The SOUTH ISLAND 1- Christchurch, Akaroa, Arthur’s Pass, Hokitika

If you read my previous blog posts, you know that I had  made my way to the South Island for a trip to Nelson to specifically tour the WOW Museum (with a short foray into the fabulous Abel Tasman National Park) before returning to Blenheim, smack in the middle the delicious Marlborough wine region, for a house and puppy sit. 
I was booked to fly into Christchurch on December 5th where I would spend several days exploring, including a day trip to the French settlement of Akaroa, before taking Kiwi Rail’s Trans Alpine to Greymouth and then on to Hokitika. I’d return over Arthur’s Pass via van to Christchurch and then via KiwiRail’s Coastal Explorer back to Picton where I would catch the ferry back to Wellington.  
This all became discombobulated when the 7.9 earthquake of November 14, 2016 hit.  The epicenter was the town of Kaikora, which shook-up, broke-up and disrupted my and so many other’s travel plans.  Below are just some of the photos I found on the web showing the damage.
You can see the train tracks that parallel the coastal highway coming out of the tunnel and just running into the sea- the mud and rocks have literally filled in the ocean at this point.

Highways are no match for an earthquake

This photo of the 3 cows stranded when the pasture around them has just collapsed went viral all over the world. FYI, they were rescued by the military.
So my trip went forward, but with a few changes.  First, if you look at the map above you will see that Kaikoura is north of Christchurch.  The force of this 7.9 earthquake made a mess of Kaikoura, closed the ferry docks in Picton, went across the bay north into Wellington and out into the ocean.  Christchurch, which had suffered so much damage and lost so many lives in the earthquake of February 22, 2011, only had minor shakes.  So on December 5th, I flew into Christchurch (and will fly out of Christchurch) for further exploration of the upper part of the South Island.  
Air New Zealand has this great site called Grab-a-Seat.  You receive daily, extremely cheap flights in your inbox for destinations all over New Zealand.  I managed to get a RT fare from Wellington to Christchurch for a total of $74 NZ, or $52.84US.  What’s weird about the Christchurch airport is that it is literally in the middle of a cow pasture.  It’s a good 45-minute shuttle ride from the cows into the city. 
I arrived on a beautiful, sunny day and found my AirBnB with little problem, just a bit more of a walk that I had expected. My hostess Kaye pulled out a nice bottle of wine and we got acquainted while she filled me in on sites I needed to see while in Christchurch.  
My first full day my first stop was the iSite where I signed up for a ride up the gondola to see the breathtaking view of Christchurch, across the Canterbury Plains to the mighty Southern Alps, the hills of Banks Peninsula and the teal blue of Lyttelton Harbour spread out below.
After grabbing a quick bite in the cafe at the top, it was back to Christchurch to take the free walking tour of the CBD (Central Business District – no one in New Zealand says ‘downtown’!) 
What can I say about Christchurch?  If found it extremely sad.  They are trying so hard to rebuild but it’s been almost 7 years now since ‘the big one hit’ and though there is banging and pounding and cranes everywhere, the downtown area, which was almost totally gutted by the earthquake, remains strangely empty.  
The main reason is that no one can come to a decision about what to do about the Cathedral which was the anchor and main site to see right in the middle of the city.  I’ve read it’s the church not having the money for repairs (ha! – no one believes that). I’ve heard it’s the government that can’t decide on a plan. (that one I can believe). It’s really just the decision of whether to teardown what is left standing and replace it with a brand new Cathedral or try and repair the old.  As you can see from the photos, it’s a massive eyesore that takes up acres of land.  It’s fenced off as the rest may tumble down any moment and with constant earthquakes, well….


