Christchurch, New Zealand: It’s Not The Toyota Lexcen, And His Name Ain’t Steffen, But It’ll Do

My brief stay in Christchurch was enjoyable, yet I knew something was missing. I started the first day with a quick jog around the neighborhood. The surrounding area was highly residential and unspectacular. The city was divided into your average grid, with the exception of a diamond-shaped courtyard in the center called Cathedral Square. Cath Square (OK, I don’t know if that’s what they call it, but after Melbourne’s Fed Square, I can’t be asked to pronounce the whole thing each time) is home to some kind of really old cathedral, hence the name. Granted, it had been a while since I made the historical monument and museum tours, but this thing just really didn’t excite me. I was keen on visiting the Botanic Gardens, the cultural museum and the art museum.

View from the road leading to the Botanic Gardens, with Cathedral Square in the distance

The Canterbury Museum borders the Botanic Gardens and is delightfully free. I was prepared for a great onslaught of Maori history and culture, but was given only a brief history of Christchurch, a few canoes and recreated huts and a description of a geological survey of the area. I was greatly disappointed. Even the smallest Australian towns were chock-ful of Aboriginal history, both past and present. I would later come up with the following explanation: the Aussies had more to atone for. The Maoris and European New Zealanders have a monumentally better relationship with each other than the Aussies-Aborigines. They are well represented in government, and all official signs must be in both Maori and English. There is even considerable Maori-language-only television programming.

Apart from the first morning in Chch, every other day was pretty overcast with mild drizzling. Although a bummer, it made the Botanic Gardens look fantastic. The gardens were quite large with a well-covered canopy.

The walk around the grounds was refreshing and breathtaking at times. I headed for the rose garden and was treated to a display of hundreds of different gorgeous rose varieties.

It made Sydney’s rose garden look weak. Walking back, I spied what looked like a UFO sitting beyond a row of trees. And yes, it was actually a UFO. There weren’t any signs explaining the object or why it was there, and no one else seemed to be as bothered by it. I like to think that budget cuts by the alien government forced cutbacks in the stealth technology sector, or maybe the gardens are that good that they would travel all that way for them.

The art museum was entertaining as well, showcasing a range of contemporary as well as classic art.

After All, I’m Supposed To Be Traveling, Right?
Don’t get me wrong, Christchurch is a fine city, but after wandering the hostel notice boards and not seeing many jobs available, I was getting tired of just sitting around, finding things to do. On most of those boards were advertisements of people going to different parts of the South Island, which made me reminisce about my the road trips with Steffen. I decided to get into it and find someone who would drive me around the island.

At the same time, I was also looking for cheaper accomodation. Around the corner from Stonehurst was Charlie B’s Backpackers, which offered a $19 dorm room. I realized later that it was a cordoned-off area of a large super-dorm. Kinda like The Church, but divided into cubicle-like sets of 4 bunk beds, about 30 in total. It smelled like mud, sweat and beers, but hey, it was cheap.

On the notice board of Charlie B’s was an offer from someone named Timo who was looking for people with whom to travel the west coast, especially Mt. Cook, a popular hiking destination. We texted back and forth and agreed to meet at the hostel to talk about the trip. When he arrived, we chatted about what we expected: he needed to head back to the North Island soon to meet his girlfriend, but wanted to drive up the west coast to the ferry point in Nelson. I mainly wanted to check out some good hiking spots and maybe look for jobs in a more entertaining place, like Queenstown, the party and adventure sport capital of New Zealand. Timo was an outdoor activities guide back home in Germany and spent some time in New Zealand doing similar sort of volunteer work. He was looking for a similar paid position and was also doing photography work. He showed me some of his pictures from travels in Australia and New Zealand and I gave him laptop advice. We agreed to set off the following morning. He had found another person to join us, an Argentinian.

We met the next morning at the hostel and packed my stuff into Timo’s van. He had a standard campervan with a bed in the back. Since I took the shotgun seat, the Argentinian would have to sit on the bed in the back. We picked Carlos up from his hostel and set out. Timo asked me if I was good at reading maps. Good? Ha! I navigated Sheila around Australia for two months without once getting lost, this would be a piece of cake.

Check out all the Christchurch pics here. Stay tuned for the road trip to end all road trips – at least for the next 8 months – and how two hitchhikers would change my life.

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