Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Autumn Break on the South Island

The reason I always sign up to Airlines’ Loyalty Clubs is that, if you’ve got to fly anyway (and let’s face it, living in NZ flying becomes, if not exactly a necessity, then certainly a way of making life easier if you have the option), then you are gaining rewards for quite literally sitting around doing not much.  In our house, all of us – including E – are members of the Air New Zealand Airpoints scheme, and we have taken up the option of combining them in Shairpoints so we can pool them all.  We collect them whenever and wherever we can – not only on flights but by shopping at New World, by using an Airpoints-affiliated credit card and prepaid debit card, and by shopping at other outlets for electrical items, amongst other ways of saving.  I’m quite the magpie when it comes to loyalty points, because I know they pay out. 

We recently had a short late-Autumn trip to the South Island, with the flights paid for via Airpoints.  The flights themselves were great.  Air New Zealand staff are, in my experience, always lovely, and we notice it even more when we’re flying with E.  On the first flight down to Christchurch they greeted him by name, gave him extra snacks first, let him sit in the crew seats, and generally indulged him in a way that made the flight not just bearable but enjoyable.  It makes me optimistic about our upcoming long-haul flight in August with Air NZ and Singapore Airlines.

Car Rental 

Everything was on time and we rented a car from Snap at Christchurch – they were significantly cheaper than any other rental we could find and had the bonus that when we arrived there to collect our car the child’s car seat we hired for E was already in place, whereas previously I’d had to struggle to attach a new and unfamiliar seat.  Top marks for Snap, and I’ll definitely use them again in the future when I’m down south.  We had a zippy Toyota Corolla, which both Andy and I enjoyed driving, and which was perfect for the length of driving we were doing. 


On leaving Christchurch Airport our first stop was at the Countdown supermarket next to the airport to stock up on essentials.  We then set off for the 3-hour drive to Akaroa, on the beautiful Banks peninsula.  I volunteered to do this first section of the drive, and I’m glad that I did – both Andy and E drifted off to sleep so I was left to enjoy the stunning scenery in peace.  The road leads out through the Christchurch suburbs on to the dips and peaks of the peninsula.  It heads through a handful of villages and townships before climbing the hill that then leads down towards Akaroa.  If you are wise, you will make a stop at Barry's Bay Cheese Factory.  If you are even wiser you will manage to do this leaving your sleeping child in the car with your husband, giving you free reign with the credit card to buy all the amazing cheeses they have on offer. 

We arrived early but because we were staying in the off-season, the lovely people at our Airbnb, Jaques Village, gave us a better apartment and let us check in early.  It was relatively basic but spick and span clean with everything we needed for a night's stay.  There are a couple of outstanding features – first is the extremely friendly and helpful staff, second is the great location.   

After a quick lunch (mainly cheese based) we set out for an explore.  I admit, I was initially a bit dubious we'd find enough to do in quiet Akaroa to keep E occupied, but we actually had a great time exploring.  I don't think we could have stretched it out to more than a day, especially in the winter, but one night was the perfect time to spend here. Akaroa was originally colonised by the French before the British arrived in NZ, and it retains lots of ties to its French history. It was drizzling but not pouring with rain, so we first set off to walk to the lighthouse, an easy flattish walk along a very quiet coast road.  Unfortunately, the lighthouse is only open to visitors on Sundays, but we still had fun exploring all around it.  After that we strolled back into the town, with the canons and whale pots providing plenty entertainment for a little boy who loves climbing.   

We had fish and chips for tea, then home to our very warm and cosy apartment for the night. 

We set off bright and early the next day, stopping at the fantastic Butchery and Deli first to stock up on supplies, headed back through the sleepy Banks Peninsula villages, and headed inland towards Hanmer Springs. 

Hanmer Springs 
Hanmer is a delightful little Alpine village about 90 minutes' drive north west of Christchurch.  Popular all year round, it really comes into its own in the winter.  It's surrounded by ski fields but the biggest draw, to us as non-skiers anyway, are the hot pools.  As the village sits right on a fault line (in NZ you're never far from a reminder of how shaky these islands are), the hot springs are a result of the geothermal activity.  It's a huge complex of pools and, with our son being half-boy-half-fish, we rightly guessed that he would be in his element.  The pools are a large complex with many different kinds of spa, including a child-friendly warm but not hot swimming and play pool.  After braving the dash from the changing rooms (pro tip: take flip flops), we spent pretty much two days there enjoying the warm water.  Andy and I took it in turns to tag team and spend some time soaking in some of the adults-only hotter pools.  As long as your child enjoys the water, you can easily kill a couple of days here.  It really is cold there though in the winter months.  We have a child who doesn't appear to feel the cold and was happy, but I'd definitely recommend taking robes or extra towels for warmth during that pool-to-pool dash.  This was the real highlight of the break for us – Andy and I have both enjoyed the pools before, but it was such a joy taking E and seeing how much he enjoyed it too. 

We stayed at another great Airbnb, bigger this time, with everything we could need – highly recommended.  This time round we self-catered one night and got takeaway the next (really delicious Chinese from Mr Yunan – they even delivered) so didn't get to eat out, but Andy have I have previously enjoyed fabulous meals in No 31 and Malabar. 
Our final night of the trip was in Christchurch, as we had an early flight out the next day.  We stayed at a beautiful Airbnb which was possibly my favourite of the trip – recently renovated with lots of little homely touches, including a box of toys that E loved exploring. 

After the trip from Akaroa we were a bit too early to check in but, needing to stretch our legs, we headed to the outstanding Margaret Mahy playground.  The city of Christchurch has had, and is still having, a very tough time over the last few years post-earthquake, but this seems to us to be a great way of demonstrating what they want their reimagined city to be.  Stretching over a whole city block and named after the famous NZ children's author (she wrote, amongst many others, Hairy Maclary), the park has so much to engage children and occupy all their senses. 

Later that afternoon we went to the Antarctic Centre which I think was the only disappointment of the trip – it seems very overpriced for not very exciting or engaging displays.  E's favourite (not mine but I hid it well in front of him) was the Haglund Ride,a short 10-15 minute ride in the vehicles designed for driving over the harsh Antarctic terrain – I was terrified but E was delighted and laughing.  It wouldn't be appropriate for every child, certainly not the more nervous children, but our bold, no-fear boy loved every minute.  

Getting to the airport the next morning was an early 5-minute drive and, after a hairy 15-minute detour due to roadworks, so was the drop off at Snap car rentals.  The flight home from Christchurch to Wellington was on time and again was an excellent service. 

We arrived back home within a couple of hours of leaving Christchurch feeling rested and glad that we'd had such a great break. 

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