A Travellerspoint blog

February 2012

Christchurch

by Kt

I hadn't know what to expect from Christchurch. I knew a year on from the last major quake that it was still struggling to get back on it's feet. When I'd seen the New Zealand news, there were reports on the numbers of families who are giving up trying to get their homes sorted and just leaving the area and sometimes the country altogether. There is also much discussion about the christchurch politicians and how they've been slow and inept with the funds. There seemed to be a lot of frustration that things weren't moving quickly enough in many respects.
First driving into Christchurch you don't see any signs that anything could be wrong. We drove in through the suburbs, around the ring road and got to our hostel, only 20-30 minutes or so south of the city centre, without noticing much, other than what we'd seen so far wasn't especially inspiring. The suburbs seemed ok, but the area around the hostel and south of the city centre is mainly made up of out of town type places, big stores, garages, maccy ds, burger kings etc. There is also a lot of cars here. Aukland and Wellington always seemed pretty light on the traffic so that was a big surprise.

We dropped off our rental car and got advice from them where to head up to in the city and they marked off the redzone for us on our map. We crossed the wide, busy roads, passing the streets still full of the blocky trading estate type buildings, until we came across our first sign that something big here had happened. It was a huge, catholic church which was fenced off and had been undergoing/was due demolition of parts of it, as clearly it had been affected, with either side of the main columned part of the building missing the frontage. It was odd to see inside these rooms. Like when they do the demolitions on the mass blocks of flats in London and you can see into the rooms and see the flowery wallpaper and whatever was abandoned.
There was a safe hanging off one of the inside walls which caught our attention. Most impressively the main frontage of the building with huge, tall columns and intricate statues up top, remained in place. I don't do religion but if I did...

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As we walked on further we saw the odd building boarded up. Nothing other than the church had stood out as particularly unusual though. There is always so many boarded up buildings at home - particularly in places which are mainly working towns like Slough, Bracknell etc , that it didn't seem strange. Then all of a sudden we hit a road that was cordoned off, the beginning of the 'red zone'. The street went on quite deep and had other roads going off in different directions at the bottom of it. Interesting streets with shops and restaurants and bars, all abandoned. As we moved around you could see large office blocks with half the windows boarded up, tall buildings, tilting a little to one side or with shonky roofs. The thing that was most shocking was realising the size of the area, how much was in it and how, more than anything that this was slap bang, totally in the centre and the heart of Christchurch. If you look at any of the tourist maps (much of the literature hasn't been updated), most of the areas you are directed to or would head for are in the red zone. When we'd watched the movie set in Christchurch in the 1950s, there had been a part at the beginning showing footage of the city centre at the time. That seems more poignant to us now that we had seen where much of this was caged off. It really does look like a ghost town. Stuff still in the shops, signs still out on the streets, bikes still chained to railings. As you walk around the safe areas there are still a huge amount of shops and businesses shut down. As you head up towards the park at the edge of the city centre, Hagley Park, the huge arc at the bridge or rememberance is cordoned off so no-one can get too near. It looks sound enough, but I guess there's a real worry with all these buildings that someone can get hurt and they have to be sure of their safety. It seems so cruel that it should be this 'heart' of the city that was taken away. That's a tough thing to come back from. The places in the UK that had their centres trashed in the Blitz or wiped out by dire 1960s city planning (to be fair, often as a result of the former), never have the same appeal as the ones with a the old buildings, creating the natural hubs. Coventry and Farnborough being two examples that spring to mind. I do hope Christchurch manages it and they don't lose too many people or motivation in the meantime. You have to admire all the Christchurchians who are doing what they can to bring back as much life to the centre as they can. I can't imagine the complexities of how to sort it out. You could have 75% buildings in there perfectly fine but it's too much of a risk because of the dodgy 25% and the cost of sorting them out is huge and it takes time. In the meantime of course, the 75% are left to decay, adding another element to the problem. Mind bending, I think. Whether the politicians deserve the criticism they are receiving, or not, I don't envy them this task.

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But things are looking up and looking good. They've created an amazing shopping area around that abandoned area, using huge shipping crates, transformed into shops and restaurants. They have lots of cute food carts around there and music and there's lots of colour (and the odd colourful character). On the plus side for the shopper or the tourist, the parking is darned cheap. I guess they have all these buildings they've had to flatten and so there is large open spaces around providing ample parking and as it's so cheap and as more things open (or re-open) hopefully it can lure more people back to the city centre and away from what I guess their main rival, the out of town mall. We've had the displeasure of walking through one of their main ones in the suburb of Riccarton and I, never a fan of such places at the best of times, really hope that's not what becomes of Christchurch.

