Christchurch: one of the ‘worlds top 50 cities to visit 2020’ – my quake city revisited

PHOTO attribution: CathedralSquare 2402 By Gabriel Flickr Cathedral Square

It’s some eight or nine years ago that Fodor commissioned me to write about my city – back then we locals were using terms such as ‘the city that shakes’ or ‘shaken not stirred’ and ‘Christchurch rocks’.  Christchurch still rocks but in a very different way – it’s great.

In August, this year, one travel writer likened a tram ride in Christchurch to an amusement ride through a disaster zone – I totally disagree as do many others: it is the only New Zealand entry in ‘The 50 Friendliest Cities In The World’ (7th) and it’s also  the only New Zealand destination to make it into Fodor’s list of the top 52 places to visit in 2020. I suggest you put it on your bucket list.

Christchurch’s inclusion on Fodor’s Go List 2020 ‘seems to stem in large part from its response to the tragedies that have happened there over the past decade’ said one writer.

“South Island’s largest city is back – and better than ever,” the guide declares, adding that it has “wasted no time getting back on its feet after” after the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and 2019 terror attack.

“Not only is Christchurch considered the ‘friendliest city in New Zealand’, according to a 2019 poll, but the evolving metropolis rewards visitors with colonial-era British architecture, enormous parks, panoramic gondola rides, relaxing boat tours down the Avon River, and an exploding public art scene that emerged after the earthquakes.”  (Stuff)

However, for many, there is still some confusion as to why many buildings have not yet been replaced, and in particular, the Christchurch Cathedral still sits in ruins.

Every local has an opinion about the cathedral – from knock it down to, restore it totally, keep some old parts and build something new attached to it, get rid of any cathedral in the square, and many variations on those themes.

Pre quake photos:

Christchurch Cathedral and Chalice before the quake damage
Interior of the cathedral. Ever seen a pavlova in a cathedral with rugby’s Bledisloe Cup?
Christchurch cathedral … in the square

Being Christchurch born, and having lived through hundreds of quakes I too have an opinion – I believed the cathedral should be reinstated – using their insurance money – it, plus the ‘Square’ itself, had played an important role over the previous 100 years.  Because of irreparable damage to many of our Gothic buildings, I believed it was important to maintain as much heritage as we could.

The February 2011 earthquake destroyed the Cathedral‘s spire, part of the tower, and the structure of the remaining building.  On the day of the quake, much more of the tower was deliberately demolished as it was thought that people were trapped inside – luckily this wasn’t so, and the rest of the tower was demolished in March 2012.  When the church started using a wrecking ball on the cathedral, a court injunction was taken out to stop that work – many people believed it should be demolished, piece by piece, numbering the stones so it could be rebuilt.

Later in 2011, after-shocks meant a steel structure – intended to stabilise the rose window – actually destroyed it and the Anglican Church decided to demolish the building and replace it with a new structure.  The church did not consult with locals despite years and years of no, or little city rates – a subsidy paid for by locals, who also helped pay for repairs and a new roof. This made many people angry, resulting in court cases and fundraising to help save the cathedral.

Christchurch Diocesan Synod announced that Christ Church Cathedral would be reinstated after promises of extra grants and loans from local and central government.

The church also says the start of restoration will begin in 2020 and “For most people, the reinstated Cathedral will appear unchanged with its important heritage features retained.  It will be safer, more functional, more flexible and more comfortable.  It will be better equipped for future worship and civic events.”

And, as for the other gaps in the city-scape, many owners of those buildings have chosen not to build for many reasons.  Some will be land-banking them, others will be waiting for the convention centre to be finished (late 2020), while others may be waiting to see what’s missing in the city, what’s needed, and then build that.  Many people have said, this wouldn’t happen in Hong Kong, or Singapore – true, but New Zealand has a democracy, and surprisingly, everyone who owns those pieces of land, often converted to car parks right now, actually can make up their own mind as to what, and when, to redevelop.

