Day 47: Oamaru to Christchurch
Distance cycled: 4km
High point: relaxing in the Oamaru gardens
Challenge: cafe choices
Memorable because: beautiful Victorian streets
Treats consumed: Cookie pie
In the morning sun we explored the Victorian streets, literally frozen in time from the late 19th century when this was a grand and flourishing wool trade town, the harbour bustling. The rapid decline in investment and settlement here is why it is such a treasure today, bakeries and libraries in grand fronted buildings. We took to sunbathing in the gorgeous Oamaru gardens which had pockets of lawn at the bottom of cobbled paths, beautiful fountains and fragrant flowers.
Soon after lunch the weather changed and we took to pursuing the high street and museum whilst waiting for our bus. It was a lovely town in which to end our final ride, and strange to think it was virtually the end of our long awaited trip.
The bus took a few hours up the coast to Christchurch and we arrived as the sun was waning, settling up camp on the outskirts of the city, unsure what treasures awaited us.
Day 48: Christchurch
Distance cycled: 5km
High point: lake afternoon sun in the botanic gardens
Challenge: finding the ‘centre’
Memorable because: finally trying the Cronut
Treats consumed: muffin, cronut, mince pies
From a park which had hosted us under canvas for the night, we peddled to the city. Largely flattened in the 2011 earthquake, it is difficult to find the centre. Orientation based on landmarks is difficult and the highest things which holds your eye is cranes. The soundtrack is drilling and the colour is the orange hi- vis of the workmen. We found Ballantyne’s department shop, a city icon, and then shortly after, the Re:start mall, the collection of shops housed in colourful shipping containers. Another fabled ‘to do’ of the trip has been to try the Cronut, a croissant/donut. When we first spotted them we were too full to try them and ever since they have evaded us. In a patisserie in the centre we found them again- they definitely got the thumbs up!
Our little walk led us around the boutique shops to the Cathedral Square, home of the Cathedral which still stands, cordoned off by temporary fencing which has been beautified by flowers. It’s structure temperamental, it’s steeple since removed and the scaffold built to support the stain glass still remains although the stain glass does not.
Unfortunately it was the very scaffold that intended to support it, that caused the stain glass window to collapse in an aftershock. The square, like much of the city has been beautified with colour and temporary art. There is a large sculpture of a chalice, and the tram stop, since reopened.
Christchurch first experienced a shake at 4.35am 4th September 2010. At 7.1 on the Richter scale it was larger than the subsequent February, but it was 10km below the surface and further from the city centre. Still, despite the flat nature of the surroundings, it came as a surprise. There were several aftershocks which became almost part of daily life, until February 2011 when one brought down the city. It was a 6.3 but much closer to the cities centre and only 5km below the surface.
The quake still very much characterises the city today. Piles of rubble lay cordoned off behind metal gates, construction is everywhere and there is little in the way of high rise. Murals and paintings are on the sides of buildings, sculptures and positive wording graffitied on the walls.
Some parts, like Regent street, remain largely untouched and show old Christchurch. We flitted between these, and clear markers of the destruction such as the 185 empty chairs. This monument is a variety of chairs in an empty space, all painted white. None of them are screwed down and they do occasionally blow over. The designer poignantly said, they are temporary as is life. The chairs were either donated by the relatives or people around the city which is moving as they represent a little of the person, from benches to bean bags, stools and a baby carry cot.
After checking into our accomodation, we visited Hagley Park, the large green area in the city. We sat riverside observing the ducks and being covered by pollen, before walking around the botanic gardens. The afternoon was warm and it was a lovely light summers evening.
Day 49: Christchurch
Distance cycled: 8km
High point: discovering the arty city
Challenge: one way system
Memorable because: moving walking tour of the city
Treats consumed: muffin
I love that city feeling, everything wakes up early. I joined the joggers in Hagley park for a morning run around the botanic gardens, then showered and grabbed a coffee in the re:start mall with all the workers milling around on smoko. I then joined the city walking tour. It mostly retraced the steps we took the day before but seeing them through the eyes of a local. He talked of the cathedral, halted in its tracks as the Church want to pull it down and replace it, whilst many locals want to see it restored. He interestingly enough belonged to the third group who feel it should be left in its current state as a remembrance that the disaster is as much part of the city’s history as anything else. He showed us unique art pieces such as the Dance -o-mat where you can take your ipod, put $2 in the washing machine which activates the speaker and glitter ball and transforms the small area into an open air dance floor.
