2011. A Great Year for Travel.

We’d arrived to Christchurch, New Zealand, frazzled by the failings of Quantas and having missed our first night at the hotel. I was stupefied by lack of sleep and could manage nothing more then a drop into bed, whatever time it was, although Husband, an expert flight sleeper, was determined to stride out and around the area closest to us, in spite of the long, tedious journey. It was a great thrill for him to spot our surname everywhere in the area!

I should say at this point that since we had booked our trip earlier in the year, New Zealand’s South Island had suffered a catastrophic earthquake, the epicentre of which was Christchurch. It had rendered the centre of the city unsafe and our original hotel was within the fenced off zone. We’d been relocated to a hotel outside the fenced area, which was fine except for the alarming forest of accro supports holding it up.

Arriving a day late meant less time to explore Christchurch, but much of it was off limits, horrendous cracks in the streets and tumbled down buildings visible through the fencing. Once we’d slept off our jet lag we walked across nearby Hagley Park to see as much as we were able. The plucky inhabitants of Christchurch were already planning the renaissance of the city and an exhibition of the ideas could be seen in the park.

After one more night we needed to go and collect the campervan we’d hired and set off on our travels. At the van depot we were treated to a tour, during which I fell completely in love with the beautiful van-a panel van with toilet and shower, fully equipped with bedding, kitchen untensils, wine glasses and everything you could think of [plus more that you couldn’t]. It was all stored in clever, customised ways. We also had electric and gas heating. Heaven!

Husband needed to collect the rugby tickets he’d reserved so we found the place and while he queued to verify things and sort it out I made my way to the Woolworths supermarket to stock us up with everything we’d need for the road. I was charmed that it was Woolworths, as the store will be familiar to anyone of my generation, although not as a supermarket. Inside I managed to find most things we needed, but not tomato puree. When I asked a fellow shopper if she knew where it might be she walked around the shop with me, helping me with everything, making me feel truly welcome.

We had the van. We were stocked up. We were raring to go. We stowed everything away and, using the map book thoughtfully provided in our van hire pack we set off towards the coast on the start of our magnificent odyssey. I couldn’t help smiling- a state that was to continue for three whole months…

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Sacrilege

NZ Queenstown

We travelled to New Zealand in the autumn of 2011 when the Rugby World Cup was scheduled to be held there. This was to be our retirement treat-a three month stonker of a trip that also encompassed Australia [where I have cousins] and a small add-on of a stay in Hong Kong on the way home.

The thrill of such an enormous piece of travel was tempered, initially by having our flight from Heathrow cancelled by Quantas for no reason we could discern. This meant that our onward flights from Brisbane were scuppered, messing up our arrival to Christchurch, New Zealand and losing us a night of accommodation.

2011 was also the year of Christchurch’s catastrophic earthquake, which was heartbreaking in itself, besides disrupting the Rugby matches and venues involved.

After a tortuous and exhausting series of flights we arrived to Christchurch’s small airport. In the arrivals hall we staggered to the information desk and were directed out into the sunshine of the afternoon, where a kindly driver took our bags and we slumped into the back of his car to be taken to the hotel. I felt I’d stepped into a warm bath.

Even in my almost comatose state I was thrilled to see the verges and green spaces which were lined with nodding daffodils-a novelty for we northern hemisphere-ites in autumn.

NZ Xch

Although our hotel was a forest of steel ceiling supports and those roads that had not been blocked off were cracked with fissures the hotel staff welcomed us in.

Having slept we explored our area, Hagley Park and looked at the quake-damaged centre of town. The park hosted an exhibition of the proposed rebuilding of Christchurch.

A couple of days later we collected our rental camper-van, which was exquisitely equipped and set off to explore beautiful, pristine South Island on a gentle, meandering road that followed the railway track and took us through small communities, past stunning scenery and into wonderful camp sites.

Throughout this time I don’t think I ever stopped smiling. People were unerringly kind, the ease of travel unprecedented. In spite of the terrible earthquake we were welcomed. Even the creatures were friendly.

NZ ducks

The rugby games were like huge, joyous parties with dancing displays, music, dressing up and buzzing atmosphere. I lost count of the number of times we engaged with those around us, laughing, conversing and getting hugged.

In between matches we went sightseeing-following the beautiful, wild south coast road to stunning Milford Sound, viewing penguins and snow-capped mountains and scoffing New Zealand pies and scones from the dairies. Then we turned north via Kaikoura, went whale-watching and walked in glorious Abel Tasman National Park before taking the ferry to North Island.

In Wellington the camp site was full so the local rugby club accommodated us, throwing open their showers and their clubroom and even offering us a curry sauce to go with the chicken we’d bought to cook. We visited the amazing hot springs and geysers at Rotarua, 90 Mile Beach, Coromandel, the gigantic Kauri pines.

The trip remains, to this day my favourite to date. If asked I don’t hesitate to say that New Zealand is my favourite of all the destinations we’ve visited for the reasons I’ve detailed and so much more.

What has happened there is heart-breaking. This most beautiful and idyllic of countries has been sullied for it’s innocent beauty.

If you peddle hate posts on social media; if you keep recycling jingoistic, populist, right-wing propaganda; if you keep screeching about ‘taking back control’ and closing borders, building walls to keep people out and showing hate to other races and religions you are perpetuating acts of violence and terrorism.

Enough said.