03/12/2012 - 04/12/2012 28 °C
The New Zealand experience entered its final phase on Monday with the drive north to our last stop, Christchurch. As ever, the scenery on the way was glorious and we kept stopping the car to get out and take pictures or simply to look and drink it all in. We ate our simple picnic lunch overlooking one of the best views, the Rakaia Gorge.
But gradually the mountains and lakes gave way to rolling green hills and finally to the coastal plain on which Christchurch sits.
The city crept upon us suddenly, one minute we were driving through leafy suburbs and long stretches of tree lined roads, the next we were on a four lane highway with cars and people everywhere... and road-works! Road-works were everywhere, not digging channels for utilities or the road widening/resurfacing that we get, but rebuilding roads that were damaged in the earthquake. Even our hotel was still shrouded in scaffolding in parts.
Once settled, we drove out of the centre a few kilometres to visit Geoff and Di Illston, old friends who had emigrated to New Zealand 19 years ago. Their house survived the first big quake, but was badly damaged in the second, months later. It looks fine at first sight but on closer inspection, you can see cracks in almost every wall.... they are waiting for the insurers to decide if it would be more cost effective to repair it or simply knock it down and start again! Whilst we sat talking to them, we experienced another earth tremor... they’ve not gone away! They live in an outer suburb called the Port Hills, and they drove us up to the very top of them in their 4WD for a stupendous view over Christchurch city, its port, Lyttelton, and its beach suburb, New Brighton (of course), and beyond as far as the Southern Alps.
For our very last day, Geoff and Di drove us out to the coast to Akoroa, a really pretty little seaside town to enjoy a last picnic in the New Zealand sunshine. Akaroa is wonderfully at the head of a long natural harbour reaching into the Banks Peninsula, which is the eroded remains of an ancient shield volcano (and Lyttelton harbour is similar), so maybe it isn't too surprising that Christchurch is in an earthquake zone...
On the way back they took us to see what remains of the historic centre of Christchurch, which had been a beautiful city built around rivers and parks. Now it resembles a war zone, with exposed interior walls of half collapsed buildings, great empty spaces where clearance has already taken place and piles of rubble where it hasn’t. I’d hope to see the remains of the cathedral but you can’t get a close look as the whole centre is fenced off because, obviously, it’s unsafe. A new word has evolved to describe the effects of the earthquake... ‘munted’, meaning something like, broken/destroyed.
Great efforts are being made to save some of the more precious buildings and to keep people coming into the city. One such enterprise is the ‘Container Mall’ where gaily painted shipping containers are being used as shops, one container with a glass front as the main shop, another set at right angles on top for storage. The ingenuity of desperation.....
Then it was back to the hotel to squash everything back into the suitcases and get an early night ready for our 4.00am call and our last car journey in these beautiful islands... to the airport.