I can tell you that one building site, on Armagh Street (beside New Regent Street) will not be started for a few months.  A large flock of our endangered black-billed gulls is nesting among the concrete and reinforcing wire – as they are protected, nothing will happen to this site until they’ve finished nesting, and if they come back in spring next year, the site will remain undeveloped.  An eyesore for many, but possibly a lifesaver for these gulls!

I nested at The Classic Villa, which some years ago was transformed from an Italian style historic home to a 5-star boutique hotel in the cultural precinct of our city centre.

[Note I relocated to Wellington, a decision made in May 2010, some 2-months after the first, and biggest, 7.4 quake on the 4th September 2010 – see photos taken in my inner-city neighbourhood then]

 

 

 

 

Terrorism, death and love on a Monday morning walk

Terrorism will not defeat New Zealanders – we Kiwi will resist it all. Proud of our Prime Minister, Jacinda Adern, this speech will become the benchmark for other leaders to follow – no autocue, just straight from the heart.

My Monday morning walk today was to visit the local Wellington Masjid – three days after the terrible terrorism in Christchurch at the Al Noor Mosjid resulting in fifty deaths – and still, people, all over New Zealand, Kiwi are coming to pay respects, to offer help and leave flowers.

My Monday morning walk was to visit the local Wellington Masjid – three days after the terrible

terrorism in Christchurch – and still, people are coming to pay respects, to offer help and flowers. As we arrived a local boys’ school was performing a haka.

I’ll let the photos do the talking of the Wellington Islamic Centre, Kilbirnie Mosque

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To put this into some numeric perspective – with a population of under 5 million, these fifty deaths in New Zealand is the equivalent of 3500 people dying in a country the size of the USA.

Donate here https://givealittle.co.nz/cause/christchurch-shooting-victims-fund

Classic Villa – elegance in Christchurch

The Classic Villa has five stars, is eco-friendly and this historic, beautiful, bright pink villa has lived many lives!

Starting in 1897 – just 4 years after all New Zealand women won the right to vote – it was first owned by Christchurch boys high school as the chaplain’s house and, after many incarnations, including an old-folks home (that I always saw myself as being eventually  spending my final years in) through to its current reincarnation as a superb Italian style luxury B&B boutique accommodation – where I do stay!  Erected on land during Christchurch’s early European settlement days and known as Ravens Paddock, it’s opposite the old Christchurch Boys High School and Canterbury College where Lord Rutherford studied.

Table set for breakfast at The Classic Villa

With 5 Stars, it’s friendly, laid-back, efficient, and comfortable with the hosts serving sumptuous Mediterranean, /continental or traditional breakfasts.  The kitchen island is almost overloaded with cold meats, avocado, tomato, cheeses fruits, cereals, and juices, it’s a magnificent spread, all enjoyed a communal table with Peter, the consummate host, making sure teas and coffees flow -and of course, answering questions about where to go and what to do.

Step outside 17 Worcester Boulevard – a quiet one way pedestrian boulevard – and tram – and you’re in the centre of Christchurch’s cultural precinct including the Art Centre, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu  Museum, Botanic Gardens,  Cathedral Square, historic tram, punting on the Avon River, Hagley Golf Course, and of course, excellent restaurants, cafes & inner-city shopping: see more on their website The Classic Villa

I’ve always stayed in the ground floor rooms which have traditionally polished timber floors, kauri doors, ornate plaster ceiling roses, wood fire effect heater, luxury bedding, and mirrored wardrobes. The walls have art by Rhonda Campbell – which former President Bill Clinton took a fancy too. Good taste!

Evenings are great with a complimentary glass of something and nibbles in the lounge or garden and barbecue area.

Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city. It’s a vibrant, cosmopolitan place with exciting festivals, theatre, modern art galleries, great shopping and award-winning attractions.

Known internationally for award-winning gardens, Christchurch is also a great place for events, festivals and its street art.

