After we left Omaru, and the Riverstone Kitchen, we drove North for about 3 hours to Christchurch, the site of the massively destructive February 2011 earthquake. A bigger earthquake occurred in Christchurch in September of 2010 (about 7.1), and technically the February 2011 earthquake (6.3 on the scale) was an aftershock, but is was more deadly (185 people died in the February quake and none in the September quake) and more destructive. I was not prepared for what I saw when we drove into downtown Christchurch. I’ve lived in California for most of my life; I’ve been around earthquakes, and was even in the elevator at Kaiser hospital at 5:04 pm when the 1989 San Francisco quake occurred (now, THAT was a fun elevator ride!). I expected, after almost three years, to see the city nearly rebuilt. Instead, as we meandered into downtown Christchurch as the sun set on a Friday evening, we saw whole city blocks destroyed, cyclone fences surrounding dozens of empty lots and, eerily, no people. It was ghostly.
It was just like those movies where whole civilizations were obliterated…..and we were the only ones left on the planet.
But in a very Kiwi way, people have tried to put beauty into the face of such devastation. Like the little colored plastic tiles inserted into cyclone fences, or by painting art of the side of building which suddenly now was visible.
Saturday morning was the Christchurch farmer’s market. If you are ever in Christchurch, on a Saturday morning, go there! It’s held in a beautiful location along a path that follows a river that runs through town. The food was simply incredible, and it was a total cashectomy (that’s a medical term, wherein you got to a farmer’s market with a hundred dollars and leave with none).
Because new buildings are expensive to build (and it takes awhile), many businesses are adopted the practice of buying or renting shipping containers and using them as a shop (some people have even lived in them). Now, there is whole mall made up of shipping containers.
It was really cool. While we were in Christchurch we drove to the coast to a town called Akaroa. It is a small coastal town, originally founded by a French explorer, and it tries to retain its French roots, so as you drive through the town you see signs like, “Le Bistro d’ Lamb’ or ‘Oui little kidney pie’. There we signed up to swim with Hector’s dolphins, which are one of (if not the) smallest of the dolphins (they are only about 3-4 feet long) and are very endangered.
We boarded a boat, and headed out into the middle of the Pacific ocean, and when the captain spotted the pod of dolphins, he said, “OK, everyone jump in and make lots of noise to get the dolphins interested.” I’m not kidding, that’s what he said. I don’t know what Hector’s dolphins find interesting, but we given a snorkel and told to blow into it and make unusual noises. If it didn’t attract the dolphins, I hoped it would keep the sharks away.
It did both, (lots of dolphins, no sharks). It was amazing, to be bobbing like a cork in the middle of the Pacific, with dolphins darting all around you. What a great experience (and it turns out, a good warm up for our water oriented trip coming up).
We headed back into Akaroa, and the back to the Heritage Hotel in Christchurch. The hotel was exceptional; it had an indoor pool, twenty foot high ceilings, and SKY TV (we watched several fun movies at night after dinner).
I had planned and booked all the accommodations before my family arrived, and I know enough to search for hotels with free wifi. This hotel, like every one I booked, had ‘free wifi’, but it turns out you only get a small amount of time and/or data that you can use free. It was on this trip I learned what a black hole for data my kids have become. Literally, I put the key in the door to the hotel room, walked in and set my bags down, and the first words out of my sons’ mouths were “WE ARE OUT OF INTERNET!!!!” I’m thinking, ‘we’ve been here, what 30 seconds and we’re out on internet?’ Sure enough, it was true. It was a pattern that was repeated in every hotel, and it got be comical to see how fast the internet could be used up after checking in (I think it seemed, to the boys, like a challenge).
We stayed three nights in Christchurch, and then headed North to Kiakoura. It was easy to find, we just headed North, and followed our noses through valley to the coast. It was about 250 km and only took 30 minutes!