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]

 

 

 

 

Birding in inner city Christchurch

It’s not often I get to bird watch in the centre of the city – of course, Christchurch has the Avon River which attracts native and introduced ducks and other birds, but these little darlings are different.

About 300 critically endangered black-billed gulls (the most endangered gull in the world) have come to the city for summer. Normally nesting on the braided river beds and Canterbury they have set up camp and their nests in inner-city Christchurch, choosing a high-rent area, but pay no rent.

Their preferred, inner-city apartments, are on the site of a partly demolished commercial building one of the many (80%) quake-damaged inner-city buildings. Here, surrounded by islands of concrete and reinforcing steel, no predators are able to steal the eggs or chicks.

Some chicks, unable to fly, and used to nests on the shingle of the Canterbury Plains this high-living has caused problems. When they fall out of their nest they land in the water below, and unable to fly would drown. However, locals who are keeping an eye on them, let the Department of Conservation know and see here, life rafts have been created for them

Reposting … an elephant in Christchurch?

reposting 2016 blog 

and, this week pics

Reposting https://kiwitravelwritertalksfoodtravelandtips.com/2016/03/22/is-there-an-elephant-in-the-room-christchurch-new-zealand/

Big travel lies – and the the truth: I have an Ayurveda massage :)

I could tell you a great big lie about why I have massages when I’m travelling.  I could say it’s for research, or I could say it so I can write a blog, but neither of them would be true.

Sure, I may write an article or blog about a massage – and I confess I have one everywhere I go – but nearly always the main reason is pure pleasure and relaxation.  Of course, sometimes I  have tight muscles or a sore back and massages are my go-to treatment for them too.

About 18 months ago, while staying at the Kannur Beach House in Kerala, I gave myself an early Christmas present – the day before Christmas – and had an Ayurvedic massage, here in what must be the Ayurvedic capital of the world (Kerala) – the first time I’ve had one.

So, what is Ayurveda?  Firstly, the word is evidently Sanskrit and translates as the knowledge of life or life science. It’s a holistic way of living that combines meditation, yoga, diet, herbal remedies and massage.  Its beliefs include: everything in the universe is made up of elements, including ear fire and water.  It is the balance of these bodily energies, which governs our physical and emotional health.  According to a book I read at the beach house.  These were written in the ancient Hindu scriptures, The Vedas, which describes health as balance and illness, as an imbalance.  Imbalance can be set right through eating foods based on body type, proper digestions, physical exercise and yoga or meditation.

Enough of my research, what about the massage?

I arrived by Auto (a 3-wheeled, Tuk-tuk type vehicle) and was first interviewed about my health history.

She started with a head massage, which was lovely, and finished with my face being massaged at the end. It felt luxurious having very warm oil poured over me.  No oil on her hands but poured directly onto my body in copious amounts.

The massage included long dramatic, two-handed swirls and strokes from my foot to my fingertips.  Smooth figure-eight movements travelled all over the front of my body and included long sweeps over my arms and torso.  This certainly was a different sort of massage and not at all like a Thai massage or Swedish.

With great care,

I climbed off the oil-covered massage table – fearing I would slip right off. I thought that was the end of it, but no, I was then put in a steam box and wish I had a photo of the box with my head poking out.  I found it very claustrophobic and quite scary and asked to be let out after about 5 minutes, which she did gracefully.  A shower followed – with shampoo and body wash provided.

So, I’m not sure if the herb-infused oil used in the massage purified me, detoxed, cleansed or removed any toxins, but I can say it was a great massage and next time I’m back in Kerala I will return for another!

However, like all massage therapists each one differs: that first one was magic, it felt authentic, but then I had another one further south, which seemed more tourist orientated, and more like a regular massage> I’m pleased I was able to ask a local where to go, who they could recommend,  when I was at the Kunnar Beach House 😊

 

Taiwan’s “Lantern village” has a train running through it

An unexpected road trip, with 2 local Taiwanese women,  ended at a lantern village that, surprisingly, had rail tracks running through the middle of the settlement.

Playing chicken for a photo

Here, daily, and at night time, people write wishes on paper lanterns, before releasing them into the sky in the hopes ancestors will answer their prayers.

It seems this ritual started during the Three Kingdoms period and were first to send military signals and, lighting these lanterns grew widespread during the mid-19th century when bandits often attacked these towns. So now, although once used as signals for villagers to let their families know they were safe, they now carry people’s wishes, dreams and hopes, skyward.

An annual lantern festival also takes place on the last day of the Lunar New Year but you can set off the lanterns any time of year.

There are many lantern colours and it seems the different hues have different meanings -from hoping for greater wealth and fame and fortune through to marital happiness and everything in between. Although I didn’t see them, there are also animal-shaped lanterns such as cats, monkeys and pandas.