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But the silver lining could be that some of the non-descript suburbs/areas of Christchurch become hubs for displaced business. Areas such as the one our hostel is in, which is mainly garages and older and more battered business are becoming renewed as some 'cooler' business move in. I have read that in a particularly industrial area of Christchurch they are working with the existing architecture to create interesting spaces to bring in, in particular the creative businesses. I did notice that the old warehouse area in Auckland, near to where we stayed, was a fantastic example of how to do such renovations well. This has a lot of designer furniture stores out there which work really well with the aesthetic of the big, looming brick buildings.
Not far from our hostel, tucked behind a shell garage, behind a newly built coffee shop and deli, we found a fantastic bar/venue which had been setup in this grungy, industrial space. It was very cool, having been designed with the exact amount of comfort and style with a major nod to the buildings origins. A small stage, great music playing on an incredible sound system, comfy leather sofas, japanese inspired bar menu, great beer and wine - what's not to love. We only wished we'd found the place sooner.

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Posted by KtandMark 13:24 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Jailhouse Rocks!!!

by Kt

Never one to shy away from a cliche, eh? It was Marks idea, once again. He is now officially in charge of blog titles.
Anyhow, the hostel that we have come to in Christchurch is an absolute blinder!! It is by far the best we have gone to in New Zealand, it's only downside is it's location isn't that great, but then with the current state of Christchurch, it doesn't seem that anywhere is.

The hostel building is a former prison, built in the 1800s and in use up to 1999. It was bought in 2006 and converted into a hostel. On the hostel side it is the dream hostel. I thought it would be dark and pokey but they've built a glass atrium on the front so it's full of light and has lots of large open spaces. An internet room with macs, a tv room as well as a cinema room, a brilliant kitchen with everything you could possibly need and nice things too rather than skanky old saucepans and plates. The bathrooms are great so I'm actually squeaky clean for once.

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Anyway, back to the former prison side of things. We are sleeping in an original cell. The cell viewing windows have been replaced by mirrors so you have privacy but from outside it looks like you can see into the cells. Bunk beds again - but I'm not silly, Mark is up top this time. Funnily enough this room, despite being a real cell, is larger than the room we had with bunks in Rotorua! There is a cell setup with old stuff from it's life as a jail with a mannequin of a guard (more of him later) and there's various artifacts in glass cases about the place.

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There is also a cell which has artwork on the walls done by the inmates on the last day the prison was open in November '99. A guy name 'Willy Two Worlds' features heavily. Can't help but wonder what has become of ol' Willy.

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The creepiest park is at the back of the building where you can go up some stairs to the old isolation cell. This is a small (obviously) room which horribly also has a trap door down to a lower level of even worse isolation which had little light or space. As we followed the stairs round we heard this screaming and wailing which rather freaked me out, but fear not, it just turned out to be the cinema room where you can watch dvds in surround sound on a projector - think they were watching Lord of the Rings or something of that ilk.
That leads me to our interesting discovery - stay tuned fact fans . Routing through the dvds which are an odd mix of slapstick, thrillers with a bunch of prison and crime movies thrown in, we came across a film at the bottom of the pile which had a label slapped on it saying 'Pauline stayed here'.
The film is called 'Heavenly Creatures' and when later in the evening, having discovered the cinema room empty, we made a run for it and got in there with it. Because people like to have a good look around the hostel (as we did) when they first get here we had the odd person wandering through from time to time. But I felt fairly safe in the knowledge most folk who looked up at what we were watching wouldn't take much interest.
The story, set in the early 50s in Christchurch, starring a very young Kate Winslet, is a true story about two school friends, Pauline and Juliet who kill one of the girls mothers. I'm not giving anything away, it's obvious from the start and it's a good film - worth a watch. Anyway, they live in a kind of fantasy bubble and write books together and think they are genius, kindred spirits. This, bizarrely leads to them blugeoning Paulines mother, pretending it's an accident but they don't get away with it as Pauline has recorded everything in diary that she had kept for years.
They tried to plead insanity but that was denied and they were too young for the death penalty but were sent to seperate jails. The shocking part of this story, we thought was that they were released after only about 5 years. Seemed a bit foregiving but hey ho! A condition of their release was that they never contact each other again.
What we THEN discovered, after a little googling, is that Juliet moved immediately to England and has lived in the States for a while and now lives in Scotland. She fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a writer and is a very successful writer of historical crime fiction, going by the name of Anne Perry.
Pauline, meanwhile, at some point also moves to England, gets married and runs a kids riding school in Kent. She now lives in the Orkneys. All very peculiar and it seems so odd that they should end up so close to each other in their 70s, on the other side of the world to where their story began. I'd so like to know the ins and outs of their lives.

