Friday, February 12, 2016

NZ Roadtrip Christchurch: cracks, cones and cathedral

It's a bit odd, coming to your home town as a tourist. In the case of Christchurch, that's somewhat less the case since the city is superficially so very much changed, post-earthquakes, from the place I grew up in - though still itself, underneath. Well, not literally underneath - that's where all the fault lines and lurking liquefaction lie - but in the parts that weren't so much affected by the shakes. So that's not my side of the city, where I was astonished to see entire suburbs completely gone, just the road network and garden trees remaining: so disorientating that I got lost just blocks from where my former home still (fortunately) stands, apparently unharmed.

The roads are still bumpy, there are still ranks of cones everywhere, and the Cathedral is still its sad self, crumbling, open to the elements and the depredations of pigeons, its future still, after five years, undecided. But. There's a lot that's new too, and exciting, and fun. The clanking old trams are running frequently, their drivers maintaining an impressive level of enthusiasm in their continuous commentaries, the re:START mall of converted container shops is colourful and buzzing (and serving excellent food - pulled pork and beans taco, yum!), and there's lots to do.


The Christchurch Pass ($80) bought us entry to first of all the gondola up the Port Hills, the easy way up to a view (though I watched a man hiking up the Bridle Path with a toddler on his back) over the city to the mountains, and over Lyttelton Harbour. There's a Time Tunnel thing included, which is slightly naff, but ends with a rather touching message about the future from a young girl.

The second element is a punt ride along the Avon through the Botanic Gardens: half an hour of - well, not peace, there were too many people enjoying the river for that - but interest and colour, and fun. Our punter (?) was full of information  - I never knew the the city's weeping willows are all descendants of the tree that grew over Napoleon's grave on St Helena - and skilled at propelling the punt (unlike the *cough* Chinese trio in the canoe ahead of us, doggedly zigzagging from bank to bank). I liked that two ladies sitting on a park bench called out to us, "Are you enjoying our city?"

The third part of the Pass was the tram ride. There is a dining tram for what I imagine would be a pretty bumpy - but very good, I'm told - dinner; but we tried several other places during our stay. Casa Publica in pretty, restored New Regent Street does a fabulous made-at-the-table guacamole; the Friday Food Trucks are less elegant, but the vibe was reminiscent of my youth's Friday nights in the city when the shops were open till 9pm! Best of all was Protocol, at the end of Colombo Street: pulled beef cheek on mash. Delicious.

We were up that end because our Airbnb place was up in Dyer's Pass Road, a grand old dame that the owners had bought as an insurance write-off, and were restoring. They have some way to go, but are full of the determined enthusiasm that kind of defines Christchurch now (if you overlook the worn-down depression that's resulted for many from insurance disputes and painfully slow progress).

But let's not finish on a low note: Christchurch is still a lovely city with much to offer and enjoy - Museum, Botanic Gardens, lively restaurant scene, shops, exciting renovations underway along the river, at the Arts Centre, Town Hall, pop-ups... It's a city just full of splendid sights.

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