Tuesday, February 19, 2013

NZ: free rental car, Mt. Hutt, Rakaia Gorge, Christchurch

I was planning an elaborate backpacking trip, but all bets were off as soon as I found out about the free rental cars.  In New Zealand, it seems that too many rental cars end up in the southern part of the country, and they need to get back up to the northern part of the country.  Soon after I had my car and was heading for Christchurch:

No, that's not right - soon after I was heading for Christchurch in my Fairlady Z:

That's not true either - actually it was a nondescript Toyota Corolla hatchback:

I had a free tank of gas, 900 kilometers allowed, and had to have it in Christchurch in two days.  What to do?  (more photos here)  I thought about hiking the Mt. Somers Track, but it was raining and passed it by:

I randomly found the incredible Rakaia Gorge, which creates its own weather - it was raining all around, but dry down by the river.  I called it a night and camped.  It's a little club campground in an absolutely beautiful setting - this site calls it one of the best kept secrets in Canterbury, and I'd agree (although I have a whole two days of experience in Canterbury, so what do I know?):

The next day I drove up to Mt. Hutt.  The mountains go straight up from the Canterbury plains, and driving the road is like taking off in an airplane:

I hiked up to the top of the ski area, and then over to the North Peak:

And took some photos of cushion plants for Catherine:

On the North Peak:

Catherine said that she never expected to see a photo like that from New Zealand.  A common sport here is trying to figure out what other places NZ resembles - the correct answer is there is no place like NZ.

Looking down at the Rakaia River and up towards Lake Coleridge:

I'm still not used to alpine parrots:

Looking across to the Southern Alps:

Back on the road in Darfield:

Then it was down into Christchurch and the earthquake reconstruction:


There's a lot of tearing down still:

But some problems as well, with graffiti and break-ins:

And a lot of new construction, a lot of which looks a lot like what's being built in Denver:

Christchurch is big and crowded, and I gave up driving in lieu of just walking around to see what was going on.  It has a boomtown feel.  I ended up staying at a caravan park near the airport where a lot of people were living and working construction and driving jobs.  Someone arrived at 1:30 AM to set up camp, and at dawn guys were heading off to work.  I dropped off the car at the airport, where there were too many very nicely dressed men of a certain type, all here looking to make a certain kind of money.  Interesting, and I have no idea where it goes - bubble or long-term prosperity or other?

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