After Final Forays in Akaroa and Christchurch, We Bid Adieu to New Zealand
March 7 – 11
Instead of heading straight to our final destination of Christchurch, we took advantage of the final days with our campervan road warrior. An hour’s detour east took us to to Akaroa, a stunning seaside village with French flavor on the Banks Peninsula. But, as with all things Kiwi, we enjoyed the journey just as much as the destination, taking advantage of the first sunny day we’d had in a while.
Appropriately fed and back on the road, the jaw-dropping vistas as we neared the peninsula stopped us in our tracks. Like literally. We stopped at Hilltop Tavern to enjoy the picture-perfect views before our descent. Then, as we leisurely made our way past the smaller bays that indented the coastline (including Barry’s Bay where we stopped for some incredibly tasty local cheese), nous sommes tombés amoureux (EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t bother Googling that. Knowing Noelle, I’m pretty sure it just means something about cheese or red wine… or both.).
The Banks Peninsula was formed following two violent volcanic eruptions. The resulting craters formed the harbors of Akaroa and surrounding towns, giving it that absurdly photogenic coastline. The surprising Francophile influence actually dates back to 1840 when a captain of the French whaling ship Cachalot negotiated with a local Maori chief to buy the peninsula. He swiftly returned to France and organized emigrants to return and settle in Akaroa. But he was too late. The Treaty of Waitangi (which named the entirety of New Zealand an English colony) had been signed days before his return. Charmingly, the French provincial town flavor remains to this day.
So after a hearty late breakfast at the campsite, we were ready to hit the road. This time, taking Summit Road high along the ridgeline for a scenic drive back toward Christchurch, we continued to catch views that reminded us we were far from home.
But we needn’t have worried. Radio ads kept a reality check in place as well. More than once, I gave pause, hearing a promotion for Pizza Hut’s “Marmite Stuffed Crust Pizza,” here or a PSA for Girl Scout “biscuits” there.
But oh how I had missed the radio. Over our three weeks on the road, we quickly caught up on all the latest American hits we’d missed while away. We learned to love John Legend’s “All of Me” (because it was in an every-other-song rotation. On every station.), always turned up the volume when Pharell’s “Happy” came on and spent hours trying to figure out who sang the bafflingly-popular hit “Fire, Fire, Fire.” (It was Bastille.) Apparently the only New Zealand artists getting airtime are Lorde and Kimbra (featured on the song you couldn’t escape or get out of your head for a large part of 2012, Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know.”).
Volume cranked, off we went.
Finally arriving in Christchurch, we said a teary goodbye to our well-worn home on wheels (EDITOR’S NOTE: Final tally: 23 days, 2900+ miles driven, or to put it another way, further than a drive from NYC to LA, approximately 57k sheep spotted, two car batteries and countless unforgettable views, meals and drives. We won’t forget you, White Lightning.), and quickly got to our exploration of the country’s second largest city.
And immediately felt the weight of the tragedy that struck three short years ago.
In September of 2010, a 7.1 magnitude earthquake struck in the middle of the night. Despite no fatalities, it caused widespread damage to the central city, buckled rail lines and in more rural areas, tore gashes in the countryside. But this quake was just a sign of things to come.
Six months later, in February 2011, Christchurch was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude quake (although lower in magnitude, the epicenter was much closer and deeper) that ultimately decimated the city and surrounding area. Happening just past lunchtime, the number of people out and about was massive, and over 185 people died. The city, destroyed.
And while I’d love to say that at least the physical elements have healed completely, instead I can tell you that the people of Christchurch are making the best of a terrible situation. Streets everywhere remain closed and construction barriers surround stretches of blocks in the Central Business District (CBD), or main part of town. The once-bustling city center seemed abandoned, and as we strolled the streets in the middle of the day and passed closed storefront after newspapered storefront (and only a handful of people), we grew morose.
Cathedral Square was perhaps the most heartbreaking. At the center of the square is Christchurch Cathedral, an icon of the city originally built in 1881. The earthquake decimated the historic building, bringing down the Gothic church’s 63m-high spire and destroying the beautiful stained-glass rose window. The Cathedral was deconsecrated in October 2011, and plans to demolish the lot are in place (not a popular position among locals).
I guess I was surprised. You didn’t hear much about the earthquake when it happened back in the states, and what you did hear seemed more like an all-too-frequent natural disaster. Not a shut-a-city-down tragedy. We heard somewhere that it will take more than a generation to be resolved. With over a quarter of the buildings within the city center needing to be demolished and entire neighborhoods abandoned, the estimates for rebuilding is $30 billion NZ dollars (over $25 billion USD).
But then there’s the lemonade.
There are some incredibly encouraging things happening to inspire hope and encourage tourism around the city. My favorite examples were Re:START, a project using old metal shipping crates to create a pop-up shopping district, and Pallet Pavilion, one of what they call “Gap Filler” projects, this one using painted pallets to create a respite among the rubble. The defiance in which these temporary solutions stood proudly made my heart ache with hopes for a better future for this vibrant city.
And just when the lemon seems fully squeezed – even more citrus-y goodness!
After an early morning stroll through the massive and pretty Botanic Gardens, we made our way to the lovely farmers market, packed with fresh fruits, breads, veggies and meats and the people behind the tables couldn’t have been nicer. The guys at Bacon Bro’s Bacon Co. kept patrons laughing with a light-hearted schtick and when we didn’t have enough cash to pay for our fresh-from-the-farm pesto, the big-bellied (and bigger-hearted) proprietor tried giving it to us for free to remember Christchurch by.
And if you’re thirsty, make your way to Pomeroy’s, where one of the knowledgeable bartenders will let you sample one of the 31 craft beers on tap, or to the biker bar, Smash Palace, where they serve beer out of an old bus shell. Or grab a coffee at Addington Coffee Co-Op, where they’ll let you sit for hours on one of their sunny picnic tables. Our spirits were high as we packed our bags for the trip back over to the other side of the world.
Our time in New Zealand had drawn to a close, but first, to tie a big old red, white and blue bow on the whole adventure, we experienced our single detour through the US en route to South America, stopping for an extended layover in San Francisco. Coordinating the 36-hour stopover with one of my dad’s regular business trips out west meant some family time (and of course, another Marriott) as we played tourist in the beautiful City by the Bay.
To repeat: This was the one time in 365 DAYS that we would touch soil in the good old’ US of A. So clearly this meant one thing to Dave.
So, sufficiently fueled by rice, beans and shredded cheese, we strolled Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch and Pier 39 to see the seals, hiked to Lombard Street and out to the foot of Golden Gate Bridge and ate crab rolls, clam chowder and ridiculously delicious sushi until we’d proven to ourselves we still belonged.
Then we were off again. But the taste of home would sustain us for the last leg of our year-long trip around the world: South America!
(You’re still humming that damn Gotye song too, aren’t you?)