Next up was Kaikoura. Home of a whole ton of fur seals and a seal colony! But our plan was to head out on the Dolphin Encounter which involves swimming with dolphins. Dusky dolphins, to be precise! I didn’t take any photos of the day, but we got a whack of GoPro footage you’ll be seeing eventually. Sandra and I had various degrees of negative reactions to the motion of the ocean. The seas were rough. Well, technically the team at Dolphin Encounter classified the waters as “Moderate”. That didn’t stop us from having some stomach malfunctions. You’d expect that the seasickness feelings would dissipate once entering the water in the wetsuits. Nope. Toward the end of our excursion, Sandra was taking short breaks to remove the snorkel from her mouth and retch. I took things a step further and full-on puked in the water whilst bobbing around in my snorkelling gear. But the dolphins were awesome. We promise! There were a few dozen of them hanging out with us. Groups of five or six dolphins would flash by, and they’d be incredibly entertained if you made the effort to dive down into the (admittedly chilly) water. Awesome!
From Kaikoura we detoured into Hanmer Springs to check out the geothermal pools. You know -- just a quick rest and relaxation stop. I was a bit disappointed that the hottest pools were just “quite warm”. That’s not to say that I could sit in them for hours on end, but when I’m visiting magma-heated pools I expect them to have a “scald” option. We enjoyed ourselves, regardless.
From Hanmer Springs we continued in the direction of Akaroa and Christchurch. Akaroa is just a day trip drive out from Christchurch proper. It’s got a really neat history involving co-colonization from both the English and French. So there’s a French part of the town and an English part. And it’s a pretty tiny town, so it’s neat to see the division between the two. Streets change to “rues” and so on. Very fun! It was in Akaroa that we got a bit more acquainted with the damage caused by the earthquakes that hit the region in 2011. My naive self expected that things would be pretty much back to status quo in the area, but that’s definitely not the case. Two main factors were at play according to our discussions with the locals. The first is that aftershocks from the earthquake lasted for years after the big shake. So rebuilding was meaningless until things settled down. The other big obstacle was that insurance companies were completely tapped out: imagine the claims from an entire city being heavily damaged by an earthquake. Yikes. As a result, building codes have changed and now it’s not enough to simply repair or rebuild your structure -- you must also strengthen it to the new building codes to me more earthquake resistant. So that’s the other big problem. It makes a lot more sense now why Christchurch seems to be entirely under construction. You can’t really go anywhere in the city without encountering building equipment, shipping containers and scaffolding. In fact, we took a trip to the RE:Start Mall: a mall composed entirely of stores within shipping containers. It’s sort of a semi-permanent solution to keep city retail stores functioning amongst the chaos of construction. A very creative solution that seemed to be working quite well!
We’re now in Dunedin -- site of Sandra’s exchange back in 2007. I should mention that on the drive from Christchurch to Dunedin we stopped into Oamaru (the steampunk capital of New Zealand!) to visit, you guessed it, the Steampunk Headquarters. We showed up just before closing, but the owner was kind enough to let us run through the facility and check out the displays. All sorts of neat steampunk art and kinetic sculpture. A highlight was definitely our trip into “The Portal” -- a light show in a mirrored and colour LED-illuminated room that lasts several minutes. Pretty trip!
Here in Dunedin things have changed a little bit since we were here last, but we’re having fun visiting some of Sandra's old stomping haunts. A trip up to the summit of Mt. Cargill. A wander through the local shopping centres and pubs. Sandra’s nostalgia is on full power right now!
I’ve spent a bunch of time working on these photos, so I hope you enjoy them. Perhaps you’ll agree that New Zealand is a pretty stunning place, eh? Oh, and I’m listening to Christmas carols as I post this. ’Tis the season, right? Almost? I’m getting in the mood early.
Tomorrow we’re off on more adventures, culminating in our visit to Queenstown: the adventure capital of New Zealand. You’ll likely hear from us then!