Just finished a road trip around North Canterbury in the South Island of New Zealand, starting in Christchurch, taking in Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura and finishing back in Christchurch. It’s a popular circuit called the Alpine Triangle.
We made it a three-day long weekend jaunt, but I would suggest you make it at least four days, even better five.
There are a few – very few – advantages to the destruction wrought upon the tourism industry by the Covid-19 pandemic. One is a dramatic reduction in rental vehicle charges as rental companies, ravaged by the absence of overseas visitors, desperately try to get a bit of cash trickling into the till.
Result: Through Ace Rentals we got a perfectly adequate Nissan Tiida for $45 for the three days. That’s not per day. That was the total cost.
Ace Rentals, these days owned by Hertz, has been in the rental business for many, many years and has a solid rep for providing slightly older cars at much lower cost than the big international franchise brands. I’ve used them frequently and never had a bad run.
Declaration: As with all operators mentioned, I do not seek nor receive freebies. I pay my way on everything, thus you can be sure that any recommendation, good or bad, is completely independent.
DAY ONE: CHRISTCHURCH TO HANMER SPRINGS
Leaving the Ace Rental office heading north is a no-problem: Turn left, turn left, turn left and, guess what, turn left on to State Highway 1, the road to the north.
The first stage of the journey takes you through a string of North Canterbury towns and villages on State Highway 1 before turning inland on to State Highway 7, the road to the West Coast across the Lewis Pass.
It’s an easy run to that point but from there on I’ll give you some navigation help with distances and GPS co-ordinates.
0.0 km. GPS -43.0663 / 172.7573. Intersection of SH1 and SH7.
Just after that turn you can, if you are there on the right day, take a stop and hitch a ride on the Weka Pass Railway, a historic rural railway using both vintage steam and diesel-electric locomotives, through the unique limestone beauty of the Weka Pass.
Initially, the railway runs across flat farmland and passes vineyards, before climbing and winding through the cuttings in the Pass. One can only admire the workers who in the 1880’s, moved tons of clay and limestone by hand to form all the cuttings and large embankments. The land was once under the sea and some of the surrounding limestone rocks have weathered into unusual shapes. Most notable are Frog Rock and Seal Rock, in the middle of the Weka Pass. Seashells and fossils may be seen in the walls of many cuttings.
Trains normally operate on the first and third Sundays of each month, and on selected public and school holidays.
14.2 km. GPS -42.9694 / 172.7058
Maori Rock Art. In the Weka Pass Historic Reserve is an example of early Maori rock art. The drawings, located in a limestone overhang shelter, are thought to have been made about 1000 years ago. For more on the Weka Pass Maori rock art click here . . .
Entry to the Weka Pass Historic Reserve can be found opposite the Star and Garter Hotel. A steep walkway crossing private farmland takes you to the rock art site – 40 minutes walking each way and is closed during lambing season from 1 August to 1 October.
26.5 km. GPS -42.8796 / 172.7536
Hurunui Hotel. If it’s time for lunch or just a break from the rigours of the road, this ancient watering hole offers restaurant, café and bar food. It also makes a great stop-over with accommodation options ranging from campsites to luxury cottages, or rooms in the historic part of the hotel.
In 1868 the original owner, John Hastie, was granted a conditional licence for the ‘Hurunui Accommodation House’. Conditions included; “that he keep eight beds in four bedrooms; shelter for six horses; provide stock yards for yoking up cattle; provide horses for travelers to ford the river; and also direct strangers to a safe fording place.”
The Hurunui Hotel
In 1982 a small group of local farmers banded together to save the hotel after it had fallen into disrepair. The community rallied and with help from other sources, including The Historic Places Trust, the Hotel was restored. It is now a thriving hotel and a popular stop.
29.0 km GPS -42.8675 / 172.7712 As a complete piece of trivia, this stretch of road, Culverden Rd, from a couple of km past Hurunui to the Junction with SH70 is, at about 13.7km, the longest straight stretch of road in New Zealand. Along the way you get a great view ahead of you of Mt Tinline I(1747m) framed by the forest.
