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Taking Refuge in Christchurch

(Reprint from News: January 12, 2002)

January 1, 2002


I arrived in Christchurch (pop. 300,000) in late December and decided to hunker down there for a while, since I was getting tired of fighting the crowds everywhere.  As I've learned, New Zealand gets pretty darn crowded during the summer school holiday period -- the six weeks between mid-December and the end of January.  The two weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year's is the super-peak period when it seems that everyone in the country "goes on holiday" including the penguins, so I figured it would be smart to lay low until after New Year's.


After driving around Christchurch for an hour, I found a nice motel called The Academy right across the street from the University of Canterbury, one of the largest universities in New Zealand.  In fact, I liked my room at The Academy so much that I stayed for eight nights.  It was a one-bedroom unit on the top floor with a full kitchen and, with a tuition of US$38 a night, cost about half as much as it would in the U.S. so I was quite content.  Plus, this being a New Zealand motel, I got a free newspaper and bottle of milk each morning -- what more could you ask for?


Christchurch is the second-largest city in New Zealand and, as I mentioned in my last entry, is a very “English” city.  During my eight days in Christchurch, I updated my website, worked on my photos, sent several e-mails, walked around the city, listened to the Oregon-Colorado football game via the Internet, celebrated New Year's Eve, visited the nearby port cities of Akaroa and Lyttleton, rode a gondola to the top of a mountain for a spectacular view, watched a cricket match, and generally had a good time.  I did all this in between the showers and thunderstorms, but at least it was warm and I could wear shorts each day. 


The cricket match was especially interesting and I had a nice chat there with an elderly gentleman.  As we sat on the grassy outfield, he explained some of the finer points of the game to me.  It's still a strange game with all the "wickets," "overs" and "silly mid ons," but at least I understand it now.  Sort of.


Despite the drippy weather, I thought Christchurch was a pretty city with a lot of interesting things in and around it, including a great botanical garden.  I’m not much into gardens but this one is terrific.  The Avon River meanders through the garden and “Punting on the Avon” is a popular, if perhaps a bit pretentious, activity.  "Punting" doesn't have anything to do with football, but rather it's like riding a gondola in Venice, except… well… they’re punts.  Another difference is that the “punters” or whatever they’re called ("puntsmen"?) wear white clothes and white hats and, of course, speak English… though with a Kiwi accent.  Remember what I said about the accent: “weast” is west and “dee-cade” is decade.  You can guess what “seeks” is.


There’s also a great museum near the botanical garden that has an interesting exhibit on the Antarctic expeditions of the early 1900’s, since Christchurch was the jumping-off point for most early Antarctic expeditions.  Christchurch continues to be the world’s main link to Antarctica and has more exhibits and museums devoted to Antarctica than any other city in the world.  This is where the Norwegian Roald Amundsen and the Englishman Robert Scott left from in 1911 on their race to the South Pole.  Amundsen, using sled dogs, got to the South Pole first, while Scott and his three companions arrived a month later, found a note from Amundsen, then froze to death during a despairing trudge back to their ship.  


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Above left:  The city tram in Christchurch. 

Above center:  Punting on the Avon River through the Botanical Gardens.

Above right:  The Christchurch Art Museum.


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Above left:  Girls just wanna have fun. 

Above center:  This Sno-Cat was used in Antarctica many years ago.  Now it's in the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch. 

Above right:  Out on the Banks Peninsula east of town.  This is the beautiful Akaroa Bay.


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Above left:  Lyttleton (pronounced "Littleton") is the port city for Christchurch.  It's a pretty gritty town by NZ standards.

Above center:  A drydock in Lyttleton Harbor.  This harbor has been the starting point for expeditions to Antarctica for over a hundred years.

Above right:  The Rat & Roach -- one place where I didn't eat.


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Above left:  Riding on the gondola to the top of the Port Hills, which separate inland Christchurch (in the background) from Lyttleton Harbor.  I had a great time riding up to the top and enjoyed the 360-degree view here. 

Above center:  The Lyttleton Harbor from the top.

Above right:  There's also a little museum in the building at the top.  Here's Captain James Cook, the first European to explore New Zealand.  Cook discovered Hawaii, among other places... and was killed there in 1779.


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