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New Zealand

Christchurch: the Earthquake that Shook a City

Wednesday 28th October 2015

rain 17 °C

We only had two nights in the city which meant that we had just one short day to explore. We had some breakfast and then made the easy walk into the city centre where we were intending to do a free city walk. Once we got near the Cathedral the damage to buildings became evident. Apart from being shored up it looked as though nothing had been done to repair it since the earthquake struck on the 22nd February 2011.


The weather was overcast and drizzly and it gave the city centre an understandably gloomy air. We went and got a coffee from a mobile stand in the square and got talking to the people running it. They had been out of the city centre on the day the big one struck and it was lucky they were, not only would they have been showered in glass and possibly masonry but they also spoke of the awful looting that took place in the days that followed. The army tried to keep control but they spoke of a jewellers that was completely cleaned out. Fortunately people have been able to claim for the damage and theft on their insurance. The woman spoke of the lasting impact of the quake and how any loud noise will instantly make them fearful. They also said that all three of their children had since left Christchurch, not just because of the fear of earthquakes but because of the impact it has had on the city. It was good talking to them about their experience and thoughts about the tragedy and it seemed cathartic for them. However you also feel conscious that you might be stirring up unwanted memories at the same time. By then it was time for our tour and so we said our goodbyes and wished them well and made our way to the Chalice (erected for the millennium) which was the agreed meeting point.


Michael our guide duly arrived at the appointed time and introduced himself to the eight people that had turned up for the tour that morning. He also had been out of town on the day of the earthquake coming back a couple of days later. He was incredibly knowledgable about his home city and the walking tour included elements of pre-quake history, information about the architecture as well as some very human and very tragic stories about the quake. What I hadn't appreciated was that the tremors began on the 4th of September 2010 and continued until and after the main earthquake. The initial one was in fact the strongest, but it was quite a bit deeper and so did less damage and no one was killed, in contrast to the 2011 quake. Michael told us about people trapped in an office building when the stairwells collapsed. Some of them tied fire hoses together and abseiled down the outside of the building whilst the rest went up onto the roof from where they were eventually rescued by crane. Michael also took us the the site of the Canterbury Television Building (CTV) where 115 people lost their lives. Most of the dead where on the lower two or three floors and were crushed when the whole building collapsed in on itself leaving a pile of rubble only a couple of metres high. many of the injured were language school pupils and he read out an account by a Japanese student who survived but lost a leg. It was all very emotional and despite the fact that Michael must go there nearly everyday it was clear that it still touched him in a massive way. We also went to the chair memorial where there is a chair (some donated by family members) for every one of the 185 people that died. This really brought the death toll home, and seeing a baby car seat and a high hair was particularly poignant.


Not all of the tour was sad though, there were examples of optimism and a desire to rebuild. There were the official projects like the temporary 'cardboard cathedral', gardens planted on wasteland left from buildings demolished but not yet rebuilt.


There is the reStart shopping mall constructed soon after the quake out of old shipping containers and the art and street murals which have 'lifted' many of the damaged and abandoned buildings.


It was a profoundly impactive tour and at the end of it we were happy to give Michael a tip, which is the only money he gets for doing these tours. He was off for coffee after the tour and he invited people to join him. As we were both wet and cold we took him up on his offer and we went to a reStart cafe and ordered our drinks. It was slightly strange sitting in a second storey container and I felt a bit sorry for the staff who had to carry everyone's orders up an external staircase in the rain.

Michael told us a bit more about himself and how he came to set up his business in Christchurch having seen such enterprises in Europe. After we had finished our drinks we wished him well and we went our separate ways. We then went to get one of the circular tourist trams that runs round the city centre as we thought we had got wet enough walking in the rain. We went as far as the Canterbury Museum but when we got off the bus there was a small break in the cloud so we decided to take advantage of this and get the shuttle bus that goes from there to the Christchurch Gondola. When we got there the rain was still holding off so we had a bit of a view going up and down although unfortunately the top was still shrouded in cloud.


We got the next available shuttle back to the museum and went and had a look inside. It had a great eclectic collection from Moa bird skeletons, Maori artefacts, exhibits relating to the first settlers, and mock up of shops (including a penny farthing you could sit on).


It also had an interesting exhibition about some of the Antarctic explorers. There was a great exhibition on mirrors and we had great fun playing with these


and there was also a replica of a house that had been decorated by its owners in abalone shells (quite bizarre). Both of us had a great time there and it was good to get out of the rain. Once we had finished we had one more circuit on the tram before getting off and making our way back to our apartment.


