|Saturday 11 June 2011 Brisbane – Christchurch
We left Brissie with high spirits and happy to be on the road again OS. All went well through the airport and bought our duty free grog to drink in NZ so all good. Air NZ on the way over and the flight was good with some good kiwi shows on wineries and even a glass of bubbly to get us underway. Customs and clearance were very good and we were able to use our electronic chip passports so we flew through and were soon heading on our way to the Salerno Motel Apartments on the northern edge of the city centre.
Our motel was very good and the manager excellent. Gave us some good tips and places to go so we dropped our bags and headed off on foot into to grab a few supplies and see a bit of Christchurch. We ended up in Merivale shopping centre and bought the requisite juice for the vodka and some nibbles for dinners we spend the night in relaxing. We also booked brekkie for the morning at 7:30am which we had a voucher for via GrabOne which is the Cudo equivalent for NZ. We then decided to stay out, buy a couple of bottles of NZ’s finest vino and have a quick thai meal at Cannagi Thai in Papanui Street which was really good and washed down by a nice NZ Pinot Gris. We then walked home and settled In with a vodka or two and a relaxing spa before hitting the hay for our first night in NZ.
Sunday 12 June 2011 Christchurch
Strange thing about NZ (probably more South Island than North) is that while dusk is about the same time in Brisbane dawn is a different story. We walked to brekkie about 7:20 in pitch black and as we were arriving a bit after 7:30 we were seeing the first rays of light just coming up over the horizon. The sunrise was very colourful and beautiful and it turns out the reason for this was because of the ash from Chile’s volcano washing over New Zealand. Brekkie was great being a buffet and set us up for a big day. We walked back to our room and the manager of our hotel dropped us off at a shopping centre about 15 minutes away where Ju had her first NZ frappacino at Starbucks! It rated the same as Oz but not as good as Switzerland – which I think will probably be hard to beat. We had a look around the “mall” at Riccarton and found a Kathmandu clearance centre and made a couple of small purchases.
From there we had a chat to a taxi driver who took us to West Melton to visit Sandihurst Winery at West Melton. I heard the words from Ju I thought I’d never hear – “I really liked that Savingnon Blanc!” Not a Sav Blanc drinker Ju was pleasantly surprised by its unstated nose and crisp taste. It was definitely a really nice winery and the rest of the tasting was great. To make the tasting even better they had a special on – 6 pack of Sav Blanc for $75 so we took advantage of that and a pinot gris as well. Very nice!
Our driver was waiting for us and we headed to our other destination at West Melton – Langdale Winery. We spend a good few hours here with a tasting from one of the boutique wineries from the area who converge on Langdale on Sunday’s to provide their product for tastings at the popular venue where we also had a nice lunch in one of the outside rotundas. Everyone else was inside but we were happy to be in the cool open air with some jazz and blues music through the speakers and just chilling on a Sunday – great way to introduce ourselves to our Bro cousins across the ditch.
About 3:30 our trusty taxi driver (who very good and gave us some great tips) turned up to take us back to our motel where we sat out front on the verandah with a hard earned Sandihurst Sav Blanc with a few nibbles and a fairly early night. Another good day was had by all and we retired for a well earned and long sleep.
Monday 13 June 2011 Christchurch
A very full day of today (and little did we know how big!!) which started with our wonderful motel manager calling us an airport shuttle to take us to the airport to pick up our Corolla, grab a bite for brekkie and then head out to Orana Wildlife Park where I had a little surprise for Ju. We arrived about 15 minutes before opening and I was able to find out that my plan was coming to fruition with the Cheetah Encounter going ahead. This isn’t a given as it is weather and animal dependent so it’s a bit dicey. This is Ju’s favourite animal and we have two large prints of them on our wall at home so it was great that it went ahead under pure blue skies and as perfect weather as you can get. Once Ju realized what was happing it was a little hard for her to to contain her excitement. This is something she has been wanting to do for some time.
