Over the past five years, returning to the city of my birth, Christchurch, New Zealand, was often like returning to school – but the old three R’s rule of reading, writing and ’rithmetic had been replaced with different R’s – I often had to ask if it has been reopened, renovated, relocated or reduced-to-rubble. Unfortunately, with something like 80% of the inner-city, my old stomping ground, demolished because of quake damage, many were reduced to rubble or relocated.
Of course many of my favourites have another R as they remained-open or have reopened after minor damage was repaired, while a few had to close temporarily while neighbouring buildings were ‘de-constructed’.
A few of my special city-centre places in the remained open (or just closed briefly) category are, The Classic Villa; Canterbury Museum; Botanic Gardens; and The Antigua Boat Sheds.
Two months before the September 2010 quakes, a mayoral candidate said if he became mayor he would apply for World Heritage Status for the city’s unique Gothic Revival buildings. It seemed no city in the world had such a collection of Gothic revival buildings ‘of such high quality and so well preserved’ and I went to the Great Hall in the Gothic style Christchurch Arts Centre, another of my favourite places in the city, to hear about the proposal. He said, “these Victorian buildings date back to the 1850s and as a group are of enormous international significance. They represent the outcome of the furthest migration of any group of people in human history.” He continued, “They are more than bricks and mortar, they are at the heart of our city”.
I’m now back at the Arts Centre, very fortunate to get an escorted, behind-the-scenes, peek at the work being done in this part of the ‘heart of our city.’ Andre Lovatt the Arts Centre CEO, who values the heritage buildings in our city, is showing me around. He knows that ‘with enough time and money, you can do anything’ and time and, money has been and is continuing to be used on this collection of buildings. (Donations welcome to help this work – see their website)
Although the Gothic style is usually associated with churches the mid-Victorian architects used it in other buildings such as Canterbury College in 1873. Other buildings were added and eventually the college became Canterbury University. Over a century later the University moved to a new campus in the suburbs.
With plans to demolish the buildings locals demanded they be kept and eventually the empty buildings became the Arts Centre, which incidentally, my father had said would be a waste of money for the city and ‘should not be saved.’
A number of architects designed the individual buildings, the most well-known being Benjamin Mountford: it’s been said that the Great Hall was a good example of ‘his ability to adapt the Gothic style to colonial circumstance and to produce magnificent buildings within the constraints of limited resources.’
Much of the Arts Centre is reopening this year (2016) and there is anticipation and excitement by retailers who hope to return to the centre and by Cantabrians in general who look forward to being able to enjoy the area again. Check their website to find out the dates various buildings will be opened – and I’m hoping a New Zealand craft market will eventually open there too.
The Fool by Sam Mahon is one of my favourite pieces of public art … I wonder where it will move to within the Arts Centre grounds.
A new sculpture to be installed within the Arts Centre is the twin to this one by Antony Gormley – which is in the Avon (between Worcester and Armagh Street bridges.
I believe one of the first places to open this year will be Rutherford’s Den. This Kiwi, Ernest Rutherford, is one of the greatest scientists of the modern age, and he studied at this college from 1890 to 1894: this den is where he conducted some of his earliest experiments and is now a museum and information area. The Den was extremely popular before the quake and now that it has been totally updated I can see even more locals and tourists visiting it.
These tours leave daily from Te Raukura where the waka are housed within Te Wharewaka o Poneke: a place I know quite well as I not only attended the dawn opening of this building (2011) but also where my weekly social walking group meets, at Karaka (cafe), for breakfast or coffee before we head off on a city walk.
