Today was my last day in New Zealand. Time has passed so fast… But, since my flight did not leave Christchurch before 7:35p.m., I had some time left to explore the city of Christchurch together with Solo. Our first stop, though, was a trip — in our guide’s bus — to the Christchurch Headquarters of Natural High, as they had offered to take my bike apart, pack it and deliver it to the airport later in the evening, so that I could have the day off.
Christchurch after the 2010/2011 earthquakes
After our return from their office, Solo and I decided to walk into town for some sightseeing.
Christchurch had been hit by an earthquake on September 4, 2010, and an aftershock magnitude of 6.3 of that one hit the town on February 22, 2011. This second earthquake — which occurred during lunchtime on a Tuesday — had its epicenter in Lyttleton, just about 10 kilometers south-east from the business-district of Christchurch, and did severe damage to the town. 182 people lost their lives and several thousand were injured.
Another earthquake just about a month later had turned the media focus away from New Zealand and toward Japan, where the earthquake additionally led to a tsunami which then flooded a nuclear power plant in Fukushima…
After that 2011 earthquake in New Zealand, I had been asked or told several times by coworkers, friends and family, that I now could no longer go on my bike ride in New Zealand, because now it was too dangerous.
But the North Island of New Zealand has been of volcanic origin since the very start, so yes during my holidays there was a slight chance for a volcanic eruption. Since New Zealand is placed on the border of two tectonic plates, the Australian continental plate and the Pacific Ocean plate, earthquakes have happened before and after — thankfully most of them with less devastating consequences. So, I figured that this earthquake would not stop me from fulfilling my dream. There are things I would not do, like climbing on a volcano when the red alarm is raised telling everybody it might erupt any time soon. Visiting New Zealand now was no more dangerous than if I had been able to go in 2009.
Now this happened almost two years before I visited the town of Christchurch. Yet already when we first entered the town, many of the damages which the earthquakes of 2010/2011 had caused were still visible to us. This morning we saw — from the bus window — private homes that still not had been fully repaired, and learned that house owners struggled to get money for the repairs from their insurances. The once most important landmark of Christchurch, the Anglican Cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904 in a neo-gothic style, was now laying in ruins.
Colorful Christchurch: Re:Start Mall
Several business buildings had been marked as not secure for usage, while large areas in the city’s center were still closed off, either because the buildings might collapse or else their demolition was ongoing.
Seeing this took my breath away. I didn’t expect the earthquakes’ damages to have had such an impact, and I sure did not expect so much of Christchurch still being destroyed almost two years later.
But some business owners did not allow an earthquake to beat them instead they had had a bright idea to lift the spirit of the town. Since their buildings were no longer usable, they had built a colorful container-shopping mall called the Re:Start Mall.
Solo and I stopped our sightseeing tour to visit a bookshop within the mall, and had our lunch in one of the mall’s cafés before we continued our tour toward the botanical garden of Christchurch. It is worth a visit; or two visits as its area is huge. The eastern border of the garden is Rollstone Avenue, while the western, southern and northern boarder are “built” by the river Avon. Founded in 1863, it is a major contributor to Christchurch’s role as New Zealand’s Garden City.
Unfortunately, since Solo and I also wanted to have some time left to look at the photos that I had taken since that evening in Queenstown, we did not nearly have enough time to see the entire garden. This somehow was a re-occurring theme, having not enough time to explore the country after all.
How much time would be enough time to explore this country?
Farewell New Zealand
Far too soon it was time for me to say goodbye to Solo and Christchurch as well as New Zealand. Far too soon it was time to check in for my flight back home to Europe. At the check in I was lucky again: the ground crew member handling my check-in process was so kind to not charge me for over-weight luggage — even though I was fully prepared to pay for it. And later on, when I had made it through security the staff who checked my carry on luggage’s weight also allowed me kindly to go on even though at least one of the two bags was “a little” heavier than it should have been.
This time my flight went via Auckland and Los Angeles to London, and from there back home to Scandinavia.
When I arrived with the plane from Christchurch in Auckland I had to get from the Domestic Terminal to the International Terminal to get to my flight to Los Angeles. I believed that I had enough time in between those two flights, so that I choose to walk from one Terminal to the other instead of taking the shuttle bus from the Domestic to the International Terminal in Auckland. Arriving at the International Terminal, I found out that boarding would start within the next ten minutes and I had not even found the way to my gate. But here everything went smoothly and I made it to my gate with time to spare.
Shortly after takeoff from Auckland, an announcement was made over the speaker systems that they were looking for a medic on board and I wondered if we would now add another stop somewhere on the Fiji Islands. But we made it straight through to Los Angeles without any more interruptions, and from there without any more surprises back to Europe. Upon my arrival in London I closed the circle: I now had circumnavigated the earth.
Now, having been back in Europe for a while, I still want to go back to New Zealand one day or a longer trip, possibly three months. To explore the places that I had no time to visit the first time but also to see more of the places that I have seen.
I wouldn’t necessarily book another guided tour though. Not because of bad experiences, but because I don’t think I fit into these kinds of groups anymore as their “framework” is just too tight for me. For my next journeys I want the freedom to decide for myself if I am in for the long ride or not. And I want to choose when in the day I am to start a new ride. This of course also means that I have to restrict my luggage…climbs like the one I made on my bike coming from Wanaka are not a walk in the park — even if someone carries your luggage for you — but if you have to carry everything by yourself and bring more than you absolutely need…Good Luck!
Well we’ll see what the future brings — I certainly hope that I can do another trip to New Zealand at some point.