earthquake resistant hotel punts Mt. Cook on River Avon

There is no direct flight from Ayers Rock to New Zealand. In fact, given how remote it is, i was surprised to discover a direct flight to anywhere from Ayers Rock. But, we left on a vintage Boeing 717… which, because it is simply a rebranded DC-9, has no components whatsoever in common with the infamous B-737 MAX. The engines are not even on the wings. Our flight, on Virgin Australia, ’connected’ in Sydney with a Virgin International flight to Christchurch. This meant that…

“ We have to transfer from Terminal 2 (Domestic) to Terminal 1 (International). “ I explained as we looked for a way to make the transfer.

It wasn’t easy. It turns out that Terminal 1 is called the International Terminal because it is so far from Terminal 2 that it might as well be in a different country. We took a ‘shuttle bus’ that made the journey is slightly less time than it takes for us to..

“…. drive from Santa Barbara to LAX, Nazy,” I claimed. “
With heavy traffic on the 405 Freeway,” I thought.
nazy with old car by OGB hotel

Naturally, our onward flight was late… because of ‘late arrival of the incoming aircraft’. I’ve never understood why anyone thinks that ‘late arrival’ is a valid reason for late departure. Can’t they shuffle airplanes or something? We arrived in Christchurch well after midnight. They are extremely fussy about customs in New Zealand — specifically about anything edible or anything that has been alive. They were also very nice. A young couple from Pakistan was in the immigration line in front of us. Readers may remember a that a dreadful attack on a Mosque had occurred a few days before our arrival. The immigration agent was very nice. He welcomed the couple into the country, apologized for what had happened and said ‘Salaam’ as he stamped their passport. BTW: The couple had a baby with them and I’m certain that they didn’t worry about being separated because of some cowardly, cowering policy created by a hubristic moron who lacks a single empathy gene.

We arrived at our hotel, the Heritage Christchurch, well after 1:00AM. This hotel has to be seen to be believed. it is in the OGB (Old Government Building), a massive and impressive edifice in the very center of the city. Even though we were tired when we arrived, we admired the building and our room, eh..

“This isn’t a ‘room’, Nazy,” I enthused. “This is a suite. An apartment. A residence!”

“It’s a miracle, Dan.” Nazy concurred. “
And you choose it by yourself?” Nazy thought.

Our two-floor ‘room’ had a 20 foot ceiling, a kitchen, a dining room, a living room and a view overlooking the central square. The building had stained glass windows, impressive marble sculptures and a cool ‘courtesy vehicle’ — an Austin.
Fortunately, the OGB had also undergone extensive ‘earthquake-proofing’ repairs less than a year before a devastating earthquake that hit in 2011. The earthquake had destroyed or damaged about 70% of the buildings in the center of the city — including the Cathedral that was next door to our hotel.

Christchurch Cathedral

christchurch cathedral earthquake damage

The Christchurch Cathedral was built between 1864 and 1904; it appears that repairs will take nearly as long. In the interim, they built the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, planned as a temporary facility. It turns about that the only thing ‘temporary’ about the Cardboard Cathedral is it’s designation as ‘temporary’.

Cardboard Cathedral

Cardboard Cathedral

We enjoyed walking through the city center, a vast construction site. We bought All-Blacks shirts and hats and we went …

“… punting on the Avon,Dan?” Nazy asked. “Doesn’t punting have something to do with..”

“Football?” I asked.

“Yep,” Nazy replied. “
Or your tax return,” she thought.

A punt is a flat-bottom boat propelled by a long pole. The pole moves the boat by pushing off from the bottom of the river. It’s not a speedy trip, but it is a fun thing to do. BTW: The Avon River has several families of eels.)

PUNTIng on the Avon in Christchurch

On our walk through the city, we were struck by how nice people were to us. If we stopped at a corner with a puzzled look, someone would invariably stop..

“Pardon me,” they’d say. “You look lost. Can I help?”

“Why thank you,” I replied. “
They probably even talk to strangers in elevators,” I thought.

We had a great, if predictable, dinner. Nazy got salad and fish, I had the lamb…

“… because you can’t come to New Zealand and not have the lamb,” I explained. “And remember, Nazy, you also want New Zealand lamb when you make your Persian leg of lamb. You told me that New Zealand lamb is the very best.”
Christchurch rememberance flowers and signs

As I mentioned, we arrived in New Zealand a short time after the shooting at the Mosque. We were in New Zealand for Remembrance Day. People in Christchurch were stunned by the events. The area in front of the mosque was covered with flowers, parliament responded with a novel combination of ‘thoughts and prayers’ combined with ‘action’. The media and government refused to mention the name of the perpetrator and no photographs of him were published. And the front page of the newspaper was poignant, classy and dignified: Centered on the front page the Arabic word Salaam (Peace) with the names of the victims at the bottom.

Christchurch Newspaper
Remembrance Day

New Zealand newspaper on Remembrance Day

When planning for our vacation, I especially wanted to visit New Zealand in order to see Mt. Cook. I did careful research before deciding on a specific tour. I convinced Nazy that the Mt. Cook was sufficiently spectacular to warrant (another) early departure. So, I wasn’t happy when I got the following txt 62 minutes before our scheduled pick up:

Due to recent events outside our control, it is with regret that we advise your order is cancelled. Our sincerest apologies Maossie Tours.

It was too late to make another booking and the alternative offered was useless since we’d be 10,000 kilometers away on the proposed alternative date. After some thought, Nazy and I remembered that one of the helpful strangers we met while touring the city had recommended a visit to Akaroa. It too late to get a tour, so, notwithstanding the fact that they drive on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, we rented a car and planned our trip.

The drive was beautiful — although somewhat challenging. Not only did I spend too much time looking out of the side window in search of the rearview mirror, Nazy, convinced that I’d forget where I was, spent the entire journey reminding me to slow down.

“Yes, dear,” I replied. Often. “
If I drive at the speed you want, we would be passed by migrating tortoises,” I thought.

panorama on the road in NZ

The road was beautiful and the
city, eh, town of Akaroa was charming. We found some cool presents for the grandchildren, had a great lunch overlooking the harbor and located a store that sold vintage small pewter soldiers for my collection. We made it back to the city with minimal problems.

We hit the museums and parks the next day. As I’ve noted, the city center is a massive construction zone — so we went to see the Earthquake museum. We also saw the old Canterbury University buildings. Because of all the construction, the city has encouraged people to put art on the sides of buildings, so we saw a lot of those as well.

sign Quake City

Our stay in New Zealand was short and Emirates Airlines, our carrier for the return to Sydney, sent me an email reminding me to check in early to avoid excessive baggage fees. I tried, but they wouldn’t let me complete the check-in, they refused to recognize that Nazy was traveling with me and they actually froze my MacBook Pro. Accordingly, I was irate when we got to the airport…

tried to check-in online,” I grumbled, as I wrestled a very large and very heavy suitcase onto the scale, “but your system froze. It wouldn’t…”

“Let me check on that sir,” the clerk replied.

“Thank you.” I said. “
Yeah, I’m sure that’ll make a difference,” I thought sarcastically. (And in error.)

“I can see the problem, sir. You’ve been upgraded to business class.”

Some days just end well. More on our final days in Australia in the next issue of The Weekly Letter.

For last week's letter (HAPPY ARRIVAL AURIANE) please click here.

Interesting Christchurch Art

Dan and, eh, art in christchurch

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