To start with, you may be interested to know that the crazy looking woman at the end of the last post heading towards a plane to New Zealand was allowed to board. Just excited about the next part of our adventure I suppose.
Late Night Arrival
Our two flights from Hobart to Melbourne and Melbourne to Christchurch went smoothly enough and we successfully negotiated immigration and the sniffer dogs, despite my declared items of pasta, rice and Ritz crackers. Unfortunately, about a month ago Virgin Australia kindly decided put our flight back by about 6 hours. This meant that, with the two hour time difference added, we arrived by taxi (get us!) outside our next Airbnb at about 1am. The taxi actually pulled up outside the wrong house but Jon quickly managed to find the right property and raise Sharon, our host. We had a whistle stop tour of the very comfortable accommodation and headed to bed.
After meeting up with Sharon and Laurence in the morning over a breakfast table full of goodies, they told us that the roads into the city would be tricky to get down on that day because they were mostly closed for the Santa Parade which started just around the corner from their house. So after a bit of food shopping we headed to the parade. Strange for us to see all the Christmassy things and carols in hot weather but it was a great parade with over 80 floats from lots of local associations and clubs. The children around us loved it (and so did we). We even saw the famous Christchurch Wizard. He dresses like Gandolph – but in a black rather than white outfit and is a bit of an outspoken icon in Christchurch.
With roads all open again the next day, we headed off for the city. It was our usual method of transport, ie on foot. It took us about 40 minutes and as soon as we approached the city centre we were shocked by the amount of devastation still visible from the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. The last of the earthquakes measured 6.3 and the epi-centre was 6 km south-east of the city. 185 people lost their lives and many more injured. There are a number of reasons for the slow progress of the rebuilding but I think the main one has been the amount of decision making that has needed to be made about what to replace things with. The first building we went to was the newly rebuilt Bus Interchange. It was super duper high tech which was more like an airport terminal with announcements every few minutes about buses departing from certain platforms and bays. After filling our pockets with timetables, we headed for the ISite Centre which is the Tourist Information Office. The only original building we saw in this area was Ballantynes, a department store equivalent I suppose to Selfridges in London. Even though this building survived the quakes it took about 10 month to reopen because of the time required to demolish all the unsafe buildings around it.
We found the ISite Centre in what is called the Re:Start Mall. This is area of shops, banks, post office, restaurants, etc has been cleverly been put together using containers. It looks like one side of each container has been chopped away and replaced with glass and doors. The containers are all placed around to form little quadrangles for seating areas. The container banks even have ATM’s in the side. It is a really quirky and inventive idea. A feature that we think they should keep even after the rebuild, especially the Bratwurst container that Jon managed to sniff out (literally).
The most poignant reminder of the devastation was the Cathedral. Originally it was like this:
and this is the Cathedral now……
Once again, the containers have come in useful to shore up what remains of the building and contain the rubble should it suffer more damage. The cathedral has been deconsecrated awaiting a decision on whether to rebuild, scrap it totally or keep it as a ruin. I didn’t like seeing it as it was – it looked like a permanent, ugly reminder of what had occurred and I am sure that Christchurchonians have enough personal reminders without this one. We moved onto New Regent Street which has the oldest buildings in the city. There was some damage to them but they have all been sensitively restored. The trams that do a lap of the centre for the tourists come through the street which makes for a good photo opportunity.
Wandering on we saw the restoring of the architecture on the old university campus which is the site of 23 Heritage Listed 1 buildings – all of which were being restored by engineers and stonemasons. Finally for our day in the city, we came across the Botanical Gardens. We have come to love a botanical garden because they are usually a place of tranquility in the centre of a busy city. This one did not disappoint. There were beautiful gardens and even punting on the River Avon. The tranquility of the punting was being somewhat disrupted by the kayaking tourists and teenagers but good for one of our favourite pastimes, people-watching.
Our hosts recommended a trip on the bus to Sumner Beach – it is the most local beach to the city and takes about 40 minutes on the bus (at a cost of $3.50 each one way which is about £1.54 – cheap as chips). After passing cliff faces that had containers stacked 4 high to protect the road from any rock falls, we arrived at the beach. The sun was shining and we had a great of mountains looming in the distance – which was where we knew we would be headed in a just a few days. Sandals came off and we paddled along the water edge so that Jon could chase the seagulls – it was his revenge for them constantly hovering around when he is eating a sandwich!
The beach was full of young surfers in wet suits under instruction. The waves were quite choppy and there were warnings about rip tides but Jon had convinced himself that it may be the only time he might be able to swim on South Island so on came the swimmers and in he went. He got some funny looks from the surfers but duly had his swim and pummeling by the waves before heading back to the beach. I, on the other hand, maintained my surf watch position on the beach – also not a fan of being knocked off my feet constantly by the waves. But surely your Hobbit feet anchor you to the ground I hear you say!
Jon had his thrill-seeking head on this day because he then ventured off into a cave which had big warning signs about unstable rocks. He did get a couple of cool photos though.
Can’t leave my description of a day at the beach without mentioning our little friends – even I felt tall. To try and get Jon to calm down before he headed up a cliff face or something, I suggested a coffee. While we were waiting we saw this little Asian couple (sorry not sure which nationality). They were ready for changeable weather with both sun hats and macs. It was about 25 degrees. Anyway, they seemed to love walking in circles and must have passed by us three or four times even before our coffee arrived. They reminded me of a couple of penguins. Rush along at a lick of a pace and then stick their heads up, have a look around and then head down and off again without any apparent sense of direction. We saw them a few more times that day, doing their 360’s in various locations along the beach and funnily enough they were the last sight we saw on a remote part of the beach as the bus headed away from the town. They could still be there now for all we know. Had to get a photo of Jon and the human penguins.
Another recommendation we had was to head for the harbour on the bus. Again cheap as chips price so off we went. To access Lyttleton easily there is a long tunnel cut through what are called the Port Hills. Following the quake, it took a good few months for it be reopened due to the safety checks that were necessary. The harbour, however, did get damaged so the cruise liners cannot currently dock there which leaves a very industrial feel to the harbour and must have affected the town’s trade.
Riccarton House and Bush Walk
Our final outing was a walk to Riccarton House. I can’t leave this off my post because of how picturesque it is. It was built and added to from 1852 by the Dean family who were originally from Scotland. Evidently Riccarton is named after a place in Ayreshire. They worked in unison with the Maori’s and initially only rented the land from the indigenous land owners. Unfortunately the last of the Dean family passed away in around 1920 so the land and bush area around it were left to the City. The house was unique for the area and inside was decked out like a hunting lodge and it was the most Christmassy we have felt seeing the Christmas Tree in a traditional oak paneled dining room.
What an interesting place Christchurch is. Our hosts, Sharon and Laurence, have made us feel so at home in this lovely city. From what they say, they have a lot of overnight guests because they are so close to the airport but these visitors don’t know what they are missing by not getting to the city and the surrounding areas. Time to say goodbye and start another road trip. We are off to pick up a hire car to start our SIRT (South Island Road Trip). Drivers of South Island be warned – we are not a campervan or 4×4 but we are on a mission and we have maps to prove it!
Till next time……..
6.12 – 10.12.2015