Before I start this blog post, I’d like to preface this by sending my love to all of those affected by the attacks in Manchester. Being so far from home when these tragedies occur is tough, because all you want to do is anything you can to rally around those in need. Manchester is a beautiful city with welcoming, hospitable and resilient people, and they will not be brought down by such acts of cowardice. Stay strong!
For the past week I have been treated to one of the greatest trips of my life, courtesy of Haka Tours, a fantastically run and customer-focused tour company based out of Auckland. My journey began in Christchurch, after a three and a half hour flight from Brisbane and a stark reminder that the weather can drop below fifteen degrees. I stepped out of the airport and into 10 degree air, something I haven’t experienced for over a year. All of a sudden, I was back in England. The chill in the air, the structure of the streets and the style of the houses was like being back in a big UK town, not too dissimilar to the ones I grew up in.
I almost missed the lodge as I walked through the street. Haka Lodge was tucked between trees and resembled a log cabin up in the mountains more than it did a hostel in a sea-level city.
Because I had a morning flight, I was the first arrival at the hostel. This gave me time to give myself a little tour around the place and get to know the travellers who had settled in New Zealand and were working for Haka Tours, maintaining the house. It was like being in a student house, with cups of tea littered on the tables, laptops out and hoodies on, but it was warm and welcoming. The girls were friendly and chatty, two of whom were from Germany and one was from Slovenia. It’s always interesting meeting people from other places in Europe, as they cannot wait to tell you about the best spots in their country. You pick up a lot just talking to other travellers, and now I have a checklist of things to do in Eastern and Central Europe.
The following day, the tour began. We hopped onto the bus and the newcomers got to know each other as we took our drive into the stunning scenery of New Zealand. Our first stop was Sumner Beach in Christchurch, a picturesque spot in an affluent area of the city. Despite the money in the area, it was still one of the areas affected by the 2011 earthquake. With its high cliffs and steep slopes, the area was devastated during the disaster and many homes were destroyed. The restoration efforts are still ongoing almost six years on, and the damage it caused influenced a lot of our stops here.
Sumner Beach itself is host to Cave Rock. The rock is part of a volcanic outcrop from the Pacific Islands, but like with most natural landscapes in New Zealand, the Maori have a different explanation for it. The legend goes that Cave Rock is the washed-up carcass of a legendary whale. They named the rock “Tuawera” which means “cut down as if by fire” and refers to the many people who died eating the whale’s flesh. Whether on top or underneath the cave, the views were incredible and the sun was at the perfect point on a summer’s day so that the Pacific Ocean was twinkling in the light as the beach was littered with volcanic rock and huge sea shells.
After the beach, we headed into Christchurch to get a bit more recent history about the city, mainly pertaining to the earthquake. Coming from London, it was not an unusual sight for me to see graffiti-laden buildings and cranes on every other street, but when it is put into context, it gives you a solemn feeling as you drive through. We visited the cathedral, which had lost the entire front entrance way and was surrounded by mesh and fencing and we also visited the memorial for all of the 115 people lost in the CTV building collapse. The memorial is sad, but it becomes more harrowing the longer you stay. Each person who died in the collapse is represented by a chair taken from their home and painted white. They are displayed in rows on a small patch of grass opposite the building. The gravity of the tragedy only really hits you when you notice the car seats, the high-chairs and the wheelchairs.
Despite how saddening the experience was, it is important in understanding the culture in Christchurch and how resilient the people have been and how well they have recovered in the face of disaster. This is represented in one way by their use of shipping containers. All throughout Christchurch you spot these being used in a variety of different ways, whether its shops and food courts or even in the reconstruction process itself, the people of the city were resourceful and creative in their bid to rebuild the city.
We didn’t spend a huge amount of time in Christchurch, but we had a lot of ground to cover and only seven days to explore some of the most beautiful areas in the South Island. The next stop was Lake Tekapo, and this is where the views start becoming other-worldly. I will post again tomorrow to tell you all about this colourful and provoking landscape.
Thanks for reading!
Noho iho rā