43.9 km. GPS -42.7488 / 172.8679 The intersection with SH70, the inland route to Kaikoura. This is the highway we took the following day though we joined it from further along the road. More on that later.
The intersection is called Red Post Corner, apparently because of a red fence post that used to stand here. There’s a stone cairn on the corner which identifies all the local geographic points of interest.
67.8km GPS -43.5902 / 172.7771. Junction with the road to Hanmer Springs, 9 km up this side road
The town was first surveyed in 1879 and in 1884 the springs area was developed with the construction of a bath-house. The spend-up by the local council was a bit controversial because there was no easy access to the town. The Waiau River had to be forded by ferry. It was bridged in 1887 and that structure, a Grade 1 Heritage site, is still in use today. You can even bungy jump off it.
The celebrations at the opening of the bridge were lavish to the point that the area is still called Champagne Flat.
The Queen Mary Hospital in the town was built to aid the rehabilitation of soldiers from World War 1. It was later used in the same role after WW2, before being repurposed as a treatment centre for drug and alcohol addiction. It closed in 2003 and you can wander around the grounds today.
We were delighted to see the village bustling with visitors. The hot pools were, perhaps not crowded, but certainly busy. Spent a couple of hours soaking away the mid-winter aches and pains in the mineral rich waters at temperatures ranging up to 44deg C.
It was a Saturday night and our home rugby team, the Blues from Auckland, were playing one of their old nemeses, the Chiefs, from next-door Wailkato. So naturally, we set out to find a bar that not only did a good line in dinners, but also had a television set tuned to the game.
Not as easy as we first thought. All those bustling visitors had crammed out the pubs along the main street. Waits of 45 minutes for a table were the going rate. Our dilemma was solved when I spotted a sign pointing to Monteith’s Ale House just a short distance off the main drag. Good food, tv on the right frequency. Problem solved.
Hanmer Springs Helicopters 561 Hanmer Springs Rd Ph 03-315-7272. Res Free Ph 0800 8887 308. Helicopter sightseeing flights in the region, hunting or fishing trips.
A-Maze-N-Golf 1 Fraser Close Ph 03-315-7272. Solve the mystery of the Lost Temple and be in for lots of surprises along the way or play the Gold Rush themed 18 hole mini golf course.
Take a ride around the village on the four-wheeler bikes.
Jet Boating / Bungy Jumping
Thrillseekers Canyon Ferry Bridge, 839 Conical Hill Rd (on the r just after turning on to Conical Hill Rd from SH7). Ph 03 315 7046 Jet boating though the Waiau Gorge, bungy jumping off the historic 135 year-old Waiau Ferry Bridge, river rafting, quad biking, claybird shooting. There’s a raft of action attractions on this site.
Hanmer Horse Treking Conical Hill Rd. Ph 022 462 1435. One of the oldest horse trekking stables in the South Island
Hanmer Forest Park contains, according to the Doc website, both indigenous and exotic forest (13000 hectares) managed by DOC and is a walking and cycling paradise. The forest contains some of New Zealand’s oldest exotic plantings. Some of the tracks are exclusively for mountain bikers, some exclusively for walkers and some are either-or. There is a range of tracks from easy five minute strolls to full-day tramping tracks best suited to experienced hikers. Get more information from the DoC Website.
DAY TWO: HANMER SPRINGS TO KAIKOURA
Rather than go all the way back to SH1, we took SH70, the inland route, a much more interesting option. It’s a bit rock and roll in places, with climbs and descents but it is a good surface all the way.
0.0 km GPS -43.5902 / 172.7771. Back at the junction with SH7.
20.5 km GPS -42.7177 / 172.8675. Junction with a side road with the unlikely name of Flintoft-Mouse Point Rd. This locality is called Mouse Point for some obscure reason – and, indeed, SH7 at this point is called Mouse Point Rd. The road is a short cut to SH70, the inland route to Waiau, Mt Lyford Ski Area, and Kaikoura.
