After a great ten days up in Auckland, we headed down to the South Island. First up on the list? Gettin' some wheels.
Christchurch was full of surprises. Most were great but one was a bit unpleasant. Read on for the ups and downs that greeted us in this city that's still recovering from the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.
While we had adored Auckland, we were eager to move into the South Island to explore before the colder temperatures of March and April (New Zealand's fall season) hit. Parts of the South Island, particularly the popular tourist spots like Milford Sound, had just been hit with flooding which wiped out some of the key roads to get there. We delayed a few extra days in Auckland before heading down to give the recovery efforts some time and since people had been evacuated to the South Island cities which made lodging harder to come by.
We flew into Christchurch and got a rental car until we got a vehicle of our own. We ended up having three Airbnbs in Christchurch since the car buying process required that we extend for a couple extra nights to complete the paperwork and get the inspections done. All in all, it took about a week of researching, visiting and test-driving vehicles from dealers and private sellers to find our roadworthy companion that we named Bella.
Notable Aspects of Christchurch
The Godley Head Trail/Taylor's Mistake track. Slightly outside the CBD (central business district) of Christchurch, we adored this hiking track. It had beautiful coastal views that we couldn't get enough of.
Little High Eatery - This is a standalone building with eight local, delicious restaurants and an excellent indoor and outdoor vibe. You can sit anywhere in the place and order a combination of food from any of the vendors. It was on the cheaper side, the food was great and the atmosphere was awesome so we went multiple times.
We had some really great Airbnb hosts here. One of them, Jerry, invited us to join him for some wine and snacks one evening and we ended up talking for hours. He also got us some delicious meat pies from his favorite place on the morning of our departure. Hospitality like that is a big part of what has made NZ so special for us.
Unfortunately, we experienced some negative interactions in Christchurch as well. In our car search, we test drove four private seller vehicles and one dealer vehicle. In general, we found and continue to find that New Zealanders are incredible people -- friendly and helpful almost to a fault. People interrupt their jogs to ask us if we need help when we look confused, which is a fairly common occurrence.
One of the vehicles we test drove took us to a bit of a rough part of town. Not wanting to judge a place by its appearance, we met the woman who was showing us her 2007 Subaru Forester that she had posted on Facebook Marketplace. We took her vehicle for an uneventful test drive, returned it, discussed what the sale would look like if we moved forward and told her we would follow up with her by the next day, which we did, letting her know that we were going to go with a different vehicle and thanking her for her time. She replied telling us to enjoy our time in NZ.
Three days after our test drive, I get a message from her -- by far, the worst message I've ever received from anyone, let alone someone I had met and chatted with in person. A message that made Natalie and me head to the nearest Police Station in Christchurch to file a report, just in case it came down to our word against hers.
It came out of the blue like this:
"thank you very much. I assume you hit the concrete post backing up the driveway. Obviously, my mistake not checking the car. I hadn't taken it out til today to a dealer for sale and obviously on that side some serious scratches. That is an understatement. I welcomed you to NZ but only way that happened was you. Thanks for losing me hundreds of dollars. Do not bother denying only way it could have happened you are not exactly the best driver you stuffed up the locks took me a bit to get those sorted, no idea what you did. It is very obvious as the paint from the wall and onto car all match utterly disgusted. I would swear but you absolute turd I know damn well you did it, heard your wife directing you up the drive. .Have some decency." And the next day, after our radio silence (and trip to the police):
"Yup didn't think so. You absolute wanker, still got all your details, amazing what you can put on Facebook."
I definitely admire her use of colorful language! I can laugh about the absurdity of the accusation now but at the time I was pretty petrified. This woman had made a copy of my driver's license for our test drive so she had quite a bit of my information. Nat and I chatted with the police. As the woman oddly mentions in the message, Nat had helped me navigate out of the tight driveway standing behind the vehicle the whole time. If we had hit anything, it would have been obvious. We chalked the whole thing up to being a part of the full experience.
We Did It! And Other Notes about Cars in NZ.
After extending our Airbnb and rental car a couple times, we got clear marks on a vehicle inspection for a vehicle that we liked. Here in New Zealand, vehicles have to pass a Warrant of Fitness (WOF) every 6-12 months at a shop depending on the age of the vehicle, and vehicles can fail for things like lights being out, tires being bald or mechanical issues, so it's a big deal to make sure that we would be able to re-sell a vehicle later this year without triggering any of those red flags.
There are two other interesting things to note about cars in New Zealand. The first is that license plates here travel with the car. That means that a car will likely have the same plate no matter how many different owners it has. There's an online system where you can look up any plate number (called "Rego" here for registration) and see a bit about its history for free.
The second thing is that almost all vehicles here are imported from Japan after being used there for up to a decade. There are Japanese stickers all over the vehicles and most of them have a Japanese video console in the middle which unfortunately can't be changed to English. Bella has one, and it would be impressive with built-in GPS, a 30GB hard drive and a built-in DVD player (yup, right in the front dash), except that it's extremely difficult to navigate the controls, even with Google Translate handy.
All in all, it was an exhausting experience, but having a vehicle of our own makes travel substantially easier for us and allows us to stay at more affordable Airbnbs outside of the major towns.