They have constructed a Cardboard Cathedral just a few blocks away which is certainly different but doesn’t quite fill the emptiness left by the beautiful, old Anglican Cathedral.  
The city still has some beautiful spaces.  The Avon River runs directly through the middle of Christchurch and the park area that encompasses both sides of the river is almost as large and very reminiscent of Central Park in New York City. There is artwork and play areas and fountains and bandshells, running and bike paths and lots and lots of flowers throughout the park.  
There are two really great museums that I made time to visit,  The Canterbury Museum of Art and CoCA – the Center for Contemporary Art.
Quite a difference in style – and substance, as you can see.  You can barely make out at the top of the roof on the left-hand side of the CoCa the strange piece of art pointing you into the museum – 
I thoroughly enjoyed wandering through both – seeing the Air New Zealand exhibition was a hoot – especially the changes in the uniforms over the years. But what really made me smile was they had picked up and moved the entire cottage of Fred & Myrtle Fluty of Bluff, NZ (far, far south coast) and put the entire thing it in the museum.  
You see Fred love to collect and polish paua shells and Myrtle liked to display these beautiful shells. After haning the first one on their wall, over 1000 followed – along with lots of people from all over the world wanting to see this amazing little home.  My photo doesn’t do it justice to this space – but it sure was fun and many friends and family members will be getting a NZ paua shell for a gift when I return home.
Christchurch has tried to brighten is walls with interesting street art – hoping people don’t realize you are only seeing the wall – and not the building it used to be part of.

          Love the penquins – this was all one big mural beside a parking lot,

Because the stores in the CBD all had to be torn down because they were unsafe, the downtown now has its entire shopping district housed in ‘shipping containers!’  I kid you not!  Even the big department stores are made up of multiple, multi-level metal shipping containers.  As the renovations and building of new stores continue, the containers will be replaced by an actual building, but for now – it’s very funky and a little weird.
Lastly – my favorite piece of art that graces the center of town, in the middle of Cathedral Square is a beautiful chalice-like metal piece that symbolizes hope – which this city certainly can use.  
On my last day in the Christchurch area I signed up to take a one-day tour to Akaroa.  Akaroa is located on the tip of  Banks Peninsula is the only area in New Zealand that was settled in 1840 French whalers .  The British got a wee bit upset about this and a small flail insued.  Needless to say, the British won but a lot of the French influence remained.  
I was told by a good friend who had visited Akaroa 10 years ago to be sure and put it on my ‘must-see’ list of places to visit.  The van ride out of Christchurch and up, over and round the area was lovely.

We made one photo-op stop as we looked down on the breathtaking vista overlooking the sheltered harbour that drew settlers to Akaroa in the first place.

Because the docks near Christchurch have yet to be repaired, the large cruise ships now stop in Akaroa. I was thrilled that I was there on a day they were not, but also found that most of the French culture and history had been washed away by commercialism and cuteness.  A lot of stores and restaurants weren’t even open because ‘it wasn’t a cruise day.’  There was an opportunity to ‘swim with dolphins’ and cruise around the harbor but I chose to wander, take a few photos and soon found Akaroa small and quickly wandered.  I was quite happy to find a nice, quite bar on the waterfront where I could take a long time to sip my beer while reading my latest Kindle book.


 After returning to Christchurch I had the pleasure of having dinner with my AirBnB hostess before my very early morning shuttle to the train station.  I was booked on the Trans Alpine Express to Greymouth and then on to Hokitika.  I love train rides and KiwiRail offers some of the best.  Their service is spectacular, the trains are immaculately clean, the cost is reasonable and the food is even good!

Unfortunately, it was a really crappy day!  Rain, wind and fog do not make for good photo-taking from an open-air car. But when not trying to get a few photos to share, I could sit back in my comfy seat, put on the provided earphones and listen to the history of the area we were passing through and the stories of the people that inhabited and built this railroad through the soring mountains.

 Heading out from Christchurch with the first view of the mountains we would be crossing – OMG!  There is snow on them there peaks.

We crossed over many deep gorges with freezing glacier water thundering below.

The lupins were in bloom and intermixed with the trackside gorse for a very colorful display. 

I arrived in Greymouth, the jumping off point for destinations north, like Nelson and Abel Tasman National Park, and south to the Franz Josef Glacier and where I was headed, the home of the greenstone – Hokitika.  My bus was waiting for those getting off the train and within an hour I was in….

A Hokitika sign is always on the beach made from driftwood which is all over the place

Greenstone, or as we know it as jade, was first found in the rivers and streams that pour down from the mountains near Hokitika.  The Maori used this hard stone to create weapons and jewelry carved in intricate design to adorn and protect their body.  Each symbol has a specific meaning.

