My Life in Motion

Archive for the tag “summer”

Southern Christmas

On January 6th 2012, I touched down in New Zealand for the first time. At the time I was tired from the flight and the jump in time zone (I only lived through 2hrs of that day), but I think deep down, I knew that I would want to stay here. Four years on, I’m still in love with the country, and I’m working hard at seeing as much of it as possible, but still some areas remain unexplored

It was a long time coming, but on Christmas day, myself and my partner headed north from Christchurch, and inland towards our destination. Just north of the city, a lorry heading the other way, threw up a large rock which hit my windscreen leaving a large chip and crack. A couple of hours later, deep in the winding roads of the heartland, a speeding twat overtook me then proceeded to nearly crash in front of me. It was not the start to the holiday I had planned. But it was a gorgeous sunny day, and just south of Murchison we stopped for lunch at Maruia Falls. We’d driven this road a few times before but never noticed this place, but I’d read about it somewhere and made a point to look for it. It was worth the stop to sit at the base of the falls and watch the river flow over it and head on down the river beyond.


We pulled into the sleepy village of St Arnaud, nestled within Nelson Lakes National Park in the late afternoon. The clouds had drawn in, but we headed first to the shore of Lake Rotoiti before checking into our hostel. It was, after all Christmas day, and I had made sure to bring provisions to cook a delicious Christmas dinner. Satiated, we took a wander through the sleepy village before having an early night.


The next morning, I convinced my partner that hiking Mt Robert would be a good idea. It was a gorgeous day, and an excellent way to get a different view on the expanse of Lake Rotoiti, one of two large lakes in the National Park. From the car park at the start of the hike, a short track leads to a lookout where a different view of the lake is given as well as rolling hills for miles on end in the opposite direction.


I’m not normally one for sitting still on holiday. I usually like to make sure I’m seeing and doing as much as possible in a new place, but it was so easy to just wind down and chill here. Growing up in Scotland, swimming is generally restricted to heated pools, with only the foolhardy taking a dip in the sea (which I had been known to do in my childhood). In New Zealand, summer is all about outdoors and this generally means that most Kiwis are water confident. They swim in the sea, in rivers and in lakes. They dive bomb and belly flop and jump from rocks without a care in the world. So following the hike, my partner went into the lake for a swim. It hadn’t even entered my head to bring bathers with me as this just wasn’t the done thing back in Scotland, but watching all the families playing in and around the water, I soon regretted it. But sitting on a bench in the shade, slapping away sandflies, it was an incredible feeling to just breath and be present. There was no wishing to be anywhere, no wishing for something to happen, no thinking about the past or the future, just simply staring out at the beautiful landscape and enjoying it. Eventually though, hunger took over, and we went to the main eatery in town, the Alpine Lodge for pizza. Their outdoor beer garden overlooks a river and the nearby mountains, and it was a gorgeous spot to enjoy a cold drink.


The next day we had a bit of time to kill. There are a lot of options for walks in the area, from short local explorations, to mountains to climb, to multi-day tramps. Whilst my partner relaxed at the main bay, I headed off on a nature walk round the peninsula. There wasn’t a lot of fauna to see, but plenty of flora, and although the lake was hidden from view for the majority of it, there were some breaks in the trees which afforded a differing view of the lake and Mt Robert. Reaching almost the whole distance round to West Bay, I cut back inland and back to the pier. We had arranged for a private boat tour up the lake to see Whiskey Falls. It was another gloriously sunny day, and it was perfect conditions for a cruise around the lake. Near the far end of the lake, he berthed and took us on a short walk through the forest to the 40m tall pencil waterfall that was visible in a small clearing in the trees. The waterfall can also be reached on a long walk along the west shore of the lake, but it was nice to get out on the water.


