Great people make time memorable.
This is going to be a very long post, if nothing else because there are a lot of pictures to fit in and there are a lot of stories to be told.
I spent the last three days in in and around Christchurch and in that time I have made new friends, Hamish and Mary, and caught up with an old friend, Mike.
Friday started with a sleep in, and a chat with my mum. My dad appears to be doing well so lets hope things proceed like this or get even better there. After a bit of food and the inevitable laundry, I headed into town with the bicycle fully unloaded. Riding the bicycle like that makes you realise why some of the gears are on the bike at all, but, interestingly it also makes the bike extraordinarily rigid and suceptible to any little imperfection of the road.
I was riding up New Brighton road so the imperfections were plentiful and I decided to break my promise of only focus on what is still standing in Christchurch and take a few more photos of the earthquake damage to make you better understand the scale of the problem.
I rode all the way to the top of the city centre and back in total probably some 20 miles which I have not logged. I am only saying this as I’ve been battling for a while with doubts and remorse about counting in my stats the miles that I have achieved on busses and trains.
Said this I have come to develop a rule that might make me feel a bit better about these things in the future; I will record in the log the distances of days where at least part of the trip has been done on the bicycle and not that of days, like today, where all the distance has been covered with no use of pedal power.
The purpose of the trip to downtown Chch was multiple. First I had to get a new mobile phone contract, the Vodafone one is coming to a end at the beginning of April, amazing how 2 months fly, and I was also running out of data. The second reason was that I was meeting Mike for lunch.
I stopped in a shopping centre on the way and got myself a Spark prepaid card, changing the telephone number is not a big deal for me as nobody really phones me, and I have had bad experiences with the coverage of the Vodafone network. The new contract appears to be giving me 4G coverage and with just under $50 I get 2Gb of data per month.
That all sorted out it was time to get going towards the town centre and I met Mike just outside his office. He is in charge of computing infrastructure for CERA (Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority), he told me in details all they are doing and how much work has gone is going and will have to go into Christchurch in order to get it back to pre-quake status. He was commenting how in the 1 and 1/2 years he has been there he has had the biggest crash course in politics he could possibly have. He’s got a Spanish wife and two kids and, seemed to say that he was finding a bit difficult to reacclimatise himself to life in his hometown after so many years spent between Europe and the middle east. This is a sensation I can easily understand and that I feel too all too often. It is surprising to hear it in a Kiwi, I guess the neighbours’ grass is truly always greener.
We had lunch and we went for a coffee then I left him and began meandering for Chch. The city is quite interesting as, I was told, never really had a town centre as we are used to in Europe. Apparently, again Mike told me, CERA are taking this tragedy as an opportunity to rebuild the city in a way that can be of benefit to many generations to come and this include creating focal points and placing infrastructure in a way that it can foster a better sense of community.
The downside to this ambition is that, as well as the damaged properties, some of the non damaged properties that happen to be in the way of, say, the new stadium or library, have to be demolished and this often goes down like a lead balloon with the owners.
It is not all to be done though, there are many buildings that have, thanks both to public and private initiatives, started to get back together.
The Theatre Royal is a good example, even if it sits almost alone in the middle of non redeveloped lots, it stands as a statement that things can be achieved.
There are however lots of things that need doing. Mike says they are trying very hard to get businesses back in the city in order to prevent the taking over of the out of town mall culture. It is difficult when the cash is limited but he says that there are good initiatives in the pipeline. More than everywhere in the world though the phrase that fit most the current situation is “Rome was not build in a day”.
The spirit and sense of initiative of the people is all there and they are not letting the quake take away their life or business. In cycling through town I saw many examples of business that simply put themselves up in temporary structures and continued business as in spite of the calamity.
Some of these business might even remain in these premises as it is easy to see how this temporary structure might become a part of their brand made up of resilience and creativity.
That was that with the Friday outing, I went home and spent a great night talking, eating and drinking with Hamish and Mary. We got to know each other and we had some good laugh talking about our respective traveling experiences.
We also plotted the following two days when they, with incredible kindness drove me around the half of Canterbury that I had not seen yet.
Which brings us to Saturday and the trip to Akaroa. We did not get up too early and we only set sail around 11 for the trip to the Banks Peninsula.
The way to Akaroa is both long and hilly. The Banks peninsula makes an excellent contraposition to the flatness of Chch and it would have been madness to go there with the bicycle.
On the way to Akaroa we drove down to a couple of the bays and the scenery was just spectacular both on the way down than when we got to the bottom.
There were small settlements in both bays but, from a certain point of view it appeared to me like time was standing still at the bottom of those steep roads leading to remote settlements that had not felt the whip of the changing times.
After the two detours we made it to Akeroa and we were rewarded with a beautiful sunshine. This place has a unique feel as it was initially colonised by the French. The initial settlers were later incorporated or pushed back into the sea by HM authorities, but the town has maintained, curiously, French street names.
We drove around a bit, and then we walked around a bit. On the pier Hamish met a chap that he knew adding a touch of local to the whole experience.
The day was a bit bad for our health as we topped the fish and chip lunch with a double decker ice cream and finally with three gin’n tonics (Hamish makes a kickass gin’n tonic).
In the evening (ours) we also video linked with the “Holmfirth Two” who had just got up and were aiming for breakfast. Their breakfast was delayed by fair bit while we progressively fell into gin induced stupidity and had a bit of a laugh-a-ton at each other. It is healthy, in my modest opinion, to laugh at each other as often as possible, it is the best antidote for the “taking oneself and things too seriously syndrome”.
New day new activity. Sunday is the day I was going to leave, the original plan was to get up and get the train to Kaikoura, camp there and then cycle the two days to Picton along the coast.
The train left Chch at 7:00 AM and Hamish suggested that they would drive me with the new camper van to Kaikoura, having a day out with me and then leaving me at the campsite. The thought of not having to get up at the crack of dawn was apealing and that is what we have done.
I am glad we did this as the road between Chch and Kaikoura is long, busy and with small banking.
We stopped a couple of times along the way, but we had to drive quite long distances to get to the coast as the road actually runs quite into the interior.
Once we got to Kaikoura we went first to seal colony and then we headed for lunch. Along this coast there are, I was going to soon find out, a large number of places where seals dwell. The cool things about the point at Kaikoura is that they are so integrated with the local environment they have to make the toilets seal proof to prevent them from invading them.
Taking seals pictures is fun and you can go relatively close without them bothering too much.
After lunch we went up the coast where there is a waterfall that normally hosts many young seals. It turned out to only have one and I took a GoPro film that will feature below as soon as I get on WiFi.
It was a bit disappointing but not the end of the world. There were after all many seals by the sea and I’m sure I’ll see many more tomorrow.
After that Hamish and Mary took me to the camp site, more like, seafront with toilet. It’s Free-camping tonight and the view from the tent (above) I hope will bring me the delight of a sunrise over the pacific in the morning. It’s nearly 20:00 and it feels like it’s starting to drizzle a bit so I fear it might be time, like my lovely wife used to say, to go beddy-by. Good night.