MistyNites

My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “Canterbury”

Tekapo Time

In the years I’ve lived in New Zealand’s South Island, the settlement of Tekapo has changed quite a bit. My first memory of it from 2012 is of a quiet little township in a gorgeous location. Within a few years, as tourism numbers in the country soared, it became synonymous with bus loads of tourists and ‘Influencers’ posing next to the lake, the lupins and the church. It’s still small, but there’s certainly been a good bit of development, one of which has been the brand spanking new YHA hostel as well as the observatory just along the road. Shortly after the hostel opened, I headed to stay there in January 2020. The C-word had been increasingly prevalent on the news but in our innocence and naivety, I thought little of it, other than being aware that Chinese New Year was just around the corner, and that flights from China into New Zealand were being restricted.

It’s a familiar drive across the Canterbury Plains and a mountain pass to get there from Christchurch, so I was there by mid-day, too soon to check in. It wasn’t the sunniest of days, but the outlook at the lake is divine so it was nice to take a wander along the lake shore before circling back. Integrated into the new hostel is a little burger bar which made a nice chill spot to wait out the remaining time until check-in. The clouds were just starting to part a bit as the afternoon wore on, and having gotten into the room and headed back outside again, a walk round the side of the building revealed a gloriously huge mirrored window spanning the two storeys of the gable end. It reflected the lake and the clouds and was simply stunning.

 

Some days, wind whips across the length of the lake creating waves, and this was one of those days. Walking along the lakeside and across the bridge past the Church of the Good Shepherd, the waves accompanied me, splashing against the many rocks on the shore. There were certainly still tourists about, but it was noticeably quieter than usual, the start of stranger times ahead. At this far end I could see glacier-like clouds snaking down the nearby mountain valleys, a really cool effect that I’ve seen several times here. The flowers along the path edge were in full summer bloom with bees floating around the invasive thistles and lupins that adorned the place. With long summer days, there was still hours of light left when I meandered back to the hostel ahead of dinner, and now the clouds had cleared enough to create an even more impressive reflection on the gable wall.

 

Tekapo sits within the Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, an internationally recognised region for optimum stargazing and astrophotography. When at last it was dark enough to see some celestial light, I headed round to the waterfront, crossing the arched bridge that was illuminated with downlighting. The lights in the town are specialised to minimise light pollution, meaning that both in town as well as up on the nearby Mt John hillside, there is ample opportunity to see some stars and planets without having to go far.

The next day was hot. Soaring towards the 30s with cloudless skies above. I’d booked a tour of the new observatory for mid-morning which allowed enough time to take another walk along the waterfront first. The guide was great at talking about the stars and planets for a mixed audience as we walked through a series of rooms covering various aspects of the local night sky. In one room there were large bright red orbs representing either stars or planets, and at the end we came out in the observatory itself with the giant telescope which we got to watch rotate and move. I love looking up at the stars on a warm night, so this place was really interesting for me.

 

It was time to get out in the heat and have some fun. My companion wanted to go to the hot pools but I couldn’t think of anything worse than sitting in thermal pools on such a hot day. I had my eyes on the seasonal offerings at the Tekapo Springs complex, in particular the giant bouncy house they set up in the summer months. Most of it was under the direct hit of the sun, making the tarpaulin a little hot under foot, but I was all over it, and thanks to the heat, mostly had the giant playground to myself. My day to day job is exceedingly stressful and tiring, so letting my hair down at that point was just what I needed. I ran round and round the place, bouncing through obstacle tunnels, sliding down giant slides, climbing inflatable towers and throwing velcro balls at a giant inflatable dart board. Only when the heat got too much did I head inside the cafe to grab some water. But once I’d cooled down I was straight back out again to enjoy it once more.

 

Despite the ample opportunity in New Zealand, I’m not a particular fan of swimming in lakes. Partly it’s because I spend a lot of my time travelling solo, and partly it’s because I’m never quite sure what’s under the water. I hate the feeling of vegetation against my legs when I’m swimming or the discomfort of wading out over stony sediments, so rarely bother. However it was so hot on this occasion and there were so many people in the lake enjoying the water, that my companion didn’t have to work hard to convince me to get in. Of course Lake Tekapo is a glacial lake, so even with an air temperature of 31oC, the water was comparatively frigid, and it necessitated either dancing whilst talking to people, or continuously moving to save from getting a chill.

The evening light was gorgeous so I needed no encouragement at all to follow the foreshore with my camera to find a spot to watch the sunset. The surrounding hills turned a shade of red and a light breeze created small waves against the rocks once more. As I sat, I got quite irked about a trio of freedom campers who proceeded to head into the water and use products to bathe and wash their hair, the soapy remnants floating across the water’s surface. It amazes me how little people realise (or perhaps care about) the damage that even small quantities of these products can do to the lake and the shore. Dilution effect is neither accurate nor a good enough excuse, and especially in a sedimentary lake formed from glacial outflow. What’s more frustrating to me is that my introvertedness always prevents me from speaking up. I could hear from their conversation that they were French, and instead of speaking to them at all, I practiced the necessary French in my head, thinking it wouldn’t be so confronting if I spoke to them in their own language. Instead, I angrily stewed internally, and never let out a peep. Sadly, freedom campers had been starting to get a bad rep in New Zealand prior to the border closures of COVID that has since kept many of them out of the country. This incident wasn’t helping their reputation.

 

The stars eventually took my mind off it when it was at last dark enough to see them in all their glory. As I had sat on my rock, more and more people had gathered, and despite Tekapo having seemed relatively quiet during the day, the night brought hordes of people to the area around the church, including a couple of coaches that dumped a large crowd of people out of them. I hadn’t brought my tripod with me and I’m still learning how to get the best out of my camera in low light, so I tried very hard, but never really got an acceptable astro photo. When a chill hit around midnight, I weaved my way through the crowds to head back to bed.

 

The clouds were back the following day, but it was still warm and sunny. After breakfast at a local cafe it was time for a final wander around before heading home to Christchurch. The C-word continued to trickle through day after day as New Zealand watched events play out abroad. But it was summer, and I had some exciting plans coming up the following month to look forward to, including somewhere I’d been wanting to get to for years.

