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Touring New Zealand 2016 - part 8

Tuesday 23 February

Part 7 described the journey to Lyttleton which was en route to our destination on the Banks Peninsula. There are two possible routes onwards : the first was to return through the tunnel and then travel along the main road whereas the more interesting alternative was to take the scenic coast road, passing above the Torpedo Boat Museum and then through Governors Bay to Teddington before crossing Gebbies Pass to join the main road. It is almost 20kms shorter but much slower and the views are excellent. We have also continued past Teddington to reach Diamond Harbour where the sealed road ends.

The Banks Peninsula is a very self contained area with a rugged coastline to the south-east of Christchurch. It has a lot of associated history and was originally a French colony, having been purchased by a whaling captain in 1838. The French had sent a couple of ships intending to raise the flag there and claim the whole of South Island for France but were delayed by repairs after a storm and after the French sailors were indiscreet the repairs went slow and there was time for a British frigate to get there a couple of days ahead and raise the union Jack in 1840 shortly just before the French settlers arrived – despite considerable disappointment they decided to continue their plans for the settlement. The permanent population is only 550 but there are many holiday homes. In the past there was a train service as far as Little River Camp, and it is still a useful place for coffee and the camping ground and with its eclectic collection of old huts, a communal tepee, native habitat and even mud slides. Now there is a new accommodation option at the silo-hotel which is also a place for renting bicycles.

The road down the Peninsula to Akaroa is winding and has lovely views - one needs to allow a good hour and a half for the 80 kms, even without photo stops or a stop at Barry's Bay cheese factory where we have stocked up in the past - this time we had plenty from Karikaas already so we just looked as it is quite expensive although very good. We did not stay in Akaroa itself but stopped 10 km short at the Duvauchelle Holiday Park which has fabulous views across the harbour and some excellent cabins - last time we had one which had started life as the changing rooms for the adjacent tennis court so we had a toilet but no shower and basic cooking facilities. It caught the evening sun on the front and in the morning we could move to a sun trap in front of the tennis courts. This time it was already booked for one of the days we were staying so rather than keep moving we had a basic cabin with fridge freezer which had excellent views which had the evening sun straight onto the patio.

There was just time for the short drive into Akaroa to purchase some local smoked salmon from La Boucherie du Village - it is farmed in the sea but has a richer red colour than we have seen previously. The store often has an impressive collection of French and European foods including pheasant but at $69 each we decided to pass and keep to the local specialties instead and also bought some Akaroa lamb as a vac packed butterfly cut for the BBQ. It gave Pauline the chance to practice her french with the butcher.

Wednesday 24 February

The next day we decided to take the high road round the Banks Peninsula looking down on Akaroa harbour from all sides of the old crater walls before descending to Akaroa itself. The scenic drives are the highlight with the many side roads to small ports to explore. It takes a almost a full day to do do justice to the round trip. The views all the way round are excellent and we stopped many times and did all the side trips down to the major East coast bays namely Pigeon Bay with its wharf and the start of the Pigeon Bay Walk which takes 5 hours return along the side of the bay to visit the point, then Little Akaloa and across then on the back road to Okains bay where there is yellow sands and rocks covered in Mussels - we picked enough for a starter. There is a tourist trip which visits the eastern bays using a mail run so the post is delivered at the same time as making money using the seats in the bright red postal van. The van was parked at Little Akoloa which seemed to be the prefered stop for a sandwich and drink; we then saw it again at Okains Bay outside the general store where there were scoop icecreams. Our final stop was down to Le Bons Bay, which again had yellow sands. We nearly got out our chairs but it was getting a bit windy by then. We were then only 3kms from Akaroa so spent the afternoon there.

