It was a twist of luck for me to reach Christchurch this past May to pull off the remainder of a Ph.D. which I was very close to getting done with in the U.S. Honestly, I never fantasized about New Zealand anyway. Instantly, as I stepped out of the Christchurch Airport, it did not look fantastic either.
Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand, but it apparently lacks the glitz and ritz of a big city. Roads are narrow; long lines of vehicles are rare; skyscrapers are non-existent; and houses are sparse. Perhaps, things were somewhat different until September 2010 or February 2011, when two catastrophic earthquakes wreaked havoc on the city. The city is still struggling to cope with the consequences of those earthquakes.
It is not that vibrant as such. I would like to think yet that the city has been sedated all along in that its population is only around 363200. Despite that, it's a beautiful city. The whole of the city is adumbrated by mountains. Trees abound. Flowers of various varieties are plentiful. It's green. It's serene.
They call it the garden city. The University of Canterbury, where I have been pursuing the Ph.D., is located in this garden city. A few Ph.D. students from Bangladesh were already there. I befriended them. I had to discover soon that they all were wanderlusts. A tour in and beyond Christchurch was always on the menu.
As is, I was not surprised when I heard that we would head toward Picton on the 17th on November. Piction is situated 337.2 km north of Christchurch, so it's a long journey. We were seven people all together. We decided to stay together all along. We did not drive our own cars; we rented a microbus that accommodated all the people, instead. Around 8:45, we set out for Piction.
One of our teammates, Safayet Alam, decided to drive. I wondered how he remained so composed while driving, when driving in New Zealand outside any city is potentially distracting and dangerous at once. The country-side of New Zealand is all about plains and valleys as well as mountains and pine trees.
Animals like sheep, llamas, horses, and cows loom large all around. Collectively, they create such a unique landscape that one is visually too enticed to drive un-distracted. I saw in the U.S. that maximum speed limit in most of the states on the freeway, what they call motor way in New Zealand, is 65 km.
However, in New Zealand, the maximum speed limit on the motor way is 100 km. Cops are infrequent on the motor way, so everyone speeds up. Roads are uneven and zigzag. Despite these pitfalls, Safayet Alam drove as if driving is really easy and enjoyable. En-route, rest of us peeped through the windows of our car to watch the vast vistas of extraordinary scenic beauty unique to New Zealand. Around 11:30, we reached Kaikoura, a beach -town between Christchurch and Piction.
Situated 181.3 km north of Christchurch, Kaikoura is just too beautiful to be described by such adjectives as 'awesome' and 'breathtaking'. Due to its location and topography, Koikoura seems to have become the microcosm of scenic New Zealand. It intoxicates people to go beyond the spatial and temporal realities of mundane life, for it's a world of sights and sounds as well as shapes and hues, which look and appear surreal.
On one side, one sees broad expanse of waters spread out infinitely; big waves break into one another; seals rest on boulders; and different species of seabirds such as seagulls, albatrosses, petrels, and shearwaters fly overhead. One another side, one sees majestic mountains, which are snow-capped most of the times of the year.
These mountains, a branch of the Southern Alps, sometimes look so bright and white due to the rays of the sun that they create an optical illusion for the viewers to consider those as the sky itself on the horizon. Through some of these mountains, they have carefully crafted walkway to reach the top of the mountains. Looking around and beneath from the top of the mountain is simply awe-inspiring.
These attractions apart, Kaikoura is a famous and popular tourist destination worldwide for whale watching. They take the tourists into the deep sea by catamaran specially designed for whale watching. It's not gratis, though. Because our ultimate destination is Piction, and whale watching is a day-long program, we scraped it.
Amid the murmuring of the waves and the chirping of the seabirds, we had our breakfast with sandwiches and noodles, which we carried along from Christchurch. We were not famished, but we devoured our food. Food taste is contingent upon environment, perhaps. As we were approaching our car, we came across the signboard of a restaurant, which read, 'crayfish meal'. Originally a Maori word, Kaikoura means 'a meal of crayfish.'
Around 12:30 pm, we started to move toward Piction, though we knew that we would stop over at Blenheim. The ride from Kaikoura to Blenheim was truly delightful. On our left, we saw nothing besides big mountains; on our right, all we saw was the sea. Between mountains and sea, we moved ahead to reach Blenheim, which is 128.4 km away from Kaikoura. It was already 2:00 pm as we reached Blenheim. It is not a popular tourist destination.
It has industrial importance. It is situated in the region of Marlborough in the South Island. Germane in this context to add that New Zealand comprises only two islands: North Island and South Island. We are roaming around the South Island. Blenheim is considered to be the center of wine industry in New Zealand. We saw gobs of wineries as well as grape groves around. Compared to Christchurch and Kaikoura, Blenheim looks busy and vibrant. Having spent around half an hour, we decided not to explore Blenheim any further.
Piction is only 28 km away from Blenheim. We reached there around 3:00 pm. As soon as we had our lunch with fried rice which we carried along from Christchurch, we started to explore this terrific place. Piction is a port city, and inter-island ferries to and from Wellington-the capital of New Zealand-arrive to and department from here.
We had multiple photo sessions to capture a New Zealand, which is traditional and trendy at once. For example, we discovered the relics of a ship on display in a museum, which is claimed to be the 9th oldest ship of the world. Here's a New Zealand which preserves and takes pride in its hoary history.
On the other hand, we saw scads of yachts on the estuary; we saw the ferries anchoring; we located some museums around; and, we saw tourists milling around. These things considered, New Zealand is industrial and modern at once. But we had to discover that in a unique fashion New Zealand blends tradition with contemporary trends as soon as we stepped into the ferry terminal.
It's a two-story structure, which is mostly built with timber, not that much iron and concrete. A structure of this kind is completely unlikely in an industrial country. The ferry terminals that I saw in New York while visiting Staten Island were diametrically different from their counterparts here in New Zealand. We were dissatisfied with our afternoon coffee there, but that had nothing to do with the fact that we had a wonderful afternoon at Piction before we set out for Kaikoura again around 6:30.
This time around, Haroon Rasheed Mollah, another of our teammates replaced Safayet Alam to drive toward Kaikoura. As drivers, I found both of them to be reliable under any circumstances, for they had rock- solid concentration. I pointed to Abu Salahuddin, one of teammates; a few times that Mr. Haroon was speeding up on the motor way. He was running around 140km per hour.
That's scary but not uncommon on the motor way in New Zealand. Unfortunately, between Blenheim and Kaikoura, the highway patrol police stopped him. He was admonished for his reckless driving along with a speeding ticket. We pretended as if nothing had happened, so we encouraged him drive toward Kaikoura as usual.
He did. We stopped over at Kaikoura for some time once again, but it was getting dark around. We left for Christchurch soon. We encountered another snag en- route. On the motor way, around 8:30, one of the tires of our car punctured. We were not absolutely clueless as to what to do, but it made us edgy. We did not feel panicked and perplexed; we did not look relaxed either until a Kiwi couple stopped by to fix our car.
We started toward Christchurch once again to reach our place around 1.00 am. Exhaustion already overcame us. We would be crashing into the bed soon, knowing that we had some wonderful moments in this tour, which would turn into fond memories in the years to come.
The author writes from Christchurch, New Zealand. Email: email@example.com
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