As flagged in this earlier post, summer holiday travels always present an exciting challenge for car-free households, such as myself. I have just spent the last week travelling from Oakura Bay (Northland) to Castle Hill (Canterbury) and back again and wanted to share some specific experiences (good and bad) I have encountered along the way, as well as some general thoughts on travelling in New Zealand.
First stop Christchurch and what a pleasant surprise. There seems to have been a noticeable lift in the city’s energy levels since I was last there 6 months ago. Cashel Street’s pop-up shipping container mall seems so successful it looks certain to be retained post re-build. Lonely Planet recently named Christchurch as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2013.
My only word of advice for Christchurch would be to quietly drop the expensive stadium and convention centre from their re-build plans and replace them with more everyday “people oriented” activities. I suspect the city will derive more long-term value from more residential, commercial, retail activities, and/or recreational activities than grandiose and largely empty visitor facilities. But otherwise, I would like to issue a big “bravo” to Christchurch and all the people working hard to get the city back on its feet.
From Christchurch it was a quick car ride up to Castle Hill, which is a little hamlet located about 1.5 hours drive away in the Arthur’s Pass region of the Southern Alps. My visit to Castle Hill was prompted by my friends Tim and Nina, who decided to get married. The photo below shows the limestone towers of Castle Hill, which provided a stunning backdrop to the wedding ceremony itself.
Castle Hill’s karst limestone escarpments (while the area currently sits at an altitude of over 1,000m it was previously on the sea floor) create a natural maze through which one can easily spend several hours meandering and climbing.
Castle Hill’s only disappointment was the lack of pedestrian linkages between the Village itself and Castle Hill Reserve. As it stands, one must drive 3 minutes from the Village to access the Reserve, rather than walking across the adjacent river/farmland. Selwyn District Council and DoC would do well to work with the local farmer – in conjunction with the local community – to develop a pedestrian connection between the two. After all, for travelers such as myself short little car trips are not so easy.
After four days in Castle Hill I began my pilgrimage back to Oakura Bay in Northland. The trip involved a car ride, a flight, two bus trips, and then another car ride. But what a stunning time of the year to travel – the soft evening sunlight showcased the full range of New Zealand’s natural colours, from the parched yellows of Canterbury’s mountains to Northland’s verdant coasts.
The photo below shows a friend swimming in the so-called “Mermaid Pool” at Oakura Bay.
And with that my summer holiday travels are almost complete. I have to say that I have found travelling in New Zealand over the last week or so to be an absolute delight. The country is so well-suited to recreational travel – ever-changing and spectacular vistas emerge around almost every bend in the road. In the words of Fred Dagg, “we don’t know how lucky we are”.
Thankfully travelling around New Zealand also seems relatively easy and cheap. Competition between companies such as NakedBus and Intercity; Air New Zealand and Jetstar; and a variety of rental car companies seems to have kept prices in check while maintaining service levels. For example, the trip from Oakura Bay to Castle Hill and back cost me only $200, despite being in a relatively busy time of the year.
I’d like to finish this post by thanking all of the people who made 2012 such an exciting year for this blog. That’s not only all the other bloggers, who put in a lot of effort in their spare time, but also the numerous readers and commenters who kicked in with valuable additional insight and help round-off some of our rough edges. Despite the occasional disagreement I hope you have all enjoyed yourself; I know that all us bloggers certainly have.
Best wishes to you all and please travel safely.