Ahh New Zealand. The trip back to my homeland was booked 10 months in advance and was eagerly anticipated from the day it was booked. If anyone knows me well by this stage, they will know I’m an over-planner when it comes to travel booking. I rarely leave anything to chance and I will spend hours upon hours looking for the best deal, the best itinerary, scouring over reviews and exhausting myself with whether it is worth risking a few bad reviews. In the end, we ended up booking Singapore Airlines. It wasn’t the cheapest option, but it was the most convenient in terms of layover times and the safer option compared to China Southern (haha). It was quite the luxury experience – cocktails were mixed up by the air hostesses and menus were delivered before the meal service!
It took us about 24 hours to get down to New Zealand, but we were able to get a flight with only one stopover. Frankfurt-Singapore was around 14 hours and Singapore-Christchurch was around 10. It was awesome to be able to fly right into my hometown – not something that you’d imagine possible when you live literally on the other side of the earth. Yes, one day I spent time at work when I was particularly homesick figuring out just how far away from home I was. I do not recommend doing this. The one stopover to Christchurch is something only possible by flying with Singapore Airlines, so kudos to them for doing the route that no one else wants to do.
After a brief interrogation at border control – I mean seriously lady, I’m NZ born and raised, I KNOW what I’m allowed to bring in and what I’m not allowed – (after I explained that to her she lightened up) we were walking through the doors back into my home. Mum and dad were ready and waiting to shuttle us off to our first anticipated stop – Tandoori Palace! Of course, my favourite restaurant wasn’t open, so we ended up out in Rangiora at a different Indian restaurant. For whatever reason, continental Europe just doesn’t do Indian food well, so it’s a craving I have all the time.
We rented a cute little apartment through Airbnb that ended up being absolutely perfect. It had two bedrooms (more than we needed, but it was nice to have the space) and the location couldn’t have been better. It was on the Carlton corner, mere steps from the bar (now rebuilt and no longer a container bar) that Nick and I met at four years earlier. It was also just across the road from Hagley Park, where I used to walk around almost every day for my daily exercise several years earlier.
We got a good amount of relaxation in and I felt like we spent a lot of time with family and friends, having proper catch ups compared to last time and really enjoying the company of others. It felt like I could fool myself into thinking that we lived in New Zealand. I showed Nick places that he would never have known about if he were just travelling through, and I think this gave him more of an insight into life as a New Zealander.
Christchurch has changed a lot since I last lived there. The rebuild seems to be ramping up and the inner city is finally starting to show decent progress. It was nice that it was starting to feel more alive, but it still feels so weird to be away and come back to it like it is. It’s hard not to reminisce and wish for the city that it was before, but I anticipate that it will be great once again – and everything being ‘new’ may end up being a huge draw card. After all, Napier was rebuilt after the big earthquake and is now renowned as the art deco capital of New Zealand.
It did take a few days to settle back into New Zealand life. I felt like a stranger in my own town, every turn I took seemed to look different. After meeting up with family and friends I started to realise how much was the same though – good friendships haven’t changed and the love of friendship and family is still there. Memories don’t disappear, nor does the sense of belonging.
We got to meet up several times with my friend Danielle and her fiancé (yay!) Patrick and try out some of the new places that have popped up. We tried Cuban food which was interesting, and I discovered a new love for all things pickled. Who knew pickled cauliflower tasted so good?! We also dressed up and went out to the new Dux, which was no longer vegetarian! We had some delicious food there and it was nice to be out and part of the nightlife – just like old times eh Danielle 😉 Except this time we ended up back at our apartment at 10pm rather than the old 4am!
This time around, Nick got to meet a lot of other important people from my life ‘pre-Nick’ and I am really thankful that he got to meet them. All of them in some way have shaped me into the person I am today, or have mentored me and been there for me in a big way. Alistair and Andrew, tax lecturers at my university, met and welcomed Nick with open arms. Lucy, my mentor at EY met up with us at a great café downtown (that serves food through bank shoots!) and Clayton and Jane who I used to work for. I am so happy that these people took time out of their hectic schedules to meet with us. I hope one day to make them all proud, even if this has been side tracked momentarily.
We also did some driving around to check out some of the areas that might be nice to settle in one day. There are some nice lifestyle blocks opening up – room for a huge shed for Nick and room for a horse or two for me would be ideal. It’s funny how the idea of commuting changes when you live overseas too. Once upon a time, half an hour seemed like a horrendous idea for a commute, but now that seems like the minimum to expect. Hopefully the roads iare sorted out by the time we end up back there too.
Some of the highlights:
Canterbury A&P Show
We arrived during show week – a week of horse races culminating in the A&P show. Everyone loves the A&P show. For the Americans reading, it’s like a state fair. Just way more animals, according to Nick. If you’re a farmer, it’s the biggest event of the year – if you can win prize 20kg rooster or maiden sheep with best wool, or whatever your thing is, then you’re the man. Farmers live for this show. There’s so much going on.
At one turn, you’ll have dodgy carnival type rides – you know, a miniature ferris wheel, weird haunted house, that kind of thing. At the next, there’ll be craft stands. The next, a hotdog stand. Walk a little bit and there’ll be some type of horse event – show jumping, best mannered and so on. The next ring will have dirt biking. There’ll be a huge amount of car yards representing their brand. Tractor sales. More hot dog stands (and I don’t mean American hot dogs, I mean hotdog on a stick). Cheap Chinese made stuff that you forgot to bring – like sunglasses, which Nick bought. There’s a massive huge shed that houses all of the livestock – sheep, goats, bulls that are two ton, roosters, birds, you name it – it’ll be in there.
