Purgatory (our new name for New Zealand)

28 Aug

OK, so I’m finally feeling emotionally prepared enough to write my final elective blog, covering the total failure of our holiday to New Zealand.

14th-17th August – Christchurch

On Sunday the 14th of August, myself and Dave headed to Sydney airport bright and early to catch our flight to Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand. The plan was to spend a night in Christchurch then pick up our campervan  for an epic two-week road trip up to Auckland, where we would catch our flight home.

Our planned route around New Zealand (click to enlarge)

We were extremely excited about this trip and had spent weeks sorting out where to go and what to do. It had been planned in minute detail and we had paid for everything in advance (except petrol and food) to ensure minimal hassle while we were there. Suffice to say we were really looking forward to getting started on our post-elective adventure.

I spent a good half hour buying pretty pictures from a shop at the airport (Dave once again became frustrated with how long it takes me to choose things) before getting on the plane. To pass the time I watched Black Swan which was THE BEST FILM I have seen in a very long time (you should all watch it, preferably immediately). Anyway, after a couple of hours we began to notice spectacular aerial views of New Zealand appearing out of our window – it all looked very pretty and Lord of the Ringsy, and added a great deal to our excitement:

New Zealand from the sky - looking good so far...

The pilot mentioned the possibility of snow in Christchurch just before we landed, but the implications of this didn’t really sink in at the time as we were too excited about arriving in a brand new country. We got through the excessively strict New Zealand customs without any problems and escaped into the bracing icy cold of a Christchurch winter evening, which was strangely pleasant after two months of incessant warmth. We caught the shuttle bus to Canterbury House hostel in town, which was a lovely little place with very friendly owners: a couple called Alan and Keiko. The drive to the hostel was a bit depressing and/or scary as we saw a large number of buildings that had either collapsed or been severely damaged by the earthquakes in February: it made me feel lucky to live in dear old England with its exceptionally low rates of natural disasters. Anyway, after a trip to the shop and a feast of baked beans and macaroni cheese, we went to bed.

Unfortunately, when we woke up the next morning Christchurch – and most of the South Island, and a large proportion of the North Island – looked like this:

Christchurch in the snow

Christchurch in the snow

Turns out the potential for a “bit of snow” mentioned by the pilot on our flight was in fact a horrendous polar blast the likes of which hadn’t been seen for at least 40 years. Our flight from Sydney the previous evening had been one of the last ones to be allowed to land before the airport was closed. There had been about a foot of snow overnight, and there was absolutely no chance of picking up the campervan as the roads were impassable and none of the people at the campervan company could actually get to work to give us the keys!

We reluctantly booked another night in the hostel and went on a trip to the supermarket to obtain foods. The supermarket was a good 20 minute walk from the hostel, and on the way we saw a few other examples of the earthquake’s legacy; including more wrecked houses and churches, Portaloos lining residential streets because the sewerage systems had been destroyed, huge numbers of blocked drains and lots of bumps and cracks in the road. There were ridiculous piles of snow everywhere from the clearing of car parks and main roads:

Stupid amounts of snow

At the shop we bought some New Zealand lamb (which definitely lived up to its reputation) and some sweeties to cheer ourselves up, and waded back through the snow to the hostel, where we hunkered down under many blankets with our books and waited to see what tomorrow would bring.

Unfortunately, the next day brought news of another 8 inches of snow and even more chaos on the roads. The supermarkets were having trouble getting deliveries of a few basic supplies; as usual this had been massively hyped up by the news channels and as a result people were starting to panic buy things. A call to the campervan company unsurprisingly revealed that it still wasn’t feasible to pick up the van, so we were stuck in Christchurch for another day and were obliged to book another night in the hostel.

