***This is the first in a series of posts about our recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand. We spent 8 days driving around the lower half of the island, and we're already dreaming of going back! I know a few readers are planning similar trips in the near future, so I'll go ahead and include maps that highlight exactly what ground was covered in each post.
Christchurch to Castle Hill:
Our flight to Christchurch left at a little after midnight, which is potentially the worst departure time ever, but we bought our tickets on a Jetstar sale. Beggars can't be choosers, I guess! Jetstar is basically a half step up (on a good day) from Tiger, which is very likely the lowest-budget airline in the world. Luckily, aside from the fact that we weren't given complimentary water (seriously?!), we had no delays and arrived on time a little before 6am. The flight was a short three-ish hours, but we lost two hours due to the time difference.
We knew our first day was going to be a bit of a struggle, mainly for Peter as he did all the driving and neither of us did much sleeping on the plane. We wanted to get on the road right away so that we had plenty of time to reach our final destination of the day, the Franz Josef Glacier, before dark. Christchurch is a cute little city, but it suffered a devastating earthquake a few years back and from what I've heard it ever fully recovered, so we didn't spend much time there.
We picked up our car, made a quick stop at McDonald's for a much-needed coffee, and were on our way out of the city. Fun fact: I randomly started drinking coffee a few months ago after years of hating it, and now I'm hooked. I think I'm finally successfully adulting.
New Zealand is home to the cleanest McDonald's in the world. I know that's faint praise, but this place was spotless. I thought the sign on the door was kind of funny; I've never thought of McDonald's as the type of place where I'd go barefoot.
We decided against using any data on our phones to avoid owing our life savings in roaming charges, so we were left with no other option but to use a map. Honestly, I don't think I've ever actually relied on a map to get anywhere in my life. Even in my early driving days, I would MapQuest a destination and then print out directions. How did anyone get anywhere before the internet?? Needless to say, I struggled a bit and I'm embarrassed to admit that at one point, I instinctively put my fingers on the map and tried to zoom in. So ya, that didn't work.
Peter chugging his first of many coffees in preparation for a full day of driving.
I expected New Zealand to be scenic, but was blown away by the amazing views even just driving down the main roads. This picture was taken with my iPhone through the car window, so it's not the best quality in the world, but even so the colors are absolutely gorgeous.
There were SO MANY sheep in New Zealand. They're everywhere. I think there's something like 50 million sheep and 4 million people in the country, so they could really stage a takeover if they were smart enough. Speaking of, I learned that sheep are insanely stupid. We almost hit a few that were grazing dangerously close to the road and apparently have no instinct to jump out of the way. They're cute, though, and I decided as we were driving by all these farms that my ultimate life goal is to become a shepherd.
Alright, enough of the iPhone pictures through the car window! One of Peter's goals on this trip was to scout out some Lord of the Rings filming sites. We looked into doing a tour, but most of them were what can only be described as hardcore super-fan tours that lasted for weeks and included weird reenactment-type activities. I've never seen the movies and Peter isn't quite a reenactment level fan, so we passed on the tour idea. We googled a few locations before we left and on the rare occasions we received WiFi during our trip and were fairly successful on the whole. Our first stop was a conservation area called Castle Hill that consisted of a bunch of large boulders. I'm not sure if this was an exact, official LOTR filming site, but close enough, right?
Peter blazing a trail.