Every kid is waiting for 4pm on the final day of the show for the lolly scramble. It’s when they decide to throw out a bunch of Macintoshes or other wrapped lollies and the kids go wild trying to get them. Just before that though, let me digress, is one of the best events of the year. Miniature horses going about 100 km/hour whipping around through slaloms. Nick was pretty sure that someone was going to die by getting tossed out of their buggy, this stuff is intense guys. I will have to upload that video on youtube, it’s a fun watch.
Of course, underestimating the New Zealand sun, Nick ended up with the best sunburnt nose by the end of the day. He looked like Rudolph for half of our time in New Zealand.
This is pretty much the biggest hit in Christchurch for kids and big kids alike. Orana Park is a wildlife reserve. Anyone who is a local and above the age of about 25 will reminisce about the days where you used to be able to drive into the lion enclosure while the lions were being fed all around you. Sadly, this is no longer – probably a safety hazard! However, Orana Park is just like the good old days. The animals aren’t that far away from you and the park is spread out over a huge area.
We visited with my brother and my sister in law and their two girls. Pearl is now 4 and Xanthe is 2 – they are obsessed with the gorilla enclosure. I had heard about ‘Futake’ the big gorilla several times before we even made it to Orana Park. The gorillas were a big highlight of the day, but I think the biggest highlight was the kiwi enclosure. I had never managed to see the kiwis at Orana Park (they’re nocturnal so the enclosure is pitch black). However, this time around they were extremely active and we got to see them moving around a lot. This was really special and I am so glad that the girls also got to see this. Not to mention Nick!
The Harry Ell track is a favourite of mine. Back when I was in university (all those years ago now) I used to walk up the Harry Ell and run back down it several times a week. It kept me fit and the views are beautiful. When you turn one of the corners the track narrows quite sharply and opens up to sweeping views of the plains below shadowed by the Southern Alps. It’s like my body knew the track back to front as I wanted to run, but Nick wanted to enjoy the experience.
At the top of the track there is the ability to walk over to the other side of the Port Hills, looking down into the Lyttelton port below. We sat up there to enjoy the view for awhile and of course I did some reminiscing. The café that used to sit at the top, called the Sign of the Kiwi, wasn’t open anymore but I hope that one day they are able to reopen something at that spot because it truly is a beautiful area. I always knew I was lucky to have something like that to exercise on, but now I appreciate it even more.
No snakes, no spiders, no deadly creatures and no one really wants to kill you in New Zealand for no reason. Please New Zealanders, remember just how lucky you are – there’s truly no place like home.
Of course, the ultimate was spending the time with my family. My nieces are ridiculously adorable and incredibly intelligent. I guess that runs in the family (haha) but they are so advanced for their age! Miss Xanthe thought the whole trip that my name was Nick (it’s quite confusing as my husband is Nick but so is my brother!) so I was responding to Nick the whole time. On our last night there I read the girls their bedtime stories, we all thought that maybe she had figured out I was Emma, but we heard her yell “NICKKKKK” as she grew impatient about wanting her story read to her. So funny, and so ridiculously cute.
My Aunty and Uncle recently moved back to Christchurch from Wellington so it was wonderful being able to catch up with them in their new house. It was beautiful and my Uncle makes a really amazing flat white coffee – so much so we had to have two before we left! Thanks Uncle B! They had recently returned from a cruise from Vancouver to Sydney so that was quite the treat to hear about.
We spent some great time with Mum and Dad of course, including a few hours in front of the TV watching a show ‘Tipping Point’ that we discovered is also on SkyTV here in Germany – haha. We went for the obligatory ice cream at Amberley where Nick didn’t make the same mistake of asking for a double scooper this time – he’s learning!
My brother and his wife have been doing renovations on their house so it was great to see that coming along also. We got to spend some time with them eating pizza and catching up on life.
On the fourth Friday of November (which was the fourth Thursday in the USA) we had a Thanksgiving dinner with my parents, my brother and sister-in-law and the two girls. We made up a meal of ham, chicken, stuffing, mashed potato biscuits, brownies, pumpkin cheesecake and of course beer and wine! It was so nice to have everyone together to celebrate a holiday (albeit not one ever celebrated in NZ) and even better, it was warm enough to have everyone sit outside!
Who doesn’t reminisce about food when they live away from home? We visited Tandoori Palace at least twice. I think maybe three times! We had way too much slice (I’m determined to master tan square if anyone has a good recipe) but why not – that’s what it is all about. The NZD to USD was at a great conversion rate too, so food was not something we would skimp on!
We ended up having KFC a couple of times. I just can’t get enough of the salt on the chips. Did you know that in the USA KFC have wedges? In Europe, it’s plain fries with normal salt. In Canada they also have plain fries with no salt. If only the other KFCs in the world would discover the amazingness of the NZ and Australia salt!
However, I digress. We ended up bringing back a ton of NZ food that is happily stashed away in our cupboard, and our Christmas meal was made up of about 50% New Zealand food.
The two weeks in New Zealand ended up flying by, as it always does, and before long it was time to head back to Germany. It is always bittersweet to say goodbye, but I feel like we had a wonderful time in NZ and got to spend quality time with the people that we love. Thankfully the next trip home should be less of a journey, depending on where we end up in the USA!
My next blog will be about our stopover in Singapore.