Tasmania & New Zealand 2014 travel blog

Women's restroom at Antarctic Centre, Christchurch

Haggland Ride at Antarctic Centre

Shirley in Snow Room at Antarctic Centre

Penguin swimming

Maori carving at Christchurch Museum

Kids on Guns, by Banksy

Fountain at Christchurch Botanical Garden

Paua shell room (panorama of room)

Our first day in New Zealand began at the Antarctic Centre, where we got a late breakfast (bacon, egg, and cheese tarts).

Then we took a ride in a Haggland, a tracked vehicle designed in Sweden and used in Antarctica. It seems to go anywhere—up and down very steep hills, across crevasses (at least narrow ones), and through a meter of water. The vehicle itself carries 4-6 people, and it tows a trailer that will hold 10-12 (or equivalent cargo). We were in the trailer. Visibility wasn’t great (our backs were to the windows), and we were glad we had straps to hang onto. That was one rough ride! It was about 10 minutes, but it gave a good sense of what it would be like.

The exhibits in the Antarctic Centre were good, too. There were exhibits about the early explorers and their gear, etc. There was also an Antarctic storm room. Everyone had to put overshoes on (to keep the snow clean), and we were issued parkas (but not gloves!). Inside the room there was snow on the ground, and an igloo and an ice slide, also a snowmobile, a giant thermometer showing -8C or +17.6F, and a wind machine you could turn on by pushing a button while you stood in front of a fan. You could tell many of the people there had rarely if ever seen snow or been that cold. Then it was time for the storm. There were dire announcements over the loudspeaker, then it got darker and there was a lot of wind noise, and then the wind actually started blowing. I don’t think the actual temperature went down (the thermometer turned off), but there was a display with the wind speed and the wind chill factor. I think the wind speed got up to about 30 mph, and the wind chill went down to about -1 F. We felt we were back home in Clinton, but it was fun.

They also had an exhibit of little blue penguins, all of whom had been injured or disabled somehow. They would not have survived in the wild, but they were fine there, and you could watch them both above and below water and in burrows.

The tour of the museum ended with a large screen HD movie of aerial shots of Antarctic landscapes, set to music, without narration. Antarctica has really astonishing landscapes, that we will never see in person.

The Antarctic Centre also provided a free shuttle to the downtown Christchurch area. It was raining, with a cold wind, so we went to the museum.

They had some excellent exhibits on the early (pre-European) Maori and Moriori, then early European settlers, and a representative Christchurch street from the late 1800s.

They also had a temporary exhibit of graffiti and street art, including about 20 by Banksy, and some more by other well-known street artists. Both interesting and entertaining.

Also an exhibit of a house of a couple where the man got interested in cleaning and polishing abalone shells. His wife got tired of them piling up about the place, so she started hanging them on the walls. They are actually pretty, and in different iridescent shades. But she ended up covering the inside walls of the house with these shells. Pretty kitschy.

After that I was at a loss. I had wanted to tour the Botanical Gardens, but it was cold and rainy. Not fun. I had also wanted to walk around downtown Christchurch and see what they were rebuilding after the earthquakes 3 years ago. By now it was after 5pm and pretty much everything was closed. Not even any restaurants nearby. We did see the Re:START mall, made up of brightly-colored shipping containers. But everything was closed, except one small grocer, who was going to lock the door until we walked up. We bought a box of PopTarts for breakfast from him and asked about restaurants. I guess a lot got destroyed in the earthquake, and if they reopened, it was in the suburbs.

Finally we found the bus terminal, and were able to wait inside out of the rain for about 20 minutes until a bus came that was going our way. My feet were soaked, and I was pretty chilled. And we both were tired from standing all day. The bus dropped us off about a half block from our motel. When we got inside, I took a hot shower, then we ate a sandwich we had saved from the Melbourne airport. The motel did have an electric kettle, and tea, coffee, and drinking chocolate packets. We were able to get 30 minutes of wifi on my tablet, so we could both check email, but we couldn’t get it on the laptop. Finally got to sleep. Interesting first day in NZ.

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