Spring Break: Departure to Christchurch!

So, a LOT has happened over my 2 week spring break. I’m going to do my best to break the whole thing up into more manageable parts, for your sake and for mine! The bottom line is that I had an amazing time and took an unreal amount of pictures-- so get excited! And sharing a 4 person camper-van with 7 people has a way of bringing people together... I came back to Auckland with some really awesome new relationships. Here it goes!

There were no classes on Good Friday, in fact most of the city shut down as it was a National Holiday. I slept in (which I really needed after marathon blogging into the wee hours of the morning) and then started attacking my big, long to-do list to get ready for leaving on Saturday. My only finite event for the day was Mass at 3pm. Since I wasn’t going to get the chance to go to Easter Sunday Mass I really wanted to go one more time during Holy Week. We were going to need all the prayers we could get for this trip! The service was really nice. We went to the same Catholic Church as the last weekend but we didn’t get there quite early enough. So we stood in the back for two hours. It went by pretty fast, although by the end it felt really good to be outside in the fresh air. The rest of the day is a blur of running errands and trying to pull all the loose ends together. I must have used up 20 stickey-notes making lists of various things so I wouldn’t forget. Eventually I had to accept that I was as ready as I’d ever be and joined my friends for a movie. We all wanted to make it an EARLY night because our shuttle to the airport was picking us up at 3:45am. Yikes. I took it as a really good sign when I was able to chat with my friend Gabe for the first time in almost a year since he graduated from Loyola and joined the International Jesuit Volunteer Corp. and is teaching in Micronesia. I took it as a little sign that I was on the right track. I guess I’m just kind of superstitious that may!

I wanted to go to bed early since our shuttle to the airport was picking us up around 3:45 but THAT didn’t happen. Of course, I was too excited (and nervous) to sleep. I woke up on time and dragged myself down to the lobby to meet up with the others. Half of us were taking a slightly later van—lucky ducks—so we totaled seven. The drive to the airport was a little special as we almost got into an accident when our driver decided to change lanes without looking—a great start. But we made it to the airport in one piece, only to find it still closed. We waited in the chilly morning air making jokes about bad omens and predicting the doom of our trip until five when the doors finally opened. We checked in and made it through security—which was kind of a joke—no problem, thank God. One of our group members had a late night out on the town and was still drunk at this point. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even remember checking in for the flight; all another funny detail (now) to make the story interesting. Even though I really wanted to stay up and see the islands from the sky I passed out on the plane and woke up after what felt like two seconds in Christchurch. I could hear the people sitting next to me “ohh” and “ahh”-ing the view but it just wasn’t enough to open my eyelids. Again, the rental place was not open yet so we had to nervously wait around to take the shuttle over to the pick-up location. After paying the hefty insurance fees that would be returned IF the vans came back in the same condition they left in, we hit the road. Eric and I drove first.

It was one of the more challenging experiences of my life. I was on the wrong side of the car, on the wrong side of the road, in a strange place idle with construction and detours due to the earthquakes last year. I couldn’t have done it without the help of my co-pilot TJ. Our van pulled HARD to the left so the wheel had to be turned about a quarter-turn to the right just to drive straight—not exactly ideal when you’re driving a boat. Anyway, it was utterly humbling to see the devastation of Christchurch first hand. The two vans wound up getting separated in the confusion of traffic (I was following Eric who had the GPS and INSISTED on blowing through every yellow light) so I decided that it was time for a break and some lunch. First stop: Subway. Feeling much better after a big sandwich and an energy drink (my first ever) we hopped back into the behemoth van and tried to catch up with the others, which we did relatively easily. Our first mission in Christchurch was to stalk up groceries to help lessen the cost of food during the trip. My van split a bunch of things to share that would last us until we made it to Queenstown where we knew we could stalk up again; this included lots of pb&j ingredients, pasta, rice, frozen veggies, and other various snacks. Our fridge in the van worked off its own battery so we didn’t have to worry about keeping our perishables cold. The water pump for the sink worked off the same battery and we had a propane tank to use to cook. The only thing that we couldn’t use unless plugged into a power source was the microwave and the outlets. It was all very convenient.

 We went to see one of the last remaining tourist attractions that isn’t rubble in the city; the botanical gardens. They were amazing. Being surrounded my huge roses and being in the fresh air couldn’t have come at a better time. We walked all through the gardens and climbed a few trees before moving on. We wanted to see the cathedral that Christchurch was named after, so after winding through a maze of road blocks and traffic cones we got to the red-zone and couldn’t go any further. I have to admit that seeing the unrecognizable rubble after the dazzling gardens was a little unnerving. A lot of people got out and took pictures but I didn’t have the stomach for it. When my wing-man TJ got back in the front seat with me he asked me what was wrong—it was all over my face. And I was honest, I said, “I’m just thinking about how blessed we are to be privileged enough to be able to take pictures of somebody else’s worst day ever.” I said a silent prayer and mentally thanked my Mom for always reminding me to think of who I am and where I come from. We got organized and started our long journey out of Christchurch to Kaikora.

We got to Kaikora as the sun was setting. The coastline was gorgeous and we got to get up-close-and-personal with some huge sea lions. We hiked up to the top of a huge hill for some amazing photo ops. The sun was setting to our left and the moon was rising over the water. I’ve never seen the moon look so big or beautiful before. There was a quaint yellow light house sitting up there and one of our group, Garvin made a comment about its light and just after he did it turned on. Really freaky. We laughed for a long while and knew that it was another sign, this time that we were off to a good start. We stayed up there for as long as we could, enjoying the view before the cold sea wind drove us back into our vans in search for our first campsite.
Since we had no idea where exactly it was that we were going, navigating the windy mountain roads at night proved to be a tricky task for the entire trip, but especially that first night. Eventually we found what looked like the driveway to our camp site and headed down it. The unpaved road was rough and did a good job of tossing us in the back seat around (by this point TJ had taken over driving my van). After driving down this “road” for about ten minutes we passed a man walking and asked him if we were headed in the right direction. He assured us we were and before long we got to our place to park. It was a non-powered site so we had limited use of our kitchen but it was free and we had TJ who made a great pasta dinner for us. Well fed and very tired we headed to bed. Two people slept on what I like to call the “top shelf” a platform about a foot away from the ceiling that was not for the claustrophobic. Four of us slept on the double bed relatively comfortably underneath the shelf. In the middle of the night Garvin and Mary came back from l late-night hike and had to navigate the beds in the dark. Mary couldn’t get into her van so she slept with us and Garvin was restless and ended up sleeping all over the place, on the top shelf, on the ladder to the top shelf, and then eventually he settled down on the front seat. We couldn’t stop laughing and making jokes. The whole arrangement was utterly silly and I loved the ridiculousness too much to be annoyed. It was an excellent first night for not sleeping much at all. Funny how things work out, right? Next destination: the region of Marlborough to explore the northern tows and landscapes of the South Island!

Fun fact: The Botanic Gardens in Christchurch has over 10,000 exotic and indiginous plants in it and covers over 74 acres. Kaikora means "meal of crayfish" and makes its living from the sea (it's a peninsula so that makes sense) and as a tourist destination to "wildlife-watch" including whales, seals, and dolphins.

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