A city re-born...
24.01.2014 - 27.01.2014 20 °C
Aoraki/Mt Cook Village - Christchurch (332km / 206m)
It was with a great deal of reluctance that we left Aoraki / Mt Cook. The clouds from the previous day had completely shifted and the mountains were looking spectacular, but after managing to squeeze in a bit of hiking to make up for the missed opportunities the previous day, we had to hit the road and make our way northwards to Christchurch.
The drive only took about 4 hours, but the road kept teasing us with views back towards the mountains every so often. We arrived at the Thomas Hotel at 15:30 which only reopened at the beginning of the year after being rebuilt from the devastating earthquake in 2011. Checking in and dumping our bags we had just enough time to drive to the New Zealand Airforce Museum before it closed.
The museum was small but housed several NZRAF planes through years from early biplanes to more recent fighters. Dad you will be very proud of me as I managed to name one or two of them from a distance! It was great fun to look around them all and I even think Nick enjoyed it too. We got to sit in a cockpit and pretend to fly until a small child came along looking rather confused at finding us in there making plane noises so we thought we better get out and leave him to it! There was even a flight simulator where you could pretend to be a Mosquito pilot but there was a waiting list to play and very dedicated man who seemed to have been there for some time! All this for free!
The museum closing, it was time to drive to the airport and drop off our trusty car, Nora, at Juicy Car Rentals. It was sad to say goodbye to the car that reluctantly went up all the hills and had so many bumps and chips the rental agency didn’t even check her when she was returned. I suspect she was drawing to the end of her life as a rental car, but she did us proud for the past 3 weeks! Returning back to Christchurch and our hostel by bus we popped to the supermarket for some dinner before having an early night in our private room (no more dorms for us!!) as we were knackered from doing two walks and a long drive.
The next morning we treated ourselves to a bit of a lie-in, not making it out and about until 10:00 and set of to explore. Chirstchurch was hit by 3 huge earthquakes between September 2010 and June 2011, the most devastating registering 6.3 on the Richter Scale in February 2011 almost right under the CBD and tragically killing 185 people, virtually destroying the city. Over half of the buildings have been demolished with the rest cordoned off waiting for insurance companies to decide what to be done making the city feel very much like a ghost-town.
However things are rapidly improving with the New York Times voting Chirstchurch the top city to visit in 2014.
The government and local communities have introduced Gap Filler; a serious of temporary art installations, public spaces and simply places to relax and have fun in the city on empty sites where buildings once stood. These include portable art galleries, events stages made out of pallets, huge armchairs covered in astroturf, an outdoor disco where you can plug your i-Pod into a speaker system and numerous other fantastic ideas. We followed a walking trail around the city visiting as many of these as we could showing our support for such a great initiative.
We also visited the Re:Start shopping mall which has been built out of shipping containers ingeniously converted into shops and cafes and creating a new centre for the city helping attract money from tourists and it forms a great socialising space for it’s locals.
After a coffee stop and a spot of shopping (a pair of earrings for me and a ceramic, origami dinosaur for Nick - don’t ask!) We then visited Cathedral Square, the historic heart of Christchurch, and the most noticeably altered. The majority of the beautiful Victorian buildings which surrounded the square were destroyed and have since been knocked down, however the fate Christchurch Cathedral is uncertain while debate rages about whether it should be demolished. During the February 2011 quake the 63m high spire fell and the iconic rose stained glass window was lost. The church now half stands in the centre of the square a shadow of it’s former self apparently too unstable to be saved. It was deconsecrated in later the same year and the government continues to face fierce opposition from protestors who want to see it saved in some form. After being there you can see it can never be completely restored to it’s former state but surely something could be done by way of a memorial?
We then decided to visit the Cardboard Cathedral, the $5million temporary replacement which has become a tourist attraction in it’s own right. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban it is constructed almost entirely out of cardboard even including the pulpit and the cross above the altar. It is very impressive and ingenious, but again debate continues about whether it should remain permanently.
Across the road is a moving memorial called 185 Chairs which pays tribute to the 185 people who lost their lives during the quake. It is simply made up of 185 chairs in different styles and shapes painted white and lined up in neat rows. The memorial is used for informal Sunday church services and as a meeting place for people needing to talk about their experiences.
After a bit more mooching around we stopped to soak up the sunshine back in Cathedral Square where we got talking to an elderly man who was in the CBD on the day of the quake. We got the feeling he was not at all over it and needed to talk, so listened to his story for almost half an hour. It was very interesting to hear his experiences and life afterwards but in the end we had to make our excuses as he would have stayed talking to us all evening.
The sun still shinning and this being one of the first days we haven’t had to buy petrol or drive we took the opportunity and extra money to go for a drink. Asking at the hostel for the best area to head, we came across some really funky bars and settled for Revival Bar a small pub with furniture made out of reclaimed items. Paying for our very high priced beer and cider (330ml bottle of cider $9/£4.50) we settled down on an old suitcase, now converted into a comfy sofa. Unfortunately due the cost we could only stay for one and had to return back to our hostel to make a late dinner of not very nice soup and a late night of crap British telly.
Another layin, this time not making it out until almost 12:00! The weather had turned, so we were in no rush to go outside. As we walked to the Botanic Gardens and the clouds started to look ominous, we decided to detour to the museum next to the garden entrance instead. We didn’t think the museum would show us anything new as each one seems to have the same Mouri and British history, just expressed in different ways. However this one, after the usual exhibit, had an exhibition on street art featuring an extensive collection of Bansky and the Kiwi graffiti history. It was really interesting to see how it’s gone from mindless vandalism to expressive, political and controversial art. The thing I thought was really interesting is that to make the art accessible to all it’s produced on canvas, somehow conforming to the “classical art rules” and therefore contradicting the reason and form the art was originally created. After searching to no avail in the gift shop for a pencil we went back outside to see if it was raining.
Luckily the rain had not started, but the temperature had plummeted so to warm up we headed back to the Re:Start Mall for a coffee. By the time we had our coffee and sat on the only free chairs outside the sun had started to shine and it was feeling positively balmy. Our decision of wether to punt or not to punt was now made easy and we headed to the Tram shop to by our combo tickets for the Historic Tram and Punt $30 (£15) each.
The rain still holding off, we jumped onto the tram which runs through the city to the Botanic Gardens. It only runs for about a mile and is now solely for a tourists but it was good fun and our driver gave a running commentary. We arrived at our last stop as the heavens opened just in time for our punt on the River Avon poo!
Thanks to the rain (just a heavy shower) we ended up with the punt to ourselves, wrapped in a blanket with a large umbrella we set off for a gentile float along the river. Our guide, Barry, gave us some history of the river along with some interesting facts about the wildlife.
Arriving back at the beautiful boat house having enjoyed our punting and thinking we should to it again in Oxford.
We retreated back to the hostel to watch a film (Lord of the Rings of course) just in time for the rain to start getting heavy. It was then another early night as we had to pick up our relocation camper early the next day.