Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Travel Journal: Christchurch (and home to Sac)

Jan. 7:  Picton > Christchurch
My run this morning was a 10K from Picton to Waikawa Bay, and I think I saw a ray in the Waikawa Bay shallows as I ran by!  It was gone by the time I was returning, so I couldn’t verify the sighting, but I like to think it was a ray and not just a shadow on the water.

We repeated our egg and salmon in-room breakfast and went out for coffee before checking out of the motel.  Since we still had several hours before our train departure, we left our bags at the motel office and headed down towards the waterfront to explore another part of the Victoria Domain.  We chose the Harbor View trail this time around, which led us up and up to a great overlook by a big water tank at the top.  The trail was quite hilly and much sunnier than we had expected, so we got a bit toasty and sweaty during our hike, but it was a great way to get a final look at Picton, and Mr. E got a chance to stack rocks on the beach near the city.

Scenes from Picton Domain Harbor View Trail

On the way back to the motel, we did a little more souvenir browsing.  I had acquired a wombat in Australia, so I wanted to get a kiwi in New Zealand, since this flightless bird is a national symbol of the country.  I had found a great dark mauve t-shirt with a stylized kiwi design during our brief stop at the Agrodome several days earlier, but I still wanted a little figure of the bird as well, and I  finally found a lovely small brown and orange glass kiwi that joined the other gifts and souvenirs in my carry-on bag.

After fetching our bags, we walked to the railway station and joined the long line at the depot Subway to get some takeaway lunch for the journey.  Although our assigned seats on the Coastal Pacific train from Picton to Christchurch were facing towards the caboose of the train, the seats across from us weren’t filled during the first couple of stops, so we were able to swap around and face forward, which gave us a much better view of the landscape over the course of the 5-hour journey.  We began with fields and sheep and cows but then transitioned to ocean and dunes, with several tunnels through the mountains along the coast as well.

Views from the Coastal Pacific Train Between Picton & Christchurch 

We took a taxi from the Christchurch train station to our motel, Centrepoint on Colombo, where we were warmly welcomed by our host, Jeff, who gave us lots of great recommendations for nearby restaurants, marked up a local map with sights to highlight and to avoid (including the Red Zone in the city center that is still off-limits due to damage from the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes), and even helped bring our bags up to our second-floor room.  We ended up at Spags on Victoria Street for dinner, with yummy single-serve fresh pizzas and a piece of perfect chocolate fudge cake for Mr. E.

The whole notion of a “motel” is quite distinctive in New Zealand, based on our experiences in Picton and Christchurch, not to mention what I had found during our initial planning and search for lodging prior to our trip.  Motels are very common throughout the country and tend to be a very hands-on operation, typically run by a family that lives on-site in a private section of the building.  This results in very personal attention and treatment, and the only similar experience I’ve had in the US has been in some small motor inns in New England, particularly Vermont.  The big difference, however, is that the motels we enjoyed in New Zealand included well-stocked kitchenette facilities, which was a welcome amenity.

Jan. 8:  Christchurch
Since we hadn’t procured breakfast items the evening before, I made coffee with the in-room supplies after my morning run around part of the extensive Hagley Park, and then we walked back to Victoria Street to have breakfast at Vic’s, just across from Spags.  Our plan for the day was to explore some of the city in the morning and then catch a 3-hour double-decker bus tour in the afternoon.  I don’t think either of us truly knew what to expect in terms of what we’d see in a city that’s still recovering from the devastating February 2011 earthquake…

Horrible.  Humbling.  Hopeful.  At any moment, any or all of these can be the emotions when facing the destruction, deconstruction, and construction that are widespread throughout the central city. 

Our first destination was Victoria Square, which was only recently partially re-opened to pedestrians.  This trek took us past the amazing Pallet Pavilion, one of several urban design projects completed by Gap Filler, a non-profit that was founded after the December 2010 earthquake and expanded into a Charitable Trust after February 2011 in order to implement additional small reuse projects to fill in the gaps caused  by the destruction of the earthquakes.  The Pallet Pavilion is a temporary summer entertainment venue built by community volunteers out of blue pallets and other reclaimed typical construction materials.  We actually chatted briefly with one of the two primary Gap Filler staff who organizes and implements these projects.  This project, along with a few others we discovered in our walks around Christchurch (informally known as CHCH), was quite an impressive undertaking, and this spirit of persistence, resilience, and creativity permeated much of the city and the inhabitants we saw and met.  Although many people left, many also stayed to rebuild.