8.7 km Rotherham
Rest area at Water’s Cottage, an old colonial house on the southern edge of the village.
ACCOMMODATION / FOOD
Rotherham Hotel Ph 03-315-6373
20.1 km Waiau
Expert navigator tip: Check your fuel – this is the last fuel supply for the next 75km. Turn l. at the northern edge of town to remain on SH70.
Toilets on main rd
Waiau Lodge Hotel. 18 Lyndon St (SH70). Ph 03-315-6003. Looks a particularly fine country pub
A roadside plaque at this point commemorates the opening of the first wheeled vehicle route into Kaikoura on 5 Mar 1887. The hard work of building the road was done mostly by unemployed men. Work schemes for the unemployed are nothing new.
* * * Rest area on the banks of the Wandle River. Very pleasant little spot.
43.7 km Mt Lyford
Mt Lyford Lodge 10 Mt Lyford Forest Drive , Ph 03-315-6446 Email firstname.lastname@example.org. NZ’s largest log building. A very alpine resort atmosphere with it big open fire. Serves as the accommodation base for the Mt Lyford Ski Area. Lic. restaurant on site. Also has powered campervan sites.
Clarence Reserve. A vast high country reserve straddling the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges, with some of the highest mountains in the country including the towering Tapuae-O-Uenuku, the highest mountain in the country outside of the Southern Alps. Conservation, recreation and farming go hand-in-hand in the reserve which combines exceptional scenery with a working high-country farm. A remote and challenging place known simply as “The Clarence”. There are a number of walking, biking and hiking trails in the area which is also noted for its fishing. For more information go to this Department of Conservation pdf file.
102.3 km. Junction with SH1
Navigation details: To continue north, turn l. on to SH1 s/posted Kaikoura / Picton.
Kaikoura Golf Club Main South Rd Ph 03-319-5628 Email email@example.com. 18 hole course of 5352 metres (5853 yards) set in front of one of the most spectacular mountain backdrops one could wish to see.
The name Kaikoura is Maori for “a meal of crayfish”. The name was bestowed by a Maori explorer, Tamatea Pokai Whenua. He was chasing some of his runaway wives and stopped for a meal of crayfish. The full name of the area is Te Ahi Kaikoura a Tamatea Pokai Whenua – The fire at which crayfish were cooked for Tamatea Pokai Whenua.
Kai is Maori for food, and koura means crayfish . . and above all else that’s what the area has long been famous for. Crayfish, known overseas as spiny lobster, live in and under the rocky crevasses along the coast here. They are not dissimilar to lobsters, but the lack the lobster’s powerful claws.
ACTION AND ATTRACTIONS
Kaikoura Fishing Charters 140 South Bay Pde Ph 03-319-6888 / 027-237-9410 Email firstname.lastname@example.org Fishing on the 11.6 metre vessel Takapu Blue cod, sea perch, groper and many other species are caught, NZ rock lobster (crayfish) pulled up in pots.
Top Catch Fishing Charters Kotuku Rd Ph 021-843-908 Email email@example.com Try your luck potting for crayfish or drop in a fishing line to catch sea perch, blue cod or another of several fish species. All fish caught are processed and bagged ready to cook or eat and all fishing equipment is modern and supplied free. View the vast variety of seabirds that inhabit the Kaikoura coast, from the tiny diving petrel to the giant royal albatross.
Kaikoura Kayaks 19 Killarney St Ph 03-319-7118 Res Free-ph 0800-452-456 Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch NZ fur seals dive and manoeuvre around and under your kayak. Paddle with them as they swim around hunting for octopus. Keep your distance while dinner is devoured in front of you, then duck for cover as hundreds of pelagic (ocean going) birds swoop in to clean up the left-overs. Guided trips or kayak hire.
Seal Swim Kaikoura 58 West End Ph 03-319-6182 Res Free-ph 0800-732-579 Email email@example.com. Snorkelling with wild New Zealand fur seals, in the shallow waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula is one of those simple nature experiences that opens your mind to the sheer magnificence of our natural environment and its amazing inhabitants. You won’t believe how curious, friendly and playful these creatures can be in the water.