Tuparahuia, our guide for the morning walk introduced himself while standing beside the four waka – including the largest, a single hull carved waka taua, Te Rerenga Kotare, which is used for ceremonial events and which, in the past, would have been a war canoe. Another way to experience the rich culture and history of Te Whanganui-a-Tara and the Te Atiawa people is to join a waka tour of the harbour on one of these traditional boats. (Bookings essential)
Alongside the water of Te Whanganui a Tara (Wellington Harbour) we hear the story of Maui and his brothers fishing up the North Island, otherwise known as Te Ika A Maui -the fish of Maui. Turning back towards the building we stand under the fabulous statue -made in the late 1930s by Christchurch sculptor William Trethewy – which depicts the legendary Polynesian explorer Kupe, his wife, and tohunga. Originally built in plaster, and for decades sitting in the Wellington railway station, in 1999 it was cast in bronze and placed on the waterfront to celebrate the millennium and as a tribute to all who have come to these shores. Under the gaze of these majestic, heroic looking, figures our walking tour continues and we hear the stories of Kupe and his discovery of Aotearoa New Zealand.
In front of the meeting house, on the atea (usually considered a sacred area of ground) is a stylised compass of the stars and constellations used by those early Pacific navigators: it was interesting to hear how those early waka had the 360° horizon marked around the canoe railings for easy navigation when they added their knowledge about the time of the year – something I’d not heard before.
Te Aro Pa (pa = community or village) was once one of the largest Māori communities in Wellington until the 1880s. It is often acknowledged that those early settlers would never have survived without the support of local Māori.
I recommend you take the tour yourself and hear all these stories, myths, and legends. We also examined the uncovered remains of two whare (buildings) which were uncovered during the demolition, then construction of an apartment block, in 2005. This tour, and others Te Atiawa provide, are a great way to understand the city’s history as you discover Wellington’s hidden Māori treasures.
Note: in Māori, as in many other languages, you do not add an ‘s’ to a word to describe more than on as there is no letter s in the language. Just as we say one sheep or 1000 sheep the same is for waka, kiwi, and Māori (etc) when being used as New Zealand English. In te reo Māori it would be te waka (the waka, ie one) or nga waka to show more that one. For more information about the language please see other blogs I’ve written, including this one I wrote for NileGuide Maori is one of three official languages in New Zealand – check it out here
Some photos for you . . .
Historical crane/boat welcomes its new neighbor
Food is part of all Maori events – breakfast is served
People gather in the dawn
Wonderful view of the great roof line
the bronze statue is impressive
Our guide talks about the effect of change in water levels
As well as riding the rails recently, in Christchurch New Zealand, I also rode a caterpillar: no, not the turn-into-a-butterfly type caterpillar but an electric one in the city’s Botanic Gardens – this is Caterpillar Garden Tour is one of the attractions operated by Welcome Aboard
Known to Māori for hundreds of years, Christchurch was officially settled by the British in 1850. Plans for the Botanic Gardens began 13 years later in the area that at that stage were largely made up of wetlands and sand dunes, and in 1863 an English oak was planted to commemorate the marriage of Queen Victoria’s eldest son Prince Albert – this is the same year that my maternal family arrived from Cornwall, followed in 1872 by my paternal Scottish ancestors. Like those early trees, our roots are deep in the plains and peninsula.
Nestled in a loop of the Avon River the gardens are a popular place for locals and visitors value that the area was ‘reserved for ever as a public park and to be open with the recreation and enjoyment of the public’ when Christchurch was in its infancy.
A magnetic observatory has stood here in the gardens since the beginning of the 20th century. This is not the original building but is on the very spot where explorers such as Scott and Shackleton calibrated their instruments before heading to the South Pole.
Driving in another country is often fraught with issues: driving in New Zealand is no different.
Think about it, you are in another country, in a rental car, possibly driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, there are few motorways, the dual carriageway roads are often narrow and winding, you round a corner – and this is what you see!
Slow down, and if there is a vehicle ahead of you, right in front of the sheep like in this photo, you are lucky, get close in behind it and tailgate slowly through the mob of sheep.
If there is no vehicle for you to follow keep to the left and drive very, very, slowly: the farmer will no doubt get his dogs to move the sheep to the right and out of your way.
However, if the sheep are moving towards you, in other words travelling in the opposite direction to you, once again keep left, and drive very slowly – although I would suggest you just stop on the left, wind down the windows, grab your camera, and enjoy the quiet and smells of the country while being engulfed by a flock of sheep.
