CHRISTCHURCH, NEW ZEALAND — Time had slipped away, and we felt we shortchanged Christchurch.
But with another half day left, we did the logical thing and took our time in the morning.
After Karen left to babysit her granddaughter, we listened to a local radio talk show for a while with Rob. The host was talking about NBC anchor Matt Lauer’s purchase of a $13 million estate on Lake Wanaka and said Kiwis were “up in arms” about it. Lauer’s new estate is near Trump donor Peter Thiel’s estate, who likewise caused a stir when Kiwis found out he bought himself citizenship with a donation.
We reluctantly gathered up our scattered stuff and threw it in the car, donated our leftover camping food to the backpackers’ hostel two doors away and then went off to de Spa Chocolatier. Its chocolates are made by a Belgian who has 40 years’ experience and once supplied Belgian royals, so it sounded good.
The moment we stepped into the store, we knew our hunch was right. The sweet aroma of chocolate hung in the air, and a small cabinet showed off the beautiful creations. They all looked delicious, so in addition to a gift box for Karen and Rob, we got four for ourselves: raspberry cream, hazelnut caramel, Grand Marnier and kirsch ganache. They didn’t last long.
We dropped off the chocolates on our way to the botanical gardens, a place we had wanted to visit our first day. Driving through the city center, we noticed another clever adaptation to post-earthquake realities: the Coffee Container shop, in a shipping container, of course.
Parking near the Canterbury Museum, we used the meter to get rid of the large cache of coins we had accumulated. For once, we didn’t leave a country with loads of foreign currency: Between the chocolates and the meter, we were left with $2 for the rest of the day.
We spent some time admiring the peacock fountain, then headed for the rose garden. It was lovely, but our favorite section was New Zealand Icons. It held all of our favorites: silverfern, kauri, rimu, flax and beech, plus the flowers we’d been admiring along roadsides the last six weeks: agapanthus, crocosmia and torch lilies.
We also saw glowing pink resurrection lilies, which send up shoots in spring that die back and then, in late summer, a single sturdy stem bearing iridescent flowers. It’s the perfect symbol of Christchurch.
The New Zealand section also featured horopito, a bush that has leaves with a strong pepper taste when chewed, as we found out when our guide in Doubtful Sound brought a leaf for us to nibble on.
After about an hour in the park, it was time to make our way to the airport, via a New World Market to pick up lunch — a shared chicken-cranberry sammie and fruit — and pack everything into two bags for the plane.
We were a bit apprehensive about the airport experience, but there was no need: The desk attendant allowed us to send our bags with a little extra weight, and the security staff at the checkpoint was very nice and chipper, inquiring about our trip and joking around. Compared to the power-drunk TSA bulldogs, this was a really pleasant experience. We even got to keep our shoes on!
That pleasantness continued once we landed in Melbourne, with the immigration officer commenting on Torsten’s 700+ page programming book, which Torsten finally started to read after lugging it halfway around the world.
That was followed by a brief conversation, and the customs officer inspecting our form asked about our declaration that we had been in wilderness areas. Once we told him that our stuff was clean before going to New Zealand, we got the coveted green stamp and were good to go.
The rest was just typical traveling stuff: Buy tickets for the express bus into town, haul two 24kg (53lbs) bags a few blocks to the Hotel Alto and burrow in for the night. Beth went out to get beer and chips, but due to sleeplessness, Torsten preferred to just get some rest. There’s always tomorrow . . .