When then got talking to the female manager and she also spoke to us about her experience of the earthquake and how terrified she was. It is a testament to the architects of the building that it survived undamaged, but she spoke of how upset and scared she had been a couple of days prior to our visit when there was a small tremor. She said that if there was ever another biggish quake she would leave the city and not come back. She also lent us a copy of a book full of photographs taken by Christchurch Fire Service photographers hours and days after the quake. It made chilling viewing. We had found it a very moving day and I felt a genuine warmth for the people who had been through so much and were still so troubled by what had happened. We went out later for a meal but I think we both felt a little subdued.

Posted by Gill's Travels 15:03 Archived in New Zealand Tagged churches new_zealand christchurch graffiti earthquake Comments (0)

A Wet and Windy Day En-route to Christchurch

Tuesday 27th October 2015

rain 15 °C

We had set our alarms for just after six just in case the weather had improved enough for us to go whale watching. However it was every bit as bad as the weather forecasts had predicted with winds of 40 kilometres an hour with gusts more than double that. To make matters worse it was also raining hard. On that basis we were pretty sure that the whale watching tours would be off. I didn't even bother to get up and dressed but decided to lie in instead. We both felt that even if the boats were running we didn't want to go out, expecting that it would be very choppy indeed. Once it got to 7 o'clock Nigel was able to ring the office and although they hadn't got the captains definitive decision they were sure that no boats would be going out that day. It was so disappointing as whale watching was the sole reason that we had stopped off for two nights in Kaikoura.


In the end the apartment had proved to be very good and the town had some very nice stores so we had got lots of shopping done. Resigned to not being able to do much at all, we packed up most of our things and then went to the cafe a couple of doors down for hearty breakfast knowing that this would be our main meal of the day. We were very lucky in that the owner of our apartment had said that we could stay all morning if we wanted to as they had no one else due in that day. I think this was done in part as compensation for the confusion caused by a very recent change over in ownership and some obstructiveness by the previous owner. Whatever the politics of the situation we were glad to have somewhere we could stay with our bags until it was time to leave for our train. Marie at the apartment had very kindly said that she would get someone to take us to the station and she was as good as her word. When we arrived there laden with our bags the weather was still looking as miserable as it had done first thing in the morning although the wind had dropped quite considerably.


This leg of our train journey was a little longer than the one from Picton the Kaikoura but it started as the other one had finished with the line running alongside the ocean. It looked pretty inhospitable as we looked out to sea and although I have quite good sea legs I was pretty pleased that the whale watching trip hadn't gone ahead.


After about an hour or so the track turned inland and we started to climb up into the hills. The scenery was very pretty with lots of gorse covering the hillside in yellow. My understanding is that this plant is not native to New Zealand and is a bit of a pest in that it crowds out some of the native species, however it does make for a pretty spectacular backdrop.


We also passed a number of farms, mostly with sheep and cattle grazing and we saw a lot of somewhat outdated looking farm vehicles.


At one point we had to stop for a while waiting for signals to change and there was a light aircraft buzzing directly overhead. I'm not quite sure what the pilot was doing but it provided us with some entertainment for a while. The land then flattened out as we started to pass over the Canterbury Plain and we crossed a number of wide moraine strewn rivers.


All too soon we were entering the outskirts of Christchurch which was an indication that our very enjoyable journey was coming to an end. I must admit I was looking out for the inevitable remnants of the 2011 earthquake but as we were on the train none was evident. When we pulled up in the station we collected our bags and quickly found ourselves a taxi to take us to our accommodation which was just outside the city CBD. The apartment was quite small, and the bedroom had only a small high window which made the room seem quite dark, but it was nicely furnished and the lounge/ kitchen area though compact had everything we needed. The managers were very friendly and helpful and so we felt immediately relaxed. We settled into our room, ate a snack (we didn't want any more after our large and rather late breakfast) and spent the rest of the evening watching a film.

Posted by Gill's Travels 14:00 Archived in New Zealand Tagged landscapes trains rivers ocean new_zealand kaikoura Comments (0)

Back and Forth to the Whaleway Station

Monday 26th October 2015

sunny 18 °C

Today has been a day of mixed blessings. We woke up to a lovely sunny morning with the most amazing view of snowed capped mountains that we hadn't even appreciated were there.


The sea looked as calm as can be and so we felt really optimistic about the whale watching trip we had booked for the morning. We had a relaxed breakfast on the balcony and then walked up to the Whale Watching Centre at the Whaleway Station (their pun not mine). Shortly before we were due to get the shuttle to take us to the boat an announcement was made saying that although the water was calm in the bay, out to sea it was quite rough. Apparently the 7:30am sailing had ended up with lots of people being ill. To make matters worse they had to travel out further than normal in order to see any whales at all. On this basis the captain had decided to cancel the 10am and 10:30 sailings. We were obviously disappointed and spent some time trying to decide what to do. There was the option of doing an inshore trip but in the end we decided to hold off in the hope that the weather conditions would improve enough that the boat would be able to go out at 1pm. Although the weather forecast for tomorrow (Tuesday) was even worse we also booked in for the 7:30am trip then (the 10am one was already fully booked and we were getting a train out of Kaikoura at 3:30pm so wouldn't be able to go in and afternoon sailing).

