Landing in Christchurch on a rainy Monday night, we made our way to our hotel to catch some sleep before picking up our camper van the next morning. As widely reported over the last half decade or so, Christchurch has been the victim of numerous earthquakes and after-shocks that have all but levelled the city. The destructive force of the quakes is clear as you walk around central Christchurch, with every city block playing host to one or more construction projects.
On a friend’s recommendation, we grabbed a quick breakfast and coffee at C-1 Espresso in central Christchurch. The food was great and the coffee was certainly on point, but it was the quirky food delivery system that got my attention. The cafe has been a Christchurch go-to for good coffee since 1996. After their original premises was destroyed in the Canterbury quake, they moved into their current location: a refurbished bank. The high ceilings play host to a maze of pneumatic tubes that were originally used to transport large sums of cash around the bank. These tubes are now used to deliver sides and burgers to individual tables after the chef rings the bell, indicating to the diners that a meal is on its way.
After breakfast, and a half hour spent following servings of fries whirling around the ceiling of the cafe, we made our way out to the Apollo campers office to pick up our motor home. After the obligatory paperwork was filled out, we hit the highway and headed north from Christchurch to our first destination: Kaikoura.
Truth be told, we only stayed on the highway for an hour or so before we were forced to take a detour via a winding inland country road. Not being ones for over-researching things before we travel, we found out that the main highway north had been closed for close to 12 months due to earthquake damage. Being on holiday however meant that we took this in our stride and enjoyed what turned out to be a longer but equally as scenic inland trip northwards.
Arriving in Kaikoura just before dark, we were treated to an awe-inspiring sunset back across the snow-capped mountains. To celebrate our first night in the van, we cooked pad-thai and I managed to see my way through a few NZ pale ales. All in all, it was a perfect first day in New Zealand.
The following day we woke to blue skies and warm temperatures. I began to wonder what people were complaining about when they told me that NZ was quite cold at this time of year… we were later to find out!
Kaikoura is a sleepy coastal fishing town that is most famously known for its seasonal visitors and permanent residents: Humpback and Sperm whales, Orcas, Seals, Dolphins and Penguins. Unfortunately for us, we arrived a few weeks before the start of the whale migration. It didn’t take long for this disappointment to be forgotten once we came across a sleepy, and at times grumpy seal that was basking in the sun on the pier.
Looking back across the bay from the peninsula, the eye is drawn to the small township and the neat row of cafes, shops and whale watching tour outlets, but the feature that leaves a lasting impression is the vast incline from the ocean to the mountains. Within what seems like a few kilometres, the warm blues of the ocean give way to alpine greens and clouds that unpredictably swirl around the peaks of the steep mountain range that runs parallel to the coastline.
If you find yourself in this part of the world, make sure you stop in at the Pier Hotel for a beer (or three) and lunch. The beer garden spreads itself across the lawn and offers views of the ocean and mountains as you soak up the sun. While we weren’t able to do it, treat yourself to a whale watching day-trip. Tours leave early in the mornings and they offer a free trip at a later date if you don’t happen to see any whales – something I’m told never happens! We stayed at the Peketa Beach Holiday Park which is right on the beach just south of town. The owner was really helpful and was more than happy to give us some recommendations for later in the trip.