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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North Island Road Trip Day 6:

We spent a few days in Wellington, on the first morning we went to the National Museum Te Papa, it was massive 7 levels of exhibitions everyone I’d met had said they loved Wellington and Te Papa is a must when there.  We spent hours in there it was interesting as they exhibitions on all the Maori culture along with exhibitions about the first settlers in New Zealand from Europe and had a time line right up until modern day kiwis.  

My favourite exhibition was a photography one which was an insight into Kiwi life in the late 70s/early 80s and some of the cultural events that happened during the time.  The photos were immaculate and really did give you a snap shot of life at that moment. All the other stuff was interesting as well and there was even a test to see how well you’d have done as a British captain bringing people over from Europe, I did pretty well in that maybe I’ve missed my calling in life?

That evening we decided to go up to the botanical gardens which involves getting a cable car.  The cable car journey was pretty fun it went through a couple of tunnels which had light displays as the cable cars passed through.  We were aiming to get up to the top for Sunset but got there just after though, which was a shame.  The views from the top were absolutely stunning though, you could see right out over the harbour.

Wellington is nick named windy Wellington and it lived up to its name when we were in the botanical gardens it was freezing at the top.  A guy from the hostel came with us and told us there was a free concert in the gardens somewhere, we could hear it but couldn’t find it which was a bit of shame, so we decided to head back down to the city as we were cutting it fine to catch the last cable car back.

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North Island Road Trip Day 5:

Spent a lovely couple of days in Art Deco Napier, known for it’s Mediterranean climate.  After changeable Taupo it was lovely to be somewhere consitantly sunny for a few days.

 The city is very designed and plays on the Art Deco theme there’s art on walls of flapper girls dancing and people dressed in their best 1920s/1930s finery, even the street signs, have been designed in the Art Deco style.

We did an hour long tour of the Art Deco quarter and got to learn a bit about the history of Napier and see the Art Deco buildings.  After an Earth Quake in 1931 flattened most of the CBD, the city decided to rebuild in the ‘modern style’ which at that time was Art Deco, Frontier and Spanish Mission Styles.  Walking around the CBD you do really see the mix of all three styles, although Art Deco was obviously favoured as there are Art Deco decorations on the Mission and Frontier buildings as well as the ones in the classic Deco style.

I loved Napier, the city has a lovely vibe to it, the people are so friendly and rightly so are very proud of their city and it’s heritage so much so that they have a festival every year dedicated to Art Deco and the 1930′s where everyone dresses up in their finest flapper girl and guy outfits.

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North Island Day 3:

We went to the Waiotapu Thermal Wonderland, which is famous for the Lady Knox Geyser that goes off every morning, one of the few Geyser’s in the world.  

We got there for about 10:00 in time to see a the Lady Knox Geyser go off, I’m not quite sure what a geyser is but basically there’s a lot of hot water bubbling under the surface of the Rock and when the company add something similar to soap to the water it sparks an eruption of boiling hot water.  It blasts out water up to 3. High and usually last from 5-30mins, it was very cool and not something I’m likely to see again unless I go to yellow stone in Montana as that has a geyser as well. 

The area also has a lot of thermal rock pools that you can do three walks around, a 30min, 40min or 75min walk we only did the 30min one as we were fairly tired from the night before, but some of the pools we saw were amazing they looked like something out of Jurassic park. 

 One called the Devils Ink pot was just a mass of what looked like bubbling tar but it was actually mud and some crude oil, there was a massive pool called artists pallet and it was all different colours, caused by sulphurs and other chemicals it’s just incredible to see what nature can do.  The last one was saw literally looked liked someone had poured a sherbet lemon into some water apparently the colours changed with the cloud cover.

For those actually wanting to know what a geyser is here’s the Wikipedia page.

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North Island Road Trip Evening 2:

(Sorry for the blurry picture, but this is them doing a haka)

For the rafting and our evening event we were in Rotorua, which is known as the cultural heart of New Zealand.

We went to Tamaki Maori village for the evening, on the way there we got told that before we entered the Maori would be three warriors to challenges the chiefs from each bus – our chief was a guy from North Hampton called John, the chief had to be a man bit sexist but anyway – before laying a peace symbol at their feet and one of the Chiefs would have to pick it up to symbolise they come in peace.  This is he traditional greeting for all visitors.  We were told that we couldn’t laugh or smile during this first bit as the Warriors would be pulling funny facial expressions and they stick their tongues out a lot as well during the ritual.  It is a great insult if you laugh or smile during this bit and if a warrior catches you we were told they’d turn their attention to us as they’d be distracted… Not sure how true that was but anyway we managed to get through it without anyone insulting the Warriors.

