On our final day in Christchurch we stopped by the library to upload one of my blog entries and check email. A Chinese gentleman sat down next to me and enlisted me as his teacher. In fact, he called me "teacher," as though that were my name. From his gestures and the notes he presented me I quickly gathered that he was learning English and wanted me to help him pronounce words correctly. I consented. As it turned out, I enjoyed being his impromptu “teacher” quite a bit. Katie, who had been listening in with amusement whilst checking her email, pointed out that I was teaching him with an American accent.
Up to this point he's most likely been learning from someone with a Kiwi accent. Ahhhh...that explained a few moments of confusion. Yeah, from here on out he'll probably be getting different answers from the ones I was supplying. Sorry, chap. But it was still fun, and I took a picture to preserve the memory.
While walking around Christchurch we discovered that the Buskers Festival was starting in just one day. Busker is a term for street performer, and acts from all over the world were converging here to battle for attention. There were musical acts, comedians, contortionists, jugglers, and of course the strange and undefinable. It sounded cool and different, but sadly, we were going to miss it. We struggled with whether or not we should change our plans. Should we stop and see something on our way back through? Would we be giving something up in order to do so? Would it be worth it?
Those questions were left unanswered as I took my first turn at the wheel on our way out of the city. “Stay to the left, stay to the left...”
Katie navigated us into the surrounding hills where we stopped at The Sign of the Kiwi to take a short hike and see the whole of Christchurch from above. The day was clear and sunny. A beautiful view. Sheep grazed nearby but we weren't close enough to touch one (sorry, Sarah. We’ll keep trying for you). Continuing on, we wove our way through the hills and happened upon a shelter tucked into the hillside at The Sign of the Bellbird. We paused there to snap a few shots. If I needed a shelter in a storm, this would definitely be my pick.
Our lazy drive led us to Akaroa, located on the Banks Peninsula. Katie DJ'd her iPod through the car radio, and we gloried in the aquamarine bays that filled the valley floors. We chose the Summit Road drive because it boasted the best views along the way. All was going swimmingly until we hit a gravel road. It wouldn’t have been a problem if the road was, say, the length of a driveway, but it was an actual road. You know, with miles. Our wee car wasn’t going to cut it. In fact, Scottie (that’s what we named him) had been going a max of 30 km up the steepest inclines so far - pedal to the metal, mind you. So we had zero faith he was bred for rougher roads. We had to turn around, which meant backtracking for an hour. At this disappointing turn, we switched drivers. And of course (oh me, of little faith) Katie had us back to point A in no time – she cut the hour in half!
After a brief stop at a cheese making factory (sorry, no cheese making today) we wended our way into Akaroa. Now, did I mention the roads we’d been traveling were curvy? No? Well, they were. Very curvaceous mistresses, these roads, and they left us with pounding heads and angry stomachs. Needless to say, our arrival in Akaroa was a happy one. Not to mention the glorious day we were having, which cast the quaint bayside town in a spectacular light. People were bustling about, swimming and sailing. We strolled along the beach and ate chips with vinegar. Yum!
Eventually, after our bodies has settled, we drove a bit further to the Onuku Farm Hostel. The farm sat on a hillside overlooking the bay. We were rather tired by the time we arrived, but the girl who checked us in was friendly and our room was airy and clean. Not feeling excessively social, we kept to ourselves as we ate dinner and went for a walk on the grounds. The wind was up as the sun set, grass and trees whipping around us, and the landscape rippled into a dusky tableau. A beautiful sight on our first evening in the hills of New Zealand.
Around 6 A.M. the earth shook. 5.1 on the Richter Scale. It was short lived but felt like a train was passing by…right next to the bed. It wasn’t scary. It was rather exciting, actually. A unusual way to start the day.
We got up early, ate breakfast, and set out onto the Ridge Walkway Hike, which started on the grounds of the farm hostel. The day was overcast with a touch of the drizzles. Not the stunning weather of the day before, but beautiful for hiking. We passed by sheep and cows, and once in a while hummed a tune from "The Lord of the Rings."
A quick detour took us to Look Out Rock. There was a warning sign posted regarding the instability of the area due to the big 2010 earthquake. We weren’t worried, though. That earthquake was a long time ago. The earth was perfectly sound now. Nothing to worry about in the least. Ahem…
We climbed Look Out Rock and saw an amazing view of the bay stretching out to sea. Simply breathtaking. I laid down on the outcrop and gazed over the edge, peeking at the trees below. The gnarled greenery reminded me of Fangorn Forest. One spot was twisted and smashed, presumably from rocks that had fallen off the cliff side…right underneath me. Was I worried? Nawww… I could have laid there forever, but we had a hike to finish.
The wind picked up once we again and the rain was coming and going. We marched up a steep incline all bundled up, but our rising body heat overcame us and we had to strip off a layer. When we got to flatter ground we found ourselves chilled. Fine then. Wel put the layer back on. On and off, on and off, went the layers, as though we were marching through menopause. Clouds twirled and wrapped around us, blocking our view of the sea. It was a shame, but we still enjoyed ourselves at the tip top of the hike, where a rock was appropriately labeled “END.” Stopping here, staring out into the billowy white, we realized that the rock was not just a sign but a warning: Go no further. In the thick of it one could easily walk too far out and fall straight into the sea. Instead, we chose to sit down and cuddle in the cold before turning back.
Along the way we enjoyed experimenting with the video function of our camera. We attempted some rack focus shots on an eerie stretch of tree-covered path, à la “The Lord of the Rings” (“The Fellowship of the Ring,” to be precise). We had minor to moderate success. And yes, we are dorks.
After completing our trek, we relaxed by the wood burning stove in the hostel. I wrote and listened to the various languages being spoken around me; German and English wove together and women giggled through language lessons. It was a nice atmosphere. Katie spent her time reading. What was she reading, you ask? Why, The Hobbit of course. An appropriate choice for many reasons, not the least of which being that Katie is very hobbit-like, and is often mistaken for one of those gentle, noble creatures.
We dashed out later to visit to the Akaroa Cemetery and walk through the center of town. As opposed to the day before, no one was around now that the sky was gray and the air brisk and biting. An early dinner set us up for an early slumber, which seems to have become a habit on this trip. A good habit, if I do say so myself.