Christchurch – a sibling so similar and yet quite different

Now that I have finished marking all of the exam markings, I can reflect back to my trip to New Zealand last week …

Cathedral Square - Christchurch

When I visited New Zealand the first time in 1997, I fell in love with the country. It was the onset of my attraction to rugged coastlines, green hills and the bluish mountain vista in the distance. New Zealand was the first country that I had ever visited outside Indonesia, after Australia and Singapore. In 1997 I visited Christchurch too and loved the seemingly idyllic lifestyle. Christchurch is Adelaide’s sister city – and although many think that Christchurch was also designed by Colonel William Light, the person responsible for Adelaide’s grid-like design, we now know that this is not true. Colonel Light passed away in 1839, whereas Christchurch was not settled until 1850. I thought that Christchurch was designed by Light, since there are so many similarities between the two cities – perhaps one of Light’s follower? Both cities are designed in a grid-like pattern – the main hospital is located next to the botanic garden, and both Adelaide and Christchurch have a river that passes through the city area.

I also went back to Christchurch briefly in 2000, after I traversed the west coast of the South Island. I didn’t get to reacquaint myself with the city then, but I made up for the lost ground with my brief visit last week.

As you know, I went back to Christchurch for my ANZMAC conference, where marketing academics and researchers mingle, discuss, collaborate, present, and even debate. More on that in a separate post. The conference also occupied most of my time, so when I arrived in Christchurch on Sunday night, I was too tired to explore so I stayed in my room until the morning. Most of the delegates from the University stayed at the Crowne Plaza Hotel which is located really close to the main streets and the casino (which was a favourite hangout for some of my colleagues). 🙂

Christchurch Art Gallery - Christchurch

On the first day, after the conference, we had a welcome drink at the Art Gallery – followed by dinner at Sticky Fingers in Oxford Terrace. Oxford Terrace is one of the streets in Christchurch that is lined with restaurants that overlook the Avon River. I had venison followed by a decadent sticky date pudding for dessert, accompanied by a glass of Pinot Noir. Hmmmm. It was such a fun night, with silliness and frivolities galore – I wish I could share what happened, but “what happens on tour, stays on tour”! 😉 Although some of my friends stayed on, I went back to my hotel room after midnight to have a rest – I presented earlier in the day, so I was feeling sapped by then!

Shops at Oxford Street - Lyttleton

Tuesday came – and after the day ended, I opted to go to Lyttleton, a seaside suburb in Christchurch, rather than joining the big group from the University. One of my colleagues also wanted to join me, so the two of us braved ourselves and took the local bus there. The bus driver was super friendly and even offered to save us from buying another ticket back to Christchurch from Lyttleton if we happened to stay in the area until later. Lyttleton is really charming – the suburb/town covers the hills that hug an enclosed harbour. It’s just too bad that there is a big port right smack bang in the middle of the harbour with a warehouse for tree logs. I’m sure that in the future, somebody would convert the area into a thriving touristy harbour. Well, even with the port, Lyttleton was really charming when I was there – old nostalgic shops lined the main thoroughfare. After a pre-dinner ice-cream dessert, we had dinner in a restaurant called Satchmo in London Street – they played the old classics by Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald and of course the namesake as well, Louis Armstrong. The steak was excellent and I ordered a glass of the local Pinot Gris as well to accompany my meal. Really charming cafe/restaurant! I would recommend a visit to Lyttleton for an evening if you happen to visit Christchurch. We took the bus back to Christchurch and met our colleagues who were waiting for the bus back to the city as well after they took the gondola ride up to the top of the hill and down again.

Sol Square - Christchurch

After we arrived back in the city, we wandered around the city, admiring the old shops and buildings and lamenting the destructions and damages that the earthquake brought in September 2010. A 7.1 Richter scale earthquake rocked Christchurch on September 4, that damaged many buildings extensively. When I was there, they had cleaned up most of the area, but there were a lot of scaffolds that supported some of the historic places and I could see some cracks and damages on a lot more buildings. It was heartbreaking to see damaged old beautiful buildings or abandoned shops that had been standing there for hundreds of years. However, somehow there was still a sense of quiet dignity among the destructions and damages. We walked around Lichfield Street and stumbled upon a charming area called Sol Square – a laneway that has been converted into a series of pubs and cafes. On one restaurant, they mounted a Mini on the top of the building on the wall, and on the other they mounted a series of bicycles that seemed to race upward vertically.

