Travel diary: Days 21-23 – Lake Tekapo, The good shepherd, Christchurch and last moments

Christmas Day. We went to bed with views on Mount Cook and got up the next morning with the amazing sight of this iconic mountain. The weather gods really meant well for us (the righteous and all of that 😉 ). Our guide told us, he went to Mount Cook three times and never had weather like that, never blue skies and those most amazing views. So we feel blessed!

We went on our way to the last stop of this trip. Everyone feels a bit deflated already, the thought of splitting up and going home in a couple of days is just not the most appealing. There is a lot of talk about a reunion trip. On our way to Christchurch we stopped for a short hike (of course) around Lake Tekapo. Those views never get old, crystal clear water, backdrop of mountains, snowy peaks… Sigh! We also stopped at the Church of the Good Shepherd, which does not require any elaborate paintings on the walls. All it has is a window overlooking the lake and Mount Cook in the back. Simple, but very effective. We heard the last tones of the Christmas Carols, as this tiny church is still used for normal service.

Christchurch. I am not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this. The city is still traumatised by the earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011 (which was the most devastating one). ‘Only’ two buildings collapsed at that time, one of which costing 115 lives (CTV building, which was used as accommodation for international language students). But more than 70% of the buildings in the city were considered unsafe and had to be torn down. So today’s skyline is dominated by cranes, the city itself full of ‘holes’ and building sites. The cathedral being the object of very public and political debates and confrontations is cordoned off with a huge fence. A temporary cathedral was built – the cardboard cathedral. A very simple but impressive building, the roof structure is entirely built out of cardboard tubes, covered by insulated plastic sheets. All environmentally sustainable and built to last 50 years. I think it should be kept in any case, as it symbolises the defiance and spirit of the people of this city. Then there is the Square of 185 Chairs, commemorating the 185 people who died. Another wonderful commemoration site is along the river, with a marble wall, all 185 names carved into it.

But, I don’t want to paint a picture of Christchurch being all about the earthquakes. Like everywhere else, maybe even more so here, you can feel the community spirit amongst the people. Every question you ask is answered and you are then being offered so much more, often ending up in deep conversation with complete strangers. It has a beautiful botanic garden, in the heart of the town, the Arts Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu is certainly worth a visit. If you look closer around the city you see a lot of street art, murals, sculptures and quirky and fun things to take your mind of the tragedy. There’s a dance floor in the middle of the city, where you can plug in your iPod or so and you have your own little disco, with flashing lights, disco glitter ball and all. New pictures pop up on house walls nearly every week, the city encourages this expression of thoughts. As mentioned before, despite the lingering mellow underlying tone, the city oozes of positivity, spirit and defiance.

You can also go and learn more about the international base stations in Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, which is where most trips to the continent are planned and organised from. Very apt, to get there you can catch a ride with the free Penguin Express shuttle. 😉

So if you go and visit, make sure you look out for those fun parts of the town. Yes, learning about the natural disasters is important, but this does not define the soul of the city.

And I have a confession to make: I went shopping. Again. Eek! I bought two pairs of shoes (I had been looking for something like this forever, and then couldn’t decide so took both), more hiking gear and something for my desk at work. I was rather worried if I would be able to fit it all into my suitcases, but I made it fit.

Christchurch is also Andrew’s hometown. He was there when the earthquakes struck, his suburb is the one that was most effected by liquid rubbish coming out of the earth and and flooding everything, causing even more destruction. I am not sure if he lost anyone then, I didn’t dare asking, but he was very reluctant to talk more about it. Anyway, we didn’t have much opportunity throughout the days to catch-up. So following our last group dinner we spent the night together (eek! and big smiles) and talked until the early hours of the morning. On the last day, just before we were due to go to the airport, he picked me up to show me where he lives. He has a very cute little house, with a fat cat  named Molly and amazing views onto the bay and hills.

It was very sad saying goodbye to everyone. At the airport, everyone was rushing into the terminal building, but I wasn’t in a hurry. Andrew stood for a long time to watch me leave… I am very glad that our paths crossed. And I have a feeling we will meet again (not only because he will be in France in the summer).

I am at the airport now. Did my last bit of shopping: a t-shirt with a turntables playing Kiwi (reminds me of Andrew, who owns an impressive vinyl collection) and ‘sweet as’ hoodie :-D.

Links: Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd, Christchurch, Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu


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