We walked back into town and had a coffee to drown our sorrows and then we mooched around town looking in some of the very nice gift shops. I even bought some small Christmas gifts for family, given that we wouldn't be back in the UK until the middle of December. When it got near to 1pm we made our way back to the Whale Watching offices, but sadly we were to be disappointed again as there were announcements posted saying that there would be no sailings for the rest of the day. Feeling doubly disappointed whilst totally understanding that they have to take account of the weather conditions and the safety of everyone (and as if to prove the point today a whale watching boat sunk off Vancouver with some loss of life). We did debate the possibility of hiring a car so that we could explore beyond the town but in the end that didn't seem very practical or cost effective. In the end we just had something to eat and explored the town a bit more. We then walked back along the sea front admiring the views of the ocean and mountains to the north and the more gentle bluff to the south.


We went to have a quick look at what was beyond our apartments which included a dolphin watch tour office, gift shop and cafe and there was also an interesting Art Deco cinema.


We were feeling a bit tired having wandered around all day and so feeling slightly we went back to the apartment and had another quiet evening in.

Posted by Gill's Travels 12:54 Archived in New Zealand Tagged ocean new_zealand kaikoura whale_watching art_deco Comments (0)

Back to the Pacific Ocean

Sunday 25th October 2015

sunny 18 °C

We woke up to the most beautiful of the sun rising over the Sound and it felt as though this really set us up for the day.


This morning we had to make the short drive back to Picton, but before that we had a lovely breakfast to eat cooked by Susie. We all sat down and ate together which was nice and although it is a bit of a cliche, it really did feel as though we were friends of the family. Once we had finished eating we loaded our things into the car and having said goodbye to Martin and Susie, made our way back to Linkwater to finalise things with Verena who was going to make my ring. We found her and we sorted out the size I needed and paid for the ring in cash as this seemed to be the simplest option. It looked like everyone was having a great time so it would have been good to stay longer but with a train to catch we needed to get on our way.

We returned to Queen Charlottes Drive and set off in the direction of Picton. As we were driving around the bay we parked up for a few minutes and couldn't help but look back at the house in its stunning position overlooking the Sound.


We also stopped at Governor's Bay lookout and again at Shakespeare Bay, overlooking Waimahara Wharf, which is the lumber loading point for Picton. Once we got round the headland we could see that we were nearing Picton and so we stopped again to look at the view of the town and the harbour.


As we had a little time to spare we drove briefly up to the bay on the other side of the town before returning and parking up so that we could go and grab a coffee. We then made our way back to the ferry terminal in order to return the hire car.

Unfortunately Nigel had some hassle and was charged an extra $80 for allegedly having the car for longer than the five days we had booked it for (which we hadn't) and for picking it up from the wharf rather than the town, despite this being where our voucher had told us to collect it. As we had the train to catch we didn't have time to argue the point but agreed that we would query this once we had the time. We arrived at the station at the agreed check in time and collected our tickets, got our rucksacks put in the luggage compartment and then found our seats. We had rung up a few day earlier to register our seating preference and although we hadn't been able to get ones near the open observation car we were on the side of the train we had requested. We then settled down to enjoy the journey. Once out of Picton the train line ran next to or near the road we had driven along a few days earlier on our way to the Abel Tasman. The main difference was that this time we weren't able to stop and buy any wine!


Once we had passed through the Marlborough wine region we started to climb slowly as we travelled through some of the higher valleys in the region. Vineyards gave way to fields of sheep and then to the shores of Lake Grassmere which has been adapted to make it suitable for the production of salt.


Once we had crossed the Waima River the railway line ran close to the Pacific Ocean sometimes with the state highway in between and at other times we were travelling right next to the beach. We also crossed the Clarence River, with its wide gravel bed.


