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Christchurch; Akaroa; Boomerangs; A Beamer Biker; An Auckland Farewell Dinner; Back Home; “Ty, Don’t Be a Blockhead!”

Christchurch, our penultimate stop in New Zealand, is the country’s third largest city with 381,000 residents. It is often referred to as ChCh here. It was struck by terrible earthquakes in 2010, 2011 and 2012 which severely damaged buildings throughout the city and killed 185 people (all in the 2011 quake). The city is still rebuilding, and historic landmarks like the cathedral are still fenced off and awaiting reconstruction. We learned some of the personal history of these events when Suzanne wanted to visit a craft fair. I was wandering around and met a local artist, Dennie (Denise) McCulloch. A youthful and spry 90 years old, she has an infectious joie de vivre and an impish sparkle in her eyes.

Dennie lived on the hill above downtown ChCh, and on the afternoon of 22 February, 2011, had just left her house to check the post (mail) when the quake hit – her house collapsed within 9 seconds. She would have died sitting at her piano, but fortunately is here to continue painting watercolors and meeting people. I am proud to have on my desk one of Dennie’s watercolors, this one of the town of Akaroa, to remind me of her indomitable spirit. 

This was ChCh Cathedral before the quake; today, the heavily damaged structure is surrounded by a tall, ugly wooden barricade to keep people from getting hurt if another tremor hits and it collapses.

Akaroa (pop. 567) was one of our last stops of the trip; it is a town on the Banks Peninsula east of Christchurch, and is a popular tourist destination. It can host as many as 15,000 visitors on a summer weekend, but was much less crowded during our visit. While walking around the waterfront, we met a young Scots guy named Hardie throwing a boomerang. We mentioned that he was really good, and he said, “I should be; I’ve been throwing these things for 20 years!” Surprisingly, most of his throws actually returned close enough for him to catch. 

Akaroa was originally intended to be settled by French immigrants, but when they arrived, they found that the British had gotten wind of their voyage and sent a ship to claim the area for themselves. But several original French cottages survive, many businesses fly tricolor flags, and menus include items like pate de fois gras and coq au vin, rather than Scottish haggis or English fish and chips. This church, originally Roman Catholic, is now Anglican. (Anyone remember Henry VIII?).

While on this day trip, we took our last N.Z. hike, up rugged Montgomery Peak. The trail began with a deceptively gentle grade with some amazing trees to admire, like this twisted tree which a visiting tree-hugger has latched onto. (Notice that she is neither sweating nor even glistening.)

In a quarter-mile or so, the trail steepened dramatically…

The view from the top, though, was worth every steep step. Oddly, even though this was a Saturday afternoon, we met not a single soul during our two and a half hour trek.

While I tried to catch my wind and stop sweating, Suzanne took a few moments to meditate.

The drive back to ChCH was typical: slow progress on narrow, windy roads. This is great motorcycle country, and we did meet one couple, Pete and Kristin from Dunedin, who travel extensively on Pete’s big Beamer. They even bike around Australia, up into the bush on barely improved dirt and gravel roads. Like many Kiwis, Pete is a very friendly guy. I was admiring his ride when he asked if I was enjoying En Zed. Back home, admiring some dude’s hog outside a biker bar might get you stomped… Actually, we met also two N.Z. Harley riders in Arthur’s Pass; they were just pulling up to a bar/cafe, and I mentioned that back in the US, Harleys couldn’t ever make it past a bar without stopping. I think they were amused…  

Have I mentioned that the roads here are different? None are very straight for more than 1 km. This keeps the speed down to a reasonable 62 mph in the straights and 30 mph in the corners, but since corners outnumber straights 25:1, progress across country can be somewhat slow. I have previously mentioned the one-lane bridges, one of which is shared with a train track, which must be “interesting” when you’re coming back from the pub. It doesn’t help when they drive on the wrong side of the road and give you a rental car with bass-ackward controls. My Lovely Bride was often laughing at me when I pulled out to pass someone and flicked the wipers on instead of the turn signal. “Hey, at least we have a very clean windscreen!” We arrived safely back in the city for a final dinner before turning in the car. MLB dressed up for the occasion, so I had to take her someplace nice. The restaurant at the Curator’s Cottage in the city’s Botanical Gardens had a fabulous tapas style menu, but we opted for the lamb shank and a delicious local grouper. 

We flew to Auckland the next day, and had dinner with our dear friend Sheree before departing for Oz and the USA early the following morning. We warned her about all the visitors she might be seeing after our praises of her native land get around our group of friends and acquaintances, and she hopes that you all come down. It had been a fabulous, once-in-a-lifetime vacation to one of the world’s most scenic places, and meeting so many friendly New Zealanders made the trip extra special. I think I made a few brownie points with My Lovely Bride for planning and executing this adventure.

After 27 hours and three flights, we made it back to Orlando International. To save on 22 days parking fees, we had engaged a local driver’s service (Jerry Schwartz of The Villages) to drop us off and pick us up at MCO. Jerry was super, and we recommend him highly. It’s great to be back at home with our babies, Rudy and Gretchen. We are still recovering from jet lag, and my good judgment may be suffering a bit. One example: I was on the computer and MLB walked over and said, “Ty, what’s that Avatar with the cute blond chick on your screen? Are you chatting?” “Love of My Life, I was simply getting some advice on some nice wine from Brandi, this helpful young lady on a wine web site. Do you think we can find space in a cabinet for 20 cases of some great 2013 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon?” “Ty, don’t be a blockhead. You’re at least twice her age; she’s not going to meet you for a drink; it’s highly unlikely she looks anything like that picture; and more than likely ‘Brandi’ is really some bearded 325 lb. guy named Bubba working out of a garage in Oshkosh.” Smack!  Well, there go my brownie points… Sigh…

1 Comment

  • Anonymous
    Posted February 2, 2016 at 11:28 am

    Actually admiring a Harley doesn't get you stomped. Now sitting on it uninvited will. If your sitting on it you must be trying to steal it.
    Dale (Harley owner)


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