Then the chief told us that we could relax and we were free to enter the village where there were little huts dotted around the main square and at each one there were two Maori’s explaining part of their culture.  One was teaching the haka, another was showing how the Warriors trained by running up and down a ladder on the ground, another was explains about the tattoos the Maoris got on their faces, the right side represents your  mothers family and the left your fathers and the further up the face they went the higher status you are and they were used as sort of CVs as there was no written Maori language originally.

We asked how they were done originally and it sounded horrible it was done with bone and a chisel like thing they used to split their faces open and put ink in that way, the most common cause of death from this was loss of blood. It’s only done rarely today and barely any of the Maoris have real facial tattoos as it limits their ability to get work.  A couple of the other demonstrations were how the women made the clothes mostly up of plants and kiwi birds! They also showed us the games they used to play to improve coordination and hand eye coordination I thought I could’ve used some of that when I was little might be a bit more coordinated now!!

After the demonstrations the chief invited us into the meeting hall, where the Maoris performed an amazing show for us full of traditional and slightly more modern songs and dances, finishing of course with a Haka. I literally can not describe how amazing this show was I’ve never seen anything like it. Was a real insight into their culture.

We then got shown to the food ‘pit’ they cooked our food in a traditional way underground using hot rocks. One of the brothers was describing the technique and was saying you can do it in your back garden, you need volcanic rocks for the best effect though, when he said this everyone started laughing because volcanic rocks are so easy to come by in the rest of the world the brother sort of looked a bit sheepish and shrugged in New Zealand there’s volcanic rock all over the place.

After that it was the meal which was so good, it was a buffet and since Jess and I have basically been living off pasta or rice and veggies we made the most of having some different food! We had traditional New Zealand pudding which is basically a chocolate sponge with custard again so good. To round off the evening the waiting staff got the Chiefs and a lot of the other guys to do a haka, which was pretty hilarious but they gave it a good go, one of the Chiefs was even doing the eye and tongue movements.  

The waiting staff and our bus drivers then performed a few more songs for us before we got back on the bus to Rotorua, on the bus our chief had to give a a brief introduction to himself and sing a song he chose our rugby sing of sweet low sweet chariot, then every other nation had to sing a song from their country as well.  It was really good fun, such an awesome way to spend a Friday night, it was the bit of our trip that I was looking forward to the most.

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North Island Road Trip Day 2 Morning:

We had booked to do some rafting so it was an early morning pick up, once we got there we had a talk about what we were going to do and what we could get kitted out in.  We were rafting on a river which means that the water is slightly warmer the gut explaining everything to us said the water was 20c so we didn’t need wetsuits, but everyone opted for them.

Once we were kitted out we went out to the river and were split into groups of 6, and got into a boat whilst being taught what to do when we got down the massive 7m waterfall. 

You put you paddle flat along the outside of the boat then hold onto the outside rope and sit down in the middle and cling on to a handle on the floor of the raft basically.  It was good fun though, we down two mini waterfalls and a few Rapids first, which were surprisingly fine, they look worse than they are.  Although I had a few butterflies as I knew the big waterfall was coming up.

We got talked through plans a, b, c and d as to what happens once we go down the big waterfall if we fall out, the boat flips or we make it down and the waterfall keeps us in there for a while. This talk was pretty scary, I just thought I’m going to cling on for dear life and not let go for anything.  Thankfully we all made it down the waterfall fine, both Jess and I think we got fully submerged as we dropped down.  

Before we got onto the river and before the waterfall the guides say a Maori prayer, because the Maoris gave them permission to raft the river, and they used to give their dead to the eels in the river as they’d got a lot of food from the river during their life times so it was circle of life type of thing.  It was also to bless us and keep us safe, we also did a few Maori chants before going down the waterfall to let it know we were coming for it!!

It’s so obvious already the difference between how the aboriginals and Indian Americans are treated and how their culture is received in the general population, the Maoris have a lot more standing in New Zealand. Which is good, I’m loving New Zealand so far maybe more than Oz, the locals are very friendly the whole country just seems very chilled out and relaxed.

We did a few more Rapids after the big waterfall in one of them our guide Finn made me go and sit on the floor at the front of the raft facing with my back ton the raft.  The way it was angle din the water I think I pretty much had a waterfall coming over my head.