Akaroa itself has a small but interesting museum covering the French background and also Whaling, the original activity in the area. Many of the exhibits are in store at present but although old their video shown in the old courthouse gave a good introduction to the area. Other than the museum we found the French influence disappointing little in evidence. Akaroa is the departure point for a number of Dolphin watching and Whale watching trips which need to be booked well in advance. In 2013 when we visited Akaroa on the Queen Mary 2 we had enjoyed a sailing cruise on a vintage yacht, the 47ft classic A-Class keeler Manutara. The hull was one of many designed in 1946 by Jock Muir, from Tasmania. This example was built by Salthouse and Logan in Auckland in 1962, and is a mixture of Australian hardwood, Kauri and Teak. The yacht was moored at the wharf where the owner was busy doing minor repairs to his sail. He was happyto chat and we discussed possibilities for sailing the following day. Suddenly he noticed dark shadows under the jetty and pointed out a group of very large eagle rays who live in the bay and we suppose the jetty gives them shade in the heat of the day. It was very warm.

Our cabin is one of a pair and a group of scientists from the University of Canterbury arrived with their boat, Rataki, having spent the day on the water. There was the gentle strumming of a guitar in the distance and when they returned from dinner they continued during the evening. We enjoyed their improvised music while eating our BBQ lamb and comparing two of our Trophy Pinot Noirs.

Thursday 25 February

Today the Cunard Queen Victoria was scheduled to anchor in Akaroa harbour and the steady procession of tour buses past Duvauchelle began at 0800. We had been told that there might be 35 buses because there was also a Princess cruise ship in the bay and one of the popular tour options is to take the bus to Christchurch for the day. Akaroa is a tender port so the delivery of tourists is constrained and it was not busy when we parked by the cricket pitch. We had hoped to meet with a friend who is an officer on board but when we reached the security people at the tenders we were told he was not there on this part of the world cruise. There was going to be a change of staff at Sydney, the following week.

We walked round the old town which still has a French influence. Jewellery made of the unusual and expensive Blue Pearl is sold at the wharf and there are many craft shops and souvenir shops, as well as pavement cafés and fish-and-chip shops. The two craft markets were both busy as they always set up when there is a cruise ship in port and to have two ships simultaneously was a special opportunity to sell local arts and crafts. The cafes and restaurants were also doing well and we directed many people from the wharf along the shore to the supermarket and main shops. Local seafood, fish, cheeses, beers and wines are delicious. Although very close to Christchurch, which is just over the hill, there had been little structural damage from the earthquakes although some of the public and historic buildings were still closed, awaiting structural checks. The Coronation Library has however reopened and we have spent some time in there talking to the curator.

Akaroa Lighthouse: A highlight in Akaroa is to the Lighthouse. This imposing, six-sided, wooden lighthouse is one of the last of the "standard" design of wooden lighthouses particular to New Zealand.The lighthouse was first built on a rugged headland at the entrance to Akaroa Harbour, more than 80 metres above sea level. The site was chosen in 1875 and the lighthouse built in 1878-79, to a design that was developed by an engineer, John Blackett, for New Zealand conditions. The materials were brought in by ship to a landing in Haylocks Bay, near the site, and hauled up a specially built road to the top of the headland. A road from Haylocks Bay was constructed first to allow building supplies into site. The road, 500 metre long was dynamited out of solid rock for nearly its entire length and took 10 months to complete. The lighthouse frame was kauri with a double skin, the bottom half of which was filled with ballast to hold it down after a southerly storm completely demolished the first framework during construction. It was a rugged and bleak site - Mr William Black, overseer of the construction work, died of exposure while traveling from the site to Akaroa Town in 1879.

The light first shone on 1 January 1880. It had clockwork mechanism which required winding every two hours so was always manned. The light was originally kerosene but latter changed to a double bulb system. In 1977, the old lighthouse was replaced by an automatic light. The following year a Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed in Akaroa and bought the lighthouse and equipment for $1. By the year's end the tower had been cut into three pieces and manoeuvred over steep and narrow Lighthouse Road down to Akaroa, where it was re-assembled on Cemetery Point. Its historic equipment, which had been salvaged before the tower was moved, was then re-installed and lovingly restored by The Akaroa Lighthouse Preservation Society. A roster of volunteers 'man' the light house to enable the public to visit and view this iconic historic Akaroa landmark and it is now open for viewing many days rather than just Sundays (2-4pm)

Beyond the lighthouse is the Britomart monument where the British raised the union jack to claim the territory just before the french settlers arrived. Next time we visit we must go to the Garden of Tane which has many interesting trees and includes a cemetery. It is also an option to climb to the top of Stony Bay Peak and enjoy the panoramic views.

