Tuesday, 12 April 2011

17. Christchurch after the earthquake and South Island New Zealand

New Brighton Pier

Central Christchurch

New Zealand Air Force Museum

Flying over Mount Cook

Lake Tekapo

Dansey´s Pass Holiday Park

Sunset over Dansey´s Pass

Dunedin Station

Yellow-eyed penguins

Albatross chick

Feeding penguins at the International Antarctic Centre

Writing my blog in the campervan

Scenic Route North

Visiting the Antarctic!
At Premium check in at Auckland airport, Ramiza is adamant that I should pay $20 for my second suitcase and won’t be persuaded otherwise, despite a memo on my booking AND an email to that effect from her Air New Zealand colleagues in London.
She consults someone else and won’t budge, but I stand my ground and, after about 10 minutes, Supervisor Tania sorts it out. She tells me that Ramiza doesn’t know a lot about RTW ticketing!
But the ladies in the Koru lounge are excellent and promise to make sure that my return flight isn’t similarly affected. The Air New Zealand lounge is again excellent, with a proper barista making coffee to order.
My German friend Johannes is waiting at arrivals, his face deeply buried, as always, in a book. I don´t know of anyone else who can completely shut themselves off while reading, the way he can. I certainly wish I could!
United Campervans arrives within a few minutes of our call, although there’s nobody to greet us at their depot and the formalities take an age. I’m singularly unimpressed that all my details that they already have are not in their system and have to be entered manually.
But we eventually get underway and thanks to our $10 a day Kruse audio travel guide, easily find our way to Amber Holiday Park, our base for 2 nights in Christchurch.
I was last here 9 years ago and found it to be a friendly and well run place. While the latter is still true, the family running it now seem tired and unhelpful. Maybe the earthquake, while not affecting this area of the city, has taken its toll.
A friend from my early days in Norfolk, Dominic Townsend, takes us to a bar for a meal and drink. It’s packed, apparently because it’s one of the few close to the city centre that has survived the quake. Dominic and his wife both have pretty gruesome tales to tell. But they and their immediate family and friends were comparatively lucky, many others were not.
The following morning, we venture just outside the park entrance to a stop for the bus into town and while we are looking at the time for the next one, it pulls up. The driver opens the door to tell us that he is not supposed to stop if not requested, but he thought we might want to get on board!
Because of the disruption from the earthquake there’s a temporary terminus at Hagley Park and we have to change to another for the Botanic Gardens. I ring the bell after I see the sign flash by, the lady driver apologising profusely for forgetting to stop.
The Botanic Gardens are right on the edge of the Central Business District and have largely survived intact, although a couple of the glass houses are currently closed. But it’s a lovely warm autumn day and we enjoy the visit.
The entire CBD is cordoned off, guarded by military personnel with very regular police patrols. Squads of firemen and demolition workers are everywhere. The local tourist board is trying very hard to persuade people still to come to the area, but the centre is a bigger mess than I thought would be possible. Almost an entire city centre reduced to rubble by the force of nature. We are both in a sombre mood as we return to our bus.
As it happens, the route past our Holiday Park takes also takes us to the south shore and we both fancy fish and chips by the seaside.
What we hadn’t realised is that, as we head east, we get closer to the epicentre of the quake. Roads are closed or badly damaged, entire shopping centres closed, some buildings collapsed. Slates on roofs are totally out of alignment. While modern constructions haven’t collapsed, they have been badly damaged, while old wooden framed properties with tin roofs seem to have escaped largely unscathed.
New Brighton is eerily quiet, but we enjoy fish and a ‘scoop’ of chips, followed by a stroll along the pier.
On the lovely beach, a sign saying that fishing and swimming is not permitted due to sewage pollution caused by the quake. All very sad.
Our four-berth Alpha camper van is very well equipped, with its own shower and toilet, but, as we are responsible for cleaning it before handing it back, we use Amber Park’s excellent facilities instead. In the morning, we head south, but not before stopping at the air Force Museum of New Zealand at the former Wigram air base. It costs nothing to enter and is really splendid.
Johannes and I enjoy a spell in the Mosquito simulator. I find something ironic about a young German enjoying piloting a British aircraft trying to shoot at German ships in a Norwegian fiord. When I suggest this to Johannes, he simply says they were ‘Bad Germans’.
Highway One speeds us on our way south, although we are disappointed by the lack of coastal scenery. But just south of Oamaru, we stop to see the Moeraki Boulders. Neither of us had heard of this natural phenomenon, where large boulders have been shaped into almost perfect spheres by the waves. But we later find that a picture of them is on the front page of Johannes’ Rough Guide!
We skirt Dunedin to head for Portobello on the Otago Peninsula. The drive on the south side of Otago Harbour is splendid, with wonderful views along the narrow twisting road. Our welcome at the Portobello Tourist Park is really friendly and Johannes is pressed into action to help our German next door neighbours sort out an oil-leak. I discover that the internet access pass that I have bought in Christchurch doesn’t work here, so I pay $5 which allows a quick upload of some photographs and a check on emails.
