Upon landing in Christchurch we saw one of the four AirNZ planes decorated with Lord of the Rings scene (AirNZ the official airline of Middle Earth (TM)) - this one was of Aragorn. Much to our surprise, despite the brevity of our layover in Auckland, our luggage made it and we collected it. I waited at the curb while Craig found change and a pay phone to call Linda and Bill Ellwood, at whose alpaca farm/bed and breakfast (the Alpaca House) we would be spending the next two nights.
The airport is surrounded by beautiful gardens, but I stayed under the overhang, as it was cool and lightly raining. Craig got in touch with Linda, and Bill arrived straight away to pick us up at the airport. It was only a 5-10 minute drive to their farm. I sat in the front (on the left), which just seemed very awkward. I'd had the same sensation in London three years ago. In St. Thomas, Craig has to drive on the left, but the steering wheel is in its American position. It took a little while to get used to this drive on the left, driver on the right thing.
When we arrived at the Alpaca House, Linda and Bill were quite welcoming. They showed us around the house (the first floor contains a great room with wood stove which opens onto a nice dining room and kitchen). The floor plan is quite open, and the ceilings are high. It's a gorgeous house. Upstairs there is a landing and lounge area for the guest rooms. There is a bathroom with just a toilet, and another with shower and whirlpool tub. We were the only guests tonight, and were given the large bedroom at the end of the hall. It contained a double bed and a single bed, electric blankets, an electric heater, a desk, and a balcony overlooking the garden (which contained a pond, lush plants, and some garden gnomes.)
We took showers and freshened up, and then went downstairs for a cup of tea, some biscuits, and a chat. Bill is a high school maths teacher who also authors math textbooks. He also publishes 4-color math pamphlets which each contain a themed practical application of math concepts (alpaca wool production, alpaca breeding, the Giza Pyramids, stamps, etc). He hopes to get them onto the web some day. We looked through the pamphlets, wishing we had such creative learning materials when we were in high school.
We had made plans to meet up with Ellen, a lovely woman whom I'd met online on Michael Palin's travel website. I called her and we made dinner plans. Her family would pick us up at the Alpaca House at 5 p.m. It was great to finally talk to her, and I could tell she was as excited as we were for our night out.
Next we got a tour of the grounds from Linda and Bill. They showed us the pool house, which houses a pool and a jacuzzi, and has a nice NZ mural on three of its walls. Gorgeous! Then Linda and Bill took us to the alpaca paddocks. Shep the collie accompanied us. Linda rode on her scooter, and Bill gave us some "nuts" of food to hand-feed the animals. At the time we went, they had 27 alpacas (four babies had been born in recent weeks).
There was an alpaca named Stephanie who, unlike the rest of the herd, hadn't been sheared in December, so she was sufficiently shaggy. We joked that she was my namesake as her fur was roughly the same color as my bushy hair. The alpacas were a lot of fun. Kind of skittish but very inquisitive and very cute. It was fun to hand-feed the adults. I got to hold Frankie, who was a premature baby. When he was born his feet weren't even developed. But he has come along nicely and now can walk just fine, though he is a bit smaller than his peers (and needs a coat on cool nights because he doesn't have much meat on his bones). One of the alpacas was grayish with very pale blue eyes. It mesmerized me, as most of the alpacas had very dark eyes.
We saw the two sheep, who were very strong. One tried to plow through the fence to get at the bucket of food, and he was one solid sheep. He refused to eat from my hand, and when the other sheep attempted to eat out of my hand, the first sheep head-butted it to prevent it from doing so. I had thought sheep were about the least aggressive animal there is. Who knew?
It began raining and we headed back to the house. Linda and Bill were kind enough to let us use their computer to send an email home informing people that we had made it safely. I began to get quite a headache, which I attributed to jet lag. Craig was explaining our itinerary to Bill, and I excused myself to take a rest. I went up to our room and ate a granola bar as my stomach was feeling empty, and I also took some aspirin. I got into bed with the hopes of resting until my headache went away.
I expected Craig to arrive in the room at any time, so that we could prepare for meeting Ellen. I didn't set an alarm or anything because I assumed he'd be around to wake me. The next thing I knew I opened my eyes and it was 4:51 p.m. No sign of Craig. Ellen would be here in lessthan ten minutes! I quickly got dressed and ran downstairs. Craig and Bill were still deep in conversation. The time had flown by and they had no idea what time it was.
We quickly got ready and at 5:00, Ellen and her 5-year-old daughter Emily arrived at the door. Her husband John and their 10-year-old daughter Rosalie were in the driveway in their other car. Craig and I rode with Ellen and Emily. It was still kind of cool, and it was sprinkling rain. As we had just arrived and hadn't seen much of the city of Christchurch, they kindly made a later dinner reservation and showed us some of the sights in the meantime.
We drove through the University of Canterbury campus (where Ellen and John first met). The foliage was beautiful. It was early autumn, and unlike at home, the brilliantly colored leaves coexisted with lush green grass (by autumn at home, the grass is pretty much brown and dead). We then drove to the Christchurch Arts Centre. It is a gorgeous complex, established in 1877 as the original Canterbury College. The gothic revival architecture is stunning. We felt like we were in the UK. The girls took us upstairs in one of the buildings to peek into their ballet studio. We went into a small gallery that showcased paper lanterns made of flax. Then we drove to the restaurant.
We parked and crossed a footbridge across the Avon River, and entered Sticky Fingers restaurant. The finger theme was cute; the door handles were bronze hands, the chandeliers were all held by carved wooden hands. It was a fun atmosphere, yet quiet enough that we could really enjoy our conversation. They offered outdoor dining as well, overlooking the Avon river, but the weather wasn't conducive to that.
We sat at a semi-circular booth, and the more we talked to Ellen and John the more we realized that we had in common with them. It was fantastic, and the girls were so well-behaved and cute. I got the herb-crusted lamb in a beet and wine sauce with mashed kumara (sweet potato). I got a "mojo juice" cocktail, which contained Red Bull (the first time I had ever tried Red Bull). Craig got a Monteith's beer and a 200-gram steak with mushrooms and garlic mashed potatoes.
It was such a great night. We had only been in the country for less than 12 hours, but between Linda, Bill, Ellen, John, Rosalie, and Emily, we already felt like we were among friends. It was a fabulous welcome. This was the night I discovered the ultimate New Zealand dessert - the pavlova. It is a meringue type of thing which tonight they served with kiwi fruit and toffee ice cream. It was incredibly rich yet light at the same time.
When we left the restaurant, it was pouring rain. We dashed back to the cars. John brought sleepy Emily home, and Ellen and Rosalie brought us back to the Alpaca House at 10 p.m. What a great first day in New Zealand! We were sound asleep by 10:40.
Bill and the alpacas
Craig and the alpacas
Steph Feeding the Sheep
Our room at the Alpaca House
Steph and Craig at Christchurch Arts Centre
Christchurch Arts Centre
Dinner at Sticky Fingers: John, Emily, Ellen, Rosalie, Craig, and Steph