Our last stop in the South Island!
On the road north to Christchurch from Dunedin, there’s a small town called Rakaia that’s hard to miss, due to the (much) larger-than-life fiberglass salmon that sits roadside. Just next to it is a large building with a larger sign screaming “Salmon World,” so we actually made a u-turn to check out this peculiar place. Unfortunately Salmon World was closed, but we settled for a bite at the cafe – salmon fish & chips and a salmon quiche (so many omega-3s). We then proceeded just down the road to drive over the longest road bridge in New Zealand. What a day!
Our first accommodation in the area was a small country cottage nestled in the Kaituna Valley on the Banks Peninsula. Although only 40 minutes east of Christchurch center, the area is pretty rural, so much so that we almost couldn’t get through to our Airbnb due to a small fire on the single road to the cottage. Parts of New Zealand are very dry this time of year so fires are not uncommon. There weren’t very many cars on the side road of the cottage itself, but we often had to stop for a few sheep that had escaped from the paddocks.
We made a quick trip out to Akaroa on the tip of the bays, a charming French town on the site of an ancient volcano. The colonial architecture and quaint streets were certainly different from other towns we’ve seen.
Next we headed further up north to Kaikoura, a seaside town in an area which suffered a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in late 2016. With highway access recently restored from the north, and summer holidays in full swing, the town seemed to be bustling with activity.
We had to hunt around a few shops to find the famous fresh crayfish that Kaikoura is known for. It turns out that they have been limited in recent weeks due to poor weather conditions for catching. We finally found it at a small seaside truck, serving it simply grilled with salad and rice. This was certainly a better preparation for more depth of flavors than the simple steamed version we had at the Sydney Fish Market, although we both still prefer the buttery taste of Maine lobster…
The New Zealand sun continues to beam down this summer, so we opted for a short walk up to the Point Kean viewpoint. Luckily we visited at low tide and could see the mass of exposed land below. The turquoise water on sunny days always makes for a great photo.
Finally we drove back down to Christchurch, officially our last stop in the South Island. We ventured out for a sushi dinner at Kinji Japanese Restaurant and were almost turned away for not having reservations. This was the first restaurant we’ve visited in New Zealand where reservations were so essential, since the people-to-restaurant ratio is always relatively low. Luckily they did manage to squeeze us in at the bar and we had sushi that were as good as what we ate in Japan. We even dare to say that the takoyaki was better than the street food in Osaka and Kyoto!
The Christchurch area is quite unlucky with earthquakes, the most recent devastating one being a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2011. The city is still visibly recovering from the damage. Many parts of city center are flattened, damaged buildings, or undergoing rebuilding. One of the solutions the city found was to create a mall out of multiple shipping containers to house shops, much like the trendy container homes you see on HGTV, allowing for a much quicker return of retail to the city.
New Zealand sits on the fault lines between the Australian Plate and Pacific Plate, making it susceptible to earthquakes. However, it wasn’t until we arrived in Christchurch that we felt any trembling ourselves despite having spent six months in the country. Over the span of just a week in Christchurch, we felt at least three earthquakes.
Recent earthquakes also severely damaged the Christchurch Cathedral, a landmark and historical stone building. The church then built the “Cardboard Cathedral” as a temporary gathering place. Despite its name and Google Map’s description of it as constructed from cardboard, the outer structure is actually composed of polycarbonate and shipping containers. The architect had meant for cardboard to be a structural part of the building but could not obtain strong enough cardboard to make that a reality.
New Regent St is a little gem in the CBD, with pastel Spanish Mission-style buildings and accessibility only by foot or tram. We visited the popular The Last Word whisky and cocktail bar for a quick drink and snapped this photo of the tram before being honked at to get out of the way.
Thanks for following along on our highlights of New Zealand! Next we’ll sum up our South Island road trip, and try to offer a few pieces of advice on those looking to travel to New Zealand or head off on a working holiday.