As usual, we headed straight out after work on a Friday. Bryan and I have grown used to flying budget airlines like Jetstar and Air Asia, but this time the cheapest tickets just so happened to be through the illustrious Singapore Airlines. First, a disclaimer: they're not paying me to say this. Now: Singapore Airlines is the most awesome airline of all time. They're SO NICE, they give you a silky pillow and a real, fluffy blanket, not one of those weird paper towel blankets you get on United Airlines. The food is legitimately good, and they feed you about 10 times. The seats are comfortable and more spacious than other airlines; the flight attendants are all beautiful; the movie selection is great; the magazine has a good crossword puzzle; the entertainment systems let you play old-school Nintendo (seriously); and best of all, they give you all the free Singapore Slings you want. And they do it all with a smile. So our flight their was great. We did the crossword, played Super Mario Brothers, watched movies, and sipped Singapore Slings in style.
The direct flight from Singapore to Christchurch was about 10 hours long, and with the 4 hour time difference, we arrived at about 9 AM local time. We picked up a rental car from Omega Rental Cars, and Bryan got behind the wheel for his first try at driving on the left side of the road, in the seat that we usually think of as the passenger seat. We'd been in the car for about 3 minutes when we started hearing horns blaring all around us. Oh no! We both looked around frantically. Had we forgotten to stay left?! Had we already broken some unknown traffic law?! We quickly realized the problem wasn't us. We were on the correct side of a one-way road. Across a big grassy median was another two lanes, going the opposite direction. In that lane, we spotted the culprit: an SUV full of young Asian women, driving the wrong direction!!! Cars on both sides were honking their horns, and we slowed down to allow them to cross the median at a turning area. They drove past it. Oh geez. I was watching them and they were...giving me the thumbs-up?!?! WHY?! This was not a thumbs-up situation! We slowed again to allow them over at the next turning spot, and this time they came over, laughing and giving thumbs-up and A-OK signs all the while. Crazy.
|Stay LEFT (crazy wrong-way drivers not pictured)|
After all that driving excitement, we were eager to pull into a hotel and get settled. We went for the Ashford Motor Lodge, largely because it was one of the first places we encountered. It was a little early, so we went to get some coffee while they prepared our room. We walked across the street to quirky Sophies Cafe, where we got coffee with unfamiliar names - a Flat White for me, and a Long Black for Bryan. Both were tasty, especially after a long night on an airplane.
|We're wearing warm clothes! Yay!!|
After coffee, we checked into our spacious room. Despite all the caffeine we'd just consumed, we ended up crashing for a few hours. When we got up, we were energized and ready to explore. We started out by walking down a few of the streets around the hotel. Christchurch was devastated by a 6.3 magnitude earthquake in February of this year. The quake killed over 180 people, and was responsible for billions of dollars of damage, much of which was concentrated in downtown Christchurch. The people of the city have obviously done a lot to rebuild, but seven months after the disaster, the city center remains off-limits behind barricades, as efforts continue to demolish unstable buildings and restore those that can still be fixed. Aftershocks (one occurring as recently as September 2) complicate rebuilding efforts. One local told us that 400 buildings have been demolished on the South Island since the quake, and as many still need to come down.
|Knox Church, at the intersection near our hotel. Seriously damaged in the earthquake, but still standing.|
Throughout the city, spray paint marked dangerous spots and indicated where buildings had been checked and cleared, to make sure there were no people still inside.
|Broken window on an unstable building|
Among the more official spray paint were some artistic interpretations.
|Unusual street art|
After winding our way through the damaged streets a while, we made it to our destination - the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We came in sort of along the back way, off of a somewhat random path. Even so, it was lovely, with a calm stream full of ducks, big willow trees, and dainty cherry blossoms.
|Botanic Garden stream|
|Grandmother Willow?! Man, I love these trees.|
|Pretty PINK cherry blossoms!|
|Bryan with the cheery cherry trees|
There were regular mallard ducks in New Zealand, but also an unusual duck with an all-white head that I'd never seen before. Apparently it's called a paradise shelduck and it's endemic to New Zealand. I think they're very elegant!