On the journey, our Kruse audio travel guide has given us some excellent local information, delivered by a really good Kiwi presenter. He’s so good, I am sure he must be an experienced radio presenter or actor, his delivery is first class. We are fed little titbits of history, culture and tourist information. It really adds to the journey. The female doing the navigation is less perfect, popping up unexpectedly and for no reason to tell us she is ‘recalculating’. She is also prone to say ‘turn’ when the road simply curves, which causes some confusion.
In the morning, Mark, the manager of the Royal Albatross Centre enlists the helps of Sabine, another German, to give us a personalised tour. She is a biologist on a short-term contract and takes us to Fort Taiaroa to see the 1885 Armstrong ‘Disappearing Gun’, the only one in situ anywhere in the world which still works. The disappearing bit simply means it was raised and lowered hydraulically to that it couldn’t be seen by approaching enemy warships. The fortifications were put in to guard against a perceived threat by Russia.
The adult albatross, with their massive three metre wingspan are all out hunting, but there are many juveniles to be seen, which at 3Kg, are big bird babies indeed.
Just a short drive away is Penguin Place, which allows us to see one of the world’s rarest penguins close up. The yellow-eyed penguin only lives in the south of New Zealand and the adjacent islands. Using cleverly built hides linked by a series of camouflaged trenches, you can get to within a few feet of these most endangered of birds with their distinctive yellow facial stripe.
But, for me, the best bit was the natural beauty of Pipikaratu Bay, with its many basking seals.
There’s just time for a Sunday lamb roast in Dunedin and a quick explore of the town. At the Octagon, a young BMX rider is doing stunts on a set of stairs and there’s a really interesting display on the history of lifesaving.
At the impressive station, where parking is free on Sundays, the train for the Taieri Gorge Railway service is in the platform. I am really disappointed that time doesn’t permit a journey. Next time!
Our journey to Dansey’s Pass Holiday Park takes us through some of the most stunning scenery imaginable with an unbelievable sunset over the brooding mountains.
The Park itself is set in an absolutely breathtaking location and we would have loved to have stayed longer. A group of high school girls from Dunedin are staying in cabins overnight before cycling through the pass. The Park is run by Americans Scott and Margie Brown who KNOW about how to provide a welcome.
We opt for the inland scenic route north, rather than go by the coastal road. It’s a great choice with some wonderful scenery and an excellent road with hardly a car on it.
At Tekapo, we are thrilled to discover that the weather is perfect for a light aircraft flight over the Mount Cook National Park, including lakes Tekapo and Pukaki. I did the same trip nine years ago and it’s absolutely worth doing again. Words cannot describe the blue colour of the lakes from the glacial melt and the sheer snow-capped cliffs of New Zealand’s highest mountains. It is absolutely breathtaking.
We stop off at Fairlie Top 10 Holiday Park where Ash, the manager, who’s originally from Kent, explains his plans for making his Park a ‘one-stop shop’. He’s already offering free internet throughout the Park and will shortly include laundry in the price you pay.
Fairlie doesn’t offer much choice for eateries in the evening. We check out the possibilities. I take small Speight ale in the Fairlie Hotel, but we agree it’s a bit rough and ready for our final meal together in New Zealand. The Old Library Restaurant however provides to be an excellent choice. My herb-crusted lamb rump is wonderful. At breakfast in the Holiday Park’s vast, well equipped kitchen, I agree with another guest that the server in the restaurant, who’s from the Czech Republic, is the weak link in what should be an excellent business. He was sullen, brusque and not at all friendly.
The Inland Scenic Route on Highways 77 and 73 takes us right to the Christchurch ring road with almost no traffic at all until the final kilometre or two. The navigator made a great choice!
Right beside Christchurch Airport is the International Antarctic Centre, where we enjoy seeing penguins being fed, experiencing an Antarctic storm, a ride in Hagglund tracked vehicle and a 4D film where our faces actually got sprayed with water as part of the show. It’s an impressive set-up, but I don’t think worth the $65 entry fee.
I drop Johannes off at the airport for his flight back to Wellington and head off to buy a new case. My second bag arrived at Christchurch with a broken handle, which, of course, the airline says is not their responsibility. My other bag is also showing further signs of wear, so the masking tape and scissors are pressed once more into action.
Amber Park’s internet is not working, yet again, and I am less than chuffed that my $30 dollar pass for a week’s use has, on several occasions been unavailable when I have needed it.
I adore New Zealand. While I do not particularly enjoy driving, the campervan has been a great way of exploring beautiful south island. I hope the next time I return, probably in 18 months, Christchurch will be restored to some sort of normality, but I fear it will take a lot longer than that.
Tomorrow I head to the airport and, ultimately, to San Francisco.

My New Zealand photographs are at


Christchurch is in a separate album


A selection of images from all the destinations visited in ‘Around the World in 60 days’ is at