Tuesday 22 to Wednesday 23 March 2016

On the Tuesday morning it is off to the airport and then across the water to New Zealand.  We are flying direct to Christchurch on South Island.

The recent history of Christchurch is dominated by the 2011 earthquake.  This decimated the centre of the city although as we drive through the suburbs these seem to be largely unimpacted – although no doubt damage was done.  For several years the centre was effectively a “no-go” area and the opportunity has been taken to rebuild all of the underground services before redeveloping using techniques which should limit damage in the event of another quake.  The worst damage and loss of life was in one office block which had supposedly been constructed to withstand such quakes – but it has later been found that many corners were cut.

Having been empty it is going to take time for the city to return to normal.  Businesses moved away and getting them back is no doubt an uphill task.  Hard work is being put into getting restaurants and catering facilities open and trading to ensure it looks attractive to employees visiting the area.

Of course instability of some damaged buildings remains so sites are shored up and many walls have been covered with a variety of artistry so that they are less stark reminders of events.  The initial shopping area was achieved by using a lot of shipping containers.  There are also a variety of other attractions – a basic tramway system and also a variety of sculptures.

The most arresting installation are 185 empty white chairs close to the point of the worst devastation.  185 died and the chairs are intended to represent the individuals, so there are high chairs for children and easy chairs for older people and so on.  We were told that there would eventually be a more permanent memorial to the losses but this was particularly poignant.

The photos from the bus tour can be found here.

Parts of Christchurch are now permanently pedestrianised and work is progressing in enhancing the local area along the river.  We then went around the town on the local tram – a limited service was running due to the road works but we see more of the decorated walls and also some cute “sheep” which act as blocks to prevent road traffic extending into the quieter areas.

Among the facts we learned is that New Zealand was the first country to give votes to women – achieved in 1893; most countries did noting until after 1918.  It is also clear that the Maori population has been treated far better than the indigenous populations in other countries – they were granted property rights in 1840 and were respected by the European settlers.  Those organising the settlers were not dependent on prisoners (eg Australia) or slaves (USA) – they were trying to build communities and sought to bring all the skills to the country.  So from the outset the people who came were perhaps willing to experiment, to try new ideas and pursue an honest life.  And whilst I have often heard descriptions of the country being England but set in the past it strikes me over the next few days that we see a very modern country.

Photographs of that tram tour can be found here.

In the evening we have what probably turns out to be the best meal of the trip in Australia and New Zealand.  We found, almost by accident a restaurant called 27 Steps.


The ground floor entrance is not overly prepossessing  – but take the stairs to the first floor!  Nice room, warm welcome and excellent meal.

I had some very nice tongue:

Followed by the venison:

And then the cheese of course:

Food photographs from https://www.facebook.com/jackie.whitbread.3

Plus earlier we had visited a small bar and I had some whisky.  A very nice place, pity it is so far from home.