Friday 26 February

Christchurch: It was then on to the Adorian Motel in Worcester Street, close to the centre of Christchurch. We have used the Adorian several times before - it used to be run by Sushi a Siamese cat and her assistants Diane and Tom but it is in new hands. and survived the earthquakes without major damage unlike several properties down the same road. We stayed at the hotel opposite two years ago shortly after the earthquakes. The first major earthquake was in September 2010, with epicentre at Darfield some 44 kms west of Christchurch and at depth 11 kms. It was magnitude 7.1 and was followed by a serious of aftershocks. This caused the original damage and the spire of the cathedral to fall. Then the next serious earthquake was on 22 February 2011 at 12.51, with epicentre close to Lyttelton and only 6 kms from the CBD and at a depth of 5 kms. It was magnitude 6.3. It happened while we were in Hastings, just before Pauline went to the dentist to get emergency repairs done. Again it was followed by aftershocks, and more recently there was another significant earthquake on 23 December 2011. Experts say it is not unusual for there to be a 6 month gap as there had been between the 7.1 earthquake and the 6.3 magnitude aftershock. That is no comfort for those people trying to re-build their lives in Christchurch who begin repair work and then had to start again. The third major Earthquake was in 2016, is known as the Valentine's Day Earthquake and was less at 5.7. This caused some more of the Cathedral to fall and the cliffs round Sumner had major falls which were recorded on video by many people. These dramatic films caused a lot of international publicity but overall the additional structural damage was very small and there was no loss of life although there was some liquifaction. We met some people who were present who described the roads heaving in front of them and were badly shaken. Another description said the ground was tipping and rolling like being on the Interislander in a storm. It served as a valuable validation of the quality of the strengthening and standard of the new buildings.

Before the earthquakes Christchurch was a beautiful city, and was also said to be the oldest city having been given that status in 1856 although Europeans landed in the area in 1815. It was modelled on a traditional English Garden City and fortunately the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park, famous for its sporting events, still remain intact. The commemoration of the fifth anniversary of the 2011 earthquake took place the week before we visited and the cricket match had only just ended so we were very lucky to find accommodation. We arrived early at the motel and they allowed us to park outside our unit although it was far too early to checkin. We planned to spend the whole day walking around the city and Worcester Street is not far from Latimer Square from where, pre-2011, it was possible to see the cathedral in the distance.

Christchurch's Cardboard Cathedral: When we came to Christchurch in 2012 most of the central area was still in the Red Zone which was totally inaccessible to locals or visitors and most of the work was in make the remaining buildings secure, or more often demolishing them. At that time there was some controversy over the level of destruction of the heritage of Christchurch buildings but few could argue as there was little information and the aftershocks were still continuing. The Cathedral has always been one of the buildings which every visitor knew and was a symbol of the city.

The controversy has become extreme in the case of the Cathedral. A temporary "Transitional Cardboard Cathedral" has been built at a considerable cost with the scheme, it seems, largely forced through by the Lady Bishop who was brought in from Canada, despite a large amount of disquiet. We have tried to keep an open mind so one of the first things we did in 2014 was to go to see the new Cathedral which opened in August 2013. It is clear many of the objectives were good and the architect has done some remarkable work in the past.

The building was designed pro bono by Shigeru Ban, who is is a famous Japanese architect, best known for his innovative work with paper, particularly cardboard tubes used rapid, efficiently, ecologically friendly and recyclable housing for disaster victims including aftermath of the Kobe earthquake. Larger Cardboard projects include the the Japanese pavilion building at Expo 2000 in Hanover. The original concept was an A frame building based on Cardboard tubes above a series of recycled Containers. The concept however ran into a series of fundamental problems, in particular the inability of NZ firms to build the thickness and strength of tubes and the inability to meet the rigorous construction codes in New Zealand. The design was also targeted at a building which put forward as a transitional Cathedral was also envisaged to actually have a life of 50 years. The end result is that the cardboard is now little more than cosmetic in the Cardboard Cathedral and all the structural loads are actually taken by a laminated wooden structure within the cardboard tubes. The same problems had occurred with the Expo 2000 building where again extensive use had to be made of wood making it a hybrid, albeit cost effective, building.

