As we exited the TranzAlpine Train that we first boarded in Greymouth, we were struck by the warmth of the Canterbury Plains. Quite literally: there was a heat to the wind that actually felt like summer and it was wonderful. Between the train station on the west end of Christchurch to the the AirBnb that Bronwyn had sorted out was a winding bike path that took us straight through the middle of Hagley Park, an enormous open space with lines of old trees. The park contains both the Hagley Golf Club and a tennis club, but the best part must be the botanical gardens that make up the central section just north of the Avon River that cuts through the whole town.
As we rode through the city, there were children’s concert performances happening for New Year’s Eve, replete with music and an early 8:30 PM “midnight countdown” fireworks show that let the kids have their own version of the annual chiming in of the new year.
We found our spot in a rather run-down area of town, though I would later learn that you need to use “run down” in a relative way when describing areas of Christchurch, since much of the city is still in the rebuilding stages after the earthquakes that shook its foundations in 2010 and 2011. I remember hearing about the emergency during that time and the casualties of the two quakes; it took seeing the empty lots and pieces of buildings to appreciate what the city actually went through.
Christchurch, for all of its resilience and spirit, looks like a war zone in places. Main building façades dot the landscape, bereft of their supporting walls, their depth, their inhabitants. Many edifices lack faces at all; there are mysterious concrete-steel entanglements partially hidden behind construction-zone barrier fence, behind multiple hazard warning signs. The Christchurch cathedral, surely the city’s primary namesake, is maimed at its westernmost point, supported with haphazard scaffolding. It still draws the eyes and camera lenses of tourists, but their reasons for looking at the once-grand city centrepiece are expanded to include the destruction wrought by those two earthquakes over half a decade ago.
Our home for the next two nights on Fitzgerald Avenue south of London Street is a stone’s throw from the walking path along the gorgeous Avon River that bisects the somewhat-hollowed-out downtown core. We’re upstairs in a townhouse complex, something we hadn’t considered when we first booked the room, so hauling the 30 kg of bags and our steel-framed touring bikes up the stairs is the last great schlep of 2016. When on farms or in campgrounds, we park the bikes next to the nearest tree and seldom lock them down; in the city, it makes sense to keep your bikes with you behind locked doors.
To be fair to Christchurch, much of the eerie descriptions I’m giving it are owed to the fact that the city is a ghost town on New Year’s Eve. Really. None of the bars and restaurants we find online are open and a walk downtown along the river has us wondering if we’re the only people who plan on ringing in the new year here. We learn later that many of the locals escape the city and head to the beach for much of the Christmas-to-New-Years holiday; here in the South Island’s biggest city the story is no different. We find an open Indian Fusion restaurant for dinner and decide on a bottle of champagne back at the apartment. A nice man closing down his wine store near New Regent Street offers to sell us a bottle of bubbly even though he’s technically closed.
When Bronwyn and I lived in China, we threw a party at our loft and counted in the new year with a perfectly-synced YouTube video showing a past Times Square special. It might have been a compilation video of the different December 31st nights of the 1980s. It’s a weird tradition, but it’s fun. Here in Christchurch, we settle on the 1979-1980 video and all of a sudden it’s actually 2017 for us. It’s not 2017 back in Toronto for another 18 hours (a whopping 21 hours for Vancouver) so there’s not much point calling home to wish everyone a happy new year. It’s been a big day, and by 12:08 a.m., I’m ready to head to bed. I must be getting old.
In fact, I am getting old, because January 1st, 2017 is my 37th birthday. If we’re using the Bronwyn Churcher logic of true birthday time, I’m not technically allowed to celebrate until it’s my birthday in Canada, and if we’re being really true to her method, I have to wait until it’s 12:35 p.m. EST. That’s a over 30 hours from New Zealand’s midnight, so I didn’t actually turn 37 until 6:30 a.m. on January 2nd. Take that, aging.
Nevertheless, Bronwyn’s in fine form on January 1st: we have a lovely breakfast on New Regent Street while the wind does its best to blow us out of our chairs and the trolley car drives by.
We then bike across town and walk around the aforementioned botanical gardens for a couple of hours before heading down to the Antigua Boat Sheds for some punting on the Avon River.
What’s punting, you ask? It’s like a gondola ride. It’s almost exactly like whatever version of Venetian gondola ride you have in your head, without a singing Italian steering you through city canals. The day is glorious and we have a great time. It’s a happy almost-birthday.
After writing a few postcards, we head to the Re:START area that was set up shortly after the earthquakes and is a thriving little centre of culture and commerce. All of the shops in this spot have been built in shipping containers, and while I think they were initially meant to be a temporary spot in the wake of the destruction of the earthquakes, they look just charming enough to become a permanent fixture for the city. Time will tell.
We rush home before dinner so that we can call family for their respective New Year’s Eves. My parents are celebrating with the Coats Family in Guelph, Ontario, and Bronwyn’s folks are at home with our dog Ray. Bronwyn’s sister Katy is in Los Angeles celebrating at home with her friend Emma. All in all, we manage to ring in 2017 on three different occasions with four different groups. It’s a wild time.
We decide to call it an early night because the next day we’ve got a bus trip to Amberley for our third WWOOFing experience at The Food Farm, a charming little CSA plot run by the Gill-Clifford Family (with a social media game that is on point – check out Angela’s photos on Instagram at @thefoodfarmnz). More on that in our next post from Bronwyn.
Middle school teacher on hiatus/budding permaculturalist currently cycling the world. Sometimes he acts in plays and film. Mostly he travels and blogs about it. Christian is one of the founders of onlyamazingdays.com