Summer Vibes in the Garden City

January 2020 marked 8 years since I’d moved to New Zealand. The start of the year came with no great fanfare but I had so many plans for the coming year including getting home to see my family and visiting a couple of new countries. I was excited, and the early news reports of a new virus trickling out from China did little to dampen my spirits. When I wasn’t working, I was intent on making the most of my days off whilst the summer weather was at its best, dotting around Christchurch from the city to the suburbs as my mood took me.

On the day that marked my 8-year anniversary, I found myself down at New Brighton beach. The pier there is an iconic Christchurch landscape and despite the wind that was whipping up, there were plenty of people out and about. After the recent hiking I’d done a couple of weeks prior, I was in no great desire to walk the full length of the beach, but I did go for a bit of a toddle down the sand, listening to the surf and daydreaming. Coming here reminds me of the long walks I used to take in Aberdeenshire, walking north from Balmedie to Newburgh. Listening to the sound of crashing waves is one of my favourite things to do and is an instant mood lifter for me. I walked under the pier before heading round to the stairs to walk out on it, a long meander out over the sea where couples stroll hand-in-hand and locals stand with fishing lines cast off into the surf. For me, there’s something quintessentially Trans-Tasman about it, as it always evokes memories of time spent in both Australia and New Zealand.

 

The following weekend I made use of my annual pass for the Christchurch Gondola, heading round to Heathcote to take the cable car up Mt Cavendish. The views from the Port Hills over Lyttelton Harbour and Pegasus Bay are some of my favourite viewpoints in the city. It was another gorgeous day and both the sea and the sky were a brilliant blue. I enjoyed lunch at the cafe at the top before wandering around the platform and then down onto the hilltop to watch the clouds moving in from the sea, dotted across the sky.

 

I was spoiled once more the next weekend when the sun was out in force again. After all these years living in Christchurch, I’d watched the city be reborn and there is so much of the new city that I really love. I need little excuse to visit Riverside Market or walk alongside the River Avon, and I especially love to walk through the Botanic Gardens in either spring or summer. The meadow flowers in the Gardens were in full swing and they were alive with bumble bees going about their business. The colours of the flowers were gorgeous with vibrant reds and yellows popping out of the display.

 

The rose garden was also in its prime by this point in the year, and is always full of people admiring the bushes with their blooms. On this occasion, there weren’t too many people there which meant I could actually take some photos without feeling like I was intruding on people posing for the ‘Gram. As I continued through the Gardens towards Canterbury Museum I noticed some new metal sculptures of a couple of deer grazing under a tree.

 

But I was really there that day to visit the museum which had a temporary exhibit called ‘Squawkzilla and the Giants’ about the prehistoric giant birds that roamed New Zealand around 60 million years ago. Before I moved here, I’d never heard of the country’s endemic parrots, the kea and kaka, nor did I know that penguins lived here. It’s not hard to love these bird species once you’ve seen them in the wild, so I was as happy as the kids that visited to come face to face with 1m and 1.5m tall penguins that used to call New Zealand home. It’s strange to thing that there used to be a penguin as tall as a human that waddled along the beaches here.

Before visiting this exhibit, I hadn’t realised that New Zealand used to have crocodiles. I always think of our neighbour across the Tasman as being the crocodile country, but apparently 40 million years ago, so were we. Then finally, I came face to face with squawkzilla, a human-sized parrot which looked very much like a giant kaka. The rest of the museum houses mostly static exhibits which I’ve been through many times before, so I took a quick whizz through a couple of them before heading back out into the sunshine.

I took a different route back through the Botanic Gardens to reach my car. This led me past the long stretch of flowers that leads up the wall next to the College. There were more bees buzzing around and when I reached the rose garden again, I wandered round the flower bed at its perimeter before heading into the nearby conservatory to get a view from the balcony on the first floor. There was a few more people milling about the roses by now, and plenty of people up on the balcony also. The following weekend I was to have the first of many planned trips away from home, but these first few weeks of 2020 had reminded me how much I love living in the Garden City.

The Wild West

Deep within the Lewis Pass region of New Zealand’s South Island is a myriad of hiking trails snaking through the forests and across and around the mountain ranges that snake through there. In November 2019 on a 4-day weekend thanks to Canterbury Anniversary Day, I decided to take a trip across to the western half of the island, and stopped on route to take a trip through Nina Valley. There was little space to park despite the slightly dreary day as Nina Hut at the end of the valley is a popular spot to hike into for the night. Aside from mud, I found my usual forest walk companion in the form of a South Island robin, one of my favourite birds to accompany me on hikes. What I also found was a cute pair of mice which when I stopped to watch them, proceeded to come out and nosy around the undergrowth whilst I photographed them silently. Mice are a pest here in New Zealand, one of the many invasive species responsible for decimating our native wild birds, and at the time of visiting, we were experiencing a ‘cast’, a higher than average tree seed production that led to a spike in pest numbers. Still, they were wildlife, and I love spotting wildlife. Plus they were exceptionally cute and I couldn’t help but be a little excited watching them go about their business.

 

I’d planned on walking as far as the Nina swing bridge, an hour along the trail, but between stopping to watch the forest creatures and taking a break by the river, I decided to turn back before I got that far. It had taken a few hours to drive this far from Christchurch and I’d stopped for lunch at a favourite cafe in Hanmer Springs, a detour off the main road, so I was mindful about the drive ahead to my destination and not wanting to arrive too late. So after spotting some riflemen flitting about the trees, and with the sun bursting out a little as I returned to my car, I finished my hike and continued westwards, crossing the summit of Lewis Pass and heading into Reefton, my home for the next few nights.

 

The West Coast has an unfortunate reputation for wetness, and although I was some distance from the coast, I was on the wrong side of the mountain range, so I wasn’t surprised to wake to grey skies and drizzle. I was in no hurry to do anything so had a leisurely breakfast at a local cafe before wandering along the historic street front. Like many places on the West Coast, Reefton has its history in mining and the region is full of relics. It was also the first place in the Southern Hemisphere to gain electricity with the first electric bulb to light up being outside the still-standing Oddfellows Hall off the main street. Not many people were staying here but there was plenty of traffic passing through so there was a reasonable bit of activity going on despite the drizzle.

