Christchurch is not just another easy place to visit. This city is extraordinary: first, because of its British heritage and second, because of its recent history marked by the earthquake. I found this city fascinating for many reasons. Mainly because my own personal traumatic earthquake experience (yes, I am an earthquake survivor!) but I think it is simply interesting to watch any city re-creating itself. So, if you’re a community enthusiast, ongoing construction fan or natural disaster watcher this is the place for you!
The best way to see this city is by bike. It might be very true for many cities around the world but regarding the earthquake detriment it is even more so here. I rented bike in a very special place called Vintage Peddler where literally old bicycles are available to be rented for couple of hours or days. The owners are charming and they provide helmets and lockers along the bikes rented. What I really appreciated was the fact that bikes were old, the helmet was used and so I could easily melt into the local environment. At least I didn’t look like a tourist from a 10 km distance! And felt a bit like a local.
I was enjoying Christchurch and my bike for five days in a row. I could easily go to a Botanic Garden or public park in a minute! What is really nice about this renting place is that each bike has its own name and history. I was riding Blue Monday Bike so if one day you’ll visit Christchurch and will ride the same bike please let me know! We could become bike mates.
See it from the distance
Christchurch is flat. As flat as you can imagine. No hills whatsoever. What is beautiful about it it’s the location (Location, location, location!). Although the city is totally flat it is surrounded with a mountain range and with Pacific Ocean. To fully appreciate its location you need to see it from the distance. So, riding my blue vintage bicycle I went about 12km one way to enjoy a ride on Gondola. This was a sunny day so the first thing I did was that I burnt my skin. I used a sunscreen but apparently the UV filter was too low (lousy European one!) so in the afternoon my hands were burning badly.
But before I realized that I enjoyed amazing panorama of the city and surrounding. The whole Gondola ride is really nice and the function centre at the top is impressive. It’s not only the views over Christchurch, Lyttelton, Southern Alps and the Ocean: it’s a very nice interior design. My favorite part were posters with Maori myths of the Sun and the Earth birth and explanation of “How to find south” using the Southern Cross in the night. I find it most astonishing that being in the Southern Hemisphere means that the sky changes. I mean, if you think about it, that’s awesome. Sky and earth are something I (we?) take for granted. They never change. They are stable and persistent. And here we are: you go out from caravan at night, you look at the stars and all is different! And in this particular case of Christchurch the earth is not as stable as usually considered. So many astonishing things in one moment!
Gondola ride was a fabulous start of my holiday: sitting in comfortable armchair, drinking coffee and watching all of these wonders!
OK, so here I am: I have a bike rented for five days and skin burnt after one day of riding it. Where should I go? International Antarctic Centre, where else? Riding a bike to the Antarctic Centre was weird. I mean, it is 12km from the city centre and there is no bicycle road at the very last part of it, but who cares? My question at the desk about the bike parking was confusing to the staff but- lucky me!- there were some places to lock my vintage bike.
You might wonder why international antarctic center is located here, in Christchurch. Well, New Zealand is one of the closest countries to the South Pole (second to the southern shore of South America) so many antarctic expeditions are organized from the airport here.
There are four things to see here: penguins, 4D movie, antarctic storm and hagglund ride. Starting with penguins I went to see the feeding ceremony, just like all other visitors. It is nicely organized as you can see it from 3 different angles, including underwater through the glass wall. All penguins are blue penguins and almost all of them are here to recover from all kind of mishaps. Some of them are limping, others have no wings or can’t swallow any food by themselves. The feeding involves caretakers and their individual help to each penguin. Penguins are cute. And very small, these little fellows. New Zealand is their natural habitat so their home here is in open air.
4D movie brings you to a short cruise in Antarctic Sea, including special effects of splashing water and shaking your armchair when a ship crushes iceberg. It is nice to see the penguins and the blue ice so close but I wouldn’t call it “extreme” at any measure. What really amazed me was an anorak worn in Antarctica by the researchers. I put such anorak on and this was the only cloth that warmed me spontaneously in my life! Two minutes I tried it on I was warm! This was extreme, I would say.
The antarctic storm was somehow less impressive. They give you an anorak and put you in a large fridge and then they turn the wind on. It’s -8 degrees inside and with the wind the temperature drops down to -18 C. But hey, what’s the fuss? It might be impressive to someone who lives in a tropical climate but not for me. I’m from the north and here when it’s -25 and it is windy (which gives you feeling of -30C) we still go to school. So the storm was a bit disappointing.
Last thing I did was a ride in hagglund. Hagglund is an antarctic vehicle used there to cross considerable distances for the research purposes. The ride was cool mainly because it is authentic and it simulates the conditions scientists experience riding across the ice and over mounds, up and down hills, across crevasses and through water. It is hard to imagine how tiny it is inside and how shaking the ride is!
Thanks to my participation in “Explore New Zealand” programme both attractions: the Gondola and Antarctic Centre, were free of charge.