Promenade along the Avon River
Street art beside the Piano
New Regent Street — a must visit.
Worchestor Street bridge
A shag/cormorant in the botanic gardens
The ‘cabbage’ tree – tekouka
Christchurch Art gallery 2 mins walk from the Classic Villa
street art in progress
public art
punting on the Avon .. other boats available for hire too

 

Oruapaeroa-Travis Wetlands, Christchurch,New Zealand

On a recent trip to Christchurch, I again visited the Travis Wetlands. when I was a child we just called it ‘the swamp’ where my maternal grandfather grazed his cows and then sold milk by the billy from the back of a horse and cart!

I’m glad a remnant of that swamp remains – you can get there by public bus. Check out the sights on this slideshow.

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See more photos I took at Travis in 2009.

Christchurch – shaken not stirred

Christchurch Otautahi was shaken, not stirred by its quakes and New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ earned itself a hipper nickname after the earthquake’s devastation and there were T-shirts proclaiming ‘Christchurch – The City That Rocks!’ – I wonder if they are still around?

Christchurch thrives not just on pretty gardens and quake humour, but on sport too. Locals are often described as ‘one-eyed’ by fellow Kiwis, due to the unshakeable belief that the Crusaders rugby team is the best in the land if not the world!

It also has a great theatre scene including  – but not only – the Isaac Theatre Royal

New Regent Street
Isaac Theatre Royal
New buildings continue to grow

Canterbury considers its lamb the best in New Zealand and so, the world. Make up your own mind about the food on your Christchurch holiday and join local foodies at the many places that showcase local, seasonal food and well as all the ethnic food restaurants in the city.

Christchurch also has a great coffee scene and an interesting history too  … see my recent coffee blog here.

You could also head over-the-hill to sample fruity wines in the vineyards of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. While there, try the crumbly cheddar, Havarti and Gouda from 19th-century Barry’s Bay Cheese Factory which I’ve frequented since I was a child – many of my ancestors settled on the peninsula in the mid-1800s.

Sweet-toothed people can head to She Chocolat restaurant in Governors Bay where even the main courses are laced with the lovely brown stuff.

Enterprising Māori traded produce with early English settlers in Christchurch and their culture continues to make its mark on the city. Check out vibrant poi and haka performance and feast on a traditional hangi dinner at Ko Tane, a ‘living Maori village’ at Willowbank.

You don’t have to be a super-sleuth to find the old timber home of our local whodunit writer Dame Ngaio Marsh it’s nestled in the lower Cashmere Hills and is well signposted for those wanting a tour.

I’m in my hometown for the next ten days so follow me on Instagram (kiwitravelwriter) for photos and, of course, more blogs will follow soon.

My first few days I will be staying at the fabulous Classic Villa – opposite the Arts Centre.

 

This is where I’m staying next week: Classic Villa Christchurch

The Classic Villa has five stars, is eco-friendly – and this beautiful bright pink villa has lived many lives! it’s also been awarded many awards.

From the home of an early minister of religion through to an old-folks home: its’ current reincarnation is a superb Italian style luxury B&B boutique accommodation. With 5 Stars, it’s also friendly, laid-back, efficient, and comfortable with the hosts serving sumptuous Mediterranean, or traditional breakfasts.

I once stayed here during a snowy spell!

Step outside and you’re in the centre of Christchurch’s cultural precinct including the Arts Centre, Art Gallery, Museum, Botanic Gardens, the Cathedral Square, historic tram, punting on the Avon River, the Hagley Golf Course, and of course, restaurants, cafes & inner-city shopping: see more on their website The Classic Villa

As you can imagine I’m looking forward to staying here again 🙂

Breakfast is set at the fabulous Classic VillaC

Coffee coffee coffee

Coffee is apparently the most legally traded commodity in the world: The World Bank estimates there are some 500 million people who are involved with the coffee trade and I help support that trade!

