Saturday 27 August 2022

Back to South Island in 2022 (3): Christchurch & Akaora

Along the way from Tekapo to Fairlie, the snow got heavier as we ascended the mountain. That reminded me how I got the idea mapping Babylonia in Osu! with the first snow in 2012, maybe one also generates idea from such snow storm...? 

This is...New Zealand.

Truth be told it's very tiring to sit in a car for multiple hours though. When we though the road closure was off and drive to the stateway they closed the road again due to heavy snow. At least we were allow to go after another 1 hour or so, but that means we will be in the car for almost 5 hours before reaching our destination.


I still remember the days when I got awoke by quakes. Christchurch was a broken city back then, with functionality of CBD largely moved to suburbs. When I come back again few years later nothing much had changed: the city is still to be rebuilt especially the cathedral, and the city centre somehow became an area of art exhibition. 

This is no more when we came in 2022. The rebuilt is largely done and what was a ruined field in 2011 is now a brand new commercial area. You will find buildings with big accounting company names on it just like what you can find at Britomart Auckland. The tram is still running, but riding on a tram travelling through these commercial buildings is just like trams in any other big cities. Even worse, the commercial area here feels strange because there weren't many people around, inside buildings or on the streets. 

I can understand city centre being the most valuable piece of land for a city that commercial development would be nice, but it simply doesn't feel like Christchurch and to me it would be much better to fit more suitable elements -- historical marks or botanical stuffs -- in order to distinguish itself from others. I walked through city centre and I couldn't really find any attractions other than the park and the museum. Not even the Cathedral junction would I consider that as an attraction: it's not when you don't see trams passing there in 20 minutes and people aren't gathering at the shops along the tramline!

So what else can we do for another free day in Christchurch? It's always the two options: Lyttleton or Akaora, and the choice is pretty clear here.

We took the same connection bus to Akaora just as in 2014, but we didn't see any bus coming. Instead a minivan picked us up along with a driver and 4 passengers on board. It must be hard for them to strive with virtually no travelers coming. The driver even said she has another job during our free time!

Akaora is amazing as usual. Some may say that it's just another coastal vacation town even with the French influence (which is nowhere to be observed nowadays), you immediately feel the difference when you come. 

It's seaside versus lakefront.

Everything is so different: the lighthouse, the sea breeze, the habitat, the way the haven is constructed -- they showed that this is a seaport, and a seaport that carries the history of early settlement in New Zealand.

Walking along the driveway, I have to say that this is the least changed place among places I visited this time. Things looked just like 2014, or 1980, or perhaps earlier...with other tourist towns fiercely developing amid the covid, why are changes so rare here?

Is it because people are not visiting here anymore? When we walked along the driveway we only meet one or two people every few minutes. The restaurant was so empty that it only served 8 people including us during lunchtime but the same restaurant was so full that we couldn't walk-in last time in 2014. It is so hard so explain why Queenstown is full of visitors just as before while Akaora took a big hit...

As a transient traveler there wasn't much for me to do though, we had a nice meal, bought some nice fudges, took another walk on the other side of the driveway and called it a day.

There is just one thing that I missed: I showed the picture of a pebble beach to the driver and ask if she could take us there which should be somewhere between Christchurch and Akaora. There driver unfortunately said that she couldn't recognize where that was so she couldn't bring us there.

That is the Birdling's Flat.

Taken in 2014 as in my past diary.

The bays along the way to Akaora looks more like a sound with hills on both sides of the bay. Birdling's Flat distinguishes itself from other bays just does the opposite of that. It's long and flat coastal line means that you can see a coastline extending to infinity, facing the Pacific right away with just blue sea and pebbles in sight.

The flat stands as one of my top rated scenic spot among all my trip in the South Island, so it's such a pity that we missed that.

50 Bistro in The George serves some good food. The hotel is so nice and meets its high standard!

Ma Maison's affogato in Akaora. This is affogato of a bistro/café, but I have no idea what the blueberry sauce was for.


After all the bad weather we encountered in Queenstown and Tekapo, Christchurch serves as a nice and relaxing conclusion to our trip.

We missed so many things: originally I wanted to book a 5 day trip which also includes trip to the west coast like Greymouth then the Tranzalpine, but then the travel company doesn't run that anymore; we had both flight cruise cancelled; we couldn't stay overnight in Hermitage as it was fully booked; and we missed Mt John summit and the Birdling's Flat. On the other hand we also have some wonderful encounters, especially in Tekapo where we had the snow and had the couple that generously brought us out there.

This is the nature of travelling when what wasn't expected often become the most treasured part of your trip. I am sure I will remember this 2022 trip for a long time, just like the 2014 one.