Dolphin Encounter 96 The Esplanade Ph 03-319-6777 Res Free-ph 0800-733-365 Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Among the varied sea life found off Kaikoura is the dusky dolphin, one of the most delightfully exuberant characters of the Southern Ocean. Dolphin Encounter has been operating dolphin tours, swimming and watching, since the summer of 1989-90. Qualmark Endorsed visitor activity.
Albatross Encounter 96 The Esplanade Ph 03-319-6777 Res Free-ph 0800-733-365 Email email@example.com. Made famous by resident whales and dolphins, Kaikoura’s best kept secret is its incredible diversity of pelagic (ocean going) birds – a huge range of albatrosses and other pelagic birds can be sighted within just a 15 minute boat journey, making many normally inaccessible and elusive species easily reachable.
Kaikoura Marine Tours 96 The Esplanade Ph 03-319-7316 Res Free-ph 0800-557-325 Email firstname.lastname@example.org. View Fur Seals as they frolic and swim close to the boat. See albatross as they spread their enormous wings and take flight. Experience the excitement of fishing for your dinner.
Whalewatch Kaikoura Whaleway Station Rd Ph 03-319-6767 Res Free-ph 0800-655-121 Email email@example.com. This is the attraction that made the town famous. In addition to whales you’ll also see seals, dolphins, albatrosses and occasionally orca or humpback whales.
World of Whales Ph 03-319-6609 Kaikoura Helicopters is the only helicopter operator in the world to view Sperm Whales twelve months of the year. Travelers are often restricted by time and the accessibility to go where they want to go and see what they want to see. Flying is both comfortable and affordable and with the ability to hover, land and go places quickly, a helicopter is a great way to experience the land and seascapes of Kaikoura.
Air Kaikoura / Kaikoura Aero Club Kaikoura Airport, 627 Main South Rd, Peketa Ph 03-319-6767 Email firstname.lastname@example.org. View the largest toothed whale in the world from the comfort of an aircraft. Their flights take you over the Kaikoura sea canyon which is situated just off shore in Goose Bay, with a depth ranging from 1000m to 3000m. This canyon is the habitat of squid, groper and ling and the abundance of sea life that draws the sperm whales to the Kaikoura region.
Wings Over Whales Kaikoura Airport, 615 Main South Rd Ph 03-319-6580 Res Free-ph 0800-226-6629. In a typical 30 minute flight you will see the majestic sperm whale preparing for his next dive and up to 500 dusky dolphins. Occasional sightings include Southern Right, Humpback, Fin, Sei, Brydes, Pilot, Southern Bottlenose and Blue Whales. Other, less frequent, visitors to the area include Common, Hectors, Risso’s and Southern Right Whale Dolphins, and Orca.
Kaikoura Llama Trekking 12 Kowhai Ford Rd Ph 03-319-5033 Email email@example.com. For something completely different to bog-standard tourist attractions, how about taking a stroll along a beach with your very own llama. You get up close and personal leading one of these intelligent but quirky animals. Choose between a 1-hour river and woodland walk, or a half day excursion along the beach to Fyffe House (admission included) and the seal colony.
Sheep Shearing Show
The Point Sheep Shearing Show 185 Fyffe Quay Ph 03-319-5422 Email firstname.lastname@example.org. A chance to see this quintessential NZ agricultural activity. This is not in a large auditorium – it’s an authentic Kiwi shearing shed on a farm that has been in the family for three generations. You will get a taste of traditional sheep shearing including information on wool types, sheep breeds, tools and the techniques and equipment of the past. It’s not often you can be as close to the action. Between August and January you will even get the opportunity to hold and feed the lambs.
Art and Design Gallery 129 Scarborough St Ph 03-319-6640. Brigitte and Walter Kunz create artworks mostly in wood which is then enriched with genuine gold-leaf (12-22 carat). Also on display and for sale are paintings, prints, jewellery and glass art.