The rain wasn’t hard enough to stop me going for a local walk so after heading up the main street, I passed the original gas lights that still lined the pavements, and continued out of the village and down towards the river which was a power source for the region back in its day. The Inangahua river is broad and tannin-stained and just outside Reefton it is crossed by a suspension bridge which leads to the remains of the old power station. The drizzle meant there were some cool views down the valley of clouds hugging the mountainside, and although still a little wet, it wasn’t too bad to walk along the river bank and read the displays about the ruins that are still left. Only as I was at the end of the circuit back across the road bridge to head into Reefton again from the other end did the rain get a bit heavier again, so I decided to take a drive and see if I could escape the rain clouds.

 

Heading west from Reefton, I drove almost the whole way to Greymouth before circling past the old Brunner mine which I’d visited a few years prior. Even on the main road there were signs of mining at regular intervals, be it a memorial at the side of the road, or signs pointing to historic mining routes or mining works. Both gold and coal have been mined in this part of the country, and there are still some active mining works in action today. There are hundreds of old coal mining carts littered about the countryside here, and several of the local walks have them as points of interest, where they’ve been abandoned to rust and be reclaimed by nature.

 

A lull in the rain by mid-afternoon allowed me to get out for another walk again. This time I headed up the hill at the eastern end of the village. Over the tops of the invasive gorse, the elevation offered a view over the rooftops of the village below and the misty-covered peaks of the mountains on the horizon. There was even a goat wandering about here, and despite the grey skies that were my constant companion, a couple of water reservoirs provided some pretty reflections as I passed them by. The trail led out towards the back of the village and I followed it for a while before heading down an access track that brought me down at an industrial area. As I cut back through the streets I passed the old courthouse and several other original buildings before finding myself back on the historic main street.

With several hours of daylight ahead, the late afternoon still allowed for another walk before darkness would fall. Taking a long drive up a gravel road, I picked the Alborn Track to visit some of the mining remnants close to a still-active quarry site. It was muddy underfoot and threatening to drizzle again, but scattered all over the place were rusting winch equipment and even an old truck alongside some large coal carts. On the return leg, the track passed the opening of a couple of caves, marked with a warning about poisonous gas and danger on entry. I do like to explore caves but I’m always wary of man-made mining caves, so I heeded the warnings and kept going, returning to my car and heading back down the hill in time for a bit of sunshine.

I’d spent the first couple of days alone, but my partner was to join me for the last night. He had a bit of a drive over so whilst he was making his way across the country the next morning, I headed east past Springs Junction to the Marble Hill campsite. From here there is a walking track to Lake Daniell which I’d read was a good hike to do, and it was indeed a lovely forest walk on a day that was actually sunny. Predicted to be 3hrs each way, I set off under a blue sky and crossed the first river before following the bank of another river as it wound through the forest. I love New Zealand’s forests, they’re so different from the cultivated forests of pine from my homeland back in Scotland. In New Zealand they feel natural and wild, even in places where that’s not actually the case, but full of various canopy levels and with a carpet that’s often as alive as the trees are, there’s so much to look at for ecology geeks like myself.

As always, there was an inquisitive South Island robin to entertain me as I followed the path through. These and the fantails or piwakawaka love to follow humans through the forest, but the fantails tend to flit-flit about more, refusing to stay still for long, and especially not for photographs. In comparison, the robins often come right up to you, cocking their head and looking straight at you in full engagement, often hopping alongside or flitting between the trees as you walk. I’m always happy to see one, and find myself talking to the birds as I go.

 

I reached Lake Daniell and the hut on its foreshore after just 2hrs, and found the hut to be in the process of being rebuilt. The lake level was up from the rain so the surroundings and the end of the boardwalk were actually submerged, but I was able to pick my way out to the pier on the lake without getting my feet wet, and here the wind whipped across the lake a little as I stood enjoying the view. There had not been a single person on the trail and I was out here on my own with the view to myself also. It was delightful. I’ve been told that the hut is often busy as schools use it and with it being just a few hours from the main road it is popular for parents to take their children out to it as a starter hike. So I was lucky to find it so empty, and enjoyed the solitude for a while before heading back into the forest again. Once again I was befriended by the local robin population, and as I reached the end of the trail I stopped to watch the water rush through the ‘sluice’ a natural rapids that had been created by a gorge in the hillside.

 

By the time I returned to Reefton my partner was waiting for me. Without the rain, we took a wander through the streets and stopped at the local distillery for a tasting. Their produce was pricey but I felt awkward leaving without buying something so took a chance on a tayberry liqueur that wasn’t even able to be sampled before purchase. I’d never even heard of a tayberry, so not knowing anything about the taste it was a bit of a gamble. It’s a very sharp taste, and one that definitely is enjoyed in small quantities but the lady in the bar suggested using it as an ice cream topper and I’ve still to try it this way.

We had to set off early the next day to leave our Air BnB behind and head north then west to Charleston on the coast. Since I’d heard about the Underworld Adventure tours I’d been eager to take part in one, and finally it was time to go exploring with them. There was a threat of rain once more but we were heading underground, so this wasn’t going to matter. Set within the Paparoa National Park, the company offers a mix of tour options from a train ride through the forest, to tubing down rapids, or a cave walk. We were there to go cave exploring, a favourite activity of mine, so we bundled into the van and drove into the park, parking up in the apparent middle of nowhere next to a large container. Out of the container popped a small train and linked carriages and once on board we set off through the forest.

There was evidence all around of the limestone nature of the landscape with large limestone cliffs jutting through the foliage as we followed a river upstream. Eventually we hopped off in the forest and those going tubing went down to the river and those of us going caving followed the path across the river and up the hillside to reach the entrance of the Ananui cave system. I love taking cave tours, exploring the world of underground river systems and ogling over the stalactites and stalagmites that litter the caverns of limestone caves. I loved this place, it felt huge and there was so much to explore down the long passageways as we went deeper and deeper into the cave system. At times there were giant boulders to climb over, and after some time we found ourselves in a lower section that split into two, a large dark cavern to the right, and a large open-ended cavern to the left where the outside forest became visible.

