The train trip to Christchurch is billed as one of the most scenic in the world and they are not wrong. A combination of colour with swathes of flowers lupins, yellow, purple and pink and gorse, mountains, valleys, water and bush. Some amazing views of the valleys we crossed on huge viaducts, so high, eek. Small communities. There was one tiny place where a charity had bought all the houses and they let them at low rents to people who understood that the climate was going to be quite poor and even extreme all year around. It is without a doubt the most beautiful train journey I have ever been on, but I didn’t manage to get many photographs, not sure why. I was probably processing the last couple of weeks, and thinking about Christchurch. I really did not know what to expect as both Derek and Lynn had been saying it’s very sad and unrecognisable as many of the landmarks had disappeared.
Arrival in Christchurch was a bit of a kerfuffle. The luggage appeared on the platform on a conveyor, I took my time and ordered an Uber. There had been a couple sitting on the opposite aisle to me on the train. They were also trying to get an Uber, but clearly got it wrong, because mine arrived first, haha. That will teach them for drinking their own alcohol on the train against the rules.
Anyway dropped off at my latest abode, I got settled in after a short trip to the shops and had an early night, after the rigours of a travelling day. The host seemed very nice and there was a lovely garden and a cat called Mr Jones, and my first Christmas tree. He had just put it up that day. It was December 2nd and his only opportunity to put the tree up that month.
The next morning I was up early and off into Christchurch, it didn’t take long on the bus, and I found myself in a road which had a lot of brand new shops and some of the remaining temporary container shops including a bank ina cintrainer. After a little wandering around I decided to head for the Cathedral because Derek had told me that the information point was there. There had been quite a bit of discussion about the cathedral in the West Country, and how nothing had happened to it yet and they hadn’t made any decisions about whether to repair or demolish and rebuild. Nothing prepared me for the saddest sight so far of my trip. With hoardings all around and few places you could take photographs, it was such a sorry sight. At the front there was a archway built with plants growing through which was quite beautiful given everything else.
The information centre wasn’t there but the tram stop was so I thought I might get a ticket for that. Derek had also mentioned an earthquake tour and this was my primary reason for wanting the information centre. So I followed the instructions to find it further down the road. It is a really interesting experience walking through the city centre, a combination of old perfectly intact, the temporary containers made into shops and banks, the very broken propped up and cordoned off, often right next to the perfectly untouched and the brand new. I have to say I did feel quite a buzz about the place. In the information centre I booked the tram and also a ride on a punt on the River Avon. The Quake tour had been replaced by Quake City a fully curated exhibition, but I didn’t buy my ticket because I could get in cheaper on the door being a pensioner.... there are some benefits to getting on. I was having a chat to the woman in the centre about what it had been like living though this and what it was like now. She told me that the little Sunday market in the square next to where we were had reopened there today for the first time since the Quake. You would never have known that, I had already had a wander around and it was lovely, I could have but didn’t, spent a fortune. She said that she felt there was a new air of optimism about the city, and I definitely felt that. I was booked on a punt at 4 pm and was going to do the tram the next day. The plan was to spend some time in the Botanic Gardens until then but I found a shop full of pleasure and wonder in the same building, yes you have guessed it a jewellery shop all hand made. I saw a beautiful pair of earrings, much more expensive than the ones Derek discouraged me from buying. I said to the assistant that I wasn’t supposed to be spending money but I would have a think about it. I spent some time in the Botanic gardens which were beautiful, and had a coffee and cake in the cafe and then off for a punt.
The punting was lovely. Very peaceful lots of ducks on the river, one type of duck dives and even the babies are able to dive from a very young age and we saw some diving. Not just putting their head in the water but actually diving beneath the water. Off the boat I made the decision to buy the earrings I had seen as my keepsake from New Zealand, as my Christmas present from the old man, the least he could do I thought! The shop keeper looked really surprised as I appeared at the doorway just before closing time, but pleased too. I have to say I am really delighted with my new earrings, they have brought me great joy... just in case you are reading Derek.
After the earring purchase I retraced my steps back to the bus station looking for somewhere to eat and the only place I could find was a place in some alley near the bus station with some live music and a funny layout. Anyway I settled on it rather than starve, it was ok. Chatting to my waitress later she said that this had been the only business open for a very long time, but now every day something new opens. I had thought to go to the cinema that evening, but went around in circles trying to use the sat nav, so went back to my place of residence instead.
The next day I got a reasonably early start and went for my tram ride, the first driver was from Liverpool and it was just me and him for the first part of the journey so I got a personalised tour. He was telling me how areas are demolished in turn and then rebuilt so the way you get around changes all the time. Also all the new buildings can only be a certain height and the foundations are as deep as the height of the building. The tram goes around two loops the first around the town and then the second around the other side which is where I got dropped off for the Quake city exhibition.
I have to say at this point that the exhibition was fantastic, there were all sorts of things in there including some footage of the earthquake actually happening, people in the street running all over the place not knowing where to go and then the aftermath as a building collapses and the dust everywhere. There was a lot of information about all the quakes that had hit the city, the severity and the impact they had. But for me the most astounding piece was a film with about a dozen people giving their account of what had happened to them and their families on that day. Those of you that know me, would know that this would move me to tears and indeed it did, both the happy and the incredibly sad outcomes. One husband was in Auckland and managed to get someone with a private plane to fly him back and he stood outside the building his wife was in for thirty hours, in the hope she would be found safe. She wasn’t, but he told the story with such humility and honesty. Even now it has moved me to tears thinking about him and his story. He saw the building had collapsed when he was in Auckland he was so determined to find a way home and then wait outside for her. There was also another man who talked about going into a building to help with the rescue effort and finding people both dead and alive, and how it taught him so much about humanity, humility team work and caring. The other story that really stayed with me was one of a woman who had an office in a tower in the cathedral and she didn’t think she was going to survive as the whole structure moved around her, you can imagine she climbed up a spiral stone staircase to get to her little cubby hole as she called it. She managed to look out of her little window and saw her colleagues gathered outside and called down to them to help her and they got her out. I would definitely recommend a visit to the Museum, it certainly taught me a lot about what had happened to the city and it’s people.
Back on the tram and around to another part of the city I hadn’t yet explored, where there were some places to eat, and then on to the cinema, which was a fabulous tiny place with two small screens and a film library which was huge. Buying a cinema ticket allowed free hire of any dvd, shame I did not have time. It was very civilised, a was able to have a glass of wine whilst I watched, it was very comfortable and the film was a New Zealand called Human Traces set in the Antarctic. Very enjoyable all in all. Below is the mural outside the cinema which is named Alice.
There are many pieces of art around the city, they were commissioned to help to brighten the city’s landscape whilst the city is regenerated. Some examples below.
Back home after a wonderful day, I didn’t get to any art galleries but I felt I had experienced a lot of the city and I have to say I really loved it, a city in transition which is growing in vibrancy and has possibilities again. I probably caught it at just the right time. Below some more photographs.
The following day I was getting my washing done packing and moving in to the airport hotel for my last night in New Zealand. It was a 4 am start with the following morning so attempted an early night and as usual spent most of the night awake. Of well it seems since I dont have to get up in the morning I worry too much about actually being able to get up. Need to work on that!
Tomorrow it’s Brisbane Australia. Country number four