1. Auckland – Christchurch – Invercargill

Saturday, February 11: Sunny in Auckland & Christchurch, variable cloud around and fairly warm, high clouds in Invercargill

Randa’s ($50, airbnb)

For the final couple of hours I managed three episodes of Attenborough’s Planet Earth II. Nice pictures, but apart from the repetitious text to the point of being cliched, there was something worrying about Attenborough’s treatment of competition, which didn’t appear to be conceptually uniform. Nor was his use of contact clauses, by the way, with one or two being quite pithy and the remainder fell into the category of up with which I will not put.

Only really missed out on Mars, but not sure whether that would have been missing out on much. But it did occur to me that the Gemini story had led indirectly to massive improvements in civil aviation, if not civilian space travel or even space tourism.

In any case we were speeding towards our own conclusion. We landed in Auckland about twenty minutes early but that was nearly negated by the amount of time it took to get off the plane. I got through passport control (automatic) with no delay but my case took ages. I was subject to a superficial inspection of boots & then an x-ray of everything else. Repacked the suitcase successfully to have the suitcase weigh 23 kg and a satellite backpack weighing 7 kg to suit Air New Zealand, and was through to domestic transfers shortly before 6:00.

In doing so I had forgotten to get the stupid form from the duty free shop stamped. JR Duty Free couldn’t get my order together in time & promised to send it by courier – think I might just nix the whole thing. How difficult can it be to transfer three bottles of Bundy downstairs in a plastic bag.

On the other hand the flexi ticket worked as I had intended and I was rebooked to the 7:00 flight to Christchurch, followed by the 10:10 to Invercargill (instead of 8:00/10:10, giving me an hour and 40 minutes instead of just 40 minutes to meet Michael). Got Michael from Hire a Holden on the phone shortly afterwards and we agreed to meet around 8:45 at the Countdown carpark for me to collect the emergency equipment I am getting from him. Loaded up with some $300 of cash to see me through the day.

Despite inquiries couldn’t find a way of getting JR’s form stamped outside the customs area (but still have the boarding pass). In the domestic terminal (15 minutes walk) went through security (!) and logged on to the airport wifi to see if I could place a booking for the taxi transfer, but could only get it at the time of the original booking. Decided I would spontaneously take a taxi from the airport, since I now know that it would cost $23 via Air New Zealand.

The flight from Auckland was spectacular. Almost immediately the three peaks of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu were visible. Some fog hugged some of the valleys (but not others). We were obviously on a flight path to Taranaki (I could see part of the peak with some clouds blown by the wind stuck like cotton wool on the south side) and then over Cook Strait where the view over the Marlborough Sounds was enchanting, and then towards Nelson. I think I identified Pepin Island, furthermore the mountains around the Nelson Lakes & finally Kaikoura.

In Christchurch the plane emptied quickly and I was out at the supermarket in about ten minutes. Michael was about fifteen minutes late (which would have been a deal breaker on a 40-minute stopover, because the truly provincial flights do not suffer late passengers) and had no box with him this time, just the two devices (personal locator beacon [PLB], spot tracker) & a packet of batteries. However, I did get to pay him up front this time, and he was very pleased with his books.

Got some water from a fountain back at the airport and waited in the very small lounge with a view to the “gates” for the turbo props. Air New Zealand actually has a row 13 and I had gotten 13C; unfortunately 13D was taken, because the views on this flight of the Southern Alps were breathtaking. Instead I was given the option of taking the free pair of seats A/B, which only had limited views mainly of low clouds, but something of the Catlins, the drought dry hills of Otago, and the lush, green ones of Southland.

The planes were becoming smaller, the number of passengers fewer, the distances shorter. At the airport there were few (if any) taxis about, but a minibus from Executive Car Service which was taking any takers anywhere they wanted for a fixed price. In my case that would be $18, so together with one American couple & one woman we made a short tour of Invercargill, and just before 1:00 I was here.

Woke up the inhabitant, Gonsalo from Chile, a rugby player, who was waiting for me (there was also a key under the door mat), he showed me around the house & we chatted for a while. It was time for me to have a shower and to have a look around town for a couple of things. First of all, a pie (cheese mince, $4.5 from Booth’s Bakery, Gala St) which was eaten to the tune of bagpipers in the nearby park/war memorial. Then a pair of jandals for $15 from numberoneshoes, which I managed to track down after a bit, followed by a bottle of soft drink from Warehouse & some beer from Liquorland. There appear to be some shops along North Rd as well, but everything is a little different if the whole caboodle has to be done on foot.

After I had written the diary for a bit, Randa herself finally arrived and greeted me, followed by a longer discussion between her and Gonsalo of kitchen duties and meals for both today and tomorrow. With Randa receiving her two books and requesting a dedication, she left for her mother who is in a nursing home. I went out back along Dee St to Da Vinci’s Pizza, but their only “dine in” was not the menu but the pizza smorgasbord, which I didn’t think I was up to. So it was back to the closest Chinese takeaway for barbecue pork fried rice, small portion (!) for $8.5 (Golden Dragon Takeaways, 448A Dee St). Back here had the meal, Gonsalo turned up after having been disinvited from his friend’s place for the night, and we have both spent the evening on our computers. It is now becoming dark, and I will have to set everything up for tomorrow morning so that I can get to kayaking practice in time.

New Zealand was once again overwhelming. In a short moment of reflection while walking between the terminals in Auckland, to the warmth that even 22° can be in the sunshine, to the magnificent views today. I thought why not fly all of those people who want to see New Zealand in such a short time simply from north to south; it would certainly be cheaper and cost less time, and they would get to see the whole country.