We went to the shop again in an attempt to get more food and also stop ourselves from going completely insane in the hostel. By this point we were starting to get a bit fed up. OK, truth be told we were totally miserable. However, one thing that did cheer us up on the way to the shops was this excellent letterbox sign:

I am getting one of these for my front door

There was bugger all to do in Christchurch as everything was either closed or inaccessible (due to the snow) or gone (due to the earthquake). The rest of the South Island looked just as bad in terms of snow disruption, unless you had come for a skiing holiday, in which case it was an excellent result. We settled ourselves in the hostel for another day spent wrapped up in blankets reading and napping to pass the time, and tried not to get any more upset about things.

The next day there had been no more snow (hooray!) but it had started to rain, which due to the freezing temperatures was resulting in massive amounts of ice on the roads alongside the piles of as yet unmelted snow. The campervan lady still wasn’t too keen on us picking up the van in these conditions – and neither was I, seen as I’ve never driven anything bigger than a Vauxhall Corsa and would have no clue how to handle a campervan in the snow – so we decided just to cancel everything and try to get home somehow rather than carry on flogging what was essentially a dead holiday in such an undignified and depressing manner.

17th-18th August – getting home

We arrived at Christchurch Airport (which was at least open and operating, thank Christ) in the late morning ready to get down on our knees and BEG for a flight out of there. Thankfully this wasn’t necessary as Air New Zealand operate an excellent standby fares service, so within the hour we found ourselves on a flight to Auckland having spent less than 30 quid.

Once in Auckland we prepared ourselves for round two of begging, this time for the chance to change our flights to Heathrow to the soonest possible alternatives. However, once again we were pleasantly surprised, as the lovely man at the Air New Zealand desk had a quick look at his computer and said, “Yeah, sure, you can go tonight if you want?” I was pretty amazed at our luck, and even more amazed that we didn’t have to pay anything to change our tickets! Ah, the joys of opportune coincidence 🙂

And so began our 9-hour wait at Auckland Aiport for our flights home. We cheered ourselves up by spending all our remaining New Zealand dollars on things of various natures: pretty pictures (me again), salt and pepper pots made out of 45000-year-old wood (Dave), sickeningly enormous piles of ice cream (both of us), gin (Dave) and a few other things that I forget now. By about the 6-hour mark we had both started to go a bit insane and I may or may not have had an uncontrollable laughing-crying fit in the airport in front of lots of Chinese people.

I slept for pretty much the whole first leg of the flight, and we spent a joyless 90 minutes wandering around Hong Kong Airport, which smelled of poo. I spent most of the second flight repeatedly watching Black Swan (yes, it’s that awesome) and feeling apoplectic with rage that a 12 hour journey could take so long to pass.

Eventually we arrived in the very bowels of hell itself – yes, Heathrow Airport. On the Heathrow Express back into the city I was appalled by the fact that literally everyone on the train except me and Dave was staring at their iPhone/Blackberry/equivalent life-occupying piece of technology, even the people who were clearly travelling together! No-one said ONE WORD to anybody else the whole way to Paddington: London is fucking awful. It was pissing it down with rain and a stereotypically miserable English day, which didn’t help matters, although after travelling for two days solid I was sorely tempted to stand in the rain just to get a wash.

After getting the tube (ugh, give me the Metro any day) to King’s Cross we were obliged to spend 90 POUNDS EACH on a train back to Doncaster. By this point we were too tired to feel the appropriate amount of outrage at this degree of expense, however looking back on it now I’m pretty disgusted that a last-minute 150 mile train journey in the UK cost three times as much as a last-minute 500 mile flight in New Zealand. Cameron and Clegg: our trains are a disgrace, get it sorted.

So now we are embroiled in the anticipated stressful altercations with our travel insurance company. I hope we can get our money back. I had planned to end this post with an amusing derogatory picture about New Zealand, but unsurprisingly it’s so rubbish that there aren’t even any good jokes about it. One day I hope I’ll feel ready to give it another go, as it does sound like an incredible place to visit. However, for at least the next 10 years I expect the bitter aftertaste of this experience will prevent any return trips from happening. Bollocks to you, New Zealand.

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