Friday, April 01, 2011

Honeymoon in NZ - Christchurch & Akaroa

Sorry for the long-overdue post. After the February quake in Christchurch it seemed insensitive and distasteful to crow about our trip there, knowing how much the country was hurting. But the people of New Zealand are gob-smackingly resilient, so I'll take a cue from them and start moving forward.
By looking back!

We left Kaikoura in the early afternoon of December 27th. Some of you know that this is my birthday (getting perilously close to 40) and I honestly couldn't have asked for anything more on that special day. I was newly-married to my best friend and we were waist-deep in exploring one of our favorite places. Even the creepy kid (you'll see later) couldn't dampen my spirits.

Our last train ride - from Kaikoura to Christchurch

The view from our carriage. Look! More sheep!

What a nice man

Trying to mimic the photo from 4+ years ago (see below)

Mike's first visit to NZ, circa 2006

Birthday treat: train tea and scones

They were actually reeeeeally goooood

View as we made our way from Kaikoura to Christchurch

So: the kid. This bloody kid.
There was a family sitting across from us on the train, whose child was a bit "unruly". I'm guessing he was around 5 years old, and of his two parents, his father was the one who seemed to pay him any attention. His mother slept the entire time.
That's all well and good, except that the "unruly" child ran all over the place, screaming at the top of his lungs for no reason, slamming his hands on the table during various outbursts, etc. He wasn't an unhappy child - he just didn't seem to know what was appropriate behavior in public situations. Neither of his parents attempted to get him to tone it down, and just seemed to want to sleep (I guess they had gotten used to sleeping through his shenanigans).
With no one else to play with, he zeroed in on us. At first we tried to gently ignore him, but then we felt bad as the kid didn't mean any harm and obviously had do one else to play with. So we opened the proverbial door and let him in:

While he was genuinely nice and friendly, it started to get old once he started saying things like my bag was dirty, and that we had to play Fireman Fred (or Sam, or whatever) with him. This included acting out being caught in a fire and, conversely, putting out the fire. I let Mike take over as I was quickly getting tired and once that happens I shut down. After about 30-45 minutes, we were both pretty exhausted (and starting to come to our senses) when his parents suddenly awoke and noticed that he was all up in our business. First the father asked him to leave us alone and come sit with them, and then the mother did.

He ignored them both.

His mother asked again.
He ignored her again.
His mother asked again, and I told him that *maybe* he should do what his mother was asking.

He looked at me blankly.
Then he leaned in and whispered, "I don't like my mother."

At that point, dad came over and deposited him into his adjoining seat. To keep him distracted, dad pulled out his laptop and set up a computer game for the kid to play. Phew!

And then the beeping, and bopping, and whizzing, and whirring started and it seemed the volume was turned up FULL BLAST AND OH MY GOD WHAT KIND OF BIRTHDAY TRAIN RIDE FROM HELL IS THIS???

At a certain point Mike had to ask them to turn it down, which they did, but by that point we just wanted to get the heck away from this nutso family.
(To be continued....dum, dum, dummmmmm)

We pulled up in Christchurch around 5:00pm and made our way to the hostel:

Once settled in, we decided to walk a couple blocks to the town center (where Christchurch Cathedral and many of the shops and restaurants are). On the way, we saw some remnants of the earthquake that struck back in September:

Church that was minimally damaged in the previous earthquake

You can see, in the distance, a building practically destroyed by the tremors

And then we got to Cathedral Square, where the focal point is the infamous Christchurch Cathedral:

Excitement abounds about the upcoming World Cup

Christchurch Cathedral

Location of the information center, but blocked off due to quake damage

We found a restaurant for dinner, and were told that a big aftershock had hit the area the day before. Because of this, many of the restaurants had been cordoned off for safety reasons which left a few still open and packed with people.
Our restaurant seemed relatively unscathed, until we noticed the contents of the china cabinet we happened to be sitting next to. No one seemed to have gotten around to tidying it up since the latest aftershock:

After dinner, we called it an early night. We had already been to Christchurch before, so were using it as more of a stopping-off point to get to Akaroa, which is on the Banks Peninsula. We left the next morning...

We awoke to POURING rain, and no umbrellas. So we ran to the Square to catch our bus, and this was the state of us:

Along the way to Akaroa, and a storm a-brewing

We arrived in Akaroa, which is a former French settlement and still bears some traces of French culture:

Meat market

Our hostel

We managed to get our own little studio cottage in the back garden of the hostel, which may look a little ratty, but was really lovely (especially when you're only paying $25 a night):

We were both pretty tired, and it was around 11:00am, so we decided to take a little nap before exploring Akaroa. A couple of hours later we awoke to crazy downpours and winds. We had no other choice but to wait it out in our little cottage, but the rains lasted for another few hours.

Bored in Akaroa

The view from our cottage

Finally, around 5:00pm, the rain broke and the winds started to die down.
We decided to make a run for it. Unfortunately, all the shops were closing by this time, so we didn't really get to see what Akaroa had to offer. Instead we walked a bit and then found a restaurant for dinner.

Look! More mussels!

After dinner, we walked around some more, and then found the local movie theater. With nothing much else to do, we decided to make it a movie night. The cool thing about theaters in NZ is that they serve wine, coffee, food, and desserts, so you can really make an evening of it. With coffee and dessert in hand, we stayed out of the wind and watched "The Girl Who Played with Fire".

The next morning was our dolphin swim! And, luckily, the storm had passed and it was proving to be a beautiful day.


Local weather forecast a la Fraser (our hostel guy)

More Akaroa

Dolphin swim headquarters

Waiting to get suited up

Not exactly comfortable

My hero

Taking the boat out into the peninsula

Sadly, we seem to have more photos of ourselves in wetsuits than we do of the dolphins. We bought a special "bag" to put our camera in to take photos in and under water, but with sunscreen, sweat, and water, it got all smudged up. Here's what we were able to salvage:

Those are Hector's dolphins (Remember? The same from Kaikoura?)

Another group swimming with a pod we had attracted over

Back at Akaroa Harbour

My favorite Pohutukawa tree

The bus back to Christchurch

Banks Peninsula

We went back to Christchurch for the evening, in preparation for the day-long bus ride to Queenstown the next day.

We left Christchurch that morning and found out later that another aftershock hit after we left. Folks in New Zealand are pretty used to earthquakes, so no one seemed particularly bothered by them. I think, essentially, they all felt that the "big one" had already happened in September, and since they had all managed to live through that one, the rest were manageable.

Unfortunately, a little more than a month later, the real "big one" hit Christchurch and the damage was insurmountable. Many, many people did not survive, and many more homes, businesses and historical landmarks perished. The country is still reeling from the effects - and hundreds of subsequent aftershocks - but they are doing their best to honor what happened while attempting to move forward.

The thought that we were there practically a month before was devastating. The park we walked through to get from our hostel to Cathedral Square was turned into a triage center. Many of the buildings that we had just been in were now flattened. We can't help but wonder what happened to all the people we encountered in that area: the nice old man on our bus to Akaroa, the bus drivers, the people that worked at our hostel, the expat from Detroit who waited on us the last night we were there. All of them.

I do want to show two sets of photos that give an idea of the extent of some of the damage. The ones from December are photos that we took, and the later ones were published by the news agencies.

Here is the church I mentioned earlier in the post that had sustained some damage from the September earthquake:

Church in December

And here is the same church one month later:

Church now

Here is the beautiful Christchurch Cathedral when we were there:

Christchurch Cathedral in December

And here is Christchurch Cathedral now:

Christchurch Cathedral now

Kia kaha Christchurch. Kia kaha New Zealand.