The building did not seem that impressive from a distance but it seemed unexpectedly to grow in size and stature as we approached. It is a basic A frame structure cased totally in polycarbonate sheet which reaches almost to ground level with most of the end composed of stained glass sheets. Inside it soars to 70 feet above the altar. Looking at the building frm outside it is clear that the altar end is wider than the entry. The roof appears to be supported by 2 feet diameter cardboard tubes held up by eight shipping containers which form the walls. The foundation is concrete slab. The 96 (78 visible within the church) tubes covering up the laminated wood beams have two-inch gaps between each so that light can filter into the cathedral make it very light and airy with the spacious air added to by the back wall consisting of triangular pieces of stained glass. The chairs follow the theme and are made from laminated wood. Most of the remaining structures are in cardboard tube and laminated wood (similar in appearance to a coarse plywood) with exceptions being the lectern and the Bishops chair which are the only items which were rescued from the real Cathedral before any further salvage efforts were thwarted.

The cost of this Cardboard Cathedral escalated to NZ$5.9m and the Council have refused to transfer the grants for the original Cathedral upkeep to it and the use of the Insurance money made available for rebuilding has been apparently determined to be illegal (The Press (Christchurch). 27 July 2013).

The Christchurch Cathedral does not seem to have changed greatly since 2014 and it is possible to get close to the site now and stare through the fencing. It is a Gothic Revival design, built from 1860 to 1904, designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The Millenium Hotel on the side of Cathedral Square remains uninhabited but the 100 year-old Heritage Christchurch is open for business; it is one of the few heritage-listed buildings and is the former Christchurch Government Municipal Building. In 2014 we remarked on the new Novotel also in Cathedral Square and there is now an Ibis Hotel in the city centre. The site of the Irish pub where we enjoyed many evenings is still an open space.

Whilst we were walking round the centre of town in 2014 we came upon a shop which had become the focus of the efforts to preserve the heritage buildings in Christchurch, including the Cathedral and were putting together a major petition to parliament which seems to be the only place with the powers to overrule the hasty activities which were taking place. Many believed the powers which were put in place when the earthquake took place were leading to an unnecessary loss of "listed" heritage buildings. A dictatorship, preferably benign is needed when emergencies and war strike but eventually democracy needs to once more replace it and almost everyone we spoke to was concerned that the situation was no longer fully under control. To an outsider some of the decisions seem difficult to understand and a small number of people with strong views on the future of Christchurch seem to be determining the way forwards and steamrolling any people, buildings and heritage which gets in the way of their vision. Even major buildings put up in 2011 exceeding the latest standards are planned to be demolished as they do not fit the master plan and heritage buildings needing minimal work are being allowed to be destroyed. There must be some method behind such madness - at the best it is a communications problem but on the basis of the information we were given we could not understand the cultural vandalism which was being enacted.

On this visit there were still large vacant areas where previous buildings had been demolished, often being used as temporary carparking. As well as all the visiting tourists there are also the building workers and contractors who need to bring their cars into the city. Behind the Cardboard Cathedral there are two important open spaces. The first is the site of the CTV building, which collapsed with such a loss of life, and there is a memorial. The office buildings nearby and their shops on the ground floor are all vacant and presumably will be demolished or repaired in due course. This part of Christchurch obviously suffered. At the corner of Madras and Cashel is a new poignant tribute for the 5th anniversary - 185 white painted empty chairs which represent the 185 people who died. Relatives were able to come and choose the chair which was most suitable and could paint it themselves. It is a very moving although temporary exhibit; the paint and the chairs will not survive a winter outdoors. On our walk we only saw a few houses which were marked as dangerous with "do not enter" taping, and most of the demolition had been completed and new houses had replaced the old ones. There is a lot of building work. We do not generally watch television but there was a documentary on TVOne on 23 February (at 2130) about Christchurch "The Art of Recovery". The program emphacised the contrast between the politicians (who came over like clones of Trump) whose sole objective seemed to be to get big business back and seemed to naively believe everything else would then follow without any prior consultation with residents and those who had set up the temporary areas which were so important to the residents, especially those who had painted the murals and created the memorials such as the 185 chairs by Pete Majendie. There were interviews with Coralie Winn and Ryan Reynolds of GapFillers, contrasted with the official view of the Christchurch administration by Gerry Brownlee and the then Head of the Christchurch Central Development Unit, Warwick Isaacs who since resigned.