Kaikoura Wilderness Walks Ph 03-319-6166 Email email@example.com. All inclusive guided walk on a walking track north of Kaikoura. 2 or 3 day guided hiking tours traversing New Zealand’s highest privately owned land rising to 2438m (8,000ft). Overnight accommodation is provided at the purpose-built, eco-friendly Shearwater Lodge
A warning about dinner at Donegal House
Had dinner at Donegal House, a 19th century hotel just outside the township. Would thoroughly recommend it, but with a warning: Unless you have the appetite of a high-country musterer, go for the smaller portions.
I ordered Italian tomato soup as a first course, with blue cod and chips as a main. The soup bowl was huge, a meal in itself. And delicious.
Then came the blue cod. I took one look at it and thought “I’ll never finish that.”
Thank goodness I ordered the small version. God knows how big the “regular” meal would have been. The cod was perfectly battered and cooked, the salad fresh and crunchy, but I could only have a nibble at a few of the chips.
It seems that this is a constant refrain in South Island restaurant meals. Sheer size. Don’t hesitate to help reduce food waste by asking for smaller portions . . . especially of the chips.
Blue cod is a South Island specialty. Caught in the cold waters further south it has a delicate flavor. Every time I go down there I make a meal of it.
Kaikoura is best known for, other than crayfish, the whale watch tours. I did the boat tour four or five years ago and would thoroughly recommend it. This time round it wasn’t an option, firstly because boat tours hadn’t restarted after the Covid-19 lockdown but mainly because The Lady Driver is prone to motion sickness (that’s why she does the driving) and heaving around in heavy seas would have certainly caused “heaving” of a different, and less attractive, sort..
So we opted for a whale watch flight with the Kaikoura Aero Club. Unfortunately the weather gods were in a sulky mood that afternoon, with the cloud-base well below the 1000ft minimum for commercial flight operations. Our pilot suggested waiting until the following morning to see if we could squeeze in a clearer window.
Morning came and the damn weather gods were still of a mood. The cloud base was high enough, but with a southerly blowing the pilot told us there would be a fair bit of rough ocean surface wave action which would reduce the chance of actually sighting a whale. So it proved and after droning around for 20 minutes in a fruitless search we elected to spend the rest of the flight time doing a bit of aerial sight-seeing. Not the preferred outcome, but still not all bad.
Finished the morning off with a bit of local sight-seeing by driving out to Point Kean Lookout.
Along the way you pass the oldest building in the area, the house of George Fyffe. His brother, Robert Fyffe, the first European to settle in the area, arrived in 1842, started a prosperous whaling business and established a large farm. He drowned in 1854, a year after his brother George came out from Scotland to join him.
George continued the business and built this cottage, Fyffe House. The house has remained largely unaltered since. Some of the construction is rather unique – the piles are whalebone. The lath and plaster exterior is reinforced with cow-hair.
The house is all that is left of the once-busy Waiopuka whaling station. Erected in 1844, it is a good example of a wooden colonial cottage, complete with character furniture, attic rooms, and various modifications typical of the times in which people made the most of what they had.
Indeed, exploring Fyffe House shows just how harsh family life was during Kaikoura’s early settlement, and how resourceful its citizens needed to be.
Various whaling stations operated from the peninsular here, the last of them closing in 1922, mainly because by then they had slaughtered the animals to all but extinction.
If you continue on around the road you come to a parking area. A walk around the shore from there will take you to a seal colony.
In the 19th century sealers all but exterminated them but, now protected, the colonies have recovered well and can be found in several places along this coast.
They used to be much closer to the parking area here but got brassed off with tourists gawping at them, and especially by stupid children chasing them.
If you take the walk, stay at least 20m from the animals. These are not as aggressive as some further up the coast, but if they take exception to your presence they can move with alarming speed, and a bite from powerful jaws can inflict dangerous injuries prone to infection. Not a good outcome.
While you are at the parking area take a look at the whiteish-coloured rocks just below the sea wall. Until the 2016 earthquake they were several metres under the sea.
