Sunday 29th November
The day dawned dull and grey - perfect for travelling. We drove north around the edge of the harbour and via Governors Bay towards Lyttleton.
We stopped in Lyttleton Harbour, a working port inside another collapsed volcanic crater. It was full of cranes and containers but had lovely views across the water to Diamond Bay, with its sparkling water and yachts moored off shore.
We planned to stop for coffee but first stopped in at the i-site to pick up a tourist map of Christchurch and ask advice on parking.
It was like stepping back in time! At her desk was a charming lady who might have been called Marjorie. She produced a sketch map that was full of enthusiasm but short on detail. She even produced some holiday snaps from her handbag to show us the views to be had from a nearby peak! Turning to the subject of a nice place for coffee, she led us to the door and from there pointed out several local cafes, before going on to say that none of them were very good and in fact the best place for coffee was in back in Governor's Bay!
It turned out that she was right.
The 'She Experience' Cafe, despite its strange, and perhaps misleading, name was a Chocolaterie that served excellent coffee and commanded superb views down the length of Lyttleton Harbour to the ocean, both from its indoor tables and from its deck.
Completely (but only briefly) drawn into the rather pretentious organic cocoa / luxury decadence twaddle on the menu, we ordered two 'luxury latte mochas'. Bills was made with melted white chocolate and cardamom, and mine with the darkest of dark chocolate. They were pretty good, and well worth our detour!!
Next stage was to drive up over Marjorie's route to Christchurch Botanic Gardens. She had eschewed the main road via a tunnel, in favour of the steep and narrow road over Gebbies Pass. Madge relished the challenge!
Christchurch was smaller than expected and we parked in the Botanic Gardens before walking around Christchurch. We stopped into the Canterbury Museum which had loads of displays about NZ history and a brilliant Da Vinci exhibition too.
The city had, of course, been a scene of devastation following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which severely damaged many building in the centre of the town and killed 185 people. Although the local Cantabrians are a resilient bunch and are slowly rebuilding their city, there are endless patches of bare ground where damaged buildings have been demolished, and cranes stand where new structures are starting to reappear.
As we walked in the sunshine, the city felt rather sad despite all the re-building. We viewed the old, damaged cathedral (closed indefinitely but not yet demolished) and the new transitional 'Cardboard Cathedral' a new and modern temporary structure built from 98 huge cardboard tubes and shipping containers. As we approached its dramatic wedge-shaped structure we could see and hear a service taking place through its clear polycarbonate windows. The church was packed with people and it was strange to see the clerics and choristers in their traditional cassocks and robes in such a modern setting.
Nearby was the '185 Chairs' memorial to those who died in the 2011 quake. A square of green grass to symbolise regeneration, on top of which are 185 chairs of all possible types - office chairs, armchairs, wheelchairs, kitchen stools and baby car seats - all painted white.
Also in the centre of the city is the re:START mall, a shopping mall built from shipping containers. There are shops, banks, bars and galleries all creatively designed and built in colourful decorated containers. It's buzzing with life.
Across the street was Quake City, lots of information about the earthquakes and a very moving series of recordings of people affected by the event. There are harrowing accounts from the bereaved and injured as well as descriptions of the scenes of devastation in the middle of a normal working day by those who helped in either official or unofficial capacities.
After all this sadness it was nice to be able to wander back through the Botanic gardens, to walk through the heritage rose gardens and stop for a quiet beer in the cottage garden outside the Curator's House.
Our last night of freedom camping tonight. We drove out of town for 30 minutes, south to Coed Ford to camp, alongside other like-minded people. Loads of space, no facilities and quiet creek with a gravel beach. Time to pack our bags and brace ourselves for the gradual transition from peaceful, comfortable, easy-going New Zealand to the colourful, crowded, challenging world that will confront us in India.