Chances are you will never have this happen again so why not just have fun.
For up-to-date and legal information about driving in New Zealand, and to make sure of your safety, please read this and most of all remember to keep left – especially when turning at intersections. Many of the trolleys at airports have notices to tell visitors ‘your journey will take longer than you think’ – take heed of this message!
This was the first flock of sheep I had met for years and years so I made the most of it by driving through, then stopping and have the sheep pass me as I stood at the back of my car, with my camera. Enjoy the shots I took.
Funky, with attitude, BreakFree on Cashel (street) is one of the biggest and newest of Christchurch hotels, it has a modern urban feel and all rooms include a
smart TV and free fibre-optic Wi-Fi.
It certainly epitomises a city reimagined and is handy to many tourist attractions and great cafes restaurants and bars.
Bought ‘as is’ after the quakes (10/11) the company has done lots of work refurbishing, updating, and most importantly, seismic strengthening.
For me, it was a great base to explore the city and after a hearty breakfast, I set out on walking tours, tram rides, New Regent St, Re-Start Mall, the Quake City Museum, punting, and of course, the wonderful Botanic Gardens in the Christchurch Art Gallery.
The local city council has created a great app which you can find on your App Store or Google play (findchch.com) which will help you find your way around.
The test of any hotel for me is would I stay there again? Absolutely. Although I was their guest on the sixth floor this time I would willingly pay – and you it has a range of rooms for you to choose from. I suggest you check out their website and decide which is best for you. I was shown around the different configurations of rooms – from the smallest to the largest I’d be happy in any of them.
Thanks for hosting me Breakfree. Here are some photos I took of those rooms:
I used to think my mother was so brave when, holding my hand, she stepped out into the middle of Colombo street to board the tram. I was excited and scared at the same time. A few years ago I took my mother on a tram trip – in the restaurant car: she was delighted with the silver service and delicious meal.
Seems my family history with trams goes back even further as I have a tattered photo of my maternal grandfather laying, or repairing, tram tracks in the mid-1930s: a photo that had appeared in the Christchurch Press. It’s only a few years ago that I always had an annual pass for the tram as, living in the inner-city I rode the tracks frequently – especially if it was raining or I was carrying my groceries and vegetables.
Trams removed were from Christchurch’s streets in the mid-1950s, but returned in the mid-90s, mostly as a tourist attraction – back then, and during my travels on this trip, even as a local I enjoyed hearing the history of places we passed. Unlike many places around the world, taped commentary are played: here the drivers, or motormen as they are correctly called, speak freely about the city’s history and add their own personal touches. I hope this never changes as it makes these tours unique and personal. A travel writing friend of mine, Roy Sinclair, has been a tram driver here and provided historical context for the other drivers – he also tells me that the training is comprehensive.
It appears trams are simple vehicles, with a control to go, and a brake to stop, however, learning to drive them smoothly is not always easy, nevertheless it seems there are bonuses with the job. I recall one who used to recount his 15 minutes of fame when he co-starred with Kate Winslet in the 1990’s film Heavenly Creatures. As he said, ‘three days of work and I made it onto the film for about three and four seconds!
These motormen come from a range of backgrounds including; an economics professor, musicians, school principals, bank managers, and of course Roy Sinclair, an author.
On my most recent trip back to Christchurch (February 2016) I was a guest of Welcome Aboardwith a combo ticket to travel on the tram, gondola, punting and the delightful, and informative Caterpillar Tour in the Botanic Gardens – all of which will appear in another blog. Now, let these photos tell the story of our trams.
Beautifully restored and maintained woodwork
Plastic sheep seats block the way
Passing The Arts Centre
Travellers ride the rails
Prams and pushchairs travel on the front
Slowly through the roadworks
Tram 152 passes the Christchurch City Gallery
End of the line by the Strange’s building
Larry Day (left) Ian Wilson and Roy Sinclair before