Along a 110km stretch of North Canterbury coastline the seafloor was lifted anything up to 6.5 metres exposing huge kelp beds and paua colonies. Paua, a close relative of the abalone, is a shellfish delicacy. Many people pitched in over days following the earthquake lifting the shellfish from their high-and-dry location back into the water. Despite their best efforts huge numbers of fish perished in the sunlight.
Take a look from the Lookout
A side trip well worth the taking is the Kaikoura Lookout, signposted off the main road just south of the township.
Along the road, on the left, is the site of Nga Niho Pa, built in the 1820s by the local Maori iwi (tribe), Ngai Tahu, to defend themselves against raids by ferocious warrior chief, Te Rauparaha, rangatira (chief) of the Ngati Toa iwi from the North Island who brought death and enslavement to tribes throughout the South Island.
The lookout itself is built atop the town’s reservoir. From it you get a magnificent view of coast and mountains, including Tapuae-o-Uenuku , at 2885m (9456ft) the highest mountain in the country outside of the Southern Alps. The Maori name translates poetically as “Footprint of the rainbow”.
Pick up a cooked crayfish, some fresh crusty bread, a bottle of good North Canterbury white wine and treat yourself to a picnic in one of the country’s most outstanding vantage points.
The road south of Kaikoura takes you along a stretch of dramatic coastline with steep mountainsides plunging near-vertically into the sea. Then you’ll turn inland and climb up and over the hills and down to the Conway River. From there on it’s a dead level run all the way to Christchurch.
The agricultural potential of the land from here on was recognized by early settlers. Wealthy men acquired large lease-holdings, paying only a pepper-corn rental so they could pour their capital into stock.
William Robinson, however, took a different tack by taking advantage of the government’s policy of selling the freehold at bargain rates. After a series of purchases he controlled 33,000 ha, about 82,500 acres.
Legend has it that one day at the Nelson Land Office he handed over a cheque of £10.000 to pay for one of his acquisitions. The land clerk questioned Robinson’s ability to meet the cheque so the run-holder did a tour of the local banks collecting cash. He arrived back at the land office with a wheel-barrow full of banknotes. That’s how he came by his nick-name “Ready Money Robinson”.
On his death the executors of the estate got into a stoush with the government over the payment of death duties. The government valued the estate at £306,000, while the trustees had a figure of £250,000 on it. They invoked the taxpayer’s right to require the government to either buy the land at the higher price, or accept the lower figure.
Much to their surprise and chagrin, the government opted to buy. The trustees had come up against a man, John McKenzie, the Minister of Lands at the time, who had a burning desire to see more people on the land. It is said that at the time 255 men controlled three quarters of the country’s farmland.
Within a year of buying the land McKenzie had it surveyed, roaded, titles issued and even some new settlers in place.
By the time he left office in 1900 he had bought 81 estates totaling 134,000 ha, about 335,000 acres, and settled 1789 new farmers on them.
In Cheviot there’s a monument to McKenzie on the right hand side of the road, but his real monument is all around you.
As you travel further south through mile after mile of vineyards you’d have to think that McKenzie would be amazed by and thoroughly approve of such intensive land use.
In Cheviot also, at the museum on the left, you’ll see a painting of Ready-Money Robinson, wheeling a barrow of cash.
You’ve heard about Ready-Money Robinson. Surprisingly, he wasn’t the richest man in these here parts.
That honour went to a man called George Henry Moore, known locally at the time as “Scabby” Moore. His Glenmark estate was the most valuable property in Canterbury.
He was a curious mixture of a man. His sheep would be left to run wild, infected with scab, a highly infectious disease. Hence his nick-name. In one year alone he paid out £2400 in fines – a huge sum in those days – yet he would sometimes walk to Christchurch just to save the cost of a night’s accommodation.
The mansion he built in 1871 cost £78,000 – about $NZ27m in today’s money. It was gutted by fire two years after completion and never rebuilt.
While the workmen were excavating the site for a lake near the house they complained that it was difficult work because of the number of bones in the soil. In places it was impossible to put a shovel into the ground. And they were such big bones . . . huge in fact.
