Mini South Island Adventure: Christchurch

Mini South Island Adventure: Christchurch

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Before I start this post, I want to say that this post tried to get away from the 2011 Earthquake and the impact it had on Christchurch, as much as possible as the city has a lot to offer still. However it was very difficult to get away with not mentioning it as the scars are still very very visible even 5 years on.  It is actually quite heartbreaking, you can see the pain the city has been through and is still going through, 185 people lost their lives in that earthquake.

One of my best friends from home Trudi aka the Lazy Green Girl, is on a round the world trip including a few days in Christchurch. We haven’t seen each other in about 20 months, so whilst we were both in the same country there was no way we couldn’t meet up.  It also provided me with the perfect opportunity to finally visit the South Island.

We had two and a half days together in Christchurch before Trudi headed off to the warmer climes of California.  Making the most of our limited time, we did the two main touristy things on the first day, the city tram ride.  Which is a hop on hop off tour the city, only instead of a bus you’re on a tram.  We got on at Cathedral Square, which is the heart of the city and home to the city’s name sake Christ Church Cathedral.

The Cathedral is currently in ruins and fenced off (picture above), it was the first significant earthquake damage I had seen so far.  We would see a lot more as we went around the city, but there is something particularly heart breaking about cathedral square. The majority of the tour was either new bits of the city, they have a very cool shopping area made up of shipping containers, building site which they were hoping would be finished in a few years and parts that survived the earthquake such as the Opera House and 1930s art deco inspired Regents street.

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After our tour we got on the shuttle bus from the city to the gondola, which serenely guide you up to the top of Port Hills, well that’s what the blurb says. However our experience wasn’t that serene our gondola was swaying a bit and then suddenly stopped for a couple of moments making us think we were stuck! Once we got to the top the views were so worth the ride up, you have an amazing views of snow capped mountains and lakes.  It’s what you picture when someone say the South Island to you.

On our tram tour, the art gallery was pointed our to us as it has this amazing sculpture n top of a sassy hand.  That was our first stop the next day, it actually had some really cool pieces of work in there, including a Tin Gnome not something you see everyday. The gallery itself had been affected by the earthquake and only reopened last year, it was good to see something refurbished, reopened and thriving post earthquake.  It probably helped that it was a rainy day but the gallery was pretty busy which was nice to see as Christchurch even by New Zealand standards is very very quiet.

After the gallery, we took little detour on our to get the bus out to  Lyttleton via the Cardboard Cathedral which is where the congregation of the original Cathedral now worships. It is actually an incredible site, you can see it from a long way off it almost looks like a space ship, once you get closer though and go inside, you realise what a feat of architecture it really is. The inside is light, airy and – I think most importantly for a church – warm.  It’s made from cardboard tubes, which draw your eyes upwards, it really difficult to describe see the picture below. It really made me think about what Christchurch might be like in another 5 years…

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Lyttleton, is a small town about half an hour from Christchurch and had been recommended to Trudi by a friend and is in one of the valleys you can see at the top of the gondola, from up there it looked beautiful.  Close up it didn’t disappoint, it’s such a cute little area of the city, and was the epicenter for the 2011 earthquake so had sustained damage as well.  We had a glass of wine in an quaint little bar overlooking the lake, if it hadn’t been such a miserable day the view would have been stunning (this being NZ it wasn’t too shabby even on a grey rainy day).

I said goodbye to Trudi the next day, and picked up a car to head off to Lake Tekapo to try and see the Southern Lights which will be the next blog.  Before I left Chirstchurch, I really wanted to see the empty chairs memorial to the 185 people who died in the February 2011 earthquake.  It was actually heartbreakingly sad, to see all those empty chairs and brought to mind a lyric from one of the songs in Les Mis that Marius sings after the barricades.

“Empty chairs at empty tables, Where my friends will sing no more”

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Lake Cave:

Since the last time I’d been in Maragret River I didn’t manage to get to see Lake Cave, it was something I really wanted to do whilst we were there over Christmas.  A couple of guys from the hostel were going so we tagged along with them. 

Lake Cave looked amazing in the pictures so I was really excited to go and have a look. It’s slightly different to Jewel Cave (which I saw last time I was in the area) in that it’s at the bottom of a massive cavern there are 500 steps up and down to Lake Cave. Once we were down there though it was amazing it had straws like Jewel Cave did but not as many and the main difference is that Lake Cave has water in it, it’s fed by an underground lake and it has a suspended table which was incredible to look at. It’s really difficult to describe but it is basically a mass of straws that over the centuries have come together to form one massive structure that hangs just above the water now, but once was attached to the cave floor. I’ve never seen anything like it before, really makes you think about how old the cave is and how many thousands of years it taken for the thing I’m seeing to have been created.

It’s much smaller than Jewel Cave and the 500 stairs back up were a bit of challenge, we made it without stopping! After that we headed to the beach for the rest of the afternoon to work on our tans, as Margaret River is home to some beautiful beaches.