 

We turned first to the left, and saw a waterfall streaming down from the ceiling near where the cave opened out into the forest. The river at its bottom cast a reflection of the cave entrance and it was simply glorious. We spent some time here just enjoying the view. We turned back into the cave heading into the other lower chamber where once out of the light from the lower cave entrance we turned off our headlamps to view the twinkles of glowworms. Although nothing has ever competed with the level of glowworms I saw in the Waitomo cave system back in 2012, there was still enough here to not only be pretty, but they were close enough to actually view the larval structures and their beaded web. Like a beaded necklace these larval flies pupate within a sac from where they lower these sticky threads, butts glowing to attract their prey towards the ropes of death. It’s one of so many marvellous things that nature has evolved to do to fill a niche in an otherwise inhospitable environment.

 

Climbing back up through the cave system was just as enjoyable, returning through the network of limestone formations, eventually popping out at the entrance, and hiking back down the trail to the train to return through the forest. The sun was out now, enlivening our drive back to Charleston where a viewing point at the Underworld Adventure office gave an elevated view into the forest to the east, and the crashing waves to the left. We decided to head back to Christchurch via Punakaiki, the site of the famous Pancake Rocks. Although we didn’t go to visit the rocks, we stopped here for a late lunch, and with the sun out and the crowds of the summer at every turn, I parked up next to a flax bush, spotting a tui feeding among the flowers. Tui are good pollinators for this species. For a nectar reward, the tui regularly wear a golden crown of pollen after feeding here, the yellow dust adorning their heads for them to spread onto the next flower as they move around to feed. I love tui, a bird I don’t get to see much of in Christchurch, and I was loving the close up experience here. It was a long drive back to Christchurch across the breadth of the country, but it had been well worth it to spend a snippet of time in the wild west lands of the South Island.

The New Christchurch

In September 2010 and February 2011 a couple of large earthquakes ripped through the city of Christchurch resulting in mass devastation and loss of life. I moved to the city just shy of the 1 year anniversary of the February earthquake, and was shocked to find a city locked down, shut off and covered in dust. Those first few months I thought I’d made such a huge mistake living there. But fast forward all these years later and I love the place. The regeneration has been incredible to watch, and whilst I don’t like everything that has been done with the place, the vast majority of the changes have returned this devastated city to a place of vibrancy and life. Whilst I’d been in Japan during October 2019, a much anticipated new spot in the city had opened up and on my return I was eager to get out and experience it for myself.

At one end of Cashel Mall, replacing the colourful and popular Container Mall is Riverside Market. It opened in sections, some of the external eateries opening sooner and on that first visit, the place was still filling up, but on walking into the large space filled with food stalls, I was quickly in love and eager to try out the new bites. From baked goods, to cheeses, to meats, it wasn’t quite what I’d expected but that didn’t matter. I sussed out some places to try as I wandered around, moving upstairs to take in the view from the rafters. Outside a plethora of eateries were ready to serve. The following weekend I was back, determined to try a few other places. Over a year later, it is still a firm favourite to eat out in the city.

Divali celebrations came and went in Cathedral Square. Aside from the sad spectacle of the abandoned Cathedral, the square itself is open as an entertainment space, so there was a decent crowd as the musicians and dancers performed on the stage, culminating in bhangra music which is my favourite style of Indian dance. Along the road, a giant bright red container had been set up as a form of statement art. Impressively, it had been cut out into giant letters stating ‘MADE IN CHINA’ and it was possible to climb through the letters which I duly did as a big kid that I am.

I’d already experienced the delights of spring in the gardens the month previous, but a return to the gardens in October still provided lots of colour and fresh blooms to ogle at. The cherry blossoms were past their peak but inside the Botanic Gardens there was a mass of pinks and yellows and reds and oranges. Semi-secluded at the back of the gardens is a series of small ponds, and aside from the usual ducks that are in attendance here, I was surprised to happen upon a little shag. It was merrily swimming around the shallow water and when it turned head on to face me, the natural curve of the beak made it look comically grumpy.

 

To my delight there were also ducklings everywhere. I especially love Paradise Shelduck ducklings as they are particularly cute and fluffy, but even the hybrid grey ducks that are the usual fare around there were fun to watch. The biggest of the lakes in the gardens, with its stone arch bridge across it, is my favourite part to visit and hang out as there’s always some form of bird activity going on here. At one point a mother duck led her ducklings along the path and I watched the family go about their stroll.

 

I gradually worked my way round the river Avon that encircles the Botanic Gardens, and was stoked to spot a few eels in the water. I had heard that the eel population was slowly improving after some remedial works had taken place to improve the water quality and here was the evidence that it was working. As I watched the couple of eels weaving around under the water, a punt and a few kayaks lazily passed by. These sunny spring and summer weekend days when people are making the most of the warmth, and the excitement of the change in season is tangible in the air, are my favourite kind of days. As much as I usually prefer my own company, I love to breathe in the shared joy of these kind of days.

 

It was good enough to take a walk around the city and watch the place go through its motions. The red tram trundled towards me as I walked along Worcester Street and on a whim I decided to jump on board. I usually get an annual pass which covers the tram and the gondola outside of the city for unlimited rides, so it was easy to make use of the card when I felt like playing tourist. That, and the tram drivers tend to be a font of knowledge for what is happening in the city, including the gossip among the developers, so it is a good way to find out what’s coming and when. At the margin of the city centre, the large form of the new Convention Centre was starting to take shape as we passed and before long we were turning into the colourful New Regent Street. This part of the city was a regular hangout in the earlier stages of the rebuild when it was one of the earlier parts of the city to reopen, but while it still has some great eateries, I now hardly come here at all.

