After a short and slightly dull stay in the Peel Forest so that people could ‘enjoy’ rafting on the Rangitata river, we had an early start (6.40am departure) to drive to Christchurch. Stray only stop at the airport, and don’t stay overnight in Christchurch (which is a shame, more on this in a separate blog post), so we arrived at Christchurch airport shortly after 9am. The reason for the early start is that the final destination for the day on the Stray Bus is Kaikoura, and they need to be in Kaikoura by midday for whale watching.
Anyway, Kaikoura is for another day. When we got to Christchurch airport, I gathered all my belongings (4 bags of varying sizes at this point) and found the car rental desk. After wincing at the $3,000 excess and paying for the rental, I got the keys for my wheels for the next couple of days – a 5 door Toyota Yaris (automatic).
It was clean when I got it – this is a picture from day 2.
My plan for day 1 was to head out to the Banks Peninsula, about 90 minutes southeast of Christchurch. A few people had mentioned that it was really pretty, and my Lonely Planet describes the scenic drive as ‘absurdly beautiful’. Sadly the weather was not good. The Banks Peninsula was formed by 2 volcanoes, and when I was driving along the top of the crater, I was driving in the clouds. I almost had to stop the car to figure out where the fog lights were!
Nevertheless, I ploughed on, and followed the scenic drive to several bays, including Pigeon Bay:
The car got very dirty when I decided to try to get to the Lighthouse, but after a slightly hairy drive down a dirt road, I chickened out about halfway to the lighthouse. It was raining quite hard, and the dirt road was turning very muddy. The poor little automatic was struggling so I figured it would be better to turnaround while I had the opportunity.
After that little escapade, I decided to head to Akaroa and find the hostel. This shouldn’t have been hard as Akaroa is basically one main road, but I drove straight past the hostel to start with!
Akaroa has a lot of French heritage (for example, the roads are all Rue…). I went to the little museum where there was a short video explaining how there came to be such a French connection here. After a short and cold stroll along the front, I bid a hasty retreat to the hostel. Akaroa seemed fairly sleepy, despite there being a cruise ship in the harbour.
The hostel I stayed at was the quietest one so far. I only saw 3 other people there, and had a dorm room all to myself.
I had an early night as I wanted to be off early in the morning as I had a lot of driving planned for day 2.
Obviously the weather in Akaroa was absolutely stunning the following day. As I drove out of the Banks Peninsula towards SH1 I stopped for a quick photo op:
My first destination on day 2 was (were?) the Moeraki Boulders which are 4 and a half hours’ drive from Akaroa (hence the early start). They are practically in Dunedin and it might have made slightly more sense to have visited them whilst I was in Dunedin, but nevermind. I enjoyed being back behind the wheel, even if the lack of acceleration in the automatic was annoying.
The Moeraki Boulders are surprisingly smooth, round stones on the beach at Moeraki:
After a nice walk on the beach among the boulders, and my picnic lunch, it was time to head to my next stop, about an hour back north from Moeraki. When I was in Dunedin, I met a German girl who recommended that I should go to the Elephant Rocks as well as the Moeraki Boulders. The Elephant Rocks are near Oamaru, but are inland. They aren’t particularly well signposted and as I was navigating purely by road signs, I was quite pleased to find them.
After this, it was a long drive back to Christchurch. I arrived at the hostel in Christchurch just after 7pm. It only took 3 drives around the block to find the entrance! Weirdly though I had been here before with G Adventures in November 2014. The place has had much-needed spruce up in the intervening period.
Over the 2 days, I covered about 850km. I really enjoy driving, and after almost 4 months of not driving, it was really nice to get back behind the wheel. I will definitely never buy an automatic though – I need to have more control over my speed!