I was still keen to have fun on the water when we returned to St Arnaud, so I hired a kayak for an hour and happily paddled about from one bank to the other, listening to the birds, and watching the ducks float around. My partner had another swim, and although quiet compared to New Zealand tourism standards, it was a busy little place, buzzing with happy people, families and excited children. With fewer foreign tourists, and mainly Kiwi visitors, it was nice to embrace and feel part of the Kiwi summer culture. Unfortunately, this also included sandflies. Around many waterways in the country, these persistent creatures vie for your blood, and using insect repellent is a must. After a delicious BBQ buffet at the Alpine Lodge, I had envisioned sitting by the lakeside as the sun set, watching the colours change as dusk took over, but instead, I was hounded by swarms of the pesky flies that danced around my face. After a short time, I was forced to abandon my desire, and head indoors.


Heading back to Christchurch, we took a detour to another large lake in the National Park, Lake Rotoroa. Being on a no-through road, it sees less traffic than Lake Rotoiti, and as such is less developed and feels more secluded. I loved Lake Rotoiti, but I adored Lake Rotoroa. It was quiet and simple yet staggeringly beautiful, and again there are many walks in the area. We would have gone for another cruise on this lake had there been someone around to organise it, but the boat lay moored up with no-one in attendance. Instead, we followed the river away from the lake for a short distance before heading back. I could have happily stayed here for days.


We stopped for lunch on the west side of the Lewis Pass, and sat at a picnic bench surrounded by mountains. On the other side, we were also able to stop at a large rock formation by the side of the road that I have driven past repeatedly but never been able to explore. I felt like a kid reaching the top of the giant rock and surveying the land around me. Being another gloriously sunny day, it was a fantastic end to our Christmas mini-break.


Summer in the City

The trams are back! Anyone who ever visited Christchurch before the destructive powers of the earthquakes hit, knows that the tram system that snaked through the central city was an iconic part of the city. They ceased service following the Feb 22nd earthquake in 2011, but 1000 days later, after the trams themselves received an overhaul, and the tracks got repaired and partly replaced, the trams returned to (an albeit limited) service in November 2013. The route is short and concise, starting at New Regent Street, passing through the newly renovated Cathedral Junction, turning into Cathedral Square, past the remnants of the city’s other big icon, the now battered Cathedral, and along Worcester Street past the Art Gallery and stopping just shy of the Canterbury Museum. It then returns along the exact same route. There are 3 trams in service: the red cars numbers 11 and 178, and an old Invercargill brown tram, number 15. As an annual pass holder for the Christchurch Gondola, riding the trams is free, so happening to have a day off work the first day the trams were running, I took great enjoyment in going for a spin. There seemed to be some teething problems, and the return route took an hour, considering I could have walked the route in a quarter of that time, but things seem to be going a bit more smoothly now, and the trams appear to be proving quite popular with the visiting tourists. With so much ongoing construction and deconstruction continuing within the CBD, it is refreshing to see a sense of ‘normality’ return to the place.


Cathedral Square is now a hive of constant activity. Whilst the Cathedral itself remains untouched still, the square is a regular site for markets and social events. When it first reopened to the public, it felt sombre to wander through, and the people walked around with an air of sadness, and in sparse numbers. Now, there are crowds of locals and tourists using the space, and the mood is much more upbeat. A few more buildings have gone down in the general vicinity, and still more are to go. Notably, on the square itself, the BNZ building has been abandoned at half the height due to running out of money with the demolition, and the Government Life building with the clock on the roof is still undergoing asbestos removal at the time of writing. This large building will leave another noticeable hole in the cityscape when it is eventually lost.


Cashel Re:Start Mall is buzzing. It hosts a regular market, and has buskers performing in the centre every weekend. It has proven so popular that it will be relocated to remain in the newly designed city. Already, there is a building frame up to replace a section of the containers at the northern edge. At its end, Antony Gough’s project, the Terrace, is getting well under way with the first stage due to be open by the end of this year. It is a retail and hospitality project that will bring night life back to the central city and overlook the Avon river which is also continuing to be upgraded in sections. In the streets around here, the Central Library has gone, and work starts on the Justice Precinct here, the area where the emergency services headquarters will reside. Along Tuam Street, the old City Council building is under wraps literally, being demolished slowly from the inside out. In the proposed green belt of the East Frame, grass has been seeded to create an increase in parkland in the empty plots around Latimer Square.