 

When we finally circled round to Cashel Street, the mall was alive with people. Again, my memories of this street years ago was of desolation and quietness, but now it is the heart of the city once more. From businesses on weekdays spilling their workers out for local eats and coffee, to weekend shoppers and people looking for a bite to eat or drink, this end of the city is a delight with the Riverside Market, the bubbling river Avon and the Terrace eateries and bars located within a short distance of each other. After completing a circuit on the tram, I jumped off to get back on my feet, finding myself at the MADE IN CHINA container before crossing the river to admire the glorious Terraces from the far side of the river, culminating in a bite to eat at the market.

 

A few days later on another glorious spring day, I again made use of my tram and gondola pass to take the gondola up Mount Cavendish for another favourite viewpoint of mine. Looking north, the span of Pegasus Bay sweeps away into the distance and the city itself is nestled just a little away from the Port Hills, sandwiched between the hills and the distant hulk of the Southern Alps, viewed on the horizon. On the other side of the building, the glorious turquoise water of Lyttelton Harbour sits within an old volcanic caldera, dividing the Port Hills from Banks Peninsula, the mountainous remnants of 2 extinct volcanoes. All these glorious days spent wandering around my city remind me how much I love here, and how wrong I was to be put off by first impressions. Even now in 2021, with the rebuild still ongoing, I have nothing but excitement for the new things still to come. The New Christchurch is an exciting place to live, and I can’t wait to see where it’s going.

The Garden City in Bloom

September is one of my favourite months of the year in either Hemisphere. In my native Scotland, it often involved some lovely spells of weather as the leaves started to loosen, whereas in New Zealand, it signals increasing daylight, new life and the promise of adventures ahead. My home city of Christchurch is known as the Garden City and the arrival of spring means it really gets to shine. As the seasons turned from winter to spring in 2019, I had been keeping a half eye on the cherry blossoms around the city and park, awaiting the spell when they were in their full glory, and finally in the second half of the month, a sunny day corresponded with the peak bloom and a day off work. There were plenty of other people making the most of it too, and the path that hugged Harper Avenue was full of throngs of people admiring and posing with the pretty pink flowers. It was impossible to resist doing the same.

 

The Avon river snakes down the side of Hagley Park, and tearing myself away from the blossoms, I followed the river towards the Botanical Gardens, passing a pair of Paradise Shelducks with their fluffy offspring. Of all the ducklings that I have seen, I think theirs are the cutest. What I love about this stretch of the river is the giant weeping willows that gently sway in the breeze, and sometimes I like to run the strands through my fingers as I pass them by. I had lunch at one of my favourite cafes, Bunsen, which is nestled in the historic Arts Centre Precinct, and with the weather so nice, I sat outside where even there I was accompanied by wildlife as a sparrow joined me on the neighbouring chair. Once satiated, it was time to enjoy the Botanical Gardens in all its spring glory.

 

Immediately on entering the gardens, I was assaulted with the striking colours of the tulip beds that hugged the lawn borders near the peacock fountain. Returning to the Avon river bank once more, it was bustling with life with punting and kayakers moving lazily across the water. It’s one of those things I’ve never done because I’m a local and I always think of it as a tourist activity, but maybe one day I’ll take a paddle myself. About halfway up the gardens, an arched bridge crosses over to a meadow nestled between the river and the Christchurch Hospital. Here, a carpet of yellow and white daffodils spread across the area below the trees and I once more found myself ogling the flora that was blooming everywhere. I was not alone here either, with nearly as many people photographing the daffodils as there had been at the cherry blossoms. With the sunshine sparkling on the gently babbling river, it was hard not to lap it all up.

 

Back in the botanical gardens, there were flowers in bloom at every turn. This is my favourite time to visit, and there was so much colour everywhere. More cherry blossoms could be found lining some of the more private nooks and there were bees buzzing everywhere. For years following the earthquakes that rocked the city in 2010 and 2011, the conservatories in the centre of the gardens had been closed. Even when they reopened, it took me some time to visit them, and finally on this day, I stepped inside and was greeted by a hot house of tropical plants. It was lush with zaps of colour, and out the back there was a cactus room full of succulents. I took my time inside, continuing my meander through the gardens on exiting, and following the river past yet more cherry blossoms and returning to Hagley Park. Strolling in the sunshine through the park back to my car, I was happy and energised for the exciting weeks to come.

 

Canterbury Tales

Having spent months recuperating from a back injury, and following a winter getaway to Samoa, there was still another 2 months of 2019’s winter to get through, and I was in need of a pick-me-up to help me through. As much as I prefer the New Zealand summers to those of my native Scotland, every winter, I pine over the lack of central heating and the absence of snow. I remember great dumps of snow and driving through blizzards where I used to live in Aberdeen, and as a result, one of the surprising things I come to miss from home, is those crisp winter days waking up to fresh snow fall. Year after year in Christchurch I’ve found I have to grit my teeth to get through the months of May to September, and so it was important I find something to occupy my days off work and make up for all the lost weekends earlier in the year. I created 2 random lists: a geographical breakdown of Canterbury, and a list of possible activities. Then, with the aid of a random number and letter selector, every weekend, I simply had the Internet pick a letter and number for me, and the rest was up to my imagination to combine the activity and the location.

First up was a scenic drive round to Diamond Harbour. The winter sunshine sparkled on the still water within the harbour and the surrounding slopes reflected through the gentle ripples. It’s a drive that always delights, and there’s so many scenic options to get you there. After stopping at a boat ramp to get some photographs, I headed back via Allandale Reserve where the receding tide exposed a mudflat, much to the delight of a myriad of wading birds that picked away for food. In the time that I spent there, the sun dipped behind the Port Hills and I could see as I headed home that a lot of cloud had moved in over the city. This created perfect conditions for a glorious sunset, and as the sun lowered in the winter evening, the sky turned an incredible orange. In a pre-COVID lifetime when planes still flew regularly, I watched as an Air New Zealand plane approached the airport from above my back garden, framed against a sky full of fire.

