Great news! We got a set of wheels. It's a 1987 Toyota Hiace 2.2 liter petrol totally kitted out. We were getting sick of shopping and twice almost bought something crappier just to get out of Christchurch. Then we saw an internet classified ad for this baby and jumped on it. We wanted to buy it straight away, but the couple hadn't been planning on selling it an hour after putting it on the market, so we had to wait it out over the weekend before taking it. It is fantastic and has most of what we hoped for. All of the other vans we saw were a mattress thrown on top of a platform with some crappy camping gear thrown in. This is a miniature motorhome with a bed that folds into a couch, storage in the way of built-in cupboards and whatnot, running water in a sink, refrigerator, and an awesome two-burner camp stove that rolls out for ease of use. Oh, and did I mention the awning? It makes a huge impact when it's dark and you're hungry and the beer isn't very cold, it's raining and you need to stand outside to cook. What? Is that experience talking?...It's a funky old van and it's awesome! I can't believe we don't own one of these in the states. (hey, there's no flowers painted on the side, and it's water cooled with a working heater-sort of, if you don't mind stopping and crawling under the front bumper to operate the heater control valve)
Ok, so I'll back track a little bit. Since we had a few days to kill, we took the city bus to the Christchurch gondola, rode it up to the top, then walked down the other side of the hill to the port town of Lyttelton. (According to the lonely planet, Lyttelton was the base port for such explorers as Scott and Shackleton) It had one container dock with three cranes, a lumber depot, and some other random commercial ships and boats. While Grant and I were walking around looking for lunch, we spotted an old friend from college whom we hadn't seen in six years. This is getting weird, the small world stuff. Anyway, Ian, Grant and I all had a few rounds (well, Grant and I did) and caught up. Ian is a deck officer on the University of Washington research ship (THOMAS T. THOMPSON?) and had been in port about a week. Today they were to head up to Auckland to do more ocean research. We had a good time, and boy were we glad it was he who had to work and not us!!
After getting our wheels, we took her on a test run to Akaroa, a volcanic peninsula that juts out southeast from Christchurch. Let me get one thing out of the way; it's really tough for Grant to concentrate on the driving because there really are a lot of sheep, everywhere! That reminds me of a good joke: What time is it when all the sheep are lined up backside against the fence in Wyoming?...
After a somewhat bad experience at a top-rated hostel/farmstay, we got our money back and went to a NZ version of a KOA. We tried out our new kitchen, and crashed. Today we spent the day touristing around. In the town of Akaroa on the water there's a bust of the captain and navigator of the Shackleton story who miraculously navigated the tiny JAMES CAIRD (basically a dingy) from Elephant Island to South Georgia after the real ship was crushed in the ice. You all should watch the the movie about this feat. Lots of Antarctic explorer related statues around these parts including Scott and Captain Cook in Christchurch. All are well deserved too as those were very impressive men. The ice-season is coming to an end in Antarctica and there are a lot of ice-folk cruising around Christchurch. Christchurch is the supply base and major airport for returning summer crew.
Back to Akaroa, we skipped the swim-with-the-dolphins tour, and drove straight to the top of the crater rim for some awesome views and a picnic lunch. Though it's been raining and cold off and on our whole trip, this afternoon we got a bit of sun which heightened the stunning scenery. Today we are finally on vacation...and it only took a week.
Tomorrow we will have the local mechanic change the oil and give us the low-down about our purchase. We've learned that in NZ they do a "warrant of fitness(wof), pronounced "woof") on all vehicles to ensure they meet basic safety requirements. Lights, brakes, windshield wipers, etc all have to be in working order or you can't register the thing. Another thing they check for is too much rust. We saw no problems or rust, just the usual you would expect from a 22-year-old carburated engine. At any rate, our wof is good until June,. We need to re-register in April and be able to resell so we're a bit apprehensive, as she is getting on in age, and been around the block a few times. Hopefully all is well and tomorrow we'll be on our way to Mt. Cook. Until next time, Cheers!