We are in Christchurch in New Zealand house-sitting for our friend Rosalie. Christchurch is now famous for the earthquakes that devastated buildings and lives in 2010 and 2011. So we were ready for tremors. A strong earthquake (the first in quite a while, we gather) woke us from our sleep just before midnight. There was a bang followed by a rattle and a rough shake (4.6 on the Richter scale, 11 km underground and 10 km away) and that was it. There was no damage or injuries reported this time but it gave us a small taste of the anxiety that must still beset the daily lives of so many here.
Christchurch Cathedral in ruins. We plan to worship in the new Cardboard Cathedral soon
We are staying in suburban Avonhead near the source of the Avon River. There is not much evidence of earthquake damage in our neighbourhood but a quick bus ride into the city centre and it is another story.
I (Chris) visited here twenty years ago. Walking around the city streets now feels a bit like being in a Dr Who episode—familiar streets strangely different as if we have stepped into another world. We uttered many oh-my-goshes as we gazed at one damaged building after another in streets empty of people but noisy with demolition and construction. Finally we walked over rubble and through a Tardis-type entrance that said ‘Entry Re-START’ to find people and the bright colours of shops and cafés fashioned out of sea containers. We ate lunch in a food court protected from the wind by abandoned buildings and chatted with a local about the reconstruction of the city—the new sprouts of a new life for Christchurch.
The entry from the ruined city to the new shoots of the reconstructed one
Shops and cafés where the City Mall once was
Some more first impressions for you.
• There are plenty of Blackbirds and House Sparrows. We have spotted other birds that remind us of our time in Edinburgh: Redpoll, Chaffinch, Song Thrush. We have learnt that the local Red-billed Gull, which looks like the Australian Silver Gull, is actually a different species. We spotted our first New Zealand Fantail at the Ilam Gardens at the University of Canterbury. These gardens were established by an ornithologist who also was an expert in rhododendrons and azaleas.
The peace of the Ilam Gardens
• Roses love it here. The spring gardens here in the garden city are magnificent, if just past their best, but still effusive with huge roses.
• It is windy. Geoff has trouble keeping his hat on. The locals hope that the new city centre will be built so that the streets will not be wind tunnels. The Met Office gives advice about how many layers of clothes to wear—two or three so far. (Do they ever suggest none, we wonder?)
• Afghan biscuits are tasty. They are a Kiwi specialty apparently, chocolate biscuits with cornflakes through them. Maybe I'll make a batch for the next church fête.
• The coins I had hoarded since the 1990s don’t work any more.
We are here until New Year’s Day. Our plans are few but evolving. This is a take-it-as-it-comes holiday but will likely be sprinkled with bird sightings and walks of discovery.
Watch this space.
Wait! The earth just moved again. Another small rumble as I type. Gosh.