Thursday, October 25, 2007

Frausenhumphumphumph1 Backpackers, Christchurch, NZ

Oh, Wellington. I couldn’t find anyone (aside from the kid house) that wanted to rent to me for so short a period of time. I wasn’t doing anything during the day because I didn’t want to spend too much money, and suddenly a week had gone by.

It was a bit of a trap; I could stay in a cheapish ($40/night) single, not do anything and try to find a place, or I could leave where I’d have to pay more money per night for a single ($60+/night), or I could stay in a hostel and never have a moment to myself.

But by staying I wasn’t doing anything.

So I left. I bought a ferry ticket and took off. No plans, just a vague direction.

The first thing I noticed about the ferry was that the underbelly (where the cars and such were) and up in some of the hallways it stank. USS Urineville. Bleah.

Anyway, it was cold and rainy at first,


so I spent much of my time inside, knitting and watching Ocean’s 13 which was showing on a big tv.

When we were around 45 minutes away I stepped outside, and oh. Y’all.





And then my camera batteries died. It’s happened before – no problem! I have spares! I went into my bag and got my rechargables that I’d charged in California.

They were dead. Har, har, har.

I hopped off the shuttle bus in front of Villa backpackers. My room had 2 bunks (fairly civilized) and a carpet that had seen more than its share of spilled beverages (I hope beverages). There was a nice-looking courtyard with plenty of places to sit. My roommate, Charlotte, invited me to walk along the dock, so we took off.



Around the bay, over a bridge, and into the woods for a short tramp. Which kept going and going, and I was trying desperately not to puff and pant at the sudden expenditure of energy. We ended up at Bob’s Bay – a secluded length of beach overlooking the harbor.


Bob's Bay

Indian food for dinner and an early bedtime. In the morning I saw Charlotte had tucked her card into my knitting.

There was a ton of time to kill before my bus whisked me away, so I walked up the street in town, and stopped for some breakfast at Picton Village Bakkerij2, a Dutch bakery, which was hella good. I sat in the sun and had some visitors.



My next stop was Kaikoura. The town itself isn’t much to look at (again, just one street), but the location is awesome. Imagine the Rocky Mountains, and tack on Caribbean-blue water with steep stone beaches. That’s what Kaikoura is like.




I stayed at Lyell Creek Lodge, which is worn but super friendly and cheap (I called the proprietor more than once to get a lift to or from the hotel). I had my own room and a tv. It was good.


There’s plenty to do in Kaikoura, most of which involves going out on the sea, which meant that when it poured rain the first day I was there my plans got screwed. But! Here’s a rundown of my activities:


Swimming with Dolphins: Everything depends on where the pods of dolphins are and how interested they are in you. They warned us before we left that there was a pod in the morning, but we wouldn’t be able to catch up to it. I think that when this is good it’s really, really good. My trip was just mediocre. For $130 you cram yourself into a 7 mil (read: thick) wetsuit (there’s also a cheaper viewing only option), hop on a bus, hop on a boat, and take off.


Eventually we caught up to about six dolphins (a pod has about 200), and we prepped by pulling on our flippers and hoods and goggles and sitting on the back of the boat. They gave the signal and we hopped in, shoving each other out of the way. We did that three times, and didn’t spend more than five minutes in the water each time. I saw three swim by, but that was all.


And they gave us a partial discount, so there’s something to be said for that.

Whale Watch: Fortunately didn’t involve a wetsuit (or unfortunately – swimming with a whale would be awesome), but they required us to sit inside the boat until they’d found a whale and stopped. It took a while. Then we all shoved each other aside to get out and see…

The back of a sperm whale.


Who just laid there, occasionally spraying up some water.


And then, after a few minutes, went under again. Not with a splash, but with a blip.


And then we found another whale, and the same thing happened.


I was kind of expecting more. It was hard to get an idea of scale from the distance. Then an informational video on the boat, and that was it.


Seal Swim: Similar to the dolphin swim, but on a less grand scale. Wetsuits, yes, and a corroding jeep instead of a bus, and a tiny boat instead of a larger one that caught every wave and sent it up into our faces before crashing our butts down onto the seats.


