changed my route to an out and back. The original plan was 25 hilly kilometers to Akaroa and back to Little River making for a reasonable distance of 35 miles but with a lot of climbing. Instead, I opted to enjoy a cafe breakfast and eventually make my way up to the nearby pass, drink in the view and bomb back down to Little River. It wasn’t so easy as that, unfortunately. Akaroa is essentially at a dead end. There are a few side roads winding around the peninsula and eventually down to the coast leading from the small town but the main road ends in Akaroa. I’d assumed, incorrectly, that it’d be a fairly abandoned road. Turns out, Akoroa’s annual car show started the day I started my bike route. I even saw giant billboards that looked like they’d been waiting an entire year for this event. While I did get to see some really cool old cars, the really cool new cars were testing out their agility and speed along my route. After Little River, the roads got windy, narrow and very steep (not a comfortable road to have cars buzzing past you) so I bugged out and took an empty but very steep side road that eventually became gravel. Sadly, I ditched my bike a mile from the pass, locked it to a fence post and continued up the sharp dirt road on foot. I was determined to reach the pass/lookout one way or another. Turns out, the view wasn’t that great. But it’s not like I had a whole lot else going on that day. The downhill was pretty good but filled with a few sheep slowdowns (both days of this ride gave me the opportunity/privilege to be a shepherd. This day it was escaped sheep, where the day before I had 30-40 sheep trapped in a narrow path where they took turns jolting into the nearby fence, shitting themselves and getting in my way for almost 2 miles before the fence opened and they returned to their field). I took my time enjoying the wind at my back on Day 2. Day three, it was turned on me and gave me another head wind back to Christchurch.
McKayla spent her days eating Tyrone and Georgie’s homemade sourdough, reading on their deck overlooking the city, and going for walks in the nearby parks and around the city. She visited the shipping container mall (built after the earthquake to give shops a makeshift spot to setup), New Regent Street (a neat area with a lot of character), and smash palace (a bus turned bar that was setup after the earthquake as a makeshift spot to do business).
The stretch of solitude was good for both of us and it was very nice to enjoy some alone time for our last day in New Zealand we had business we needed to attend to, something NZ is known for, something that would send us off on the right note — bungee jumping. Hamner Springs was the closest location to Christchurch offering the thrill (we’d passed through Queenstown which is better known for its jumps, but this was do or die… okay, poor phrasing. Do or not do). There was a bus that left Christchurch for Hammer Springs every morning and returned every day at 6:00 pm. However, it was $50 per person for a bus ticket and if there was any chance of delay, we’d be pushing it close on getting to the airport for our flight. So, we went back to Jucy and rented another car from them – $43 for a whole day. We picked it up the night before, we returned it to Jucy (right next to the airport) at 4:30 pm, and it gave us a spot to store our luggage for the day.
After packing up and loading our backpacks into the car, we made our way to Hammer Springs where we’d take turns jumping off an old, picturesque, still functioning, canyon spanning bridge.
We had scheduled our jump for 11:00. We arrived 10 minutes early and within 20 minutes we’d signed our wavers and were strapped in looking off a bridge down at a small, bright blue river. Our gear was organized and explained to us by a young woman that didn’t seem entirely comfortable with her responsibilities. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when an over tanned, scarred, 40 something guy with too many bracelets, long hair and not enough teeth (but plenty of crocodile teeth on his crocodile Dundee type hat) joined us on the bridge to double check equipment and give us a ‘safety talk’. Clearly this guy had been around a long time; that or his hat gave off a sense of ‘this guy clearly knows how to survive’. Hopefully he’ll apply some of that towards this jump. After a few wise cracks (Kiwis can’t seem to help themselves) I waddled up to the edge, ankles connected and the countdown began: 3, 2, 1….. BUNGEE!!!!!
The ride was short but sweet. It seemed a little crazy having a river coming up at you like that and then suddenly being stretched out and shot up. They had 2 guys waiting to grab you off the rope after the bridge team lowered you down like a fish on a line. After they brought me back to shore I was grinning ear to ear and amped up enough to run back up to the bridge so I could get a video of McKayla’s jump. Usually I’m the more profane of the 2 of us but McKayla jumped off that bridge with the loudest and longest ‘fffffuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkk!!!!!!!!’ I’ve ever heard. I was proud, she didn’t hesitate for a second even though she had a few butterflies walking out on to that bridge. We walked away both feeling a massive rush of adrenaline and both with full smiles. We got some pretty nice photos of this jumps from one of the guys in the boat. Bungy Jump – Check Check.
We had time to kill before we had to have the car back, and even a little more time before our flight to Tasmania, so we decided to calm our overworked nerves with a soak in some of the Hamner Hot Springs.