New Zealand, until about 1940, was largely a tea drinking nation.  However, the first coffee shop in Christchurch was called the Coffee Palace and was in Market Square (now Victoria Square) in the mid-1800s.  Sadly, I can’t find the photo I once saw of it, beside the animal pound and a women’s prison in the early city beginings.

I knew I was going to have a long affair with coffee by the time I was 8 years old.  Staying with an auntie, while my father was in hospital, I was impressed with not only her shiny pink and black tile bathroom, but the smell of the liquid coffee and chicory that she brewed. That’s when I fell in love – and have remained in love-with fabulous coffee. And, like most New Zealanders (kiwis) I only drink in locally owned cafes with our regular double-shot drinks – not international or chain shops.

Chicory was grown for coffee in the Christchurch area from about the 1870s.  I was surprised to find instant coffee – which many Kiwi still drink -was started in Invercargill, New Zealand, when David Strang applied for a patent for his soluble coffee powder in 1889.

In the early 1960s, I frequented places such as the Swiss Chalet which was downstairs in Tramway Lane off Cathedral Square and also a coffee shop in Chancery Arcade, which was rumoured to serve, not only coffee but Irish coffee too!  In those days I drank espresso with a little hot milk and cinnamon sprinkled on top.  I not only thought but also knew, I was so sophisticated 😊  😊

With my first pay from Christchurch hospital – I worked in the pharmacy – I bought a coffee grinder. Until then our family had bought ground coffee every week.  Now I knew we would have even better coffee as it would be ground as we needed it for our percolator.  We bought our coffee on Cashel Street and I loved browsing and smelling, the bean bins every week to choose the coffee beans to take home.  Trevor Smith, the owner started roasting beans in the 1940s and I believe his son Bernard Smith still roasts coffee beans for cafés under the name Vivace Espresso.

the Cashel Street shop I bought my grinder and beans from

Some coffee history

In the early 1500s, Yemen created or found a new drink – made from the fruit of an Ethiopian plant.  It was quickly popular and by the 17th century in England, France and Holland the citizens loved it. The first English coffee houses opened in Oxford in 1651 and London in 1652

Interestingly Charles 2nd thought the coffee houses were dangerous to his reign and he sent spies to hear what was being said and, in 1675 he proclaimed coffee houses to have evil and dangerous effects and tried to suppress them.

In Paris (1689) the new Café de Procope made drinking coffee more popular there and in London, the Lloyds Coffee House became the powerful, international, insurance underwriter.

Apparently, over 800 different chemical ingredients have been identified, however, the basic principal of roasting raw green beans in a rotating drum over heat has remained consistent for a couple of hundred years.

green beans

Green coffee can be stored for ages, but roasted, it immediately begins to lose its flavour – the sooner after roasting and grinding it’s drunk the better -that’s why I drink an espresso.  Black coffee delivers the kick I like and the satisfying after-taste – the result of the crema – the mixture of gas oils, waters and fine grounds that sits on the top of an espresso. There is nowhere for a barista to hide any lack of skills with my ‘long black’.

The top coffee producers are Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Mexico, Indonesia, and the Ivory Coast while the top consumers (by tonnes) are USA, Brazil, Germany, Japan, France, and Italy. I think per capita New Zealand would rank highly!

Sadly, Charles 2nd was right, as poverty, violence, exploitation, environmental devastation, political oppression, and corruption have all been linked to coffee – and still are.  Thinking about my time in cafés, I guess they still can be hotbeds of gossip and intrigue.

 

Is ‘black’ or ‘dark’ tourism ethical?

Woman carrying firewood – Agra

Some people chase fire trucks, others follow typhoons to get the best photos, while war journalists or photographers, because of their job, are often in the most dangerous parts of the world, but what about tourists?

As soon as trouble breaks out (dengue fever, earthquake, tsunami, or civil unrest) it’s tourists, often with group travel arrangements, who cancel their bookings, while solo travellers, looking for the differences, the culture and the food of another place, who usually continue with their travel plans. Is it ethical to go to places who have had an earthquake or other disaster? What about places with chronic poverty?