We headed into the park at 10 o’clock and checked out the Meerkats, porcupine and then the giraffe’s who had a 7 week old Rothschild cross baby who was very, very cute. They have feeding for the giraffe’s at 12:00 so we headed off to our meeting place to take the Cheetah Encounter tour. We were met with Nikki from the park and she took us on a 10 minute walk to the cheetah enclosure where we were given the rules which were very practical and we were then into the big cat enclosure. Frankly, what an experience!!!!!! The three male cheetahs (who were all brothers) were waiting for us at the gate and we had to walk over them to get in so that was the start of a short love affair! We then walked down to an area in the sun near a tree about 250 metres from the gate and sat down but the boys weren’t settled so we headed for their favourite place which is a little ridge that overlooks everything and they can see all of the park. We sat down in the grass and they came over and Cango sat down and we had a good three quarters of an hour patting him and what a motor he has. Talk about purr! Our little girl at home doesn’t come close to the rattle of Cango. Whilst we were patting Cango we also had Kurjuka come over and spend time with us and we were also able to give him a long pat as well. The third one is a little shy and has to really be in the mood for a pat so he parks himself nearby and just hangs out keeping an eye on things. They loved the attention and the keeper actually had to raise Cango when we had to leave as he was sooooo relaxed and splayed out on the grass soaking up all the attention. One of the great things about this experience was that it was on the cheetah’s terms. They came to us and wandered in and out whenever they wanted and there were no restraints on them at all so it was very much like being in their environment and not ours. Just a fantastic experience that we were lucky to have from a weather viewpoint (best day Christchurch has had all week) and also that we did it alone and had the full attention of the big cats who hadn’t had visitors for a week which was their last encounter. We had some great shots that the handlers took from their camera but they also took quite a few shots with Jo’s and we’ve attached one or two.
From the cheetahs we then headed to the giraffe feeding and we had a good time with all the other visitors and they stripped the leaves and other foliage from the small branches in a second and it was good to have this opportunity as well. From here we headed up and had a bite to eat on the run and then headed to the NZ bird area and went through the aviary where we experienced our first earthquake. This one went for about 3 seconds and was very unsettling as we were on a raised platform which shook and was very un-nerving. We later heard that this one was a 5.5 tremor and was centred around the seaside suburb of Sumner. This one caused a bit more damage to the crumbling centre with a couple of the city buildings and there were a couple of workers trapped for awhile but all were pulled safe although with a few injuries. From here we tramped around the park and signed up for the lion experience which involves hoping in a cage in the back of a truck which then drives through the lion enclosure. However as we were waiting for the truck the big earthquake hit. This one went on for about 10 seconds and was very disconcerting with the earth moving in both a rolling and rocking motion. We were ushered into the aviary as the keepers had to check that all the fences were intact and no big cats were wondering around looking for a feed! With this done we still did the lion experience and this was just freaky. They were on the left, on the right and back standing up to the cage whilst being fed by the keepers but by far the freakiest was the big girl who hoped on top of the cage. She was about 220 kilos and with the cage about six foot six inches and Wuzz about 6-2 there wasn’t a lot of room and you could feel their breath on your face. It was wild and crazy and to see the lions up so close but unbelievable. They are so huge. Another fantastic experience and glad it went ahead. To top the whole experience off the keeper who gave the talk before we went in was a NSW supporter and Wuzz was wearing a QLD polo so that set him off. We did however offer our condolences to him but strangely he wasn’t that interested. We then headed off from the park and picked up our photos from the cheetah encounter which turned out really well.
On heading back to our accommodation we found out how severe the earthquake was so we headed back in our car and found roads damaged, water over roads, all the shops closed and petrol stations full. We made it back no worries and had a chat to our motel owners who advised we still had power but no water although this may change. We decided to bunker down at the motel and thought the best way to get over the disaster was to have a vodka or two and some cheese and other nibbles that we were fortunate to have bought the day we arrived. We actually had water back in the early evening and were invited to the owners for dinner which was very good and pleasant to be able to have a chat with a few people during this time. One of the other motel occupants was a bit of a slapper but you can’t have everything! It was actually a good night and we returned to our room about 10:30 and hit the pillow shortly thereafter. However at about 2:50am we had a 4.7 tremor with the motel shaking for about 5 seconds which was fairly scary and resulted in a fitful sleep thereafter. There were small tremors all the time after the 6.0 quake and it’s a bit of an anxious time for everyone.
The last 24 hours has been extremely eventful and we are hoping that this is the end of the disasters for us while we are here.