High Street - Christchurch

We also walked around and took some pictures of the Christchurch Cathedral, the Cathedral Square and of course the relatively recent The Chalice sculpture that was installed in 2000. Christchurch is a very easy town to explore on foot! We went back to the hotel and went on our separate ways as I wanted to take a rest – my body hadn’t fully adjusted itself to the timezone and besides, a lot of outings had started to take a toll on my energy. Haha. I sound like an old man, don’t I? 🙂

On the third day – the final day of the conference – after the sessions ended, we went back to the hotel and prepared ourselves for the dinner and dance as the finale of the conference. Dinner was held at the Air Force Museum – located about twenty-minutes from the city centre. There were buses that picked up the participants from the main hotels. The venue was fantastic – we had dinner surrounded by old airplanes and war memorabilia. The backdrop provided a great ambient for the dinner. I went home with the bus again, back to the hotel at midnight while some of my friends continued on at the lobby and at the casino.

The following day, most of my colleagues returned to Adelaide except for a handful who opted to stay longer. I was only given an extra free day so I couldn’t really venture too far away from Christchurch. Before I flew to Christchurch, I expected that I would have had enough of the city by then, and that it would be better for me to go somewhere. The choice fell to Akaroa – a town about two-hours’ drive from Christchurch that was once an outpost of the French. When I shared that to a colleague of mine, she wanted to come along – at the end there were six of us in a rented car. I had the ‘pleasure’ of sitting at the backseat with a stuck seatbelt that I ended up holding manually throughout the whole trip. Unfortunately two of my friends were still hungover from the previous night, so they were a bit worse for wear – we ended up having to do a couple of puke stops. 🙂 Akaroa itself is pretty and charming – almost like Victor Harbor here in South Australia.

Akaroa’s Frenchness seems a tad contrived, like the Germanness of Hahndorf, I suppose. Hahndorf (in South Australia) pretends to be German, and yet nobody speaks German there anymore. The French flavour in Akaroa can be seen from the French flags fluttering in some spots as well as the streetnames that preserve their supposedly original names – like Rue Jolie or Rue Lavaud. Nevertheless, Akaroa is a pretty spot – I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more if I had more time, I suppose. On the way back, my friends felt a wee better, so we thought it would be good if we visited a winery. The lady at the information centre told us that there was only one winery in the area, and that it would be good if we take an alternative route and visited some of the coastline spots. What she failed to mention was how windier the alternative route was! Even I who was feeling alright throughout the morning, was starting to get sick! We abandoned the plan to visit Little Akaloa and Okains Bay and tried to get back to Christchurch as fast as we could.

When we rejoined the main route at Little River, it was an occasion to celebrate so we stopped at a small cafe where I had a pot of tea to calm my stomach. Some of my friends did the same too – it was certainly one of the more ‘interesting’ trips I had ever taken. Hahaha. We did have a detour and stopped at a winery on our way back to Christchurch, but it wasn’t any good. 😛

Christchurch Arts Centre - Christchurch

After we went back to the hotel, I split from the group and opted to walk around the city and explored Christchurch leisurely. It was one of the most enjoyable activities that I did in Christchurch – I walked slowly, capturing the faint heartbeat of this leisure city as I trawled the streets. I visited the Christchurch Arts Centre on Worcester Boulevard that used to be the campus of the University of Canterbury until 1974. I also walked inside the Botanic Garden armed with a cup of a latte that I bought from the cafe in the Arts Centre, soaking in the greeneries while the sprinklers happily whizzing around. Although Christchurch is even quieter than Adelaide, I can really live in this city. Being located in a cooler zone means that there are more wooden houses in Christchurch, and to me it almost adds a Scandinavian flavour to the area. It provided a temporary remedy to my Scandinavia-sickness. 🙂

The next day was the day that I was due to leave Christchurch to return to Adelaide. I had the morning free, so I did what a good Asian would do when abroad: souvenir shopping. After buying enough trinkets and two pairs of greenstone and paua shell earrings for Yani around Cathedral Square, I made my way back to the hotel, grabbed my bags, and took a taxi to the airport.

Back to life. Back to reality. Back to the summer’s heat – at least I had a chance to breathe in Christchurch. Despite what people say about the city, that it’s boring, conservative, or slow – Christchurch is alright. 🙂

Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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