Christchurch, New Zealand
Day 2 began where Day 1 left off – on a plane!
We got into Christchurch just after midnight. From there it was a fairly simple matter of getting through Customs, explaining what all the “yes” boxes were that we’d ticked on our arrival card, having our bags xrayed and sniffed by the sniffer dogs, and finally we were free to go. Our motel runs a shuttle service until 2 am, so all we had to do was call and by the time we got to the meeting place, they were already there.
Another couple had called before we had, but hadn’t managed to work out where they had to go, so after putting our bags in the bag, the driver disappeared back into the terminal to look for them. When we got to the motel, she asked if the airline had told us that daylight saving began in New Zealand today.
Uh, no. So you mean it’s not 1 am, it’s 2 am?
We went to bed pretty much as soon as we got into the room (after telling Kramstable that no, just because there were three pillows in the bed, it didn’t mean it was a three-person bed, and no he wasn’t going to sleep with us).
We’d only booked this motel one night, because it was close to the airport, and were transferring to another one closer to the city centre for our second night, but in hindsight it would have been better to have stayed where we were.
We had (a very expensive) breakfast in a cafe down the road, and checked out at 10 am. Our rental car company had a shuttle service that picked us up from our hotel and took us back to their terminal at the airport (yay!) After sorting out the paperwork (and arranging to get a new registration label for the car during the week!) we were on our way.
Only we had no idea where we were going, so we just asked the guy at the rental agency how to get out of the airport. After a brief detour we made our way into the city with no real idea of what to do.
We decided a tour on the Christchurch tram would be interesting, to give us a feel for the place. Our tram was a 1920 tram, which had originally been a two-driver tram but later modified to a one-driver tram. It does a couple of circuits around the city, going past the main interest spots over 17 stops. You can get off and on at any of the stops on the day you buy your ticket.
The thing that strikes you most about Christchurch is the devastation from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. The 2010 quake was the strongest, but the bulk of the damage was done by the 2011 quake. It’s hard to describe what it’s like, and difficult to see what’s changed because I wasn’t familiar with the city and what it looked like before, but it was sad to see the broken and boarded up buildings, empty blocks and remains of what had once stood.
I felt a bit guilty about travelling round and looking at it all – but I got the feeling that the city is recovering and rebuilding and they don’t want you to feel sad, but to share in what seems to be an optimism for the city’s future. We saw things riding from the rubble – the Re-Start mall built out of brightly coloured shipping containers, the public art installations and paintings on some of the empty walls, and the exhibition about future Christchurch.
There’s a lot of activity, and I couldn’t help wondering if every crane and digger in New Zealand was in Christchurch. I felt especially sorry for the cathedral. It was one of Christchurch’s iconic buildings and was so badly damaged that apparently there has been a decision to demolish it, but no real plan on how to replace it. There is opposition to this, and I can understand this. I imagine it would be like if Sydney lost the Opera House. Still Cathedral Square is a hub of activity for the city, and one of the new features is an installation called Planted Wheare, “affirming life and existence, alongside the acknowledgement of loss”.
The last leg of the tram route is through New Regent Street, which our driver Ian described as the best shopping in Christchurch, and we just happened to see the Wizard of Christchurch and a couple of his apprentices at a coffee shop.
After lunch we found our new motel just out of the city centre, It’s the first motel that I’ve ever been to with emergency advice for what to do in an earthquake in the motel directory. Slabs and Kramstable had a rest and I went for a walk to get a bit closer to some of the things we’d seen from the tram.
I love walking through new cities and exploring and seeing the little random things you’d never see from a car, bus or tram.
In the evening we headed out to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve for an introduction to New Zealand’s birdlife and Maori culture. First up was a tour of the birdlife in the park. This included a stop-off with the slimy eels and an up-close encounter with New Zealand’s most annoying bird, the kea. The kea at the park are very fond of people and will just land on your shoulder and start to chew your jacket, scarf or finger (if you’re stupid enough to put your hand anywhere near their beak lalalalala).
The main focus of this part of the night was the kiwi, which we saw in the nocturnal house. We learned that there is more than one type of kiwi, their eggs are massive (see picture – this is a kiwi egg compared to a chicken egg – when the mama kiwis lay an egg it’s so big it’s equivalent to a human giving birth to a 3 year old child – and they do this three times a year!) A baby kiwi’s chance of survival in the wild before they reach 6 months is about five per cent, so a lot of the eggs are brought to the park and incubated and raised to a size where they have a better chance of survival before being put back into their habitat, which has apparently helped to maintain the population. They are threatened by all manner of introduced species including stoats (introduced to kill the introduced rabbits, but kiwi are easier to catch and kill), possums, cats and dogs, and wild pigs.
The second part of the night was the Ko Tane Maori experience, where we learned about the Ngai Tahu Maori people, which is the tribe of the South Island. We received a traditional welcome to the South Island and learned about how the people lived in the area. Then we had a performance of some of their cultural songs and dances, which included a chance for the women to learn a poi dance (this is not a skill I possess) and the men to learn a haka. It was fascinating introduction to the culture of this country and something I’m really glad we did.
Finally it was time for dinner. Four courses, including dips, kumara soup (“one of the best soups I have ever had,” said Kramstable – and I agree), a huge banquet of meat and vegetables cooked in a pit of hot rocks, and dessert. Somewhere in the middle of all this food, the kids went out to feed the deer, which Kramstable enjoyed immensely. By this time we’d definitely made up for last night’s dinner on the plane (not sure how long I can drag this one out as an excuse for overeating!), and it was time to head back to our motel for (we hoped) more sleep than we got last night.