April 30th, 2012 – Christchurch

We’re in New Zealand! It took some getting here – we arrived at the airport in Bali for our midnight flight to Melbourne (from where we were flying on to Christchurch), to be greeted by the Departures board showing 23.50 – Melbourne – CANCELLED. So we stood in a queue with lots of Melbournites while seven or eight Jetstar reps tried to use one computer to re-route everyone! We were sorted out easily enough, with a flight to Sydney connecting to a flight to Auckland which would connect us to a flight to Christchurch… that arrived ten minutes after our previously scheduled Melbourne flight would have, so that was OK!

While we were at the desk, a young Canadian girl came up to the desk to ask what she should do about her departure tax – no one had told her you have to pay 150,000 Rupiah (about £10) to leave Indonesia, and she had no cash left, and no ATM card, and no one at the airport took credit cards – she asked the guy at the desk what she should do, and he said ‘you’ll have to ask the other passengers if anyone can give you money!’ Shame – she was very upset, and looked totally bewildered by the whole thing. We stepped in and gave her the money, so she was OK, but what a ridiculous system! I had remembered it from previous trips, but it really does catch people out when they demand cash at the last minute (and only in Rupiah, they won’t accept other currencies).

Anyway, we then spent a lot of time on planes and in airports, and eventually arrived in Christchurch which was a totally pleasant experience – even though we had a very bumpy descent (Chris insists he has nail marks in his knee from where I was gripping every time the plane dropped!) Everyone in NZ is so friendly, even the Customs guys at the airports were totally good-natured as they took our hiking boots off to have the mud cleaned off them (can’t be too careful about Glastonbury mud germs!) We jumped on a shuttle bus which took us straight to our hostel, which is lovely – very relaxed and friendly, rooms off a pretty garden courtyard, and nice big communal kitchen and lounge where we’re now sitting. We had a chat with the girl on reception and told her we’re planning to buy a campervan, and she pointed out the pile of ‘For Sale’ fliers on the notice board, so we spent a bit of time last night leafing through those – there are loads of people selling at the moment, it’s the end of the summer and the backpackers are leaving in droves, and Christchurch is often peoples’ last stop.

We got showered and changed, and went out for a walk till we found a restaurant – lovely place, like a nice country pub, with a jukebox and great food. We had a bottle of wine and venison bangers and mash, and sat flicking through our Lonely Planet together and starting to make a bit of a list of where we want to go! We’ve decided on a vague plan for a loop round the South Island, and now we’re just going to sit down each night and decide where to go the next day.

Today we got up early, and divided our efforts – I went to the lounge, registered for a day’s WiFi access and started trawling Gumtree, Autotrader and various backpackers’ websites for vans for sale, while Chris went to organise a hire car for a couple of days so we could drive round to look for vans! He went to reception to ask about car rental, and was overheard by an English guy who told him he’d just dropped off a rental car that he’d had for $25 a day (it’s about 2 to 1 to the pound, roughly, so that’s about £13) and told Chris which bus to get to find the rental place. Chris got chatting to him and found out he was leaving NZ today, so asked him if we could have his Pay-As-You-Go SIM card – so we’re now sorted with an NZ mobile number, as well. Chris went off to get the car, and by the time he got back I had a long list of prospects, including the address of a backpackers’ car market. Chris said he’d seen a few places near the car rental place that were selling ex-hire campervans, so we decided to go and have a look, via the backpackers’ market.

When we got there, there were 50 or so cars and campervans parked in and around the building, and we had sales pitches from a French guy who was selling his van, and two girls who were selling theirs – we also wandered around and looked at lots of others, and were sure we’d be able to get something reasonable for around $4000. They were generally Toyota Hi-Ace type sleeper vans, with a double mattress and a few plastic boxes of camping gear – the nicest ones could convert the bed into a table to give you somewhere to sit. They were cramped, but we thought we’d get used to it easily enough! We decided to go and have a look at the ex-rentals before we decided.

We got to one of the rental places and got chatting to the guy who was showing us the vans for sale, for around $8000. They were much nicer than backpacker ones – Hi-Tops, where you can stand up inside them, with a fixed sink and gas stove and fridge, big seats and a table that convert into the bed, and loads of storage space in the roof. We told him our plan was to buy, and sell in Auckland, and that we were here for a month, and he thought about it and worked out some numbers, and then said ‘To be honest, guys, I think you’d be better off renting’ – he told us their prices have just dropped massively because it’s going into winter, and he could do us a newer version of the van for sale, with insurance, AA cover etc, for $27 a day. And it would mean we don’t have to worry about selling – we can just drop it off in Auckland the day before we leave.

So, we wandered off to think about it, and dropped into another few campervan hire places to ask about prices – one was much more expensive, one was slightly cheaper but had really old vans, one was cheaper for the basic hire but totally chaotic and charged all sorts of bizarre extras (‘Oh, you’re going to want bedding? Yep, that’s an additional charge. Oh, and chairs. And gas cylinders.’) so we decided to go back to the original guy and book it!

So, we’re picking up our hire campervan tomorrow, for a grand total of $881 (just under £500) for the month, including an inverter to power our phone chargers and laptop and things off the van battery, and we’re also getting a WiFi router with a 2GB limit for the month, so we can get Internet wherever we are. We’re totally chuffed with that, as we were expecting anyway that we would make a bit of a loss when we sold the campervan we’d bought, and we would also have had to pay our own insurance, registration and AA cover, so we think this probably works out even cheaper than buying a van! And it’s going to mean living in such luxury compared to the backpacker vans we looked at – it’s really brilliant, we’ll take some photos of it and post them when we can!

All of which means… we’ll be in the campervan tomorrow night! We’re going to spend tomorrow in the hire car, driving around the Banks Peninsula which is meant to be spectacular, and then come back in the afternoon to pick up the camper. We’ll probably stay in a campsite near Christchurch tomorrow night, and decide where we’re going to head the next day!

We’ve enjoyed driving around Christchurch today – it’s still very much affected by earthquake damage and much of the city centre is enclosed in the ‘Red Zone’ where they’re still demolishing unsafe buildings, and you can see rebuilding and strengthening work going on everywhere else – the whole city is a building site. But it’s a lovely, relaxed place with some beautiful views and lovely old buildings (many covered in scaffolding at the moment!), and the river Avon meandering through it. We’re looking forward to exploring it a bit more tomorrow, as well as going for a drive around the peninsula.

In non-travel-related news, Chris has just checked our bank account and we’ve received our first rent payment for the new house – very exciting! It’s so nice to know that it was finished and rented out before we left.

Next post will be from the campervan!

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