One of the more noticeable buildings to progress is the Isaacs Theatre Royal on Gloucester Street. It has spent a large portion of post-earthquake time spent with the facade attached to a wall of shipping containers. Behind it, the building was split in two, brought down and rebuilt. Just a few weeks ago, the shipping containers were finally removed as the facade has now been reattached for the most part to the new structure behind it, and a new roof is now clearly visible. This is due for completion by the end of this year. Also making good progress is Victoria Street, which promises to be a great social area, and already has multiple bars and restaurants, including the relatively new Mexicana and Tequila Mockingbird.


Art is continuing to spring up around the city. Murals adorn multiple walls at every turn in an effort to bring colour back to a city that is at times overshadowed by greyness and dust. Temporary sculptures appear both in the city and in the suburbs. Sydenham has a series of sculptures depicting people in various poses, and in Latimer Square, a new piece of sculpture art has been erected to depict the lost spire of the original Cathedral. There is unfortunately a lot of graffiti adorning some of the abandoned buildings, but I love the painted artwork that many artists have shared with the people of Christchurch.


I continue to make use of walking tracks around the area, and have this year discovered the Rapaki Track. At the turn off from Centaurus Road, the track heads up the Port Hills on a well trodden gravel road through Mount Vernon Park to Summit Road. It is an exceedingly popular track with cyclists and walkers, and takes less than an hour to reach the top. From Summit Road, you can see the beautiful turquoise water of Lyttelton Harbour and on the way back down the hill, Pegasus Bay is visible as well as the city of Christchurch itself. It is my favourite ‘short’ hike to do in the area. A couple of moderate grade walks near Christchurch that I have done this summer are Mt Herbert and Mt Richardson.


One of the many things I love about New Zealand in general is the importance of outdoor living, especially throughout the summer months. The past few months I have attended a variety of events in and around the city. In November 2013, I got to dress up as a zombie for the inaugural Zombie Run, a 5km run where runners have to evade a zombie invasion. It took place in Orton Bradley Park on Banks Peninsula, and I had great fun getting a make-over to look like the undead. A few weeks later was the Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park, an annual outdoor concert which is held in Hagley Park. Hundreds of people take picnics and head to the park with friends and family to enjoy a few hours of live music, both festive and pop, and wait for Santa to appear. In December, there was a fantastic craft market in Cathedral Square which was perfect timing for some pre-Christmas shopping. It was fantastic to see the Square so buzzing. Another highlight of December was visiting a rather famous house to the west of the city. Not normally a fan of over-the-top festivities, I loved visiting this famous property with all its lights, and displays and festive music. It was immensely popular, with the state highway running past it becoming a temporary car park. We spent an hour or so just wandering round gawping at it all. I still struggle to feel festive in the summer time, but this helped just a little bit.


In February, Classical Sparks in the Park was another outdoor event in Hagley Park. This time, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra played famous songs whilst we enjoyed another picnic with some friends. A hot air balloon flew very low over the concert, and when the sun set, an amazing fireworks display took place to the theme of Star Wars. It was incredible. The Chinese Lantern Festival followed a few weeks later. Unfortunately, I missed the best night for weather and it was cancelled on the second night, but I still got to have a wander round Hagley Park and see most of the lanterns in situ. It was unfortunate to miss out on them being lit up in all their glory, but it was still possible to see how amazing they all were. The end of February saw the 5km Color Run come to the city. A charity run or walk where you get absolutely covered in paint dust whilst completing the course. It was torrential rain whilst the run was going ahead but then the sun broke through for the paint party at the end which was immense fun. Again in Hagley Park, at the start of March, was the Ellerslie Flower Show. I remembered a similar event in Glasgow when I was a child, but had never really been fussed about going to this event in Christchurch before. However on the last evening, we headed down to take a look. There were some impressive gardens and structures on display, and a few times a day there was a floral fashion show which was amazing. Lots of models dressed up as different flowers and insects didn’t immediately jump out at me as being of interest, but it was actually immensely clever, and really well done, and I was glad that I had gotten to see it.


Hagley Park continues to be the centre of outdoor fun in the city, but the summer events are starting to wind down as autumn takes its grip. Regardless of the time of year though, there will always be changes happening in the Garden City.

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