Sunday 2 August 2020

Parakeets and a McCaw

I'm surprised and dismayed (because of its increasingly important function as my surrogate memory) to randomly discover so many gaps in this blog - places I've been, things I've done, that have gone unrecorded. Presumably that's because I was just too busy, flitting on to the next thing before I had a chance to write about the previous one. I certainly remember once flying home from Johannesburg to Auckland for one night in my own bed before taking off again next day for Rarotonga - where, and this is a downside of such things, I fell so soundly asleep on a lounger the following afternoon that I scored absolutely epic sunburn. Anyway, sigh, those days are now gone forever, probably.

Oh well. The blank I've just discovered is a trip down to Christchurch in June two years ago, which was followed so rapidly by a Silversea cruise along the Norwegian coast that it just never got written about. And there are many people in this country, some of them of my acquaintance, who would never be able to understand how I could possibly not skite about that visit - because it involved Richie McCaw. Regular 😀 readers may recall I have actually mentioned him before: with a Chicago connection and then, more understandably, at TRENZ in Dunedin that year.
He is a rugby hero, captain of the All Blacks when they won two World Cups, and forever after a national icon. More relevantly to a rugby-phobe like me, he's a very pleasant, quietly-spoken man who, amongst other things, is partner in a helicopter business based in Christchurch. That's how come I met him at TRENZ, which led to taking up his offer of a flit in his chopper a month or so later. 
So I flew down to ChCh, my home town but much of it looking very unfamiliar these days, post-earthquakes, and checked into the George, which is the hotel I'm currently writing a review of, and was hoping I'd have made a few useful comments about in here. Tch. So, anyway, it's a 5-star boutique hotel across the Avon from Hagley Park, too middle-aged to have much character, but very pleasant, art-filled and comfortable, if a little on the chilly side in winter for a now-soft-Aucklander like me. The staff hit the right note of unfussy solicitousness; though it was kind of chilling to learn from the PR lady that they are forbidden to engage in eye-contact with a guest without exchanging a greeting. Most people would surely do that, anyway - it just grates a bit to hear it prescribed like that. But my room was nice, with a restful view across into the park.
I had a lovely time, wandering around the city, re-connecting with important places from my past, noting the new constructions and regretting those ruins still untouched (Christ Church Cathedral, heart of the city, you look SO sad). Speaking of which, the Memorial Wall recording the 185 who died in the 2011 earthquakes has some heart-rending personal touches, like the note next to one name: "Aunty Mandy - Mum says you smelled of jasmine".

Next morning, two of the hotel staff and I went out to the airport and met up with Richie and his business partner Terry, and heard all about the helicopters - tourism, fire-fighting (the pilots' favourite activity) and their conservation work with the orange-fronted parakeet, regularly transporting young birds back into remote and predator-free environments.
Yes, yes, laudable of course - but what we were all itching to do was to get airborne. Which we did, so easily, lifting up with Richie at the controls, and then swinging out over the Waimakariri's convoluted braids, over the Plains, and up along the gorge into the Southern Alps. We flew over the TranzApline tracks beside the turquoise river, Richie marvelling at all the work behind the building of the track, bridges, viaducts and tunnels; and then, excitingly, we landed on a snowy peak. 
Chest Peak is over 6000 feet and the sky was clear, so we had brilliant views back over the Plains to the city, and along the Alps as far as Aoraki Mt Cook. It was glorious to be up there, just us, surrounded by so much raw (yet so easily-accessed) nature.
And then it got better - I scored the front seat for the flight back, and sat next to Richie with all that scenery unravelling beneath me as we flew back across the Canterbury Plains and river, and around and over the city, including the now-empty Red Zone, the CBD and finally back to the airport. Fabulous! I love sightseeing in helicopters, they really are the best. And having a world-famous person at the controls is also a bit of a buzz, to be honest. Even if it is just for being good at rugby.

No comments:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...