The last day of the Contiki tour dawned in a spectacularly sunny fashion over Lake Ohau and our final journey on the hallowed Contiki coach of dreams was stunningly beautiful. We knew that this was the last time we would be together, all 53 of us, so we made the most of the few hours we had left to one another (yes I am going to try and make this post more dramatically sad than it was in real life). En route to Christchurch we stopped at Lake Pukaki and Lake Tekapo. Both lakes are wonderful examples of the postcard perfect New Zealand that visitors rave about – crystal clear blue waters surrounded by majestic mountains (the shores of Lake Pukaki actually offer great views of Mount Cook – the highest mountain in NZ). Whilst Lake Pukaki was just a small picture-opportunity pit stop, Lake Tekapo is actually a pretty well-known tourist destination. A bit like Wanaka, tourists and locals flock to Lake Tekapo in their droves to stay and partake in a number of activities – including scenic flights over Mackenzie County (which some of my tour group opted to do during our stop and said it was well worth the $400 they had to fork out for the privilege). Our two hour stop in Tekapo gave me the opportunity to wander round the lake and the surrounding town and soak up the sunshine with my tour huns. We also explored a visitor favourite at the lake – the Church of the Good Shepherd. The church is tiny and gorgeous, right on the shores of the Lake and is extremely popular with wedding parties. It’s so popular, in fact, that people all over the world (but mostly from Asia) get married at home, fly out with their wedding dress etc and take their wedding pictures in front of the church in the pretence that that was their wedding venue. Madness.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I loved every single second of my Contiki trip BUT when you’ve been sharing a room for over a week with 2 or 3 other people, finally getting your own hotel room with a big double bed feels like nirvana. Seriously, when we arrived back at the Ibis in Christchurch (about $150 a night FYI) and I got up to my room, I reveled in the luxury of undressing without trying to do so in stealth under a towel and the fact I could have a shower for as long as I damn well pleased without anyone calling ‘LUCY! HOW LONG ARE YOU GOING TO BE!?’ through the door and how I could just sit on my bed in absolute silence without having to talk to anyone. I spent a blissful couple of hours getting ready for our Contiki farewell meal, before I decided I’d had enough of solitude and invited Braden (who was also staying in the hotel) down for some pre-dinner drinks. My final few moments with the Contiki crew were spent in a very drunken haze at Christchurch’s Revival Garden Bar and the adjoining restaurant – Tequila Mockingbird. Luckily for me, Holly, Mitch and Braden were all sticking around in Christchurch until at least the following afternoon so I didn’t have to say any tearful goodbyes to them, so the night was all about getting as drunk as possible, having a good ol’ dance and giving the Contiki tour a right good send off. In true Lucy style, I invited Braden, Mitch and Sophie (Holly was otherwise engaged…) back to my hotel room for the after-party, and promptly fell asleep. I really party hard, me. Sadly, this impromptu narcolepsy meant that I was completely dead to the world when Sophie, who had also fallen asleep, left the hotel room to go back to her hostel to ensure she was in some kind of fit state for her morning flight out of Christchurch. I never got to say a proper goodbye to her but apparently she kissed my sleepy forehead and said goodbye to me so I feel slightly better about the whole situation.
The thing you have to remember when visiting Christchurch is that it’s essentially a broken city, recovering from the awful earthquake it suffered in 2011. Although it is one of New Zealand’s major cities, it is also somewhat of a building site. However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to keep a wandering traveller occupied, it’s just not as thriving or as busy as it once was. As I spent two days there, I’m going to break from my usual rambling waffle and give you a breakdown of how I chose to spend my time there (other than crying that the Contiki trip was over and luxuriating in a solo bedroom experience).
- Accommodation – After my initial night in the Ibis I stayed in the ‘Rendevous Hotel’ which was absolutely glorious (I believe it’s 4 stars), but also extremely pricey – my stay cost a grand total of $269. Ouch. There are loads of other hotels, motels and hostels in Christchurch and the surrounding areas, mine was just a last minute booking though so I had to fork out or be hotel-less.
- FOOD – I have capitalised this because food is life and, like most people, I love food. Christchurch did not disappoint on this front. The morning after our Contiki farewell night, the remaining stragglers headed for a glorious brunch at one of the many little cafes dotted around Christchurch (the name escapes me). The food was beautiful, the iced coffee came with ice cream in it, and we ate outside on a charming little street where the historic tram ride was going past (another activity you could partake in in Christchurch). Christchurch is famous for it’s brilliant coffee shops and cafes so I thoroughly recommend taking the time to sit and have a cup of java or a brunch in one. In the evening, Mitch and I ventured to what TripAdvisor describes as ‘the best restaurant in Christchurch’ – Saggio Di Vino. Saggio serves beautiful, artisan food and boasts an even better wine selection. I have to just add here – the food and drink is not cheap. I had to fork out $25 for a 100ml champagne cocktail, I kid you not. But as a holiday/trip treat night, Saggio is just one of those places you go to and you know you’re going to have a luxuriously decadent experience from start to finish. I had the best best evening there, one which I will never forget, and, believe me, when I think about the night I’m not remembering how much it cost, just how amazing it was. Well worth the trip.
- Activities – As mentioned in one of my first posts, just taking a wander around Christchurch is a good way to really get a feel for the city. From the destroyed cathedral to numerous memorials, signs of the earthquake’s devastation are everywhere. But, out of this devastation Christchurch is beginning to rebuild itself and one shining example of this is the Re:Start Mall. No trip to Christchurch should be complete without a visit to the Re:Start – a shopping experience made entirely out of shipping containers. Honestly, it’s the coolest thing. There’s shops, food vendors and even banks constructed from shipping containers. It was great to spend the afternoon there and see how the citizens of Christchurch have triumphed in the face of diversity by recycling and turning ugly containers into a beautiful shopping complex.
There’s not much to do in Christchurch and I would only really recommend staying there for a couple of days but no one should go to the South Island of New Zealand without paying it a visit. I wish I’d seen the city as it was before the earthquake but I am excited to go back there in 10 or so years and see how it has been redeveloped.
I said goodbye to the last of the Contiki lot a good couple of hours before being reunited with my brother – giving me just enough time for a coffee in the sun and time to reflect on the trip. I had absolutely no expectations before I went to NZ about what the Contiki trip would be like, I was only nervous that I wouldn’t make any friends or wouldn’t enjoy the activities or wouldn’t really fit in because (as we all know) I’m essentially middle aged at heart. Luckily, the Contiki tour proved to be one of the best things I have ever done. The whole experience was just a roller coaster of fun, laughter, adventure and, most importantly, friendship from start to finish. Whenever I think about the tour I can’t help but smile and, even though by the end I was a broken woman, I wouldn’t change a single thing about the experience. If you’re looking for an unforgettable journey I would urge you to book yourself onto a Contiki tour and to do it by yourself – I’m so glad I didn’t know anyone on the trip even if it was slightly daunting at first. So yeah, what are you waiting for? Go for it.
Cya next time,
P.S. If you’re sad my tales of tour life have ended and wish to relive the whole experience, please use the links below to access my previous posts!