Friday, May 27, 2011

Birdling's Flat - New Zealand

We had arranged to head east to the coastal town of Birdling’s Flat and stay with a Kiwi called Matt.  This had been achieved via the Couchsurfing website where you can offer to meet up with, host people up or look up hosts in places you are travelling to.  Because we left Christchurch early and didn’t yet have a number to be called on we had to send Matt an email to see if it was alright to arrive early and hope for the best.  We knew that he was a pretty chilled out guy as his response to us arriving initially was that he would be out but the house is never locked and the dog barks but just needs a pat.  This was crazy talk for the two of us who were still in watch your wallet mode. 

We picked the campervan up from the depot and it was everything we had hoped for.  It looked big at first, bigger than anything either of us had driven but not still not too big when compared to some of the others.  The first task was to help the Israelis drop their vehicle off.  Driving was pretty strange as I hadn’t done it for a while but at least we were on the side of the road we’re used to.  After we dropped our friends back at the guest house we said our goodbyes and began our next endeavour and my first challenge, the Pack ‘N’ Save (supermarket) car park which was ridiculously small and cramped considering the size of the supermarket!  It wasn’t much fun navigating around a cramped space with a number of cars jostling for places coming at me from all directions!  I wasn’t having much luck until Kate jumped out of the car and did everything but plant a flag to claim a space.   Once the van was parked up we could begin our massive stock up session.  Fortunately we had arrived on Wacky Wednesday which is the best day for deals apparently (would explain the car park zoo) and we grabbed everything we thought we would need from sandwich stuff to a crate of beer.  Fortunately we had a lot of the essentials already from what our new Israeli friends had left us and the campervan came with cutlery.  We set off when it began to get dark but not before seeing if Matt had replied… he hadn’t so we were still out on a whim but with somewhere to aim for.

Stock photo of me driving the campervan
Driving the van was quite easy once we got out of the city and New Zealand’s roads are excellently made and easy to navigate.  We founds Matt’s place in Birdling’s Flat without much problem although didn’t see the great views on the way due to it being dark but the silhouettes of the mountains and large open fields suggested the drive was damn beautiful.  Luckily Matt was as laid back in person as he appeared over email and had replied since to tell us that it was absolutely fine.  We met Chris who had been living with Matt for four months, initially Couchsurfing but I guess now more of a flatmate.  We brought in the crate of beer, had a couple and chatted the night away.  Matt is a single bachelor who is also a football fan, PROPER FOOTBALL that is and not what most Kiwi’s call footy.  He followed the English premier league and subscribed to the sports channels so we could watch a game if it was on.  After a nice evening we had a comfortable sleep on mattresses in a spacious lounge with a wood stove like at home.

Mokai the dog

Matt had left for work and Chris was out by the time we got up so had the whole place to ourselves.  The previous night we had forgotten to close the curtains and awoke to an amazing view of the hills and lake as our first experience of New Zealand’s natural beauty.  It was simply spectacular to be able to have breakfast in a place like this and the sense of space is almost overwhelming.  We ate outside to the view of different kinds of birds bobbing on the lake, hopping around in bushes or flying over us.  After breakfast we took Mokai the dog for a walk along the spit and coastline which was formed by masses of stones with a pretty steep incline to the sea where the immense waves were crashing.  Mokai was very happy to be out and immediately embarked on her favourite pastime of chasing birds, even when they were in the sky...  Mokai ran and ran after these birds and terrorized them until we had had enough and called her in.  Unfortunately Kate had developed a pretty hefty cold over the last couple of days so we took it easy the rest of the day.  We thought it sporting to cook dinner that night so we all got round the table for Kate’s fajitas over a couple of beers including Matt’s homebrew which was two years in the making and wasn’t half bad! 

Kate admiring the morning view

Mokai chasing birds along the spit

The following day was time for Kate’s first drive of the campervan (who was now called Queenie after Queenstown) and we decided to head to Akaroa, a heavily French influenced town which was about an hour or so away.  This was supposed to be a relatively easy initiation to the van but as it involved going over the mountains this meant lots of windy roads and we also hit a lot of fog.  Kate was a pro, so we arrived in good time to a sleepy village which stretched along a quiet road full of beautiful looking classic houses.  There isn’t so much to do other than absorb the prettiness of the place.   There was the option to see a local theatre or mosaic garden but the latter was about twenty dollars per head which didn’t seem good value.  Instead we had some good old fashioned fish and chips… well the chips anyway (our budget could no longer stretch to the fish), whilst looking at the sparrows and seagulls eyeing up our food.  We took a walk along the coast to a pleasant little lighthouse and did some window shopping before picking up some free range eggs and heading back. 

The view on the road to Akaroa

Lunch stop

mmmmmm chips!

The harbour view of Akoroa inc the lighthouse

At the lighthouse

View from the lighthouse

Me ruining a photo of the lighthouse

Seagull mafia

Kate behind the wheel... lookout!!!!

The fog

Matt was spending tonight in Christchurch as he was having a few drinks at a work party so we hung out with Chris in his house who showed us some of his photography and watched a football match or two.  As Chris flew with the RAF he knows his way around a plane and is currently looking to obtain his commercial license and therefore getting his hours in the air whenever possible.  We asked if he would take us up for an hour if we paid towards the flight which he was more than happy to, such a great opportunity but the weather had been pretty awful the last couple of days and our time was running out.

Mokai looking after Kate

I took the pooch for a walk in the bitterly cold wind the next day when there was a gap in the rain, the weather seemed to be getting worse.  Having spoken to the tutor that Chris would need to fly with, our last chance to fly would be the next day weather permitting.  Matt came back from Christchurch with a guitar he had kindly picked up for me from an auction I won on a New Zealand bidding website for around thirty five quid so I had a little play on that and we also planned to record the Man United vs Man City FA cup semifinal to watch early the next morning.  We arose to another miserable forecast which meant we couldn’t fly so I made bacon and egg sandwiches all round (another blessing) which was a small lift, but to make it worse United lost the match. 

The rain was coming down sideways and Kate was still full of a cold so we decided in the end to not leave that day although we had been in the same place now for a big chunk of our four weeks on the South Island.  It cleared up slightly in the afternoon so Kate hugged up to a hot water bottle at the house whilst the rest of us got in the car to go to back to Akaroa for Matt’s first football match (proper football) of the season.  It was good fun watching even though I was itching to get on the pitch!  After the match we hit the pub for another great New Zealand draft beer.  It felt like being back home on a Saturday after one of my own matches with the banter and sport on every TV.  Whilst we were in the pub we could feel an aftershock although admittedly I didn't notice it, it was apparently pretty large in Christchurch.  Back at the house Kate felt it in the form of the windows shaking and said it was as though a large lorry was passing close to the house.

The four of us outside Matt's - taken on Chris' camera

The following day Kate was feeling better so we decided to head off for our next destination at Lake Tekapo. 

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