“You can’t just let the lantern go, there’s a ritual to it and a meaning” I’m told. It seems you can even buy digital, electronic, lanterns for virtual prayers! (an environmentally-friendly version :))

For safety reasons, a shop worker lights the lanterns and controls the release – another safety measure is they now use soybean oil instead of kerosene.

To prevent the mountainside from being littered with lanterns, they have a recycling programme and residents can exchange used lanterns at shops for items like toilet paper or detergent.

WHOOPS

On rainy days, visitors can write their prayer on a piece of bamboo, which is hung along a fence in the village.

rainy day prayers

This was my first visit to Taiwan was fantastic and more stories will be written about it soon!

 

 

 

 

Sarawak, Borneo: a land of paradoxes

Borneo – the land of hornbills, head-hunters, orang-utans and ‘where adventure lives’ according to many travel brochures: it could also be called the land of paradoxes.

Lots of cats … Kuching waterfront.

For instance, Kuching, capital of Sarawak, East Malaysia, means cat, but the city was not named after a cat; it has a Sunday market that’s open on Saturday (and other days) and an India Street that has very few Indian shops.

Easy to love, this walkable city has a racial mix of about 23% Malay, 25% Chinese and 49% Dayaks, the collective name for the indigenous tribes, Sarawak epitomises the tourism tagline: Malaysia, truly Asia.

Walking down Bishopgate Street to Carpenter Street I talk to a Chinese man whose family have been ‘special makers of fancy coffins’ for three generations; across the road a man’s making cake tins on the footpath; around the corner Malay women are making their famous Kek Lapis, an intricate, colourful layer cake, and alongside my waterfront accommodation, a heavily, traditionally-tattooed Iban woman, creates delicious vegetarian meals to order.

Sarawak Laksa has local pepper in it!

Like all travellers in this national geographic showpiece, I want to see the endangered orang-utan. Just out of the city, at the Semenggoh Centre, about 70 people attend the twice-daily feeding. Free to range throughout this 300-hectare (740-acre) greenbelt there is no guarantee they will come to the feeding stations. We’re also warned to obey the staff as they have no control over their charges and photos show injured workers as proof!

Sarawak .. music and orang-utans for me next month!

At the feeding station a mother and week-old baby appear: despite being told to keep quiet, it’s hard to ooh and aah quietly! They’re delightful, the mother uses all four limbs interchangeably and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s her feet or hands she’s hanging from. She eats numerous ‘hotel-bananas’ as the little lady-finger bananas are called by locals as ‘all hotels serve them’, and a ripple of muted laughter spreads through the camera-clicking tourists when the baby tries to take one. A radio message comes for the ranger – Richie, the huge dominant male has made one of his rare appearances at the other feeding station and one by one we return down the track to where he is feeding.

He is huge! This ‘man-of-the-jungle’ has large cheek-flaps showing he is the king of this jungle and apparently he has already dispatched one pretender to the throne. A young male also arrives for a hand-out but keeps well away from Richie. As he crosses the rope that allows them to travel high above us, he stops to stare down at us, hanging mid-air like a kid on a school jungle gym. I have to laugh; he looks as though he is showing off to us, his DNA relatives, who are not so agile. Continuing on he shimmies down a vine and rope beside the small bridge we have just crossed and is given fruit. Richie just continues eating, a solid lump of muscle sitting on his man-made wooden picnic table.

Richie

Two young women are warned to come back from the end of the viewing platform ‘until Richie leaves’ – I wouldn’t want to be in his way. He walks upright; with each step, his long hair sways just like a shampoo commercial. He stops and stares, or maybe glares, and I send a message of hope that the heart of Borneo will always be secure for him, and with one more stop and stare he strides off without a backward glance

He knows he’s safe from us physically but most travellers here are well aware of his need of our protection and, despite international concerns, it seems Sarawak is working to secure the orang-utans future, not an easy task.

Like some TV adverts say ‘but wait, there’s more’ in this fabulous area of East Malaysia: add a kayak trip from one Bidayuh village to the next; spend time at an Iban longhouse and of course, eat the delicious local food and explore the many excellent, free, museums. The three-day Rainforest World Music Festival  (10-12 July 2020– set in the Cultural Village at Damai – is a must-attend for great local and international performers. I’ve been a few times and just love it!

Rafly … everyone’s favourite at one Rainforest World Music Festival

 

Mathew – a virtuoso on the sape

Also unique to this 3rd-largest island in the world, Borneo is the Proboscis monkeys. With a long straight pale tail, they leap clumsily from tree to tree and eating young shoots of indigestible foliage which breaks down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up to eat! Other males, lower in rank, have almost human or Pinocchio shaped noses and hang out in male groups until it grows bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and become the head of the harem. They are easy to see at the wonderful Bako National Park.

proboscis monkey – even more endangered than the orangutan!