 

A couple of weekends later, I headed inland to Castle Hill Scenic Reserve, a little beyond Porters Pass on the West Coast road. It’s always a popular place to be, and now at the end of July, there was snow on the nearby peaks. It had been a while since I’d last stopped here, but there’s so many options for routes to take through the giant boulder field, and with a few patches of standing water around, there was some great opportunities to catch the snowy reflections. We skirted round the foot of them and round the side, past a boulder which has a graffiti inscription from 1869 on it. There were snowy peaks to be seen on the far side also, and we picked our way through the lower trails before climbing up onto the hillside at the back of the main boulders. A temporary tarn again provided more gorgeous reflections but we didn’t get such a beautiful spot to ourselves for long. With the sun low for the winter months, there were parts of the area in permanent shade and as we crossed one such spot I went flying, landing on my bum, having slipped on a spot of iced-up mud. With the boulders themselves casting a long shadow on the front side, I had to be so careful picking my way back down again so as not to fall flat on my face.

 

One of the great things about this adventure ‘game’ I was playing was that it led me back to some haunts I hadn’t visited in a while, as well as discovering a couple of new places. With another sunny weekend day the following weekend, my randomly selected region led me to a cute little wetlands on the edge of Lincoln, a relatively short drive outside of Christchurch. I previously worked in Lincoln for a short spell back in 2012 when it was just a little village, but in the years since it has expanded immensely with a plethora of new housing developments spreading out from the original core. The wetlands is right on the edge and was the location for me to practice a bit of macro photography. The waterway itself was still, reflective and surrounded by reeds and other typical plants, but I was on the lookout for flora and fauna that would allow me to practice my photography. As I walked close to the plants at the water’s edge, I found a jumping spider, the only arachnid that I like, and was quick to welcome it onto my hand to try and capture it’s cute little features. It would have been better to have my tripod and two free hands but I was able to get a couple of reasonable shots as it hurried across the back of my hand. On the far side of the wetlands, the shade meant there was some ground frost, and I probably looked a little weird to any passersby as I hunkered down on the wet grass to try and capture the water droplets.

 

The following day I took a drive to the far side of Lake Ellesmere via a nice cafe I hadn’t been to before, where the map suggested there would be a nice spot to enjoy the lakeside. I was hopeful to sit and do some wildlife spotting, but what I found was a gypsy camping site, and a rather flooded park. There was also no bird life to be seen so disappointed, I started to head through the back roads to come home, only to find myself at a ford. I just drive a little car so I wasn’t keen to drive through the river, and right on the far side were some workers doing some road upgrades, so I especially didn’t want to make a twat of myself by getting stuck in the water. It meant a massive detour to get back to the city, so I decided to make a drive out of it anyway, skirting round to the road towards Little River, but turning up Gebbies Pass and up onto Summit road. The weather was perfect for views down onto Lyttelton harbour and I was once more grateful to have so many beautiful spots within easy reach of the city. I stopped at several of the pull-ins to enjoy the view. I was already starting to get excited about the impending spring but there was still one more month of winter and one more adventure to be had before the promise of spring would come.

Escape from Home

At the end of February 2019 I put my back out in spectacular fashion by bending down to put my shoes on. Through the weeks that followed into March and early April, my only relief from constant pain or discomfort was gentle walks and lying on the floor with my legs up the wall. I couldn’t hike, I couldn’t do my beloved exercise classes and even sitting down in the car for longer than ten minutes was out of the question. By the time April hit, I was feeling quite low and claustrophobic, having not been beyond the city limits for a couple of months. I’ve lived with chronic pain for 7 years now, stemming from when I originally injured my back in 2013, and although I’m off painkillers way more than I’m on them, it has definitely had an influence on my mood. To top it off, I’ve been tackling anxiety for four years, and the two together found me feeling very down this time last year.

But as April moved onwards, relief came and I was finally able to consider going for a drive and getting out of the city. After coping with a drive out to Little River on the Banks Peninsula, I was able to tolerate going further a few days later and headed round to Akaroa Harbour 1.5hrs away. It was a grey and cool day, but I was so grateful to change my horizons and walk somewhere different. My partner was getting on with his recovery too, having had shoulder surgery in February, and deemed recovered enough to fly, he headed off to the States for a few weeks to catch up with friends, leaving me behind.

 

When ANZAC day came around, my mind was screaming to get away somewhere, so I decided to take a day trip to Kaikoura. My plan was to enjoy the drive, test my back out and see some wildlife as a reward. It was a gorgeous sunny day and I was glad that my back coped with being seated so long. I headed straight to the peninsula on arriving and parked up on a rock to watch the adults sleeping and the pups playing in rock pools. But what was supposed to be an uplifting trip to pull me out of my pity party, ended up being highly frustrating as I watched tourist after tourist ignoring the distance rule and actively harassing the pups to get selfies. In particular, two guys forced themselves right in the face of one pup, practically touching it to get it to look in their camera. I was livid, and the multiple repeat offenders succeeded in winding me up. I left for home, more aggravated than relaxed.

 

It wasn’t till two weeks later into May that I came to realise how much the constant discomfort and cabin fever had affected me, but I was finally able to let go of it all when I decided to give Air BnB a go, and picked a part of Canterbury to get away to that I’d never visited before. Nearly 4hrs away in South Canterbury, Otematata is nestled towards one end of the Waitaki Valley. It was the last month of autumn which I hadn’t really given much thought to until I reached the valley from Kurow and found myself among an increasingly colourful landscape. It started off subtly as I reached Lake Waitaki, becoming a bit more noticeable as I reached the dam at the eastern end of Lake Aviemore and then popping into full glory as I reached Otematata itself. The little settlement didn’t amount to much, but I had a cute little apartment to spend a couple of nights in, and my host had helpfully given me an idea of some walks to do in the immediate region.

I’d lost a good chunk of my fitness, but thankfully my first walk was almost flat. Starting up the road to Lake Benmore which was lined by yellow trees, I passed the golf course which struck an incredible likeness to the Speyside region of Scotland. It immediately transported me to memories of my childhood on family holidays, and as I marvelled in the autumn glory, I finally felt myself relax a little, and weeks of pent up frustrations finally began to ease. I was only limited by the remaining hours of daylight, so I wasn’t particularly fast about my walk as I was constantly stopping to try and capture an image of the gorgeous colours around me. A pond beyond the golf course cast reflections of the autumn leaves, and shortly after that, the path cut down into a woodland where I was immediately traipsing through a carpet of fallen leaves.

