Christchurch: Sunday so far away...


Monday October 25, 2010

At 8:30 on a Monday morning, the streets of Christchurch were empty. I wandered through them in eery silence, looking at the damage wrought by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. Around me there were barricades, scaffolding, and ominous gaps in the streetscape.

As I stood contemplating the rather odd sight of a cyclist riding the underside a massive steel beam bracing the wall of a church, a voice came from behind me.'It seems worse every time I see it'. A battered local in weather-beaten clothing, riding an equally battered ladies bike, had wheeled up behind me. Looking down a street completely closed off by barricades, he explained. 'See that red brick building on the left - it was built in 1910, and was once the city's tallest building. There is a court injunction to prevent it from being demolished.' It seems the local authorities haste to condemn and demolish played into the hands of some property owners who were only too happy to call in the wreckers.

But where is everybody I inquired. 'Did they all leave after the earthquake?' 'No', he laughed. 'It's Labour Day in New Zealand - it's a public holiday, and everything is closed'.

Hmmmm - this was not good news. My mission today was to obtain food for the road, fuel, chain lube, and a prepaid SIM card for my phone. I hadn't counted on a public holiday. I pressed on through the empty streets, hoping to at least locate the shops I needed, so I could make a quick dash before leaving tomorrow.

Eventually I saw a bike shop across the street, and to my surprise, the door was open, but the store seemed deserted. After calling out a few times a salesperson appeared, and I was able to tick an item off my list: chain lube. I asked about a supermarket, and discovered that the supermarket in the the mall across the road was also open. Tick off another two items: food and fuel. Only one item remains, but I couldn't get a SIM card anywhere, and will have to wait for the local telco's shop to open tomorrow.

The flight from Brisbane yesterday passed quickly - in just over 3 hours flying time. Dealing with the tedium of customs, immigration, quarantine, and security procedures at both ends took just as long. The New Zealand officials courteously but thoroughly checked my bike, tent, and some food supplies I had brought along with me, before declaring it was all 'sweet as'.

After a quick stop at an airport ATM for some local currency, I found a shuttle bus, and by 5:30 (NZ time) I has checked in at my hotel, a cheap and cheerful hostel in a rambling old building not 5 minutes from the city centre. There was not much open late on Sunday afternoon but I found an Irish pub and was soon tucking into a couple of pints of the local ale and my first non-airport/airline food for the day.

Cathedral Square is undoubtedly the centre of Christchurch, and in particular it is the tourist centre. The precinct around the square abounds with tacky souvenir shops, backpacker hostels and internet caf├ęs. I took a quick lap of the square and some of the adjoining streets then returned to the hotel to assemble the bike. A few hours later, and I was pretty much ready to load up and roll.

Whoa! - these kiwis can ride a bike anywhere...
Earthquake damage - whole city blocks are barricaded in places...

That is a big, fat, lazy trout - one of many in the Avon...

It does look how we antipodeans imagine England to be...

I just had to play tourist and take a ride on a tram...

The tourist guidebooks make much of the notion that Christchurch is the most "English" of antipodean cities. Straw boaters and punts on the Avon are certainly very twee, but I doubt the English would agree about its "Englishness"...

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