Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The NZ Lowdown 1: Christchurch (Part I)

It was first stop Christchurch as we began our adventure on the South Island. We landed there mid morning on Sunday & found the shuttle service that I’d booked to take us to our hotel in the city center. The hotel was also kind enough to allow us to check in very early at no extra cost – great news for us after being in transit for over 24 hours. I have to admit too, that this was somewhat of a recurring theme throughout the vacation – almost everywhere that we traveled, we arrived earlier than the scheduled hotel check-in time, yet every single hotel allowed us into our room early (often many hours early, as in this case). This has never happened to me anywhere else - a very nice bonus.

Despite being tired, we decided to keep going as long as possible so we could “get in the zone”, as it were. So after checking in, we checked out some cracks in the hotel’s corridor walls (courtesy of last September’s 7.1 magnitude earthquake), showered, had coffee, & rested a while. M discovered cricket on Sky TV. “What a terribly boring game”, he announced, & returned to the news channel.

We soon headed out though, & wandered into Cathedral Square since this was just minutes walk from our hotel. Whether you wanted architecture, street performers, food trucks, coffee, restaurants, bars, tourist information, or just a chance to sit & enjoy the sunshine, it was all right there. Along with a huge digital countdown clock heralding the upcoming Rugby World Cup, which will be in NZ this September. 

"Chalice" - the city's 18 meter high sculpture to celebrate the new millennium. 

Christchurch Cathedral

After some food we strangely decided to head straight back to the airport region - namely to the Christchurch International Antarctic CentreI’ve always been fascinated by the Antarctic, so this was a wonderful place for me to while away the afternoon. They have some great exhibit areas in general, as well as video footage to enjoy. Their 4D movie of an Antarctic cruise was hilarious – my first 4D experience - beautiful scenery & footage of Antarctica, but be prepared to be splashed in your seat!

Their indoor polar room was an experience – it’s chilled to -5 degrees Celsius with additional cycles of an Antarctic storm to “enjoy” every 30 minutes, providing 40km/hr winds courtesy of their wind chill machine. So all in all you get to be blown away by temperatures that take you down to -18 degrees Celsius! That was quite something – they provide you with warm jackets & rubber overshoes, but it’s still frigid! I just can’t imagine enduring those conditions for any length of time.

I loved the motion blur on this photo when we got into the negative temperatures - so cold I couldn't even vaguely keep the camera still! M decided that maybe his pending relocation to upstate NY temperatures might not be so bad after all.

The centre's penguin mascot was all too keen to pose for photos - but at least he was a bit more at-home with the temperatures than the rest of us.

Taking a ride in their Hagglund all-terrain vehicle on their outdoor adventure course was something else too – this little video will more quickly demonstrate it better than I can describe it.

Hagglund vehicles outside the US Antarctic Program Building

We also saw their Little Blue Penguins & were lucky enough to catch their feeding time. I love penguins & these little guys were adorable to watch – they are the smallest of all penguins & only grow to about 13 inches tall, & weigh only a couple of pounds. They are predominantly found along the coasts of NZ & Australia & their surrounding islands. The little fellas here have all been rescued from the wild due to illness or disabilities that would prevent them surviving in their natural habitat.

Some Little Blue Penguins

Prior to our trip I’d read variable reports from other people about this center – many saying it wasn’t worth the admission fee of NZ$65 (about US$51 at the current exchange rate). In retrospect, I wonder if they were mostly folk who were expecting some kind of entertainment park, so their expectations were very different from reality. Maybe the place is best suited for someone who is interested in enhancing their learning about the continent, or using it as a learning tool for kids who are old enough to participate. Very young kids might be too young to really get anything more from the experience than just enjoying seeing the penguins. For me though, I found the place good value since I spent the entire afternoon there & thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

We left the center late afternoon & took a shuttle back to Cathedral Square. After some more food, we collected some goodies in the form of NZ wine & accompanying snacks to take back to the hotel. It didn’t take long for sleep to enter the agenda though. A small glass of wine & it was all over for the early evening.


Wife on the Roller Coaster said...

Sounds like an amazing trip. I'm jealous!

Nicky said...

Oh it was fabulous, I was very sad to have to come home.

Natalia said...

I never made it to the Antarctic Centre but it always amazed me how much NZed is affected by Antarctic weather. Most people outside NZed don't realize this and are surprised by how cold it can get there!

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