Do you indulge in dark tourism? Defined as travelling to places historically associated with death, has been around for ages.  Concentration camps in Europe; the killing fields in Cambodia; the site of the twin towers in New York; and Pompeii in Italy, just to name a few.  I’ve been to many places that could be considered ‘dark’. The Anne Frank house in Amsterdam; the Colosseum in Rome; John Lennon’s garden in New York, the motel where Martin Luther King was assassinated.  I’ve also been to the 1692 site of my ancestors’ notoriety, Glen Coe in Scotland.

Of course, more recently I’ve been a constant visitor to my home city, Christchurch New Zealand, where 80% of the inner-city was lost due to quake damage.  (See more that I’ve about Christchurch – as it was two years ago  2016)

Black or dark tourism is nothing new but when it’s recent many people think it is insensitive to go – or for novelists to write about it, comedians to joke about it, or films to be made.   I believe it depends on the traveller’s attitude – are they chasing fire trucks or cyclones?

Think of slum tours in India, do they help the locals or not? It’s all about ethical travel – are you taking from a place, or are you adding something?  Are in locals involved?  Did they set up the tours with community involvement, or is it someone making money out of another person’s misery or are they interested and supportive?

As a travel writer I am often conflicted about taking photos – sadly, poverty and misery often produce fantastic photos.

In Christchurch tourism dried up just as if tap was turned off and the water stopped flowing.  I heard and read many articles and blogs and sadly, advice given by uniformed travel writers, tourist companies or information centres, advising people not to go, there is ‘nothing there’ or ‘you will only be in the way’.  In the beginning I know locals thought some other locals did ‘get in the way’ of clean-up work and considered  them ‘rubber-neckers’ by other locals who felt their privacy, and misery, were being invaded.

However, ethical travel may just another word for green travel which is about leaving money behind in a community so can dark tourism be ethical too?

Perhaps travel agents and guide books sell us too narrow a view of places to visit. Along with our tickets they, (and guide books, blogs or articles) often give us a list of sites we ‘must see’, activities ‘we must do’, or places we ‘must’ stay. It’s not for nothing the popular Lonely Planet books have been nicknamed the ‘travellers’ bible’ as many won’t eat, visit, stay or see anything or anywhere until the guide book is consulted.  Sadly examples of unintended consequences can be the six accommodation places are mentioned are full – while three, not in the book, and maybe better, are empty.

This is not a new problem. Read books written years ago and the same complaints are made by travellers and owners – some places over booked others empty. Tell friends you are going to Bali or Timbuktu, Christchurch or Botswana and immediately you will be told that you should have gone there two, five, ten, fifty years ago, ‘before it was discovered’, or in Christchurch, New Zealand’s case, ‘before the earthquakes’.

So, what can we travellers do? Well, I don’t know what you will do, but what I do is travel slowly, travel cheaply, support local businesses and use their home-grown products whenever I can – and this is even more needed after a disaster whether it’s man-made or a so-called act of God.

I asked on Facebook for people’s opinion about disaster, or dark tourism. One person sent me a link to a blog she’d recently listened to and believe its well worth giving you the link too – BBC World Service: The Why Factor.  In it the reporter visited Auschwitz and the site of the Grenfell Towers disastrous fire in London.  I’ve not been to either – and chose while I was in Poland not to visit Auschwitz.  If I was in London I would also not visit the Grenfell Towers – I don’t need to be at either site to know how appalling the events were.  Others of course will disagree with me.

My father was a fireman in Christchurch New Zealand when they had the worst fire disaster in our history – Ballantynes, 1947.  He was so distressed about attending the fire and having to recover bodies, that our family were forbidden to give the store any patronage – I have broken this rule two or maybe three times.

The Christchurch earthquakes 20101/11 have produced things that also could be considered dark tourism.  The Memorial Gardens at the site of the highest number of deaths, a memorial wall on the banks of the River Avon, and a museum exhibition – which for me triggered the smells of dust that hung in the air – and up my nose – for ages.