Sunday 21 August 2022

Back to South Island in 2022 (2): Tekapo

Tekapo, home of the Church of the Good Shepherds and the Mt John Observatory, the place where you can experience NZ lakes and mountains within walking distance from a single village.

To me Tekapo means much more in trips to South Island. It's where me and my friends without GPS somehow used an abandoned tramping track along the lake to reach Astro café in 3 hours. It's where Kohan restaurant serves somewhat rare quality Japanese food in such small town. It's where I first tried affogato with liquor (in the good way).

This is where I have had so many good memories with. And naturally I have high expectation when I plan to visit there again. Again due to restriction in public transport I will only stay there for a single night. Ideally we would have arrived there at 12, a quick check-in and we should be able to reach Mt John summit at 2 and we can have a nice lunch there. 

Ideal plan stayed in the ideal plane and of course you won't expect that after the cancellation of the flight cruises and that you were already experiencing bad weather in Queenstown.

It was raining when we board the bus at 8. As if the cloud was chasing us, rain stops gradually as the bus progresses, but it started to rain again as soon as we stopped for breaks. The sky was full of grey clouds and stormy winds blowing when we took off at Tekapo. No rainfall yet, but we'd know we need to reach our hotel as soon as possible.

I was so confused when I got off the bus right in front of the supermarket which I had no idea where it was. I only realized that I lived at a hostel along the way to Mt John, so the only geography I knew about Tekapo is a straight road from the hostel to the main street. Everything else is new to me, including where I got dropped off this time. Of course it wasn't too tough for me to find the right direction with the help of GPS. The hotel I picked this time was a bit far away because I tried not to pick hotels with bad reputation in hygiene possibly due to the lack of staffs during covid.

The wind and rain just relentlessly grew stronger and stronger...and it finally turned into sleet then snow as the sky turned dark. We had no choice but to walk against the snow to the main street for some food. Kohan restaurant is closed due to extended renovation -- who knows if it's just an excuse not to open in winter? But we also found another familiar face, Ramen Tekapo -- I remember the "Thai and Japanese restaurant" board in the past but I wasn't so sure if it had the name ramen -- which is always a perfect choice in harsh winter. Ramen quality is basically what you would find in non-Asian countries, but their spicy miso ramen is more of a Thai spiciness than Japanese ones that you need to be careful.

Snow didn't stop when we return to the hotel, and it didn't stop overnight either. Just as in Nagano we woke up and found everything covered by think snow. 

Such experience is not something that you can easily ask for. I went to the same hot spring hotel in Nagano twice in winter twice, first with my friend then later with my family. The first time we were able to observe a green backyard in the first day then a white one in the next day. The second time nothing really happened that night. The staff told us that we visited on the coldest day of the year...but snow simply didn't arrive that night. 

Given how precious the snow could be, it is not the time to murmur about missing the chance to visit Astro café again. Instead it's time to explore the world covered by snow!

Lake and the Church, 2022 vs 2014.

At the end of the day we still need to think about realistic problems though...with heavy snow in particular the two passes that goes in and out of Tekapo, roads were closed and the bus was cancelled. We were very grateful that a couple also going to Christchurch were willing to take us there. Thanks a lot!

The sign of Tekapo changing has been apparent when I came last time, with constructions along the lake started as early as 2015. However the main street remained largely the same -- the shops, the restaurants and the views. This is what I concluded after reviewing old photos on google maps which overruled my incomplete memories.

I mentioned that it is not the most regrettable to not being able to visit Milford Sound and Mt Cook, but not being able to visit the summit of Mt John. However the snow had compensated it all. This is another piece of wonder added to my Tekapo collection.


Past entries on my 2014 and 2022 trips

Monday 15 August 2022

Back to South Island in 2022 (1): Queenstown

It has been 8 years since I last made a long visit to the South Island. You can find my dairies about my 2014 trip here:

I have long wanted to do that again but was blocked from doing so even before 2020 then we have covid...but now it's finally time to travel around. Things have definitely changed, but by how much?

In short, by a damn lot.

Since I have already wrote about those attractions before I want to concentrate on how I feel about the changes in these cities during the years. I hope you enjoy and perhaps will travel there some day :3.


It is always the same amazing mountainous view when you stepped down the plane at the Queenstown airport. These mountains are probably the least altered and that gave me the wrong feeling that the trip will be just the same as the one I had in 2014, which is quickly proven wrong though.

Another thing that stayed ever the same is the popularity of Fergburger. Last time I ordered at dusk and had to bring the burgers all the way back to the hostel, only to found that the burgers had already cooled. This time the hotel was much closer and this is one of the best burger I have had in some time. 

The birds clearly enjoy the burgers so much.