But before I went in search for my own piece of greenstone, I was met by Bob, the owner of the ACE Accommodation where I was staying during my time in Hokitika. 
Looking down at the beautiful garden

Bob picked me up at the bus station, gave me a tour of Hokitika (in the pouring rain), got me installed me in my upstairs corner room, telling me not to miss the morning view from the balcony if the rain stopped, recommended the restaurant where I should have dinner, then drove me back into town for dinner while suggestingI not miss the opportunity to see ‘Hunt for the Wilderpeople’, the much loved New Zealand-made-film about New Zealand that was playing across the street from the restaurant – and he would come pick me up when it was finished!  (I’ve linked the trailer on YouTube – if you can rent this movie, do so because it’s hysterical.)

The dinner was delicious and as I said, the movie was hysterical but I can’t not show you photos of the actual theater.  I watched it with a couple visiting from Wellington who had seen it 5 times.  I sat across from them on the comfy couch with pillows for my back and a nice foot rest for my feet.  We were the only ones in the ‘theater!’  You can see the big red curtain on the left that the woman who was selling tickets and making popcorn pulled closed in lieu of a door.  It took me a long time to stop laughing.
And yes, Bob picked me up and before taking me back to the B&B, he took me to see the location of the local Glow Worms.  I will go into detail about these NZ creatures in a later posting.  
So I wake up the next morning and the rain and fog has disappeared, the skies are bright blue.  I step out on the balcony and see……this!
The snowed-covered Southern Alps with Mt. Cook towering above
                       Love my telephoto lense – Mt. Cook up close!
It’s a beautiful day to go in search of my very own piece of greenstone.  I walk into downtown Hokitika and see that there are only 3 main streets – one that runs from the highway, through the middle of town (with the clock tower in the center of the round-about) and ends at the beach and two cross-streets.  Each of the 3 is approximately 3 blocks long and each is filled with greenstone shops!  
Jade/Greenstone in a shop window

Hokitika started as a whaling port with the boom-time being 1867 when up to 40 vessels would be bunched at the docks, sometimes 2-3 deep unloading their cargo.  The area grew and became a prosperous town.  In 1908 Andrew Carnegie built one of his 18 New Zealand libraries in Hokitika which today is the local history museum. (Except it’s closed due to earthquake damage.)

I spent all morning and most of the afternoon wandering in and out of every shop in town, learning what each of the carvings meant and what tribe of Maori had designed them.  I imagine I saw over 1000 pieces during just this one day – not kidding – and I was going crazy.  I was really was starting to think I didn’t need a piece of greenstone – And then I walked into The Wilderness Gallery.
Owner and photographer Juergen Schacke greeted me and we started talking, and talking, and talking.  For over an hour we talked art, photography, shared our life stories, discussed fine craft, greenstone and then my eye landed on a piece in a cabinet that said ‘take me with you!’  I sometimes listen to voices in my head – and sometimes I ignore them  – especially if they are going to cost me lots of money!  After trying the piece on and touching it and admiring it in the mirror, I told Juergen I really had to think about it and went off for a much-needed caffeine-infusion.  
So I thought and thought and realized I really, really loved this piece – much more than any piece of greenstone I had seen, so back I went, credit card in hand. I had known that Juergen had a meeting to go to and I was greeted by his beautiful wife – who had heard all about me. She had the piece I wanted set aside but as we got to chatting, she asked if I had had time to see the Hokitika Gorge? I informed her I was busing, no car, and this lovely woman said I really needed to see this stunning place and volunteered to come, with their young daughter, pick me up the next morning, and drive me to the Gorge as the color of the water in the Gorge was not to be missed.  How amazing is that?  
So I paid for my beautiful piece of jewelry and the next morning, before I had to catch my bus back to Greymouth for my return trip over Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch, I was taken by these two lovely ladies to see the teal blue glacial waters of Hokitika Gorge.  
Oh, you are wondering just what I bought instead of greenstone?  It’s a piece by artist Yannis Petzold of Raglan, NZ.  He learned his carving skills from his father and combines antique ebony piano keys with silver, brass, paua shell and mother-of-pearl to make one-of-a-kind pieces of stunning jewelry.  He also hand-weaves the leather ‘chains’ that hold the piece.  It may not be greenstone, but it’s me!
My return trip to Christchurch went smoothly.  I even got to ride in the front seat of the mini-van next to the driver.  It was a gloriously beautiful day and though there weren’t  any photo stops along the way, I did manage to grab just one picture of the always beautiful New Zealand landscape.
Until next time and more from The South Island…..

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