A few days off from the Tour in Christchurch
While most headed north after the night out in Welly, we followed the team and headed south. Not quite as far as Queenstown and the bungy jumping, skiing, jet boating stuff, but to Christchurch, where the devastating earthquakes of 6 years ago are still affecting the city. As we headed off to Auckland today ready for the epic clash on Saturday, it seemed like a good time to reflect on some of the tourism side of the NZ experience, as well as find some more Rotherham connections!
The basic facts on the earthquake are that it hit on February 22nd 2011, registering 6.3 on the Richter scale and 185 people died. I remember watching pictures of it on the tv, and I suppose I expected to arrive and find things getting back to normal. Well, in some ways they are, but it is a strange city centre to visit and explore.
To give you an idea of the scale, think of standing on the hillside overlooking Sheffield, across from the railway station. Now take away almost everything in front of you from down the Moor, Bramall Lane (no nasty remarks from Wednesday supporters please), up to West St, and across to the Law Courts. Just demolish it all, the Town Hall, the Crucible, City Hall, Sheffield Hallam Uni, except for a few buildings, mainly wooden ones. Apparently they wobble but don’t collapse.
The area of devastation in Christchurch was huge, with lots of the suburbs suffering damage as well, and most of the city centre is still affected. There are lots of car parks, cleared areas earning a bit of cash before someone decides what to do with them. There are building sites everywhere, with impressive pictures showing what it will be like, soon. There are some buildings, mainly older ones, held together with metal bars, steel ropes and ties and obviously someone is hoping they can be saved. Some have been gutted. In others you can see stuff still sitting there from the day of the quake.
The tramlines have been restored, admittedly with a few variations from before and the commentary, as we trundled round the city, emphasised that everything would soon be back better than before; lots of bars and restaurants will be open for the summer – think November December, so not long to go – right down to the newly improved waterside on the Avon river, and meanwhile there’s the quirky artwork and installations to see in the Gaps, where there are buildings missing. They are trying, trying very, very hard, to give the city centre some life and purpose.
One of the weirdest places was the remains of the PriceWaterhouseCooper building, with bits of concrete sticking up like broken teeth, with a window in the boarding so you could look down into the underground car park. It’s still flooded, the posh cars down there probably being looked at as an experiment in how long it takes a Porsche to go rusty! Our tram driver seemed to enjoy describing the devastation at that particular building.
Our own little rental property, out in the suburbs in St. Albans, had cracks down many of the walls, and the chimney breast and wood burner were held up with wood and a metal frame. There’s an app you can get to check on quake activity and all the time we have been here there have been hundreds of little shocks across the country every day. Most of them are on the ‘light’ side but when you go round the museums it is so obvious, from the displays, that we are sitting on top of one of the biggest fault lines on the planet. No worries.
We explored the botanical gardens; awesome and looked intact despite being right in the city centre, watched the Christchurch Model Yacht Club racing across the lake in the park (Alan delighted to find he’s too young to join!), went up in the gondola to see the whole city laid out below us and then wondered what else there was to do, in the city that was different. Train trip was the answer.
The TranzAlpine explorer leaves at breakfast time every day, heading across the country to Greymouth, and passing through the mountains and valleys that run down the spine of South Island. You get an hour in Greymouth – long enough to explore, really – and the return trip gets you home in time for supper. It’s a gorgeous train, leather seats, excellent catering, with picture windows, roof windows and an open carriage you can freeze in and take awesome photos. Lots of bridges, viaducts, tunnels, including one 8k long that takes about 15 minutes due to the incline. A great day out through beautiful scenery. Just wish I had a better camera!
In Greymouth we found a little shop that felt like stepping back to the 1950/60s. An old fashioned gentleman’s outfitters, complete with all the sports kits for local schools and clubs. His window had a fantastic Lions v ABs display and we got talking about rugby, as you do. You might have spotted the FB page called ‘Adopt a Lions Fan 2017’ where people are offering beds, food, transport, parking etc to Lions fans across the country, for no charge, just to be nice. Check it out – gives you a nice warm glow that people can do stuff for others for nothing.
We’ve met people who’ve been doing this, especially up here in Auckland where prices have gone through the roof for accommodation, if you can find any. The guy who set this all up owned the stuff in the shop window, and the shop owner was his dad. A very proud dad too. The nice people from Dove, one of the sponsors, had set up a chance for him to meet some of the fans he’d helped and also sent him off to the Test match, and I’m sure one or two fans bought him a drink to say thank you as well. Being nice is nice. He was on our tv news tonight, a bit shell shocked on how it has all taken off!
Anyway, here’s today’s link to Rotherham (and Sheffield). The TranzAlpine express passes through a few small towns on the way to the mountains, and the commentary on board told us that in the 1850s the area was settled by people from the north of England and a guy called John Jebson named 2 of the settlements after his home town and the place next door. He came from Darfield, and it sits there now, about 2000 people in the middle of a huge plains area, with Sheffield next door. Wonder who Jebson was and why he didn’t choose Rotherham as a name?