New Zealand: 11. A first look at Christchurch

Leaving Nelson on Monday morning (bags out at 0700, depart at 0800) we began one of our longest days on the road, travelling down to Christchurch. Christchurch is almost directly south of Nelson, but since the 2016 Kaikoura Earthquake (the second largest earthquake in New Zealand since European settlement began) it’s impossible to take the SH1 highway down the east coast. Instead we had to set off south-west on SH6, then south on SH65 through Victoria Forest Park, then south-east on SH7 before rejoining SH1 at Waipara. It’s a total distance of over 420 km, which Google Maps reckons takes 5 hours 13 minutes, but I guess that would be by car rather than in a 53-seater coach. Much of this route is not designed for the heavy traffic that has been forced to take this diversion since the earthquake, so there were many twists and turns and roadworks along the way.

Although we had various photo stops to look at the view, I didn’t take many photos. Here are some trees, mountains and clouds,

Somewhere on the road to Christchurch

and here is one of the many ‘braided rivers’ that are so characteristic of New Zealand’s landscape.

Braided river

It’s the kind of place I imagined seeing the refugees from Rohan crossing. Instead, there’s just a big orange digger out there in the distance.

When we reached Christchurch, everyone was a bit tired and crotchety. But Alison and I were very keen to try and get into the city centre and have a look at the ‘cardboard cathedral’ which we had heard about when Bishop Victoria spoke to the Oxford Diocesan Clergy Conference in 2014. We knew that we were scheduled to return to Christchurch later in the tour, but we weren’t entirely confident about how much the itinerary at that point might allow us to see. So we decided to walk into the city centre – which turned out to be 4.9 km, and took about an hour. It wasn’t helped by the fact that, as we neared the city centre, there were more and more road closures and diversions where work was still going on to demolish, repair and rebuild in the aftermath of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. But we found our way to Cathedral Square, where what is left of the original Cathedral stands temporarily derelict.

Christchurch Cathedral in ruins

Then we continued to the site of the transitional cathedral AKA cardboard cathedral. We had hoped it would still be open – the guidebook we had looked at said it was open till 7 p.m. in the summer. The guidebook was wrong! It closed at 5 p.m., and the custodian had just set the alarms and locked up.

Christchurch Transitional Cathedral

Ever since 2011 there have been heated discussions about what to do with the old Cathedral. We got the impression from Bishop Victoria that she might have been of the party which wanted to demolish it completely and build something new. But the heritage faction, who wanted to rebuild the old Cathedral exactly as it was (it is, after all, 130 years old!) appears to have won the day. Perhaps if the original Cathedral had been more thoroughly destroyed they might have been able to do something like in Coventry? – building a modern cathedral alongside the ruins of the old, as a reminder of… well, in this case, the forces of Nature, perhaps?

The custodian gave us a lift part of the way back to the hotel, for which we were very grateful after the long day of travelling.

Written with StackEdit.

New Zealand: 10. A second day in Marlborough and Nelson

Almost as soon as we set foot on South Island, waiters and other people, when they heard we’d just come from the North, began asking us, “So, which do you like best? North Island or South Island?” The answer we came to give, more and more (so that we might appear to have given it some serious and measured thought) was something along the lines of, “North Island for the history, and the Maori culture; South Island for the scenery.” But in truth, now that we’re home, I would probably say much more unequivocally, South Island.

(Oh, I don’t know though. What about Auckland? and the the Bay of Islands? and Napier? So maybe the jury is still out, after all.)

But South Island! Which is often called (by South Islanders!) “the mainland”. It is, quite simply, stunning. Almost beyond belief.

On the first morning we woke up in Nelson, the coach took us north along the coast of Tasman Bay, to the town of Kaiteriteri. This is the place of embarkation for the boat cruise up into Abel Tasman National Park. Suzanne had warned us that the boat operators were fairly laid-back and disorganised about which boat ticket-holders were supposed to embark on, and this turned out to be the case. I think we finally boarded from the third queue we had joined. Having watched the film Dunkirk on the flight to Singapore, I was used to the idea of lining up on a sandy beach to climb a gangplank onto a small vessel. But was relieved that we were not being strafed by Stukas while we were waiting.

Some of our party opted to be put ashore at Apple Tree Bay and walk 7 km through the park to be picked up again by the boat at Anchorage. But it was such a hot sunny day that Alison felt the heat would prove too much, so we decided to stay aboard and enjoy the ride. There was a sense in which both choices were wrong. Yes, we didn’t get sun- or heat-stroke aboard the boat; but the view of most of the coast was just rocks and trees. While for those who took the walk, most of their way was in the shade of the trees; but they didn’t get too great a view either.

But on the other hand, though rocks and trees may start to look a bit samey, you also get spectacular views of little islands, huge skies and distant mountains:

Abel Tasman Bay

The most-photographed rock in the National Park (possibly in the whole of New Zealand) is Split Apple Rock

Split Apple Rock

It’s a huge round piece of granite, which looks like an apple that’s been sliced in half. Natural forces are awesome1, aren’t they?

We returned to Nelson in the early afternoon with the rest of the day free to explore on our own. Nelson is an attractive little city, famous for being the place where the first game of rugby in New Zealand was played, in 1870, and for being the Centre of New Zealand (allegedly, or possibly. Or maybe not.) As well as being the place where the One Ring to rule them all was really made. For the film at least.

A word of wisdom about walking to the Centre of New Zealand. It is quite a steep climb to get there, and we were climbing it on a very hot sunny afternoon (and had left our water behind because we thought it was only 50 metres away like the sign said2), and were not helped by cheerful kiwis walking the other way and telling us “It’s not that far now!” ‘Not that far’ when you’re walking steeply uphill turns out to be very different from how the same distance feels to the people coming back down.

Part of the view of Nelson from the Centre of New Zealand

Part of the view of Nelson from the Centre of New Zealand

It was in Nelson that we were able to get to our only Sunday service of our stay in New Zealand, which was Evensong at the Cathedral.

Nelson Cathedral

The Cathedral has some PROs: We could find the entrance; and they were actually having an evening service. And some CONs: It has a beautiful labyrinth on the floor, but you couldn’t walk it because it was covered up by a ghastly display of Christmas Trees, which had proved so popular that it had been extended right through January. Evensong was conducted by the Dean, who didn’t seem overly familiar with the Book of Common Prayer: we didn’t have either a psalm or the Collect of the day, because they weren’t printed in the congregational order of service. But he was obviously enjoying himself greatly, and really appreciated our singing.

Dinner in the hotel restaurant, because they had a special offer for guests who ‘ate in’ on Sunday evening. This wasn’t a bad idea for them, in a city where there were so many other great eating places. But the hotel food was pretty good, too.

Written with StackEdit.


  1. We enjoyed the New Zealand use of this awesome word. Quite often used by waiters taking your order: where in this country they might record your order with the words “Great choice!”, we found in New Zealand that “Awesome!” was much more common. Such fun. ↩︎
  2. It was 50 metres from the sign on the corner of the street, to the entrance to the park. ↩︎