It was almost painful leaving Queenstown. It was another beautiful day, and the road leaving the town was lined with tall, yellow-leaved trees. I didn’t want to go. I felt exhilarated and tired at the same time, and the scenery was so beautiful that I just wanted Evan to pull the car onto the side of the road so we could lay in the sunny grass fields and stare at the mountains surrounding us. But we had a room booked at a hostel in Christchurch and a deadline on our rental car.
The drive to Christchurch from Queenstown took about six hours. It was an amazing northbound drive- much easier than the one south from Franz Josef to Queenstown, which totally shot my nerves from all the winding up and down mountains, getting stuck behind 18-wheelers, and getting passed by pickup trucks when we were already going faster than I would have liked. Anyway, this drive was less stressful yet still packed with the same beauty we found on the west coast. The brown mountainsides gave way to a solely green landscape as we headed north. We arrived in Christchurch in time to return “el cheapo,” meet a happy young German couple also returning a car in the knick of time, and catch a shuttle with them to our hostel where they hoped to book a room last minute. Unfortunately, the hostel was completely booked, so we helped them call around and find another place to stay. When they left, they each hugged us tighter than I’ve ever been hugged by a stranger, thanked us for our help, and wished us luck on our trip. I was so touched by the gesture that I almost got upset at their leaving. I still wish the four of us could have hung out that night.
But we managed just fine on our own, anyway. We walked a few blocks to one of the bar/restaurants still open after the earthquake, ate at a table by the bar, and splurged on our drink choices. However beautiful the views were from the car, it had been a long, long day, and we were excited to be back in Christchuch; Evan celebrated with whiskey on the rocks while I celebrated with the biggest long island iced tea I’ve ever seen. It was so big and filling I could barely finish my vegetarian nachos and the drink, but I did, of course.
When our alarm sounded at 5:30 the next morning to catch a 7 o’clock bus to Picton, I didn’t care even the slightest about the views I’d read about along the way, the stop in Kaikoura, or even making it to Picton to catch the ferry to Wellington at all. After all, it was 5:30 am, dark and freezing outside, with nothing but a granola bar and water for breakfast.
Needless to say, it didn’t take long to start caring about those things once the brand new couch bus and its chipper driver Doug started heading north to Picton. The bus ride was spectacular. There were more green mountains and lush farmland with hundreds of fat, happy cows and sheep, there were rivers, there were cliffs and ocean on our right and snow-capped mountains on our left. And then we finally stopped in Kaikoura.