Oh I almost forgot about the bakery on the side. When I went there last time I only tried their Danishes (which is delicious for sure), but I knew nothing about pies other than those frozen ones sold in supermarkets. This time with proper knowledge handmade pies became a must-order for me whenever I come across bakeries making those. Fergbaker is no exception. They make really good pastry and the fillings are more of a watery style. Their pork belly & apple really tastes like baked pork belly with apples that you make at home, and the sauce is just the same as the gravy you would get. I am sure some would love these pies just like pies served in some popular bakeries in Auckland, but it's just not my cup of tea. 

Here comes the first major difference that I encountered during the trip: Intercity buses are running much less frequently. In particular the Queenstown - Tekapo - Christchurch route no longer runs daily. The Mt Cook route is suspended as well. It has became much harder to arrange trips using public transport in 2022 than in 2014. 

As a result I had to stay in Queenstown for 3 nights and I have no access to Mt Cook using public transport. So what can I do if I still want to pay a visit to Mt Cook? That is by private tours either on the land or in the air. Unfortunately the weather is bad around the travel date together with the fact that YHA Mt Cook closed and no hotels were available for our dates (even for the best rooms in the Hermitage!), I had no choice but to book a single day round trip flight cruise instead. But even that was cancelled due to bad weather. This is not something we can control, but after talking with my friends, it was not the most unfortunate thing during the trip to be unable to take the Milford sound cruise or visiting Mt Cook but something else -- perhaps you should know the answer already, but it would be clear in my next entry.

Oh well, but you still need to get something to do in Queenstown right? Otherwise staying in the hotel for 3 nights doing nothing is just like staying in isolation facilities/MIQ...

We visited the city centre and took the gondola + luge in day 1, but day 2 and 3 were unplanned because we would have taken the flight cruise should the weather be fine. Day 2 was windy but not rainy so we still decided to go out, but we met a sandstorm.

Yes, sandstorm.

One almost wondered immediately where did the sand come from. It turns out that it's the reconstruction of the city plus the construction near the gondola that contributed all the sand, the latter is much higher than city centre so the sand easily rolled down the slope. 

We still managed to reach Patagonia, the holy grail of Queenstown. This is the  reason we miss here so much over the years despite not being interested in all the water activates or parachuting. They have relocated since we last visited but still somewhere at the lakefront -- this could be more of a food problem for the birds and the ducks, but the Saturday market proved that the animals have more options other than just gelato.

Patagonia is now much bigger with two stories. They are also serving choc-coated ice creams as well as other in-house sweets. We had some great time in the second floor enjoying their affogato/gelato while watching staffs making chocolate live as well as enjoying the amazing lake view. I always have a kink to affogato -- it reflects the quality of the gelato made, the coffee brewed and the personality of the shop all in little container. The affogato of Patagonia is very thick with vanilla ice cream standing out even with a  strongly bitter expresso shot. This is clearly an affogato from a gelato maker.

Patagonia sweets served as our lunch. We did some shopping, took a short break in the hotel and very soon it's dinner time. I realized that most restaurants here tried to do high-end dining and they were so full during our trip that walk-ins at 6:00pm were impossible. Very strange, considering Queenstown should also be a popular place for all kind of travelers. Also it's mid-winter right? Are you telling me that those travelers are all wealthy skiers?

At the end we had dinner in the hotel on day 1, but we managed to book two good restaurants (at 5pm) for the other two days. It is still regretful that we failed to book one of the top Japanese restaurant located here. The two restaurants that we visited were definitely good and their standard matches the price. 

Mango panna cotta. People seems to be frenzy about the word panna cotta but the real highlight is the pistachio candy.

Day 3 weather in Queenstown turned worse and without any surprise I received the call that the flight cruise to Milford sound was also cancelled. It was raining so heavily that we just stayed in the hotel for some relaxing time till dinner. We enjoyed some great seafood just below the casino, which reminded me that my friends liked the pasta ($10) served by the casino-owned restaurant when we came last time. I can't tell if that restaurant's still around, but Queenstown definitely need more of these middle-priced restaurants.


Queenstown is undoubtedly the major travel city in New Zealand and it took a major hit during covid. Many backpacker hostel closed, leaving hotel rooms marked at extremely high prices with similar situation in the dining or shopping sector. The town kept developing to serve more high-end travelers with city renovation, building more tax free malls and luxury hotel/apartments. 

These developments were in line with the ministry's most recent controversial speech saying that NZ needs more "money carrying" travelers instead of backpackers. Is this the right future for Queenstown/NZ tourism? I can't tell. I enjoyed this city both in 2014 and in 2022, but perhaps it will be a different story in 2030.

The night of Queenstown, with someone playing Christmas in the 13th month in accordion.