Moore decided to call for help from the Canterbury Museum and the man who came to see him was Julius von Haast, the provincial geologist. Haast instantly recognised the bones as those of moa, a large flightless bird, now extinct. He estimated that about a thousand birds had perished in the swamp.
Haast spent months fitting the bones together, creating a picture of this monstrous bird standing more than 3 m high.
Museums around the world wanted examples of these huge skeletons and Haast obliged, provided he could get valuable exhibits in exchange. It’s one of the reasons the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch is one of the best endowed in the country, making it well worth a visit when you are in that city.
Haast is remembered these days for the Haast Pass which connects the West Coast to Central Otago, and for the huge, prehistoric Haast Eagle, now extinct. Probably just as well, given that it was the largest eagle to ever have lived. You wouldn’t want to have one circling overhead.
The early Polynesian dwellers, as a hunting technique, used fire to drive the moa out of the forest. Fleeing the flames, the animals became trapped in the swamp. The use of fire, however, had dramatic effects, not only on the moa – which were literally driven to extinction – but on many other species that were wiped out in the inferno.
With the hillsides stripped of their natural bush cover erosion caused billions of tons of gravel to spew out on to the plains, creating the landscape you see today, particularly the braided shingle river beds that you will cross.
Underneath Christchurch, for instance, are the remains of an entire forest, still standing and buried only a few metres below the city streets.
There was another surprising outcome. The early moa hunters, having destroyed their principal food source, gradually dwindled in numbers and were invaded by tribes from the North Island. It is for this reason that there is no record in Maori myth, lore or legend of the visit of Abel Janzoon Tasman in 1642, the first European explorer to reach these shores. For the natives his arrival must have been awe-inspiring. A huge waka (canoe) propelled not by paddlers but by great white wings. Pale skinned witch-men who could kill a man by pointing a stick at him and summoning it to spit fire.
The people who witnessed this must have died out, taking their traditions to the grave.
Aboard a vintage tram
We had to stay focused on time because there were a couple of items on the agenda in Christchurch that had to be cleared by nightfall.
As a birthday gift our children had given The Lady Driver vouchers for a ride on the Christchurch tram. We rattled around the city’s CBD in a century-old tram past all the major central attractions. You can buy a hop-on-hop-off day pass which is a great way to get a guided tour of all the local points of interest.
From October this year the famous restaurant tram will be back in service after a complete refit. Gives a new meaning to the term “a movable feast”.
The Lady Driver was desirous of a dip in the newly-opened thermal pools at New Brighton, one of Christchurch’s seaside suburbs. Very pleasant way to end a busy day, lolling back, gently buoyed up by the warm salt water.
But not quite the end of our Alpine Triangle adventure.
One of our kids’ friends, young Oliver, is now a paramedic in the city and we invited him to join us for dinner. He chose the restaurant, the much-awarded Café Valentino. First thing you notice on entering are the walls covered in a huge collection of show posters featuring a who’s who of celebrities who have dined there. Couldn’t see any famous faces the night we were there.
Biggest problem was choosing from a vast menu. All three of us agreed we were served an excellent take on Cibo Italiano, (look it up on Google Translate), knocked back with a very good drop of Montepulciano red.
Bumped by Covid-19 quarantiners
Our accommodation that night had an interesting back story. We had originally booked at the Sudima Christchurch Airport but a week before our arrival we were informed that for “operational reasons” they had to cancel our booking. We were offered a room at the somewhat more upmarket Sudima Christchurch City on the same terms – but with the added bonuses of a free drink in the bar and free breakfast. No problem, then.
Seems the NZ Government had taken over the entire airport establishment to house arriving passengers from overseas who faced a 14 day quarantine.
In the end we gave the free brekkie a miss, preferring to drop the rental car and get to the airport in plenty of time for our morning flight home. Thanks to The Lady Driver’s membership of Air New Zealand’s Koru Club we got a free breakfast anyway – at the Koru Lounge.