Borneo conjures up images of exotic adventures, an eccentric history, a White Rajah, wild animals, mystery and romance: my first travels there delivered, and I (the Kiwitravelwriter) soon returned to the land of head-hunters for even more exploring!

Photos from Hong Kong’s protests

It’s 2 weeks since I flew out of Hong Kong.  I’d been travelling for 5 weeks around the region,  (Taiwan, Vietnam, and Cambodia) and, despite all the warnings about getting to the airport really early, there were very few protesters – and they were all in the arrivals area.

So, for me, apart from having to show my travel documents, there were no disruptions.  However, I was frustrated that Air New Zealand, and no doubt other airlines, had encouraged us (by text messages) to check in early – but the check-in counter didn’t open until the normal time!  My plan, and others I spoke to at the airport had been to check-in, get rid of our bags, go through security, and then hang out in the peace and quiet of the gate areas. It was not to be – we had to hang out by the boring check-in counters.

I wrote a little blog about it (see it here) and someone complained that I didn’t talk about the real protests, however, I am a travel writer, not a journalist, and all I do is give a snapshot, an opinion of a moment in time, what I experienced, notices, or observed – and those airport photos showed what it was like for me (quiet) on the morning of  10th August 2019.

There are many reputable sources of informed articles about Hong Kong, China, the protests, the results, and concerns.  My travel blog is not one of them :).

Nevertheless, here a is a small photographic tour of what little I saw of the protests in Hong Kong – apart from the airport one, all were taken on my first day ( of my first ever trip to HK) in Hong Kong ( 7/7/2019)

 

 

 

My blog topics to come

Here are just some of the stories I will be blogging about over the next few months – these are about my recent 5 weeks travelling in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Taiwan, but there will also be other blogs about New Zealand and travel tips too.

are you leaving me again?

In no particular order here are some of my planned blogs:

  • Water puppets in Hanoi
  • Angkor Wat for my 2nd time
  • the Lantern Village
  • my fav noodle stand in  Taipei
  • staying in a mansion that many locals will not go near
  • travel and food
  • what does Visa on arrival really mean?
  • Hong Kong and protests (FIRST ONE – in a day or two – as current)
  • travelling by train
  • a circus in Siam Reap
  • a train is scarily close
  • health issues when travelling
  • postcards and post offices are alive and well in parts of the world
  • money and borders
  • . . .  and many more 🙂

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If you want to follow along on my travels here are your choices if how to.

 

Hong Kong’s airport is quiet despite protest

I’m not sure where the “thugs” some local and Mainland Chinese officials are talking about.

There are certainly not here at the airport today(10th August 2019 11am.

This is the quietest protest I’ve ever seen!

Every now and then I could hear some faint chanting . . . welcoming new arrivals with a message I guess.!

Talking to some locals, it seems many are ensuring they have dual citizenship for possible future needs. What will happen to the country when these young locals leave?

I’m wondering, is there any colonised country in the world that has not had huge issues down the track? If so let us know 😊

Seems we all need to stop grabbing other peoples land!

How do you choose who to follow on social media?

How do you decide who to follow on Instagram or other such media?

When I have someone follow me, and Instagram suggests I follow them back, I have a quick look at their photos and almost instantly make a decision – are these photos I want to see or not?

Pinocchio goes to Thailand (Phuket)

Life is too short to engage with photos that don’t interest me for many reasons.  It may sound judgemental, but it’s nothing to do with the person posting, making a judgement as to how I want to spend my time.  So, here are the photos I do like to see.

Florida well caught
  • Travel photos that show the culture that person is exploring; travel photos that are natural – that is, no filters or colour enhancers – I want to see what your eyes saw – not a camera adjustment!  Selfies, or photos of you, doing yoga or muscle poses, (for example) in exotic places – for me that does not make it a travel photo.  It is self-promotion, and although I’m sure many people love to see them, it’s just not my cup of tea.
  • I don’t follow Instagram pages that have numerous quotes, sayings, homilies, and the stream.  If I see one or 2 that’s fine, but not screeds of them.
  • If they are family photos and I don’t know you, I’m not interested.

What a curmudgeonly old woman I sound, but one of the beauties of life is that you don’t have to, and I don’t have to, follow or please everybody by posting the photos they want to see.  We all take and post the photos we want to post

  • So what photos do you like to see,
  • What ones don’t you want to see
  • Or, do you just follow everybody if they are following you?

It’s not about right or wrong, it’s just about our taste – or lack of taste you might think  🙂

Proboscis monkey -this photo is on my wall. Malaysian Borneo

I’m looking forward to hearing how you choose who to follow or not on Instagram, Facebook, or any other social – let’s face it, each of our opinions is totally valid.  Is that old adage says, one man’s meat is another man’s poison – or your junk is my treasure.

Cycle trip on Phuket. Thailand

What’s your junk? Your treasure?

red pohutukawa & red vase – on the Chatham Islands, NZ