Despite all my years in Scotland, where winter is synonymous with coldness and darkness, I really struggle with the winter months in New Zealand even though the days aren’t quite so short, and the temperature where I live rarely gets cold enough for snow. I think having Christmas and New Year to break up the Northern Hemisphere’s winter months helped, and where I used to live in Aberdeen, there was plenty of snow every year. But in Christchurch where I live now, we rarely get snow, although I certainly see it coating the distant mountains, and the Port Hills behind the city gets the odd light dusting. But with no Christmas and New Year to break up the monotony of the winter months, I find that when daylight savings ends in April, and I find myself leaving work in darkness, I have to grit my teeth and bare the winter months here, spending my days dreaming of September when daylight savings return and the spring flowers start to bloom.
So last June, I decided to take a week off work to try and lighten my winter blues. I had an exciting few days planned abroad at the end of the week, but at the beginning of the week I stayed closer to home. My partner’s friend came down from Auckland and we got to show him around the city, showing him what had changed since the last time he’d visited. I’ve really loved watching Christchurch evolve over the years since it suffered incredible destruction in the February 2011 earthquake. I don’t like everything about the new layout (the city centre cycle lanes and speed limit is a bit of a bugbear), but for the most part we are getting an incredible new city and bit by bit the city is returning to full functionality.
There were some pockets of Canterbury that my partner’s friend hadn’t explored so we took a drive west to head into the Southern Alps. As is often the case, the weather to the east of the Divide can be very different from that within the mountain ranges and the clouds were low over the mountain tops as we wound our way through the Southern Alps to reach Arthur’s Pass village. We stopped for lunch in the cafe-come-village store, hugging our hot drinks for warmth. The three of us had spent a winter weekend away in Methven some years prior and whilst we didn’t visit any ski centres on this trip, it reminded me of then: sitting in a cafe in a little mountain village.
To the west of Arthur’s Pass are a couple of viewpoints where there is a reasonably good chance of spotting kea, the delightfully cheeky and intelligent alpine parrot. True to form, when we pulled in at the first of the lookouts, where the road spans the valley in the form of a bridge, we found some. The low cloud swirled around the bridge, and whilst we couldn’t see much of the mountains, it was actually a pretty dramatic view. Despite the cold and the threat of drizzle, we were entertained enough by a pair of kea that posed in front of the bridge, preening each other and just generally being photogenic. I’ve stopped here many times and only once not seen kea (sadly this happened to be when my brother was visiting from Scotland).
Just a little further along the road is another scenic lookout and excitedly there was the biggest group of kea I’d ever seen. They were merrily hopping around on the road sign and the fence nearby and as usual were completely unfazed by the attention they were receiving. As fewer people tend to stop at this lookout, and probably also because the weather wasn’t very clear, we had this lookout to ourselves for quite some time before another car pulled in. This meant we had plenty of time to just watch these parrots play, and I went snap happy, even although they rarely sat still long enough for me to get them in focus. Unfortunately the weather didn’t really permit stops anywhere on route back to Christchurch, but it was still a fun mini road trip out of the city.
The poor weather the next day made me head to the Christchurch Art Gallery. I’d been before shortly after its opening, and I have to admit that this place is rather lost on me. It’s personal taste, but whilst I love photography and the work of a few specific artists, I’m not really much of an art lover, so art galleries don’t tend to wow me. Thankfully, entry is free, and after wandering round rooms with different styles of art, I finally came across the yellow room, where everything within it was related to yellow. A large bull sculpture caught my eye, made out of old food tins, and it took centre stage. There is a nice viewpoint onto the street below from the opposite side of the building and having had enough of the exhibitions, I watched one of the city trams meander past before leaving.
With more poor weather, I ended up doing a bit of cafe hopping, just to get out of the house. I had delicious belgian hot chocolate at Theobroma, the chocolate shop, on one day, and visited Miro, a recently opened posh cafe another day for their breakfast tray. A few days later, I enjoyed brunch at Unknown Chapter, my favourite cafe in the city. But besides all of this, I was excited to have a few days across the Tasman Sea, in my favourite city in the World, for an event that I had been dreaming about attending for a very long time…