This was our last stop, before heading back to Auckland to catch flights leaving New Zealand. The “The Garden City” – or: Christchurch is the south island´s main hub for tourists. It´s a wonderful place bustling with shops and restaurants. The evening we arrived, a downtown festival by the Indian community did set us in a perfect mood right away: We ate from the inexpensive food stalls alongside the square where many locals and Indians were dancing and cheering.
There are a numerous attractions in and around of town. On top of my list was the Antarctic center. This comes at no surprise for those who know my Antarcticaphilia. However, upon picking up the leaflet at the information center, I found out that this was more kind of an amusement park, with the associated price ticket. Not really my thing.
Therefore, we decided to go to the Air Force museum instead, which is located a bit out of town. A lot of dedication went into the restoration of the various objects displayed and the guide meeting us at the entrance was an enthusiastic retired Air Force pilot. Next to a lot of interesting historic objects, the main exhibition hall draws the crowds. This is where old planes are on display. The atmosphere in this dimly lit hangar, did remind me of the airfield from the movie “Casablanca“.
Another nice sight was the beach near the New Brighton pier, just out of Christchurch. There, we spent the afternoon chasing seagulls (a polite way to state that in fact we were the chased one´s – by trying to avoid their poo landing on our food). Walking back into town along the Avon river was a long walk. However, it was interesting to walk through the beautiful neighborhoods and parks in the suburbs of Christchurch.
The history of Christchurch as such is very recent. Only around 1840 the European settlers started building here – although much older traces of Maori settlements date back to the 11th century. Pilgrims from Canterbury wanted to create a city around a central cathedral and a college. They were influenced by the Christ Church (hence the name) back in Oxford.
Another historically loaded city lies about 75km away from Christchurch. It is the town of Akaroa – a former French settlement. Going there by a bus tour is a typical day trip for most tourists, since the town is located in a scenic setting near the shores of the Pacific sea. Many of the street names in Akaroa still are French today. The hotel would be called “Le hotel”, the bakery shop “Le boulanger” and the gaz station “L’essence”.
Moreover, a French flag sits dominantly on a pole in the harbor and some memorials remind visitors about various French politicians who visited the place. Although I was humming “La Marseillaise“, nobody replied with a connoisseur smile. Consequently, I had to abandon my project of trying to talk in the language of “la Grande Nation” for one day here in New Zealand. I would have starved to death ordering my food in French.
Then came the day, where Michi cringed with his teeth in anticipation: Going for a ride on the scenic train TraNZalpine. It runs from Christchurch to Greymouth and this excursion was on my short list – but not really on Michi’s. Since he’s a nice guy, he agreed to come along – no matter how bored he would get.
Although the weather was picture perfect on the eastern side of the island, rain and heavy fog started to set in, once our train arrived at Arthurs Pass, the station on top of the pass. Nevertheless, we’ve got sometimes good glimpses of the scenery and I enjoyed the 470km round-trip like a small kid. The route takes the train over scenic bridges and viaducts – as well as a couple of tunnels. The longest of these, the Otira tunnel, is around 8km long.
Since the engines are diesel powered and the ride from Greymouth to Christchurch is a climb with engines at full power, there are a lot of fumes getting into the passenger cars. After a while, half of the people in our car – which consisted mostly of retired men – started to doze away as if the had smoked pot. Oddly enough, the railway company changed from an electrified system to the present diesel power system only about ten years ago.
After this beautiful stay in Christchurch it was almost time to say goodbye to New Zealand. We did fly back to Auckland, from where Michi left for Europe. His itinerary went through Los Angeles. Since he came into New Zealand through Asia, this means that he accomplished a round the world trip, too. In only four weeks.