Auckland - Christchurch ... 21/01 - 04/02
After a relaxing week with Yannick and Stéphanie, here we are, going to the airport. We take a pick-up truck so that we can fit the bikes and panniers at the back. Once at the airport, what we feared the most happens: we have to pay for the bikes, contrary to what we were told at the Thai Airways office in Chiang Mai. On top of that, extra luggage fees have increased by more than 30% just a couple of days earlier! We have to pay more than 25 euros per kilo and we have 30kg extra luggage (and that's with Ben's Star Alliance Gold card that gives him an extra 30kg allowance). But we won't have that card when we fly back, which means 60kg over the limit i.e. around 1500 euros, it's madness! We try to be careful with our money every day and now we have to throw 800 euros out of the window, not nice! This weight system is really not fair. Why don't we pay our plane seat per kg too then? Why do I pay the same price as a man that weighs twice my weight and have to pay for my extra luggage? That's why the Americans use the piece system! After having made clear that we were not happy, we head for the lounge. I tell Sylvie, 'Let's go and have a drink. We need to make up for our losses and drink for 800 euros!'
We have a great flight, loads of leg room, good food and a great entertainment system. Luckily enough as Ben has been dreaming about all the movies he would watch.
We get to Auckland 11 hours later. We go smoothly through immigration even though we forgot our flight tickets to prove we wouldn't stay in the country more than 3 months. The sanitary inspection also goes well. The bikes, the tent and the shoes are judged "clean" enough to enter the country.
A shuttle takes us to the city centre. It's really convenient, each shuttle has a trailer that can carry our bikes and panniers. The driver is very friendly and chats to us during the whole trip. It feels strange: we are at the other end of the world and everything is so similar to Europe, well, a cleaner version maybe :o).
What is very surprising is the time difference. We feel like we are ahead of the whole world: 12 hours with Europe, 18 with the US... On the 21st of January, we hear it is the inauguration day of Barack Obama. We look at each other: 'Wasn't it supposed to be on the 20th?' But of course, the time difference!
We finally get to our palace. With Ben's points we are once again staying in a lovely Hilton. This one is on the docks and is magnificent. We truly are backpackers :o). Those points are really convenient, especially in expensive countries like New Zealand. Unfortunately, those points will run out at some point, too bad we are not sponsored by Hilton :o) (but feel free to donate your Holiday Inn or Hilton points :op)
We visit the city centre of Auckland late in the afternoon. It is a week day, the city is deserted. It is quite surprising especially after busy Bangkok. The city is very pleasant, especially the dock area with the boats and the bars that get busy at the weekend. The standard of life is pretty good but salaries are not that high compared to France or England. Taxes are pretty high but fuel is half the price of Europe. Our first impression is that of safety but then we read the newspapers and it looks like New Zealand is not escaping the increase in crime. There are skyscrapers in the centre but as soon as we go a bit further we are in residential areas with lovely small houses like in Canada.
After three very nice days in Auckland we take the bus to Rotorua. Public transports are not very good in New Zealand and quite expensive:
- one train a day between Auckland and Wellington, the capital city
- one train a day between Picton and Christchurch (South Island)
- 3 or 4 buses per day between Rotorua and Taupo
I guess most people have their own car or rent one and barely use public transport.
Rotorua is a small touristy town in the centre of the north island. A lot of museums and sport activities are the key attractions of the city. We stay in a camping slightly outside of the city. We have barely arrived and Sylvie is already complaining about her ankles, not good...
The camping is really nice, clean toilets and showers, beautiful kitchen and dining room (with TV). We cycle to the supermarket that is only a km away but Sylvie's ankles are very painful. It is now clear that we have to forget about cycling in New Zealand. This is a huge deception for us, all the more that it is Sylvie's birthday: what a great gift!
We try and see what our options are but we are still in shock. We go to Wai-O-Tapu the next day to relax and not think about what we will do. It is an amazing geothermal site with geysers, boiling mud pools, hot springs etc. It's really beautiful, we see several hot water lakes of different colours: blue, green, orange. We walk next to boiling mud pools smelling like rotten eggs. That's probably why they call them the 'Devil's Cave' or 'Devil's bath'. We are told that the eruption of the volcano could be felt all the way to Europe. A couple of thousand years ago, there wasn't many people to witness it.