After about two and a half hours we arrived in the town of Kaikoura. The station was a bit of a walk from our accommodation (with all of our luggage) and we had already made arrangements to be picked up by the shuttle service that operates in the town. A short journey bought us to our apartment which was very well fitted out but the dull drizzly weather didn't do anything to lift our mood and neither did the problems that we then had connecting to the wifi. This was something that shouldn't be that important, but ends up being so because it causes problems with trying to confirm bookings and arranging excursions, not to mention the difficulties it causes in trying to keep in contact with family and friends. Nigel went off for a bit of an explore and bought some milk to top up our provisions. By the time we had settled in it was gone 8pm and so we really did not fancy making the twenty minute walk back into town in the rain and so we made ourselves a light supper out of some of the supplies we had and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

Posted by Gill's Travels 01:15 Archived in New Zealand Tagged trains ocean new_zealand picton Comments (0)

Doing it Like the Locals Do

Saturday 24th October 2015

sunny 18 °C

We woke up to a lovely sunny morning proving the old saying 'red sky at night, shepherds delight'.


It was another moving on day today as we were going back towards Picton in preparation for a train journey to Kaikoura on Sunday. We had some breakfast and packed up and loaded our bags into the car, before going to say goodbye to Sue and Jim. We got chatting and they offered to show us round their garden. They have a large plot of land and they had obviously done a lot of work to make it into the garden it is today with lots of native plants as well as camellias and rhododendrons (which may or may not be native I'm not sure). I got the impression from Sue that keeping the rabbits out is a harder job than preventing the native bush from encroaching. We spoke for quite a while and it was lovely chatting to them, but after half an hour or so we decided we ought to get on our way.

Before we left the area completely I wanted to have a brief look at the coastal area near Riwaka that we could see from our cottage. From there it looked as though there was a small island joined to the mainland by a causeway. Sue had told us that you couldn't actually walk to Outer Island as it was linked by a muddy estuary. Nevertheless we thought it was worth a look and indeed it was very pretty and at the time we visited the mud flats were exposed as the tide was out.


Once we had finished looking and taking photographs we got on our way, passing through the town of Motueka and then circling round the bay and on towards the town of Nelson. Once we got some distance between us and the Abel Tasman area we were able to see the height of the mountains in the distance with their snow covered peaks.


We decided to stop off for coffee at a little place called the Boat Shed Cafe that overlooks Nelson Haven and the Tasman Bay beyond. We didn't have anything to eat as be had a picnic with us, although we regretted that somewhat when we saw the delicious food they brought out for other people.


Once we had finished our drinks we continued on State Highway 6 passing through wide valleys and farmland until we reached the small town of Havelock. This was where we turned off onto the smaller and more winding Queen Charlottes Drive. In the end this wasn't as difficult a drive as we had expected and although there were quite a number of bends it was always wide enough to let two cars pass. As we started to climb we had a good view back over the town and Pelorus Bay, one of many that feed into the Sound. At the top of the hill there was a lookout at a place called Cullen Point. We hadn't eaten and it was well into the afternoon so we took some food with us. In the end this was a little further and much steeper than we anticipated.


Fortunately there was somewhere to sit once we got to the top and so we were able to rest and eat at the same time. It was then time to get back to the car and continue round to the village of Anakiwa where we would be staying for the night before driving back to Picton in the morning.

Our B &B, Owika Bay Lodge was in a stunning position overlooking the bay and Queen Charlottes Sound beyond. We had a great welcome from our hosts Susie and Martin who had moved out from the UK about five years ago. They showed us to our room which had the best view in the house and then Susie made us a cup of tea and brought out some home made biscuits.


They had contacted us a day or two previously asking us whether we would like to go to a charity art auction with them in aid of the nearby school in Linkwater. We just had time to have a dip in their lovely wooden hot tub before we needed to get ready to go out. Martin drove us the short distance to the village hall, and once there we were given a glass of wine and there were loads of delicious canap├ęs brought round by some of the children from the school. There was some lovely artwork on show and it seemed a good idea to loosen people's wallets by plying them with wine before starting the auction. We were quite surprised just how much money some of the pieces went for, not that they weren't worth it but because it meant people parting with quite a lot of money. It turned out that some of the bidders where dealers from Christchurch, such is the reputation of this annual event. Although there were a couple of pictures and at least one sculpture I would have liked to bid for, this was totally impractical given the distance we were from home. There was a well known local jeweller who had put there rings in, and although I didn't bid for them at the time, I did speak to her afterwards and ended up asking her to make me one. We agreed that we would sort out the finer points in the morning as she would be back then helping out at the family fun.

Martin bid for quite a few pictures including two very professional looking ones done by children at the school and two very nice photographs of local scenes. He is quite a keen amateur photographer and makes items out of wood and there were quite a lot of examples of his work in the house. While he collected his purchases we went back to the house with Susie and two of their friends who were staying the night. We had a cup of tea when we got back and we all sat together chatting for a while before turning in.

Posted by Gill's Travels 13:40 Archived in New Zealand Tagged mountains new_zealand abel_tasman Comments (0)

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