adventures abroad, photography, travel, ups and downs

Akaroa to Christchurch (and back)

I hadn’t meant to take a tour to Christchurch. I certainly hadn’t planned to take a tour that was almost 2 hours, each way, by bus AND didn’t even include lunch. But apparently, that’s what I did.

Anchored at Akaroa (photo: aka gringita, 2014)
Anchored at Akaroa (photo: aka gringita, 2014)

Rough seas made the tenders across to Akaroa slow, so we were all running late by the time we got to the tour bus. Just as I got to mine, a gentleman tapped me on the shoulder, drawing me out of line. It was Alan. He’d been invited (“plus guest”) to a special Captain’s reception/lunch, and had remembered me from the emergency review on the first evening. (Apparently, there are not an overwhelming number of single ladies traveling solo on the ship.) He’d wanted to ask me if I’d like to join him, but needed to give them my name and cabin, and apparently “gringita, sailing solo, from New Jersey” was not enough information for the staff to release any more information on me.

Having set up the lunch date, he went on to explore Akaroa proper, while I boarded my bus.

Here’s what was apparently supposed to happen: we were supposed to get the tour started 30 minutes sooner, before weather hampered the tender process. We were supposed to be driven to Christchurch, to the Antarctic Centre, to explore the center, see the penguins, do all the fun stuff, have lunch in their cafe (our own cost), and then stop at the botanical gardens in Christchurch before driving back to the ship. And we were supposed to have 30 more minutes in port, post-tour, so we could peruse Akaroa albeit briefly. However, we also had an earlier than originally stated sailaway/departure scheduled, so we were expected to get back on board earlier as well — a point that I’m sure our driver was supposed to know before picking us up, whether in fact he did or not.

That’s a lot of supposed to’s, right?

The scenery en route to Christchurch – a long, winding road – was beautiful. But again — long and winding, and even with my sea-bands, I was feeling pretty awful by the time we got into Christchurch. In fact, to survive the trip, by the half-way point I was no longer seeing the scenery, but was instead trying to sleep off potential carsickness.

When I saw the signs for the botanical gardens, I started to be hopeful that we must be close to our destination. Then we drove through Christchurch (a city, complete with traffic & lights: stop.go.stop.go), getting an unofficial tour of the devastation from the earthquake.

The earthquake caused massive destruction and is a tragedy, not a tourist attraction.

(There was another tour that was to explore Christchurch proper. That wasn’t supposed to be this one.)

Finally, someone asked when we were getting to the Antarctic Centre — the answer was, “that’s far outside of town.”

Oh, dear Lord.  Next it was pointed out that we were supposed to be going there. “Indeed, you are. After the Botanical Gardens.” Eventually we got a weak apology for lack of clarity of the order of events, got to the Botanical Gardens and half-hearted instructions for where to find restrooms (in the museum in front of the gardens), where to find food, if we wanted any (in the cafe, top floor of the museum), and then to self-guide ourselves through the botanical gardens (all instructions given in a kind of generic gesturing of “museum and gardens are over there” kind of way).

And we could do all this in a window of up to 45 minutes, then be back to the bus.

Restroom (with requisite line) plus cafe order plus finding one’s way out of the museum = about half the allotted time.

So I saw the first section of the botanical garden, but didn’t dare wander too far from there.

In the Christchurch Botanical Garden. (photo: aka gringita, 2014)
In the Christchurch Botanical Garden. (photo: aka gringita, 2014)

We were all on time when the bus returned, and most if not all of us were disappointed with things so far, though with a few exceptions trying to make the most of a far-less-than-ideal situation.

Then, we got to the Antarctic Centre.

It was very cool. Bad pun totally intended.

First thing: a quick ride in a special vehicle designed to maneuver in antarctic conditions. It runs in subzero conditions, up and down steep embankments and on ice, can marginally float (we run through a "puddle" that should just flood us, but doesn't) and even maneuver over cravasses of up to 2 meters wide.  [If you watch "Live Below Zero" you might have seen vehicles like this.]
First super fun thing: a quick ride in a special vehicle designed to maneuver in tundra conditions. It runs in subzero temperatures, up and down steep embankments and on ice, can marginally float (we ran through a man-made mini-lake that “should have” just (but didn’t) flood us,) and will even maneuver over cravasses of up to 2 meters wide. [If you watch “Life Below Zero” you might have seen vehicles like this. Without these particular logos, of course.]
They bundle us up and put us in a room that's about 17 degrees Fahrenheit. And then they start the wind chill machine, and lower it to below 0.
Second super fun thing: They bundle us up and put us in a room that’s about 17 degrees Fahrenheit to represent a good day in Antarctica. And then they simulate an antarctic storm, by dimming the lights, starting the wind machine, and lowering the wind chill temp to below zero Fahrenheit. Granted, it’s not the most fashionable look, but I’m having fun!
Rescued: Little Blue Penguins (called "Fairy Penguins" in Australia)
Fourth super fun thing: Little Blue penguins (called “Fairy Penguins” in Australia) which have been rescued. (third super fun thing was a 4D penguin movie, not shown here)

Then they offered to sell us back pictures of ourselves for way too much money, some people checked out the gift shop, others hit the cafe (having seen the botanical gardens earlier, and thus missed out on food until now – I cannot even imagine having gone hungry literally all day and in any way enjoying my day (and to be fair, for the most part, they were not enjoying any aspect of this day as far as I could tell) – and then it was time to head back to the bus and the trek back to the ship.

Scenic shot back toward Akaroa (photo: aka gringita, 2014)
Pretty, and a brief respite from the bus. Scenic shot toward Akaroa and the Dawn Princess (photo: aka gringita, 2014).

Could the ride back really have been worse than the ride there? I thought so, and if you ask my seatmate, Kim, I’m sure she would resoundingly agree. She was positively green by the time we finally got back to the dock, just in time for the final scheduled tender back to the ship. Poor thing. I honestly was not sure she was going to make it back across without tossing her cookies.

Definitely some awesome things on this day, but in other respects, not the greatest vacation day ever. And it wasn’t quite over yet…

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