The seals weren’t as interactive as I’d been expecting. We were visiting a colony that housed sexually immature seals – that would be fur (or “eared”) seals, by the way – until they were ready to go get frisky with the other adults. Mostly they stayed on the rocks and gave us funny looks, but occasionally one would swim by and give us a thrill.

And that water is really cold. I mean really cold. The wetsuits helped except for right around the mouth that caught the water directly, and the hands. My gloves didn’t keep me warm for nothin’. (That’s probably not true – I’m sure it would’ve been worse without them). It was neat to see them so close to their territory, and the reef we were over was full of plants and fish that I vaguely recognized but can’t for the life of me name. (Lisa, Chris, Greg: are you surprised?).

Surfing: The instructor was on the west coast. As the woman in the shop told me, “For surfers, the world stops when there are good waves or a competition.” So I couldn’t get a lesson. Nice.

Scuba diving: Visibility was so bad they weren’t going out. But I got a brochure for another place that’s supposed to have good diving. Strike two.

I walked up to the seal colony (as is accessible by land), which is a really long walk from town, and don’t let guidebooks tell you otherwise. There were some hanging out surprisingly close to the car park:


And this one got real mad when a woman tried to walk by because they – I swear – blend into the grass.


To think – I nearly witnessed a Darwin Award in action!

I like Kaikoura. I like it a lot. I was disappointed to leave, and in retrospect, should’ve stayed longer. I was in the mood for a small town.

Christchurch is not a small town. It’s not a big city, either. It has its charms, but I must admit I’m not finding, um, anything to do here. I stayed in a hostel because a Scottish chap I’d met at Lyell Creek Lodge told me I just might like it.

HAH. First off, it was $28. Second, 8 people sharing one room is way too many. First thing I did when I opened the door (at 1pm, mind) was turn on the lights. Six pairs of eyes glared at me from six beds. Great way to make a first impression, self!

Browsing the internets that evening I did a search for Christchurch swing dancing, and found out that there was a workshop happening that evening. In fact, in ten minutes. I got directions and my shoes and booked it over to the hall and begged my way in. $40 and two classes later I’d met some new folks. They hipped me to the dance the next night and I promised to show.

In the evening my Irish roommates chattered and bashed about, their stuff strewn everywhere. They made a vague attempt at being quiet by whispering, but in a small room it’s just as loud as talking. And there was a porch and a lounge that they could’ve been using. Honestly. The big problem with hostelling alone is that you never know who your roommates will be.

They crashed around in the morning, too. I packed up my bags and took off to a farther away, slightly costlier backpackers – Fraureisehaus. All women (which, after my previous night’s roommates, proved nothing), but obviously calm. I got a single ($38, though Lonely Planet said 35). There’s free laundry, a resident bunny, resident guinea pigs, mineral water in the outside taps, free movies and music to borrow, and it’s quiet. Worn as they all seem to be, but cozy.

The dance was good, and I got to meet the resident kitty that wanders around the hostel. Still couldn’t find much to do in Christchurch.

Tried to get a bus out the next morning, and missed it by 5 minutes. Fantastic. I sheepishly walked back to Fraureisehaus and got another room, and decided there STILL wasn’t much to do in Christchurch. I did go to their aquarium in the information center (because where else would you have an aquarium?) and they have two kiwi (kiwis?), one of which I got to see rummage around in the dark. Because if you’re going to see kiwi, the first place to go is the aquarium.



1 Fraureisehaus
2 That’s actually spelled correctly


Janice in GA said...

Dude, now you're in territory like I saw pictured in the New Yorker ads all those years ago. (Those were the ones that made me want to visit NZ.)

I love reading about your adventures. We saw humpback whales and orcas when we were in Alaska.

grace said...

Sounds like the trip is getting better? Right?

The pictures say you are having a really good time, mostly.

Greg Vydra said...

Hey, Emily! I got a mention in your blog!!! Cool. I never know the names of things either. Only Lisa does. :)

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