Unbelievably, we are only 6 weeks from the end of this journey and we are now in our 6th country (7th if you include the night stop over in Madrid). We landed in a warm Sydney Australia at 7.45 am on Tuesday, a full 17 hours after giving back our camper at Christchurch airport- it would be 36 hours between sleeps by the time we crashed out in Sydney. As we had to check in for our flight before 4am we decided against paying for a hotel and instead camped out in the airport lobby for 11 hours overnight. Perhaps not the most enjoyable 11 hours of our trip to date, but it meant we weren’t disturbed by a 3am alarm clock! We were in Christchurch after spending an extra night in Kaikora as it took us 3 attempts to get on a boat out to see dolphins; the day we had originally booked for had to cancel both morning and afternoon trips on account of the wind making it too difficult to spot the mammals. Instead we spent the day walking along costal paths of the peninsula, past seal colonies, in the stop/start rain wondering what had happened to the lovely weather we had for the previous 4 weeks!
Fortunately the dodgy weather didn’t last too long and the next morning the sky was clear and the sun was out again. The wind had also died so we optimistically headed to the dolphin encounter office to see if the boat would find dolphins. It was a case of third time lucky, before she knew it Zan was whisked off to the changing room to don full wetsuit, including socks, gloves and a hood, in order to get up close and personal with some dusky dolphins. I, much more sensibly, had decided so remain on the boat and watch the dolphins for a dry vantage point on account of it now being winter and I haven’t dreamed of swimming with them since I was 7 years old. I was left in charge of the camera to take pictures. Both of the crew (one of whom was from Loughton and professed his love of the Wanstead George, my local pub, small world!!) agreed with me that it was too cold to be swimming and thought that I’d made a strong decision to stay with them, once Zan and the other swimmers were in the water.
The swimmers were give 3 ten minute blocks in the water trying to encourage the dolphins to come and say hello. As Suzanne was told in the briefing, these were wild dolphins, not ones who had been tamed and trained so there was no way of forcing them to interact with you. The final bit of advice given was that it should be viewed it as you trying to entertain the dolphins rather than the other way round, the easiest way to do that was to make noises to appeal to their super hearing for them to come and investigate. I realised afterwards, when I saw the pictures from the GoPro Suzanne had that it actually works really well, however at the time it looked daft to the extreme. Most of the dolphins stayed below the surface when approaching the swimmers so all we could see from the boat was 13 people in wetsuits bobbing around together in the sea making ridiculous noises throughout their snorkels. Suzanne confessed she was singing Ed Sherran songs by the end as the dolphins became more and more playful.After her 30 minutes of swimming a beaming Suzanne emerged from the water having ticket off the number one thing on her bucket list. After a warm shower (hosepipe down the wetsuit), a hit chocolate and a quick change Suzanne was back on deck and able to enjoy the dolphins leaping and playing around the bow of the boat. My new mate from Loughton explained a bit about dolphins, that they were resident to that part of New Zealand so are found all year round, about how sociable they are which is why the swimmers are able to entice them to come and play with silly noises and that they mate for fun as well as species survival (lads). We had a good half an hour enjoying the dolphins company before heading back to shore.
Before our mammoth stay at Christchurch airport, we were able to spend the day exploring the city. Seven year after the devistating earth quakes that pretty much flatter the central business district, we were pleasently surprised to find that some advice we been given to avoid it as the place was not much more than a building site were way off the mark. Although reminders of the disaster were on every corner there was still lots to explore. We spent a few hours learning about the quakes, their aftermath and the rebuilding project at QuakeCity, Canterbury Museum’s pop up exhibition which was fascinating and included footage from the day along side pictures and stories. As most of the buildings were toppled or condemned by the quake the CBD had to be rehoused in a pop up style Mall made out of shipping containers similar to Boxpark in London. From coffee shops to sport shops they were all here in these enclosed cabins. Some buildings do remain ruined and derelict with no obvious sign of survival. The main square is dominated by the semi collapsed cathedral that has begun to be overgrown with weeds while engineers figure out what to do with it.
Arriving in Sydney early meant we were able to go out and explore the city strait away, if we could stay awake long enough! We have stayed in a hostel right in the middle of town giving us a great base to roam around over the last three days. Our luck with the weather has returned too: warm clear blue skies and a strong sun banishing the memories of some cold campervan nights over the last month. From the depths of our bags we’ve had to dig out shorts to walk around in despite most locals wearing big coats seeing as it is technically winter! On that first day, we headed down to the harbour so see the iconic opera house and bridge. Interestingly the opera house doesn’t look as shiny in person, it has more of ivory colour, even with the sun shining strongly on it. We seemed to have left our daredevil streaks in New Zealand too, opting to just walk across the main platform of the harbour bridge as it was designed for people to do rather than harness ourselves to the famous arch and climb over that. The main bridge was more than high enough for me to have to reach for the rail a few times anyway!
On our second day, after very long but slightly unsatisfactory sleeps we headed to the east of the city and the coast. Bondi beach, one of the surfers paradise coves, was lovely. Soft white sands with crashing waves, it was just about warm enough to sunbath for a few hours before a quick swim amongst the waves. While we were on the beach a crowed had gathered around a big Baywatch sign which was protected by security. After going to investigate what all the cheering was for we found Zach Effron promoting the cinematic remake of the hit tv show which he stars in. It seemed Suzanne was more interested than I was. After he’d left and everyone had calmed down we walked south along the costal path to Coogee beach. It was a lovely walk that wound along the cliffs in and out of picturesque little coves and around head lands.
On our final day in the city we headed back down to the harbour, getting lost in the botanical gardens en route, to catch a ferry out to the edge of the bay at Watsons Bay. The short boat ride across the water, past the opera house giving us a different view of the odd curved lumps jetting out of the land, was nice and smooth but the clouds had to begun to roll in and so wasn’t as warm as it had been. When we were back on land we walked the peninsula walk past the Hornby lighthouse completed in 1858 and is still used today! After a few hours on the head land we caught the return very back the Sydney’s main harbour which gave us great views of the bridge with the sun going down behind it.
So a short stay in Sydney completed, its surprising how many British accents you hear walking around. We’ve also managed to meet up with 2 friends from back home showing that there is a large expat community over here. This morning we’re back off to the airport to collect a car for the next two weeks.