Christchurch reminded me of Cambodia; it was very obviously still healing. As we wondered around the city it felt like the earthquakes had only been a few months rather than a few years ago. There were still collapsed buildings surrounded by cordons and JCBs. The grand old church had its face ripped off and glared down at us with its remaining innards exposed. There were obvious and ominous spaces where buildings, features, people had once been. Half of the city was still a building site. I was surprised by how much clear up work they still needed to get through which brought to light how much they must have already done.
It was all a little eerie.
But what this place had done was brushed itself off, stood up proud and ploughed on with a determined look on its face to get done what needed to be done. There were clever and inspiring initiatives popping up all over the place. Peter and I visited the re:start mall which used old storage containers to operate shop businesses from. The containers were brightly coloured, the shops were good quality, there was interesting statues to commemorate what had happened and it generally had a really good vibe about it. We wandered past random features from the gap filler initiative and enjoyed a walk along the Avon where some of the tourist attractions were still going strong. It was wonderful to see and the city had even built a museum which talks you through the events that occurred. They weren’t trying to hide what they had been through but bore their scars proudly and had become even stronger because of it. A good life lesson to learn.
I did find myself wondering what the draw of the city was before the quakes had occurred, after all, this place is known as “quake city” and I wondered how much of the quake-centric sights actually drew in more tourists than before hand. But some of the quaint back streets, impressive street art and bustling businesses as well as the beautiful parks and gardens were all going pre-quake.
Whilst in Christchurch we got to stay with a wonderful friend of ours who I knew through the zoo network. She and her partner are “pommies” (English expats living in New Zealand) and they welcomed us into their lovely home for us to eat, drink, be merry and share endless zoo stories. And, of course it meant a visit to the zoo.
Orana Wildlife Park was a fantastic place to visit. I loved the open layout of the place which was very reminiscent of where I used to work. The animals were in fabulous enclosures and they did a few things slightly differently which was inspiring to see. The most famous of these differences is their Lion Encounter experience where you, the human, get in the cage and the Lions surround you from all directions. Seeing a Lion standing on top of the cage from below was a very new experience for me and the keepers were great throughout the experience. I was very impressed but did not envy those keepers in having to control the public from within the cage whilst keeping an eye on the Lions and their behaviour and also attempting an educational talk all at the same time!
Peter and I went to see the Kiwi in the nocturnal house (naturally) and, yet again I was in awe of their size and behaviour and just to be so close to something so secretive. A great honour indeed. The Tasmanian Devils were roaringly wonderful and we loved the innovative ways in which many of the enclosures had been set up. The Gorilla house (as well as the inhabitants) was marvellous to behold and their palm oil campaign really gets a good message home. We both enjoyed the visit immensely and, as always, it was great to be back in the zoo world.
The next day, however held much more a travel day. We jumped in Nessie early in the morning, said a fond goodbye to our hospitable friends and headed out to Akaroa otherwise known as the “Banks Peninsula.” It was a truly glorious morning and as we headed into the green and luscious pastures that make up most of the land we marvelled at such a beautiful landscape. The early morning cloud was being burned off in front of our eyes but in an attempt to stay a little longer it hugged the higher hills and crept slowly over their sides and downwards, spiralling into the sunshine to disappear until evening.
We carried on into the main town which has a distinctly french theming due to the European settlers that colonised the region. The sun was out, the harbours were calm and quiet and the early morning crepes we filled our bellies with were utterly delicious. It was one of those dreamy mornings that we had come to take for granted. Exploring this new little town and appreciating its quaint charm was all we had on the agenda for the day and it was certainly lovely.
We also drove further to discover a “wharenui” (an authentic Maori meeting house) and further still was an incredibly flat beach where Peter suddenly got a kick of Maori inspiration. What started off as a couple of small doodles in the sand suddenly turned into huge works of art as he tried to design his perfect Hammerhead Shark tattoo design in accordance with what we had seen in Rotorua.
On our way back we were chasing the sun off the peninsula as it sank and allowed the swirling mists to be turned into clouds once again. The place felt like a factory of clouds as well as just a stunningly beautiful area of the world. I hadn’t known what to expect from Akaroa but I had certainly enjoyed it.
As we were winding round the hilly narrow roads we came across a cyclist who was trying to thumb for a lift. Now Peter and I had discussed the possibility of picking up hitchhikers for a while whilst in New Zealand They are everywhere and I was all for picking up one or two, just for the experience more than anything else. When we saw the cyclist we finally decided to do it. After all she looked like she needed some help.
After stopping on the side of the road we jumped out of the car and were met with a beaming smile, an American accent and a broken bike. She was trying to get her bike to Christchurch in order to get it fixed but still had a long way to go to get off the peninsula so she was very grateful we had stopped. Her alternative plan was to camp on the peninsula that evening and then see how far she could get the next day. However we picked her up, shoved her bike in the back and drove onwards, listening to her very enthusiastic tales of her home and a competition she had won and then subsequently lost.
After many blinding miles driving towards the setting sun we made it off the peninsula and headed for Christchurch, dropping our new friend off (with her bike) as close to her destination as possible. I was glad we had picked her up, particularly because she was in genuine need and we’d shared a few laughs along the way. I do always find it rather difficult though to cram an entire basis for a friendship into one car ride or one evening in a campsite or one experience. But I read something once that stated it can be good to just have that person alongside you for a brief time period. You both share the memories but that can be it. You don’t need to add them on social media or send them a Christmas card catch up every year or even make an effort to ever see them again. But that shared experience can, for a brief time, make you equals and acquaintances. And even if that doesn’t blossom into something more it still occurred and maybe even helped you to learn about, explore or define a place a little bit more. And it only occurs to me now that, despite the shared drive, the long miles on the road and even longer conversations about ourselves and each other, I don’t even remember the name of the girl we rescued.