In 2012 there were few shops open in the centre and shipping containers were used to make the Re:START Mall. It is close to the Bridge of Remembrance which is an arch built to remember those who died in WW1, presently being repaired. Kathmandu had a shop in a container. These shops are still there but Kathmandu have many other stores in Christchurch and there are plans to close the Mall. The nearby iconic Ballantynes department store is now open. The tram currently has a shortened (and cheaper) tour which passes both places as well as viewing the Worcester Street bridge and going along the Avon River before ending its loop at Cathedral Square. In 2014 the tram route was much longer, extending to the Botanic Gardens and then along the historic New Regent Street which is presently closed to trams but open to pedestrians. Three of the pastel coloured Spanish-style historic houses have not been repaired and the tram route has been closed; the rails go very close to the three buildings.

Since 2014 there has been much building work. For example a new Rydges Hotel is on the side of Latimer Square to replace the old Rydges Hotel which is still looking down onto the Avon, still intact. There are regulations about the height of new building and much of the commercial building we saw was using a steel structure and then faced with lots of glass. There is no enthusiasm for new stone buildings because many of them were damaged. Walking towards the Avon River, at the junction of Lichfield and Oxford, proudly stands the anglo-catholic church of St Michael and All Angels. There is a separate belfry and while we were there the bells were rung for 1200. It was the first Anglican church in Christchurch and served as the Pro-Cathedral until 1881 when the Christchurch Cathedral was consecrated. It is a wooden church and the reason for building a stone cathedral in the 1860s was that stone was a better building material. Now the stone cathedral has been damaged, the wooden previous cathedral is still in good condition, and there is a new cardboard cathedral. There is also a proposal to raise $230,000 to build a new tower made of shipping containers next to the Cardboard cathedral to house the lightest of the 6 bells which were in the cathedral tower. There were originally 13 bells and one was cracked when it fell and had to be re-cast; a new treble bell has been added to remember the earthquake.

The area near the Botanic Gardens has many stone buildings, including Christ's College, the Canterbury Museum, and the Arts Centre of Christchurch. Christ's College was founded in 1850 and when we visited the grounds were open because it was an inter-House sports event and children and parents were walking through the gate into the Botanic Gardens. The Museum next door was open, and free to visit. It has a tower, a large rose window and a porch and is in Gothic Revival style intitially designed by B W Mountfort who also designed the church of St Michael and All Angels. Two interesting exhibits were the corrugated sculptures, including a Morris Minor car, by Jeff Thomson, and the Paua shell bungalow owned by Fred and Myrtle Flutey which had been reconstructed in Christchurch having been originally their home elsewhere in Southland. Opposite, the Arts Centre was covered with scaffolding and there was clearly a long term plan of repair and conservation which will complete in 2019. Many parts are expected to be open later in 2016, including Rutherford's Den. It is another of the Gothic Revival buildings, originally housing the University of Canterbury, and begun in 1870 so overlaps with the building of Christchurch Cathedral. That similarity in design is clear but unlike the cathedral there is an active repair and rebuilding programme. In contrast, in terms of its design, the Christchurch Art Gallery is a modern glass building. It is the largest art institution in the South Island and displayed an Open sign. Walking along the tram tracks towards the Cathedral Square passes the Former Municipal Chambers, buttressed and stabilised, on the banks of the Avon river at the Worcester Street Bridge. It dates from 1887, designed by Samuel Hurst Seager. This contrasts with the modern glass Christchurch City Council building earlier along the street. We later found that our walk around the centre was similar to that recommended in the Avon River Walk pamphlet.

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Content revised: 4st April, 2016