We then go straight to Wellington and Christchurch. The Tongariro crossing, one of the most popular walks in New Zealand, is a bit difficult to access by bus. When we buy our tickets at the i-site (tourism office), we discover the beauty of the kiwi accent: the young lady at the counter tells us that we need to 'check in at ten to ten' but what we hear is 'chicken at tin to tin'! It becomes our favourite joke.
Eight hours later we are in the capital city. We are amazed by the strength of the wind. Wellington has been dubbed the windiest city in New Zealand and trust me, it's true! We try to pitch our tent on the campground but the wind is not making it easy for us. We are not concerned about our tent, it is quite resistant to the wind but we fear the other tents may be blown away. One is already 'un-pitched' and stuck on the fence at the back of the garden. In the kitchen, we meet Alex, a very friendly French guy who came here to work and travel. A lot of travellers take a travel and working visa for a year so they can earn a bit of money and travel. We spend a great evening and finally get back to our tent which is still standing up. It's nice and warm inside the tent and the sleeping bag. The one thing we fear is having to wake up in the middle of the night to go to the toilets. Wellington is a nice city but nothing amazing and the wind is not helping. We have a great time at the major museum of the city, Te Papa, with the interactive exhibitions where we find ourselves playing like kids. We learn about New Zealand history and its different ethnical groups from a historical, geographical and environmental point of view.
We have made our decision regarding our trip. We will go directly to Christchurch where we have friends who can keep our bikes and we will rent a car for a month. We find comfort in the fact that our friends, Marion and Matthieu, are coming to tour New Zealand for a month and that we will be able to travel together.
We catch the ferry to Picton, a small harbour in the north of the south island. The crossing only takes 3 hours but goes through beautiful fjords. We see a lot of cyclists on the boat, it is hard to see them cycling away. In the afternoon, we hop on the famous 'Tranz-Coastal train'. It's a scenic train that follows the east coast. We enjoy the scenery through large windows: the mountains, the sea, the sheep, the sheep, and oh! of course, also some sheep (there are 10 sheep for one kiwi, i.e. roughly 40 millions sheep), but also the seals sunbathing on the rocks. Our sight goes all the way to the horizon where different shades of blue merge. The tender green of the fields, the baby blue of the sky, and the turquoise of the sea give a feeling of purity. Even the clouds look like they've gone through the washing machine, crisp white. The track does not follow the coast at all time. It sometimes goes between hills or crosses wide green fields where sheep graze. We spot a few farms here and there. The train driver explains the story of New Zealand, he even slows down so the passengers can take pictures. Halfway, the train stops in the middle of nowhere and we are told that our driver will swap places with the one on the goods train stopped next to ours so that both of them can sleep home tonight.
At the train station, Liz and Steve, friends of friends in London (thanks Adrian!) are waiting for us. We never saw each other before. Liz has even asked another woman who looked like she was cycling if she was Sylvie! We are welcomed and treated like kings. Liz has prepared a lovely bedroom for us and Steve, a marvellous BBQ with lamp and beef. Ben, famous carnivorus animalus, is delighted. Rob and Tom, their 19 and 16 year-old sons are also here. We spend 4 days enjoying our hosting family and Christchurch. It is a lovely little city where both modern and classic buildings are mixed. Christchurch is a very happening city, there is always a festival or exhibition. It could also be that our feelings towards a city are very much dependant on the weather at the time of visit: Wellington was rainy and windy whereas Christchurch offered us 4 days of sun and we loved it. We take the opportunity to visit a specialist for Sylvie's ankle. He reassures her that it is a well-known pathology and that there is a standard treatment for it (set of exercises to be performed twice a day with increasing loads on the back). As you can imagine, she is delighted! After the knees, the ankles. As for Ben, the dentist finds a hidden cavity after taking some X-rays. After all these bad things, we go and get our lovely rental car, a silver Subaru Legacy station wagon, exactly what we wanted. Before leaving the rental car park, we make sure we can fit and sleep in the trunk!