Mountains and Hills, Buses and Trains – Part 2

I’m not sure why nobody touts the bus trip from Christchurch to Queenstown as a scenic trip. Maybe because it’s eight hours, interrupted only briefly by comfort stops? Eight hours of paralleling and then going through gorgeous mountain scenery. The trip may even be more scenic than the Tranzalpine! With good weather conditions, you can even see Mt Cook. Sadly, it hid behind a cloud as we circled a lake (I think Lake Pukaki), but we still saw some other beautiful mountains around the lake.

We started out on the Canterbury Plains:

And then headed inland:

We drove into bad weather, which turned into a downpour around Lake Tekapo but then headed away from us. We could still see the lake’s remarkable color.

We continued on through mountains. Mount Cook is hiding behind the white clouds on the right I believe:


But the scenery between Lake Pukaki and Queenstown was still sublime.



Walking through Christchurch

Tuesday was my day to spend exploring Christchurch.

I briefly ducked into the Canterbury Museum but didn’t have much time before meeting my new friend (D) from Sunday’s bus ride, so I don’t really have much of an impression of it.

I met D and she proceeded to show me some of the notable spots and street art in the city center, and put in context some of what was there before the earthquakes. It was a wonderful opportunity to appreciate the city. Tourists and travellers often make quick judgements as they pass through a place, and unfortunately a snap judgement about Christchurch would likely be one of dismay that there is so much rebuilding to do. And that is a fair assessment. Christchurch in five or ten years will be a different place from what it is now, and is no doubt a different place now than it was. However, there are definitely still things to see, and there is a vibrant if still recovering city.

I mentioned a few days ago that it’s interesting to see the interim art and installations around the city. One temporary building that is on every tourist list is the Cardboard Cathedral, an interim structure built with what looks like huge hollow cardboard dowels as part of the support. The interior is rather Scandinavian modern, and it’s overall a light-filled, peaceful place. Lovely in its own right, yet very different from their old Cathedral, which five years on remains open to birds and the elements as they still have not decided what to do with it. The city and many residents want it restored, but apparently the church wants a new cathedral and so didn’t allow it to be protected from the elements. In the meanwhile, it remains in limbo, and seems like a painful reminder to citizens of Christchurch.


As I mentioned, there is a fair amount of street art and pop-up installations. D showed me a bar in a bus, that started in the aftermath of the quake and is still going strong. Other pop-ups are moving into more permanent structures (for example, some of the shops in re: START) or, in the case of street art, are getting covered up by new construction. It’s a rapidly evolving city, it seems, though it does have a long way to go to rebuild.

One installation is a set of white painted chairs, one for each person who lost their life in the quake. There are baby carriers and wheelchairs as well. I’m not ashamed to say that I cried, especially after reading the message in the visitor book left by a couple of kids.

Christchurch is still a city of gardens. After my friend left, I spent some time in the lovely Botanic Gardens. They may be my favorite amongst all the botanical gardens I have visited thus far.

I then walked around some of the areas I had visited earlier and managed to go in circles because of construction closing sidewalks. Oh well.

The Long and Winding Road to Christchurch

On Sunday, I took the Intercity bus from Picton to Christchurch.


Leaving Picton on a rainy morning

It was another pretty journey, with the area around Kaikoura passing a seal colony that spread over a few miles of coastline. You could see the seals on the rocks by the sea, but also up on the grass above the beach, right next to the road! It was delightful!

Some of the beaches we passed had what looked like grey sand (a similar color to gravel) and I’m wondering whether they are examples of the black sand beaches they have in New Zealand.


A nice lady sat next to me between Kaikoura and Christchurch and we chatted for much of that leg of the trip. When I asked her what she would suggest I do on Tuesday when exploring the city, she offered to show me around!

I arrived at my B&B mid-afternoon, walking from the bus station via a hip little shopping center where the stores are located in shipping containers, called re:start. This is part of Christchurch’s interim renewal plan after the earthquakes.


I took a couple of hours walk in the evening. Rebuilding is everywhere, with street art and city urban art sprinkled around. I hadn’t realized how much construction was still going on, five years after the earthquakes. Literally every other block had either a construction site or an empty lot or, occasionally, a building propped up with external supports, especially in the City Center area.  You are continually changing what side of the street you walk on because of the construction. It was rather sobering. I can’t wait to the city on Tuesday with a Christchurch resident. The city inspires great loyalty – people keep telling me how special it is – but with the construction right now it takes a little more digging to find that charm. Even in a quick walk, though, the charm of the new – and old -Christchurch is becoming evident. I get the impression the new is a little quirkier than the old.

When I went out for dinner, I discussed the construction a bit with the waitress (along with the fact that I’m still not used to restaurants with table service in New Zealand expecting you to go up to the register when you’re ready for your bill). She said that the major difference between now and a few years ago is that instead of tearing down damaged buildings, they are now putting new buildings up. Much more hopeful, but I am still aghast and saddened by all the destruction I see, especially in the areas where they have before and after photos, like Cathedral Square.