Next morning we set off for Lake Tekapo. We’re picked up first and knowing that a fair few of our mates are at the next hotel we reserve a few seats on the bus. I feel decidedly German but it works out in the end and our little band natters away en route.
Our new bus driver Andrea lives up to here nickname within 3 minutes. I’d heard her called Angry-a, and remembered this when she screamed blue murder at a man who left his car door open just a few seconds too long. Eek, let’s set off then.
We get to Lake Pukaki first, its beautiful and the water made a cloudy pastel blue looks like an Instagram filter coming through my eyes. Cook mountain in background finishes off the piece and Kelly and I take one of our many selfies, hard to imagine a prettier background though.
Once at Tekapo Kelly and I hire bikes and cycle around the town to a church. It’s the most photographed place in Tekapo and I can see why, the range of mountains surrounding the lake provide the backdrop to the altar through a glass window.
The plan is then to cycle to the top of St John’s mountain but the path is clearly for walking. We struggle for an hour or more down rocky paths, past mountain dwelling sheep weeks past their sheering date, before Kelly bottles it of two-thirds of the way and we head back the way we came.
Back in the kitchen we cook fajitas and watch step brothers with everyone, before discussing the potential of walking up St John Mountain at 11pm to see the stars. Not as crazy as it sounds, Mount St John has 2 observatories and takes buses of people up at midnight given its reputation for having the clearest view of the stars in New Zealand.
Kelly went to bed and some of the others pass on the idea, so at 10:30 I head with Rimmer and Tom. I’m only wearing a hoodie but the uphill accent gets the blood flowing and I’m too warm. We make it up in only half an hour, pitch black but cloudy for the time being.
When we get to the observatory’s outer circle we discover the paths are off limits from 6pm until 8am. So we turn off our lights and activate ninja mode. New Zealand are notorious heavy finers so we want to avoid people even if there is no fine. It’s when a bus load of people walk by that we hit the dirt and hold our breath. A single walker seemed to come towards us step by step, but they move on and so do we.
The clouds are still blocking our night view so we waste some time taking slow-exposure photos and writing our names before we accept that nature isn’t on our sides and the stars won’t make an appearance.
Christchurch is our destination next. Andrea starts playing Christmas songs, and for the first time (It’s December 19th) I feel christmassy.
Christchurch is still a building site after the earthquake in 2011. The streets are named after British places so our hostel is nestled between Hereford and Worcester Roads.
Famished we find a pub called the Pegasus for a burger and beer, a girl from Leeds takes our order. Never more than 50 feet from a Brit in NZ it seems. After lunch we take a walk round the botanical gardens full of beautiful roses – one called Vesper peaks our interest. Then inside we see a Christmas tree made of Poinssetias.
As Christchurch’s buildings and shops required work after the earthquake they built an area of shipping container stores, similar to Boxpark in London (side note: head to Marcel and Sons in Elephant and Castles Boxpark for excellent food)
Finally I am seduced and buy some new clothes before Kelly and I head back to the Pegasus for a well earned pint. We’re heading off the following day so we go for a few drinks to say goodbye. The Pegasus seems to be the best option so once again we find ourselves in there.
Our new driver the next day takes us up to ten drivers. Jared, Sparrow, Mangee, Brett, Lisa, Kyle, Josh, Dominic, Andrea and Elliot, out of 35 in total.
We’re flying from Christchurch you may remember but Kaikoura is where the whales are at, and it was worth the journey.
On our trip we saw 2 sperm whales and a massive pod of 30 dolphins, all dancing and jumping along with the boat. Back on dry land it’s time for fish and chips and Kiwi mushy peas – which are apparently just frozen peas unlike the British mushy peas which are of the garden variety.
Our final full day in New Zealand saw us spending the morning with Rimmer and Lauren who had borrowed my GoPro to go swimming with dolphins at 5:30am. They had found a mega pod (official title) of around 400 dolphins. Wowsa and the videos were astonishingly good. Never thought I’d use the phrase well jel but I was!
They set off and so did we back to Christchurch on an Intercity bus. Alfie and Stef had made it to Christchurch too so we spent the evening with them. Alfie being from Yorkshire found a place that pulled real ale pints and we were in our element for the night.
There it is I thought when I woke up. The 22nd of December, our last day in NZ. Australia better be good, and sunny.
We caught the bus early to ensure we made it, missing breakfast so I gorged on our remaining blue cheese and crackers from Kaikoura (best ever), followed up with some L&P popping candy white chocolate. We had to get rid of any food so even though Kelly’s disgusted face didn’t help, it had to be done.
It was just over a month since we’d been on a plane, but what a month. We’d made so many friends, experienced so many new things, familiar things in new places, seen Sharon and family for the first time in a decade and saw a landscape that even Tolkien couldn’t make up.
Come here if you haven’t already. Go back if you have. I certainly will.