We also went to the Cardboard cathedral, the cities replacement which took a year and a half to build. It sits, much like everything on the city, on 8 shipping containers. The roof made of rolls of cardboard and metal. It has a glass window made up of imaged from the stain glass window. It has a steeple structure in the park immediately in front of it meaning if you stand at the right angle, it looks like it is part of the structure. It isn’t traditionally beautiful, but it’s inventive and has that same Christchurch positivity and spirit which is uniquely part of this rebuild.
We also visited the site of the CTV building. There is nothing left, a beam to make the perimeter. 115 of the 185 lives lost were lost here as the building pancaked. The third floor was an English language school and he read us an account of the fear felt by one of the survivors which was incredibly was moving.
He ‘signed off’ by saying that visiting now is special. Christchurch has never been this way and will never be again. New plans and investments will reshape the CBD and the community are playing an active part in that process. The city will be shaped by this, some things being restored, others reinvented, and it is a strange but interesting time to see it, feeling the emotion of downtrodden but also positive and forward thinking.
I met Alice at one of the outskirts shopping malls for some Christmas shopping, then with sore feet we returned to the centre in the evening for Friday night food trucks and an open air movie of Up!
Day 50: Christchurch and New Brighton
Distance cycled: 45km
High point: Carols in the square
Memorable because: bottle lake forest
Treats consumed: scone
Our final farewell was a sleepy one as Alice left at 6:30am for her bus. I had a little longer in bed before a morning jog around Hagley Park, with lots of other sporty Saturday people. Packing up I headed in the direction of New Brighton Beach following the River Avon. I had a bike mishap as my luggage rack collapsed and had to be speedily reconstructed roadside, but made it for the tail end of their Christmas parade. I think this is my first Christmas parade and certainly my first Kiwi Christmas parade. There was mountain bikers stunting, singing and Santa in a lifeboat. I walked around the seaside town and pier, then followed the coast to Bottle Lake Forest. As much as I could with my heavily laden bike, I enjoyed the bike trails which wound in and out of the forest, and got completely disorientated.
I had a picnic lunch at the beach and was joined on my bench by an old lady who chatted at me with occasional encouragement. She lived alone and was getting some fresh air. When she left she said “you made my day” which made me smile because she also made mine!
I returned to the city for the evening where they were having carols in the square outside the cathedral. It was nice to see Christmas but in a completely different way to home.
Day 51: Lyttelton
Distance cycled: 40k
High point: Summit road (literally)
Challenge: descending steeply along the bridle path
Memorable because: impressive thunder and lightening
Treats consumed: muffin
I left the city in glorious sunshine, heading east to the port hills. It was an incredibly steep climb up Dyers Pass and there were throngs of cyclists out, none as laden as I was, their streamlined bikes passing me with smiles and encouragement, as well as relief I would imagine. The road was long and varied from steep to vary steep, but the view was incredible out over the Canterbury plains and on to Kaikoura and the east coast. From the view point at the top I caught my breath, and where many people descended back down mountain bike trails, I kept climbing to take Summit road, which held the knife edge of the hills, descending into valleys either side.
My bike was grumbling, as were my thighs when I took the bridle path into Lyttelton. It was too steep to ride the descent and I threw myself off kamikaze style a few times, before taking the luggage off to start again. Some kind residents offered to carry bits down for me and leave them at the bottom of the trail. Still somewhat lighter, I struggled to control my weighty bike on the gravel.
Rather disgruntled (but exceptionally grateful) I made it to Lyttelton, a port town on the coast. Each street is named after a cathedral city so you move from London to Canterbury, Norwich to Oxford street, all fronted with quaint coffee shops and boutiques. The harbour was stacked high with logs ready to be shipped, containers and cranes making up the view. The houses date back in age, each level up the hill representing a slightly newer era. Still this area was badly damaged in the earthquakes and new squares and personality breaks up its historic feel. After a peruse I ducked into the tastiest looking coffee shop and sat under a blanket as the skies darkened and thunder and lightening rolled in. Despite planning on going into Banks Peninsula, the lack of alternatives to camping meant as soon as the rain broke, I caught the bus back to the city to try again another day.
My hostel was hosting a street art exhibition which had some amazing paintings and footage of street art in all it’s various forms, and the artists that which have brought Christchurch’s streets to life.