Day 35 Arrive in South Island
Having lost an entire day of time crossing the Pacific, we are considerably fatigued when we step off our flight at Christchurch airport in early morning. It is with palpable relief for us (and probably the good people of South America) that we can go back to ordering coffees in English.
We are travelling under our own steam for nearly a month now, which gratifyingly entails no flying for a while. It does mean, however, that we have to get to grips with navigating by car, which provides the opportunity to have a good argument about the Sat Nav. After this has been settled (read: banked for later), we head south east to Little River.
We had the good fortune to holiday in this fantastic country a few years ago, and have chosen to return because we didn’t get to see as much as we felt we deserved. We passed through a good deal of the country's greatest hits last time, and this time had planned a more leisurely itinerary. The recent earthquake to the north has necessitated us changing our travel plans a bit (not to mention seriously hampering the unlucky folk in Kaikura who rightfully wouldn’t give a rat’s ass about our cancelled accommodation, given that they currently have warships bringing them supplies as their main road in has been cut off) but there’s a spirit of unknown joie de vivre about our next few weeks.
Giving a small taste of being back in the UK in December, the rain is shitting it down. We can barely see two cars ahead of us. We opt not to drive straight to Little River as our accommodation for the next two nights is a lone cabin in the hills, and we need a bit more stimulation to keep the jetlag at bay a spell longer. We drive to Akoroa, an easterly extremity halfway down the South Island.
It is unfathomably green after the dusty altitudes of Northern Chile. Having grown up in the South West of the UK, it is a startlingly familiar landscape. Aside from the enormous volcano we are driving around (have a look at Akoroa on a map, and look at the size of the volcano it sits in. It must have been a real flight-grounder when it erupted).
We understand we have a barbecue in our cabin, so find a butcher and meat up. Akoroa is a pleasant enough town, and by all accounts thrives in the summer (“You’ll need at least three days here!” says its website hopefully), with an interesting British/French no-we-got-here-first back catalogue. It has a lighthouse (I’m a real sucker for a good lighthouse), craft shops and homemade cheese aplenty, and apparently dolphins frolic in the bay here. However, the dispriting rain and impending travel-tiredness rather sucks any magic out of these prospects for us.
I pay an extraordinary amount for a beer because it has the initials “IPA” on it and I haven’t had one for 5 weeks. I know, whata wiener.
Afterwards, we find our cabin at the end of a 5km unsealed dirt road and it is delightful in every respect. Our hosts knock on the door and regrettably see us lying prostrate on the bed (clothed) after conceding victory to jetlag in early evening. They are a charming German and English couple who also fell in love with the country and have landed themselves enough land to found a small village on.
Sandra and Jody wish us well, and leave us to blacken our burgers and kebabs, overlooking a misty river. The IPA finishes the job the 16 hour time difference started, and we hit the sack about 8:30.
Day 36 Akoroa
In spite of the jet lag which usually has us up with the sun, we rest well. Sandra has left us a charming little breakfast outside - knitted hardboiled egg hats, their own honey, our first good cheese for 5 weeks (South America, while excelling in scenery, meat, wine and pudding, did not pull a world-class cheese out the bag while we were there), and jam in little pots. We chomp through it happily amidst another drizzly morning, while Jody and Sandra's sheep mooch around our small deck.
We head back to Akoroa to see if their tourist board have it right. (In torrential rain, one day is probably enough). After having a coffee on the waterfront, where it is so rainy even the ducks are grumpily sulking under trees, we decide to chalk this one up to a 'rest day'.
We load up on more meat, and this time more financially acceptable beer before driving along an eye-wateringly scenic route home around the summit of the afore-mentioned Miocene volcano. It's a cracking drive, all sheer drops, ocean views and shit-a-tractor-cutting-a-hedge emergency stops.
When we return to Little River, we stretch our legs on the hill-side trail opposite the cabin. It’s no Torres del Paine (taking 45 minutes) but it’s a pleasant stroll just below the clouds after the last few days of sedentary activity, and offers a neat view down the sodden hills.
We set fire to more meat on the deck and watch a lengthy dusk fall over the valley.