Day 164: Goodbye To The Van

Thur. 24th January 2013

At least our bikes were better than thisWe’re now at the end of our 3 weeks with our camper van. As always, the time has gone really quickly. It puts it into perspective when we reflect that 3 weeks is the longest holiday we have ever had prior to this trip.

Before heading off back to Christchurch, we have a final tidy up to do and we are grateful that we got most of our backpack packing done yesterday. It is going to be a real shock reverting to living out of our backpacks – unloading the minimum we need each night and battling with all of the clips and zips each morning. We have tried to run down our food – with some success but there are still some bits and pieces left over. Janet has planned our packed lunches for the next couple of days. Even the trip to the dump station to empty our toilet cartridge is not too bad – we have tried to avoid using the loo in the van where possible. Enough information!

Boat on the river at KaiapoiIt is hard to judge how much fuel we will need to get us the 140km or so back from Hanmer Springs. The fuel warning light is on, so definitely some. In the end (after we eventually find the petrol station) I undercall it with NZ$20-worth and we end up having to put in another NZ$10 when we stop for lunch in Kaiapoi just north of Christchurch. We had become surprisingly attached to the van and it was an odd sensation handing the keys back over and walking around to do the final inspection (and check we hadn’t left anything behind). Our mileage (kilometrage?) log says we have done 2,682km in our 21 days with the van.

Goodbye to all this after 2682kmHiring a camper van is definitely a great way to explore New Zealand. The flexibility it gave us over our itinerary, how long we stayed in any one place and where we stopped en route between places was just what we needed. We tended to book campsites on the day or at most one night in advance and only once had to change our plans because the site we wanted was fully booked (and even then the resulting itinerary was better). In the end, we didn’t do any ‘freedom’ camping (outside of organised sites) – we enjoyed the access to electricity and decent showers. (There is a shower in the van, but it reminds me of those punishment pods we saw in New Caledonia where the box is too small for you to stand or sit or kneel – you have to crouch). If we had been more hardened campers (like the Fishers and Rogers) we may well have gone in for freedom camping but we don’t really feel that we missed anything by not.

Bridge of Remembrance - fenced off and with 'Extreme Danger' signsBy 2:30, we have dropped our bags off at tonight’s motel and handed the van in and we are back to using our feet and public transport. We have the afternoon to explore the centre of Christchurch and we want to make sure we take what has turned out to be our only opportunity. Fortunately, it is only a short walk to the bus stop and a short wait for a bus. Our map of the city centre shows a red shaded area around the cathedral with a legend that says ‘restricted area’. We realise that this is where they are doing clear up and reconstruction following on from the earthquake in February 2011.

Christchurch Cathedral in bad shapeOnce we get there, we start to understand how devastating the earthquake must have been and the impact that it must still be having on business and everyday life in the city. All of what once was the city centre is fenced off with metal railings along with signs noting ‘Extreme Danger’. Throughout the area there are diggers and bulldozers clearing away rubble. Some of the buildings seem to be held together with straps and elastic bands; the old IBM building is just a skeleton on one side; and one entire end of the cathedral has fallen away. Nearby are signs proclaiming the rebuilding of the city. We are glad there is a plan – it will be a lovely city to visit once it has been rebuilt.

Janet says that at least he is punting from the right end!Near to the centre is the Canterbury Museum and  the Botanic Gardens. We have time for a quick look round the museum – and also to get a cup of tea in the cafe before it closes (we have to think about these things now that we have handed back the van). The museum has displays on different aspects of New Zealand life from pre-historic times, through to the Maori, the early settlers and on to modern times. It also included the Victorian street complete with shops and the (static) ride-on Penny Farthing bicycle. In one case there is the (working) gold-plated speedway bike presented to Ivan Mauger. I’m reminded that Mauger is probably the first New Zealander I was ever aware of (possibly ahead of Edmund Hillary) thanks to the speedway coverage on ITV’s World of Sport! (It all meant nothing to Janet!)

Dahlias in the Botanic GardensThe Botanic Gardens are set in a good size park with the River Avon running through it. There was punting  on the river, though it seemed guided punting rather than DIY punting. More importantly for Janet though was that the punting was done in Cambridge rather than Oxford fashion. We had the time to have a stroll through the park and to admire both the Dahlia and Rose Gardens that set Janet off planning as to her plans for our garden upon our return. For me, I’m not thinking that far ahead – we’re just enjoying each day as it comes and trying to get the most out of each day.

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