 

New Zealand is full of Scottish names and Lake Aviemore was one of these places. The expansive lake could be found after a wander among the leaves and the end by Otematata was inundated with black swans and scaup. The lowering autumn light caused the mountains on the far side to glow and I felt like I was walking through an autumnal wonderland. The marshy ground at the lake edge inferred the lake had flooded recently and I had to take a couple of small detours to avoid getting my feet wet. Some way along the shore, I found myself at a camping park and boat ramp and here, a track led up a little spit of land to give another view across the lake. There was an abundance of fallen yellow leaves to kick through as I headed back to my apartment for the night.

 

The next morning, I took a different route through the same lakeside woodland where I found a small lake with another stunning reflection. There was also a hoard of bright orange berries everywhere I looked. The same road that had led me to this walk continued on through a valley of colourful foliage to Benmore Dam, a large manmade construction that walled up the end of Lake Benmore, another large lake in the region. My host had recommended the walk round the peninsula, so I followed the signs to the car park which was quite busy, and set off through the pine forest. Once again, I felt transported back to Scotland. The feeling only lasted until I got my first views of Lake Benmore, as the blue colour of the water reminded me I was in New Zealand. The lakes of mid-Canterbury are all such a stunning blue colour which I’ve never seen in any other country. The overcast weather dulled the blue here somewhat, but that didn’t detract from the view. As I climbed up and over a ridge, I was suddenly presented with the main expanse of the lake, and behind it rolling hills were framed by the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps.

 

The track took a circuit across the ridges, eventually presenting a turn-off to a lookout where a well placed bench offered a grand vista. It was occupied when I arrived, and after a brief chat with the two men, I found a nearby rock to park my bum and I sat for a long time just soaking up the view. After a while, I returned to the main trail which cut back into the forest briefly before opening up to see the lake again as it descended a little on the circuit. The track was well formed but in places had loose stones on the surface and I lost my grip in one spot, falling over and tearing a small hole in my clothes. I got a nice bruise on my knee too, but it wasn’t enough to dampen my day. As the loop turned back towards the carpark, it descended once more into the forest and the view was lost for most of the return leg.

 

I took the long road home, crossing Benmore dam and marvelling at the immensity of it, before continuing back towards Lake Aviemore, finding myself on the far bank from Otematata. It felt desolate here, with only the occasional passing car and little in the way of interest. It varied in its proximity to the lake itself with few places to stop and admire it. A campsite did offer a short walk along the lake shore before I pushed on to a walk that I’d spotted online. Some way towards the Lake Aviemore dam, I pulled in by a bridge and took a track that headed up a river. The grey skies cast the water a steely grey colour and it felt still and quiet walking here. I had the place completely to myself, as I followed the track to a small picnic area and then beyond. The track on the map stopped, but the track in reality continued, so I followed the river further upstream, not sure where it would take me. All of a sudden it just stopped some distance beyond what the map had shown. When I returned to the picnic site I was joined by a fantail, one of my favourite forest birds. They flit flit flit between the branches and are exceedingly difficult to photograph as they hate to sit still, but they’re quite bold little birds and they like to interact. I completed the drive to the dam at the far end of Lake Aviemore, and with the intention of going to the hot tubs, I took the long drive to Omarama on the inland road. But when I got there, it was dull and cold, and I changed my mind. I returned to my apartment after stopping off at another campsite for a stretch of the legs once more among some autumn colours.

 

I had a full day to make my return to Christchurch, and with the Waitaki Valley being part of the Whitestone Geopark, there was plenty of stop-offs to be made on route. Sadly it was another grey day but that wasn’t to stop me getting out into the fresh air. Driving into Kurow, I parked up in a cul-de-sac at the start of the Kurow Hill Walkway, a locally-managed track that led up the steep hillside. Zig-zagging up the hillside for over 1km, there are a host of armchairs that have been placed to take a break on, although they all looked mouldy and sodden as I passed them by. It didn’t take long for the views of the valley to open up as the altitude gain was acquired, and from the top of the hill I could see the braided Waitaki river disappearing off in both directions. The cloud hugged the hillside on the far expanse of the river and the small town of Kurow lay spread out immediately below.

Along the road near Duntroon was the first of a few rock art sites that I stopped at. Similar to that of the Indigenous Australians, the early Maori who inhabited the area drew pictures on the rocks. The ones here were under an overhang of limestone rock, and although they weren’t always clear what they were, I could make out a sailed boat or waka canoe in one of them. Duntroon had a lovely little wetland out the back of it which had a walkway leading through. There was just me and a local there and I was enjoying being in a part of the country that isn’t frequented by tourists. Although a year later its a mute point in a post-COVID World, prior to any knowledge of the chaos that was to come, it could be hard at times not to get frustrated with the crowds that descend on some of my favourite parts of the country. Back on the main road, there was evidence of the white stone that gives the geopark its name. The famous Oamaru stone was evident here in the form of a couple of statues and a gorgeous white stone church.

Cutting inland from Duntroon, I took Earthquake Road to visit a spot where an upthrust had created a limestone cliff where a whale’s skull was uncovered. The site itself was a little underwhelming but the road led me round to the turn-off to Elephant Rocks, a place I hadn’t heard of before this trip. The giant boulders of Castle Hill in Arthur’s Pass are well known to local and tourist alike, being a popular stop-off on the road from coast to coast. But looking very similar, only hidden down a country road in South Canterbury, the Elephant Rocks felt like a secret spot. I wasn’t alone there though, but it felt far from crowded and it was peaceful to wander around there among the giant rocks. The site is part of a working farm, and just across the fence some curious cows watched those of us who wandered there.

