I spent a day off a cruise boat in Christchurch in December 2010. It was not long after the September earthquake that caused quite a bit of damage, but not enough to spoil the beauty of this lovely city and its surrounds. It was, however, before the major aftershock a few months later that caused way more damage and took the lives of 185 people.
This time I came with my mum to visit my brother and his wife who now live here and, although healing, the city wounds are deep and the scars highly visible. Christchurch looks very different now, but it still has a lovely, laid back feel and we have thoroughly enjoyed our two weeks here.
We have had some beautiful weather, but their summers are much too cool for my liking. And poor old mum, from the tropics, has shivered her way around the countryside. Our warm clothing has certainly had a good work out.
We were able to explore Christchurch thoroughly using a pass that allowed us to ride the trams around the city, go punting on the Avon River, take a train tour through the gorgeous Botanic Gardens, and ride the gondola up to a mountain top for a magnificent view over Christchurch, Lyttleton and the surrounding sea and countryside. Many city spaces are vacant where building rubble has been cleared, many are active construction and repair sites, some buildings stand fenced off and silent awaiting a decision on how and when they might receive their makeover, and some buildings are open for business once again. The museum and art gallery were among the latter, both very impressive and well worth visiting.
A highlight of the trip was the few days we spent driving around the north of this island. The drive along the coastline from Christchurch to Nelson is beautiful. We enjoyed an unscheduled stop at Rangiora where we discovered a fabulous bakery while we waited for a flat tyre to be repaired. We drove through rugged mountains in various states of undress according to how many pine forests had been felled. We passed rolling green pastures, grazing sheep and deer, extensive vineyards and wild ocean, all very scenic.
We loved picturesque Picton, where ferries leave the little harbour to go to Wellington. A toilet stop here required a degree to operate the door and facilities, but luckily it spoke as well. "You have a maximum of 10 minutes." "The toilet will flush after you have washed your hands." Quite brilliant really.
We loved Nelson in the north and enjoyed its Byron Bay sort of feeling - clean, green and by the sea with a relaxed, yet vibrant life style. We stayed overnight and awoke to brilliant sunshine, but gusty winds. After exploring the local Saturday morning markets and breakfasting on, what else but, lamb and mint burgers, we headed towards the west coast.
This was another very beautiful landscape of mountains and rivers and sleepy towns. When we hit the coast at the very aptly named Cape Foulwind we enjoyed a pleasant break watching fur seals and their many pups frolicking in the ocean and on a rocky outcrop. It was like reading a "Where's Wally" book, but harder, trying to spot the seals camouflaged against the rocks. (Wish someone would dress them in red and white striped tops.)
Next we followed the coastline south to Greymouth. A stop at Pancake Rocks and Blowholes was fun. We were able to borrow a wheelchair from the kiosk so that mum could accompany us on the walkway that provides many advantageous viewing points. The sea is furious here, eroding the rocks and forcing itself into underground caverns, carving rocky bridges and roaring relentlessly. The limestone rocks were formed underwater millions of years ago, but the mystery to this day is why they formed in the very obvious layered pancake effect.
Although most of the day was done under an amazingly blue sky, it turned grey over Greymouth where we stayed overnight in a B&B overlooking the sea. The Greymouth races had been on during the day and the town's numbers had swelled for this annual event. Quite a few merry revellers continued their winning or losing celebrations at the local pub where we ate a hearty pub dinner.
Greymouth is an interesting place at the mouth of the Grey River (in case you didn't guess). The water front is taken up by the airport, the industrial estate and a large, lovely cemetery. I guess everyone here eventually gets a prime piece of waterfront real estate.
It was a wild, windy night spent here, but soon after daylight the skies once again cleared and we drove back to Christchurch via Arthur's Pass and the most breathtaking scenery so far. The colours were strong and pure under bright sunshine - deep blue lakes, clear icy rivers, gushing waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, purple, pink and yellow wild flowers, vivid green pastures - you get the idea.
The western side of Arthur's Pass National Park, where wet weather is more common than dry, has deeply gorged rivers flowing through dense rainforest. The eastern side of the park has wide, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast beech forests. Down the middle of 'the great divide' are snow-covered peaks, glaciers and scree slopes. The road through the park is a spectacular piece of extreme civil engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes.
Other scenic sightseeing drives took us to the very French Akaroa and other lovely spots on the Banks Peninsula such as Little River, Governor's Bay and Lyttleton.
So, now our visit is nearly done, ending on a weekend of celebrations for Mum's 80th birthday, the highlight being a dining experience on the Christchurch Tram Restaurant. An exquisite 4 course meal and fine wine tasted even better because we were able to enjoy the city sites (warts and all) as the tram circled the city while we dined.
Homeward bound tomorrow with many new happy memories.