Saturday, 3 September 2011

Christchurch 20th - 23rd August 2011

To be honest we weren’t sure exactly what to expect from our trip to Christchurch. We were reminded each and every day on the news about how much damage had been done to the CBD and how they have had to endure literally thousands of aftershocks since the last big quake in February which killed 183 people. We had actually been fortunate enough to find a Warm Showers host for a few nights, Richard, a real stroke of luck, given that more than 50,000 people have been displaced during the last year of earthquakes. Richard even had plumbing in his house. Richard, a Psychiatrist, actually had many extremely cool things, such as a warm welcoming character, a passion for cooking and a million dollar view from his apartment, high up on the hill in the Cashmere area of the city. Richard was working nights at the hospital when we stayed, but he still took the time to drive us round some of the affected areas of the city (Littleton and Sumner), along with his good friend Chris, another doctor, from Auckland, visiting for the weekend.

After loading up our bikes after our long bus trip from Te Anau, we cycled up to Richard’s place and experienced our first Cantabrian earthquake of note. The city shook all around us as a 4.3 struck just 10 Km deep. It was the first of 3 notable quakes which we felt during our stay with Richard. We arrived at Richard’s to a note on the stairs inviting us to make our own way in and help ourselves to a very tasty dinner of vegan curry, still warm on the stove and to make ourselves at home. We had just put our stuff into his massive spare room when he and Chris arrived. We enjoyed a chat and his great hospitality that evening, before heading off to bed, wandering how many more quakes we might feel before next morning.

I’m told that there had been quake during the night, I was not aware of it though – although Mel was still awake at 1am and felt everything shaking. After cooking porridge we all made our way across the hill to Littleton, one of the seriously damaged areas of town. We played Petanque and drank coffee together at the recently created Littleton Community Garden, an area of wasteland created when a warehouse collapsed in February. Everywhere we looked buildings had been removed or had been given different coloured stickers attributed to homes and public buildings designated for either repair of demolition. There were lots of families out spending time together, I noticed lots of parents our age playing with their kids or out drinking coffee in the impromptu cafes dotted here and there. Indeed, everywhere we travelled we met families who were happy to be together outside in the early spring sunshine.

We made our way through town a few times to visit different attractions and Christchurch still has much to offer the visitor. The Botanic Gardens and the Air Force Museum were both well worth the free entrance fee. We had to leave our bikes outside the Botanic Gardens one day and we were lucky to return to them with anything left on them. A thief had decided to open up all the zips on my cycle panniers and my tool kit. He took a couple of things, but nothing worth any money, a swiss army knife which Mel had found on the side of the road and a spanner that had cost me $3. Why not just take the cycle panniers? They are worth hundreds. People are strange.

Our time in NZ was coming to an end for now and we were both all too aware of that. We spent quite a bit of time walking round the Botanic Gardens together and reminiscing and acknowledging all the great events we had experienced together and all the great once-in-a-lifetime moments we had made possible by jacking in our old lives for a while in search of the adventure. As the plane took off from Christchurch airport and as it flew way over the Southern Alps before crossing the Pacific and the great land mass of Australia there was more than a frog in the throat and an understanding smile shared between us. The best year of our lives? Probably.

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