Sunday, February 18, 2007

Christchurch - New Zealand

Once we had negotiated the one way streets and parked we found the centre of Christchurch to be easily walkable. Designed as the furthest flung outpost of the Church of England, it was very pleasant, very similar to Oxford or Cambridge, except the Uni has moved out of the centre and the sturdy old stone buildings it once occupied are now a large and flourishing Arts Centre.

Christchurch is known as the Garden City and coincidentally our first port of call was the Flower Festival. It was happening all over the city, we visited the flower arrangements in the Cathedral, created with care and artistry, and then we moved onto the Botanic Gardens via a tram ride round the city.

The Cathedral was pretty unassuming really, but it is smack in the town centre with a busy Cathedral Square - more of a precinct to the Cathedral. A towering leafy metal Millennium chalice vies with the Cathedral spire for air space while life goes on under them. It is a bustling meeting place; with a market, a Speakers Corner, giant chess, and a sunken forum for passing itinerants - we half watched a Canadian magic show and cracking bull whippers from goodness knows where while waiting for our tram.

Most of the modern architecture is not sympathetic to the old character of the town and is perhaps indicative of a struggle to find itself in the 20th century. The Art Gallery is the most successful, reflecting the meandering of the River Avon through the town.

The Botanical Gardens were enormous, initially very English with wide long perennial borders, edged with box and full of familiar flowers such as phlox, cannas, asters, purple sedums and so on. There was a beautiful circular rose garden leading to the glass houses which contained displays of begonias, cacti, orchids, and carnivorous plants specially 'staged' to appeal to children of all ages - they were framed and lit, with an amusing commentary. After strolling through the New Zealand section of the 80 acre garden we moved onto the Scottish heathers and then the stunning massed display of dahlias.

We kitted ourselves up for the cold wet weather that briefly sweeps in during the day. We need to wear layers to cope, so to add to my one jumper I'm now the proud owner of a New Zealand wool sleeveless jerkin and a high tech compressible brown rain jacket that folds up into its own pocket - I think they used to be called plastic macs in the old days! The old chap flourishes a very small black umbrella that springs into action at the press of a button and teams nicely with his sporty blue and black new rainwear. When presented with the bills we consoled ourselves that they would last us a lifetime of travelling.

We stayed out of Christchurch, over the Port Hills, in a cottage on Governors Bay, surrounded by its own pretty gardens that made me a little homesick for my own - until I remembered that I would not be sat out reading my book and drinking tea, recovering from a day exploring the Banks Peninsular in February at home in the UK!

We move toward Mount Cook tomorrow, to Twizel, near where a lot of the Lord of the Rings was filmed. Hope we are warm enough. After all South Island is the last stop before Antarctica and it is home of the Roaring Forties!

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