Before we picked up our campervan we had a couple of days spare, which gave us a great opportunity to visit Christchurch city centre and see the sights.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s second biggest city, but is still pretty small by international standards, which means it is compact and easy to get around.
Twelve years ago the city was struck by a series of major earthquakes with the final one resulting in wide ranging destruction and the loss of 185 lives. The evidence of the quake is still very much to be seen in the partly demolished buildings, the empty gravel plots where buildings once stood, the memorials to the deceased and the new buildings which have hastily been erected to bring some sort of normality back to the city and its residents.
After the disaster numerous shipping containers were brought in to act as makeshift offices and commercial premises. Many of these containers are still there scattered around the city. Most are now disused but some have been innovatively adapted and are now used as takeaway food and drink outlets.
Christchurch did have some beautiful older buildings, one of these was the University which appears to have survived mainly intact. The old cathedral with its dominating spire was not so lucky and is still in the process of a lengthy rebuild. However, a ‘Transitional Cathedral’ has been erected close by and has been constructed predominantly from cardboard.
A plain but beautiful memorial wall has been erected down by the river with the names of those who lost their lives inscribed for all to remember.
There is also an unusual piece of art which is made up of 185 different shaped chairs, all painted white, depicting the 185 different people lost in the earthquake. You are encouraged to sit in one and reflect.
About a third of the city centre is taken up by Hagley Park an expansive green area which contains the cricket ground and the botanical gardens, which makes for a great walk.
In the botanical gardens is a café and as in one or two cafés in the past, a plan was made. With two coffees, two scones, a paper napkin and a pen, we plotted out a route for the next couple of weeks based around where we wanted to visit and the predicted weather. Sarah used the reverse of the napkin as a food shopping list for the following day. Waste not want not.
Another lovely place to wander in Christchurch is down by the river which flows through the city. The Avon, as it is called, is one of many areas and street names in the Christchurch area which share names with UK places. The city itself shares its name with the small Dorset town. The River Avon (NZ version) is also home to another very English tradition, more associated with Oxford and the River Thames. The pastime of punting on the river. It’s quite strange to see the punts slowly moving along the river, with punters in traditional straw hats. You could easily imagine yourself in Oxford by the University. All very English.
The next morning we were up nice and early, so armed with our napkin we went to collect our campervan. It’s peak season, campervans are in short supply, demand is high, so simple economics means prices are high too. Because of this we had booked the smallest van we had managed to convince each other that we are able to realistically live in for two months. It was going to be cramped but we could manage…. couldn’t we?
We were just about to have a huge slice of good fortune. Our van was brought to the front of the rental premises and we were led outside and given the keys. However, this was definitely not the van we had booked! “Please don’t say a word Sarah, just get in and drive off”, was Steve’s only thought. Funnily enough it was Sarah’s only thought as well. So that is what we did.
There were plenty of the super small vans around, so all we can do is put it down to an admin error. We’re sure if it would have been an intentional upgrade they would have told us and made a bigger thing of it as the cost would have been double the price.
We are sure some people might think the campervan we have is still quite small to live in for two months. But you should have seen the one we were supposed to have!
So with big smiles on our faces we headed South, out of Christchurch and towards a supermarket. We now had a fridge, a stove top, a microwave, loads of storage space and a napkin with a route and a supplies list, which Sarah was furiously adding to now we had all this new space!