|Female paradise duck. Only the females have white heads.|
|Male paradise duck. Not quite as unique as their female counterparts.|
New Zealand has a very uncommon ecology. They have hardly any native land mammals, but over time some mammals (such as rabbits and possums) have been introduced from places like Australia and the UK. Some introduced mammals have thrived in the absence of any serious predators, so now New Zealand does maintain some mammal populations. However, bird life is really where New Zealand thrives. In the absence of land mammals, birds evolved to fill all sorts of niches, and there are birds there that aren't seen anywhere else in the world. As with the mammals, there are also a lot of birds there that were introduced from elsewhere. The botanical garden was our first introduction to local birds, and it was fun seeing a lot of them for the first time.
|The non-native chaffinch|
|Silvereye (aka wax-eye) in a cherry tree|
It was early spring in New Zealand, so a lot of the flowers were just beginning to bloom, and the trees were starting to fill out. We stopped by the rose garden, but it appeared to still be mostly hibernating. Even in its somewhat barren state, it was still lovely and peaceful.
|The only ones in the rose garden|
|Dainty spring blossoms|
|A perfect daffodil|
After the rose garden, we headed over to the so-called New Zealand garden, which was full of local flora. Ironically, one of the first things we saw in the NZ garden was a mother mallard duck with her ducklings. Mallards are considered an invasive species in New Zealand.
|Mama mallard and ducklings|
|IT'S SO FLUFFY!!!|
There were some interesting flowers in the NZ garden, but I couldn't identify them.
|Growing right out of a rock crevice|
It was so nice to stroll around the gardens in mild, even chilly, weather. We're so used to stepping outside and being immediately drenched in sweat. It was like a dream to walk around comfortably in a hooded sweatshirt. People don't know how lucky they are to have 50 degree weather!! Eventually we left the garden and headed back through the city toward our hotel. On our way out we saw a neat photo exhibition along the street.
|Extensive, nature-heavy photo exhibition on the street|
It was strange walking through the city. Parts of it, like the area around the photo exhibition, are totally pristine, and then a block later the earthquake damage is evident.
|Freshly reinforced historical building|
|Christ's College. The peak of the building is crumbled in front of the door.|
|Serious damage at the college, but on its way to repair.|
Damage got more and more severe the closer you got to the city center, which is still completely inaccessible, and blocked by fences. Walking near there was eerie, kind of like stepping into an apocalypse movie.
|Eerily still and quiet|
The clock tower was still prominent and beautiful, even though it looked a little unstable.
|Christchurch Clock Tower|
All the walking through the city and gardens had worked up our appetites, so we weaved our way over to Spagalimi's (Spag's for short), a restaurant we'd passed a few times. As we got closer, we were lured in by the smell of garlic, and I was super glad we ended up stopping there for dinner. Our pizza was amazing, and we got to try a couple of local beers that they had on tap. We also got a taste of some quality service, which is always a nice change after Singapore's truly abysmal restaurant service. The restaurant started really clearing out around 7 and the waitress told us we'd better hurry if we were going to catch the All Blacks game!
When we were planning our trip to New Zealand, some friends of ours told us that our trip would overlap with the Rugby World Cup. Bryan and I aren't too interested in rugby and since our trip would be over before the semi-finals and finals started up, and most of the games would be on the North Island (which we were skipping), we figured it wouldn't really matter much. Anyway, after the waitress mentioned it, we figured we would grab some local beers from the store, then go back to our hotel room to watch the New Zealand rugby team (the All Blacks), just to see what the hype was all about.
It was awesome. Rugby is SO FUN to watch! Especially the All Blacks! They're amazing! We had a great time watching them and as soon as the game was over, we were wondering when we'd get to see them play again!
|Go All Blacks!!!|