So, after an evening spent watching that movie, which wasn't scarey as such but quite dark and dramatic, I was left a bit spooked. Mainly, when we paused it for Mark to go to the toilet and I was left in the dark room on my own. The realisation hit me that I have to sleep in an old prison. Me! Scared of the dark and ghosts and everything that could possibly go bump in the night. I hadn't really thought about it when I booked it as a treat for Mark who has a (frankly morbid) obsession with prisons. After I came out of the shower room at around 9.30 they'd dimmed all the lights and as I came down the stairs I could see a dark figure looming at the back of one of the cells. Yes, I am being overly dramatic and yes it was the mannequin I mentioned earlier, but colour me creeped out!!
I am typing this sat in my cell, on the bottom bunk, wondering how I can convince Mark to leave the light on all night!!! Wish me luck.

On the upside, Mark is having a ball. Ever since we got here he has been wandering around talking in an east end gangster stylee going about 'screws' and 'lockdown'. He apparently wants to score some scag (whatever that is) and has decided to give everyone who walks past a prison nickname. 'Beanpole', 'Greeny', 'Mr Big' to name but a couple. And I have indulged him by coming up with a few scenarious - like the young lad with nickname 'Chipper' - he's called that be cause his dad is also banged up in here and he's a chip off the old block! We also have the 'Prof'. He is a former tax accountant in here for murdering his wife and kids but he is innocent and was framed by his former business partner. Because he reads books of any kind he has been labelled the Prof and helps the other inmates out with their legal paperwork and so therefore he is looked after and 'safe'. No cliches here - no sireee!!! And OF COURSE Mark made the joke about going in the jail showers!! We are on day one but I don't think he's going to tire of this readily.

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Posted by KtandMark 23:21 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Life in Kaikoura

by Kt

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The Albatross hostel (named as there are trips to go off and see the nearby big birds) is situated in the old post office building so has a couple of sweet features, like the massive safe door.
It is decorated in a funky way and has some interesting things to do, like musical instruments and art corner where you can do some painting.

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Cooking here has been fairly good - there's not a huge amount of room but have cooked at odd hours so could take more time. The best thing is that there is tons of stuff on the free shelf so have been able to use herbs n spices at long last. They even have fresh herbs growing outside that you can use.
This has come at a particularly good time for us as we had a sad, lamenting conversation in Wellington about how much we miss the maldon sea salt in our nigella salt pig at home. What this says about us, I do not know. Suggestions not welcome!!

The weather has been pretty hit and miss and seeing as pretty much all the things to do around here are mind bendingly expensive, we've ended up a bit fed up and bored at times. The hostel is nice on a sunny day when everyone is off doing stuff but when it's wet, everyone is in and it's too small for that really.

We did entertain ourselves at a little farm park just outside the town. They specialised in Llama treks (didn't need to leave sussex for that I know) but it was the rest of the menagerie that turned out to be fun. Doesn't matter what mood you are in, you can't not be happy to see pigs and rabbits surely? I am totally besotted with New Zealands own Kune pigs, as they had in our farm stay. They are just so darned ugly, you have to adore them.

Much of the area the animals mixed freely with each other and with you. They had a tame dear, lots of crazy turkeys who liked to chase the collie dogs. Tons of ducks and chickens with chicks and ducklings - awwww.

In one of the areas we were met affectionately by the pig which was a normal pig mixed with a wild boar who was rather cute/ugly and took a bit to much of a shine to me - the girl came and penned her in which alarmed me after she said that she was on heat and acting strangely. What that says about me, I don't know. I won't go into the story of the goat that scared Mark so much that he ran out and hid behind a gate - that would just embarrass him.

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They had some emus, fenced in, at the top field. They are funny, almost dinosaur like creatures. They were making very peculiar noises and got very ancy when one of the donkeys came up close to the fence next to them. Who says donkeys are stupid.. basically the emus get all territorial and try to attach the donkeys. This means pointlessly kicking the fence, but also launching themselves over the fence to peck the donkey. This clearly has little effect on the donkeys thick backside other than presumably to give it a good scratch, as it happily sat there until the emus eventually retreated to sulk in the corner.

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We are leaving here tomorrow to go to Christchurch. We are definitely ready to go at this point. Kaikoura is a cute little town and when the sun is out it is lovely. I'm sure in fact it's a nice place to live, but when you're hosteling, as we have found in New Zealand generally, if the weather isn't good and you haven't got much money to spend (or warm clothes to wear) it can be a tad frustrating. As ever, I am looking forward to heading to a city with a bit more going on.

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Posted by KtandMark 19:31 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

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