I completed my tour of the Whitestone Geopark by visiting Anatani not far from the rocks. Here, some fossils had been discovered and were on display but I was more interested in the rock formations and the harrier hawk that was circling through the valley. Heading back to the main road there was another short walk to another spot where there was historic rock art. It was less discernible and a smaller site than the first place I’d stopped so it didn’t hold my attention for long. To break up the long drive from here back to Christchurch, I decided to stop at Riverstone, a place off State Highway 1 that I’d ignored time and time again, and was finally curious enough to explore. I was immediately shocked to find a large white-stone castle at the back of the complex. I’d planned on stopping for a late lunch at the restaurant I’d heard so much about, but was instead presented with not just the castle, but a lovely little garden to wander through, a pond with ducks (and inflatable flamingos!) to look at, and a myriad of eclectic and jam-packed brick-a-brack stores to peruse through, never mind the delicious food to eat at the restaurant. The whole weekend had been just what I’d needed to perk up my sad soul, and the unassuming Waitaki Valley had more than delivered.

Life at Home

The day I arrived home from Tanzania, my partner went into hospital to have surgery. I managed to get a decent sleep and get out to stretch my legs, and I even felt energised enough to get to an exercise class before visiting him that evening as he recovered. I had the next day off work, and was tasked with picking him up that morning, as well as being his nursing aide as he was rendered limited by an unusable arm for the weeks ahead. He had torn his rotator cuff in his shoulder and he wouldn’t be able to lift his arm or take weight for some time. Picking him up should have been a straight forward task, but as I bent down to put my shoes on, I was suddenly hit like a brick with excruciating pain and I immediately fell to my knees, crying out and swearing as the pain repetitively shot from my lower back. The tears immediately started rolling down my face and with every attempted movement, more pain kept coming. I was stuck on the floor, writhing and swearing. I tried to get up but that was the worst pain of all. I had to get to my feet, there was no getting round that fact, so through screams, I forced myself upright, reeling as I made it to my feet, rushing as well as I could to the first aid kit to grab some painkillers. I took all that I safely could from what I had, and found myself unsure what to do next.

With my partner relying on me and a very stubborn streak to contend with, I grabbed my keys, and went out to my car. Opening the door was the easy part, but as I tried to sit down, the incessant throbbing became a crescendo once more and I got into the drivers seat with more tears running down my face. I spent the entire drive to the hospital groaning, tears continuing to fall out. I panted incessantly, trying to use my breathing to ease the pain. I’ve put my back out before, but the circumstances surrounding this time made this ten times worse. When I arrived, the nurse asked me to help dress my partner and it suddenly became clear that my role as his nurse was going to be a bit of problem. He had a working back and one arm, and I had two working arms but a bad back. In hindsight, it was the most comical thing that a stranger could have witnessed.

As a contractor with no sick pay, I had to go back to work the next day. What followed were days of physio strapping, pain with sitting and driving and a restricted ability to lift things. My only relief was walking. It had been the same the last time I’d put my back out in 2013, so whilst my sports were completely out of the question, I made a point of walking on my days off work, the gentle movement giving me some relief from the constant ache that came with sitting and standing still. Thankfully, it was still summer, so there were some beautiful days of sunshine to enjoy, and being last year before any concept of coronavirus could ever have been fathomable, there were still events going on in my home city of Christchurch.

The Garden City, made famous by a devastating and destructive earthquake in 2011, has changed so much in the years that I have lived there. There is still so much to complete, but the city is a hive of activity once more, and parts of it have been completely revitalised. That first weekend, my partner and I headed into the city, him with his arm in a sling, and me eager to get mobile. It was the opening day for the Christchurch Town Hall which had had a massive renovation inside. This was my first chance to get inside the building, and there was a good crowd of locals reminiscing and marvelling as the tour went round. Outside the streets were busy and we wandered down to the Avon River where the Terraces and Cashel Mall make up one of the completed parts of the city. The Terraces are a mish-mash of building styles, and whilst not aesthetically to my taste, it has become a popular spot for drinks and a bite. The iconic Christchurch trams trundled below the balconies and the city felt alive.

 

The dominating structure of the Bridge of Remembrance marked one end of the Christchurch Lantern Festival’s displays for Chinese New Year. Whereas they had been pulling them down in Sydney the weekend before, they were still in full swing in my home town, and although we wandered round some of them during the day, it was at night that they really came to life. Needing no excuse to go for a walk, we headed back into the city in the dark, to experience them in all their glory. Lining both sides of the Avon River as well as within the river itself, there were plenty of lanterns to look at, and there was a good crowd of people enjoying it all.

 

After my initial reservations about moving to Christchurch in 2012, back when it was still sealed off and desolate, reeling from the grief and loss of that earthquake, I’ve come to love the city and been proud of its progress and what it has to offer. So on 15th March 2019, when news reached my work of a terrorist attack in the city, I was dumbfounded. In the days and weeks that followed, I proudly watched as my city rallied and came together, united in shock and defiance, publicly rejecting the ideology that had led to that heinous act. We spent weekends joining the crowds of people reading messages among the flowers, and joining vigils. We remained unafraid to go out and move around, and we continued to make the most of the city that was open around us.

 

In April, Evans Pass road, the final link between Sumner and Lyttelton, reopened after eight years. We took a drive through the tunnel to Lyttelton on a gorgeous sunny autumn day, and drove up and over to Summit Road, looping round and stopping at the various lookout points. It gave a whole new view of the harbour, including a direct view down onto Lyttelton Port, where the wharf was covered in colourful containers. We watched the port in action for a while before heading round to the Lyttelton Timeball, another place to reopen after extensive earthquake repairs. Originally completed in 1876, the historic structure was created to allow sailors of the time to check the accuracy of their chronometers, the ball set to drop at a predetermined time every day. Although you can’t go into the building, its elevated position gives yet another differing viewpoint of the blue harbour below.

 

A few weeks later we took a trip up the Christchurch Gondola, a favourite activity to do in the winter months when I don’t tend to hike much. An annual pass means I can go up as often as I like, and another sunny autumn day was the perfect excuse to go up. The views along the Port Hills are incredible, but the top of Mt Cavendish where the gondola top station is, is particularly special. Looking north, Pegasus Bay sweeps away from the city in a beautiful arc, the distant views of the Southern Alps snaking off to meet it. On the other side of the building, Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton Harbour make up the view and whether the tide is in or out, the colour of the water is always stunning. I will never tire of this view, no matter how many times I head up to the summit, and it is one of many reasons why I love living here.