Published Oct 5, 2009

Fresh off the heels of an incredible stay in Kaikoura, we headed back to Christchurch for another stay at the Hotel So, plus the chance to enjoy the city’s sights a bit. Soon we’ll be gadding about the country, doing all sorts of damn-fool things, so our last day in Christchurch has been a bit of a relaxing time for us — sleep in, have a nice breakfast, see the sights. And it’s a good thing it’s a nice, mellow day, because we barely made it here.

Our last day at Hapuku Lodge was supposed to be capped off by catching a boat, going out to sea a bit, and swimming with the dolphins, followed by a nice drive down the coast to Christchurch, and an evening trying some of the meat pies1 they’re so famous for down here. And things looked good for just that schedule; the weather had beaten the predicted highs in the 60s, and we were breaking out the short-sleeved shirts. Then the weather rolled in. Mountaintops disappeared in mist and clouds, winds whipped at our treehouse overnight, and we awoke to a canceled dolphin swim — “gale-force winds offshore,” they said. Apparently not very odd weather for the area and the season, although I wish someone had told us that!

So, instead of the dolphin swim, we decided to take a bit of a detour inland to the Hanmer Hot Springs.

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Let’s face it, everyone could use some pampering! Little did we realize what a choice we’d made… we climbed up into the mountains, and the bad weather followed us. First, the rain was blinding. Then this strange, snowflake-shaped light lit up in the car’s instrument cluster — turns out that, in New Zealand, cars tell you when it’s about freezing outside. Then, true to the temperature, the rain turned to snow. Then the snow turned to pea-sized hail.

If all that wasn’t enough, the road steadily got smaller and smaller, shrinking to the smallest possible blacktop that could be called two-lane, with a sheer drop-off on one side, blind curve following hairpin turn, one-lane bridges hundreds of feet long, and… did I mention more hail? Even the kiwis didn’t know what to write on the warning sign:

We made it to Hanmer, only to discover that it wasn’t anything like the pictures they show — it’s a nice family place, sure, like the cafes at Disneyland are a nice family place.2 The changing rooms were the most durable and maintainable concrete, with no privacy; the pools, packed with families, were surrounded by concrete, not mountain plants; they didn’t serve lunch after 2 pm; and, let me tell you, 35° Celsius water is not that hot when there’s more of that pea-sized hail falling on your head and you’re trying to stay in there and keep warm.

But the worst injuries were self-inflicted, by me and on me. I’d left my bathing suit3 on the line in our backyard to dry after my last swim, and had just grabbed it, rolled it up, and packed it in a plastic bag for the trip. Perhaps I should’ve checked inside, because I brought an angry, angry4 guest with me, in that bathing suit. I went into the locker room, took off my clothes, put on my swim trunks, and felt a little sharp poke in my ass. “Oh dear,” I thought “I’ve picked up one of those sharp burrs that you find in my backyard.” So I tried to brush it away. Finding nothing, I tightened the swim trunks, and got a much more painful poke. Now I was confused. I shook out my bathing suit, adjusted it again, and got another, even more painful poke, so I took off the bathing suit to look inside; as it hit the floor around my ankles, what should I see inside but… a bee. Not one of the fat, fuzzy New Zealand bees, but one of the mean, skinny, hornet-looking bees that seem to so enjoy the flowers in my backyard. How it had survived being rolled up, packed in a plastic bag with all the air squeezed out, flown across the Pacific at 36,000 feet, bounced around a suitcase for 3 days, and then trucked up in near-freezing temperatures to finally be let loose in the changing room, but there it was, crawling around, until I smooshed it with my shoe. I briefly planned to look for first aid, but was too embarrassed that I’d managed to get stung 3 times in the ass by an American bee that I’d illegally imported into the freezing New Zealand Alps. Anyway, turns out that the 40-degree mineral pools must be good for bee stings on the ass, because I looked pretty civilized by the time a nice attendant set us up with a private steam room to enjoy for the last 30 minutes of our stay at Hanmer Springs. And then we drove back to Christchurch.

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Today was an about-Christchurch day, and we spent a lot of it shopping at all of the tourist destinations, because it’s way colder than we thought it would be. We both got lovely wool hats, and are thinking of getting the soft, surprisingly affordable sweaters that they make here from a Merino wool-possum blend.5 Despite the cold, we managed to have some real fun. First, we climbed up the bell tower of the Anglican Cathedral, which is rather surprisingly tall, has an extremely tight, narrow winding staircase headed up, and offers great views from the top:

Then we went punting(boat) down the Avon river, which runs through the middle of town. Named after the Avon river upon which sits the famous Stratford, home of the Bard, the Avon has the fastest current of any river down which one can punt.6 Anyway, we sat in a lovely flat-bottomed gondola while a nice man told us all about the city we were floating through. The sights were beautiful, the river serene, and the blankets they gave us for our laps quite welcome.

Tomorrow we drive to the other coast; don’t worry, I’ll tell you how that goes. However, I doubt that it’ll involve any bees. Or, hopefully, my ass. And maybe we’ll have more bandwidth — the only bad thing I have to say about the Hotel So is that the internet here is glacial — and I’ll be able to put up all the photos, in large size.

1 Remarkably, not a double entendre.

2 Which they are.

3 Swimming costume, in the local parlance.

4 And probably extremely illegal, given the strict import laws in New Zealand.

5 That’s right, possum. Turns out possums have soft fur! Anyway, this particular possum is an invasive pest that destroys the native wildlife, so the more they kill and make into sweaters, the better!

6 Or, more to the worry of the punter, up which one can punt.