Tram outside Arts Centre

The owner of Beadz Unlimited (one of the many shops damaged inside the Christchurch Art Centre – and now in the historic New Regent Street) posted on my Facebook page  where I was asking about dark tourism said ‘actually we desperately needed people to come and put money into the community because we were all hunkered down just trying to survive.  It was a necessary evil.’  She did not clarify what was ‘evil ‘.

In the UK there is an Institute for dark tourism research and they have studied many facets of this topic if you want to delve into it! Wikipedia says “Scholars in this interdisciplinary field have examined many aspects. Lennon and Foley expanded their original idea [1] in their first book, deploring that “tact and taste do not prevail over economic considerations” and that the “blame for transgressions cannot lie solely on the shoulders of the proprietors, but also upon those of the tourists, for without their demand there would be no need to supply”.

New Zealand heritage has website and touring map  for some war sites in the Waikato region and its hoping to eventually have one for all NZ land wars and other fighting – perhaps some will consider this ‘black tourism’ too

What are your thoughts. Do you believe you are an ethical traveller – and why? And, do you indulge in dark tourism?  What black tourism spots have you been to –  after all it seems we all do that at some level.

I’d really love to start a conversation about all this in the topics – so before you board your next flight, or bus or train, will you please join in and add your opinion ?

 

The Godwits have landed!

The very first feathered signs of spring arriving have landed in my old home city. Along with the daffodils, the godwits have landed in Christchurch (New Zealand) – arriving from the Alaskan Arctic Tundra where they raise their young.

Christchurch (and a few other places in New Zealand) is where they escape the Alaskan winter and have a summer holiday while feeding up large, building up their weight and strength before heading north again to reproduce.

godwits coming into land on the beach side the Avon-Heathcote estuary

So, in a few months, this annual, epic journey by some 80-thousand Eastern Bar-tailed godwits will migrate back to their breeding grounds.

the sand dunes are alive with bird watchers saying farewell

Their journey – of 11,500 kilometres – usually takes about six days! Its nonstop when they head south while heading north they have a few stopovers in Asia

Christchurch locals farewell them from our shores and when they return the bells peal out to welcome them back to their summer feeding grounds here on the Ihutai/Avon-Heathcote estuary such a short distance the centre of our city.

Rutherford – local boy celebrated in Christchurch’s Arts Centre

As a pioneer of his time, it’s only fitting that cutting-edge technology is used to tell his story, said Christchurch Arts Centre CEO, André Lovatt. “We’ve carefully kept the beautiful heritage features but have injected the space with new energy by using state-of-the-art storytelling techniques that will appeal to people of all ages.

webuse rutherfords den chch 2016 (26)

The original Lecture Theatre is exactly as it was – graffiti and all – which adults will love as this was how the ‘den’ was until the quake shook Christchurch (2010) and many buildings have had to be strengthened. The Arts Centre has had major work done too. It was great to sit in the old lecture theatre just as I, and my kids, have done for years. Well, it’s the same . . .  until the digital screen at the front starts playing a movie commissioned by the Arts Centre. A great example of the saying ‘same same but different.’

I spot the host of the 5 star Classic Villa checking out the den too
I spot the host – from the across the road, 5 star, Classic Villa checking out the den too

webuse rutherfords den chch 2016 (12)

Much of what Rutherford discovered all this years ago, in what was really an old cloakroom, led to the technology of today and now visitors can learn about the old with the new, in fun and exciting ways.

For more than a century, the Arts Centre site was home to Canterbury College and from 1890 one of its students was Rutherford. He was a regular Kiwi who became known as the father of nuclear physics and in 1908 was awarded the Nobel Prize in ChemistrySee more about the Den here

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the kiwitravelwriter and Sam Mahon's FOOL
The kiwitravelwriter with Sam Mahon’s FOOL Feb 2016

See more I’ve written about the Den here http://wp.me/pc3Zw-382