Pallet Pavilion

We then walked along the Avon River towards the Anglican Cathedral, which is in the cordoned-off part of the downtown area known as the Red Zone.  Coincidentally, we bumped into Blue and Jake from our Marlborough Wine Tour when we were viewing the Cathedral and reading the plaques posted nearby that show redevelopment and reconstruction plans for the different areas of the downtown.  We encountered them again briefly a bit later at Re:START, a shopping mall made of brightly-coloured containers that has become an extremely popular commercial area and destination.  I had read about Re:START in the Jetstar in-flight magazine, and it was certainly a very lively place, with  lots of shops, restaurants, and craft kiosks.  In theory, it’s a temporary structure, but it’s hard to imagine that it would be replaced by a typical mall, given how successful it’s been and how it adds such a unique aspect to the city.  We paused at Hummingbird Coffee for a “long black”, sort of a small Americano, which had become our standard coffee drink of choice during our trip.  I also bought a bag of espresso to bring home, and part of the proceeds from the sale of the coffee helps to support Re:START.

Anglican Cathedral

 Re:START Mall Exterior & Interior

Taking advantage of the beautiful sunny day, which had started out cool and rainy (during my run – a bit sprinkly!), we explored some of the Botanic Gardens and had lunch in the café of the Canterbury Museum.  I scored again with another kids meal – a chicken, mushroom, and cheese “toastie;” chips (aka French fries); and 2 small chocolate fish!  The toastie is very popular in both Australia and New Zealand and is basically a grilled cheese sandwich on crusty bread of some kind and often loaded with other ingredients.  Very tasty!

 Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Our afternoon bus tour of Christchurch began with a 1-hour tour around the central city, which allowed us to learn more about the earthquake consequences and current/future plans for reconstruction, and provided both a revisit to certain places we’d seen in the morning along with sights that we probably wouldn’t access on foot.  One of the brief stops along the tour was at the AMI Stadium, which doesn’t look terribly damaged but which sits on a site that has been deemed unsafe for construction.  The Stadium had been expanded for some rugby championships but the earthquake occurred before the event, so the new part of the facility has never been used, and now the entire site is off-limits.  This sort of situation is not uncommon, as much of the land is unstable so the options for development are going to be limited.  In a way, this provides a unique opportunity for Christchurch to be creative and proactive during the redevelopment process, and Mr. E and I would both love to return in 5-10 years to see the progress that’s been made.

The next 2 hours of the tour took us farther afield, to Mona Vale, Riccarton Bush, and Sumner Beach.  Even these areas have suffered some damage from the 2 recent quakes, especially the homes perched on the cliffs out by the water.  We finished up the day with dinner a Pomeroy’s, a local brewpub that specializes in craft beers.  The thick-cut chips were pretty darn good, too, and my smoked salmon salad was fabulous.

Sumner Beach View & Surfers

One other feature of note in Christchurch, aside from the obvious quake damage, is the strong and blustery wind.  Apparently, this is a well-known feature of the city, and something neither Mr. E nor I find particularly appealing.  Regardless, Christchurch is definitely on our “revisit” list in addition to Wellington – maybe to celebrate our 15th anniversary???

Jan. 9:  Christchurch > Sydney
We left our bags at the motel since our flight to Sydney was in the late afternoon, and we had breakfast at The Coffee Corner, a “displaced” business on Worcester St, just 1 block from the Canterbury Museum.  Lots of businesses have set up temporary or interim operational arrangements in non-traditional venues as they work to repair damage and re-open after the quakes.  This results in a fascinating assortment of retail and restaurant options and is such a creative response to the tragic events.

Our final stop in Christchurch was the Canterbury Museum, where we learned more about the Maori culture, the Moriori people (a group descended from the Maori that settled in the Chatham Islands off the east coast of New Zealand and were much maligned/disparaged even through the twentieth century), Antarctic exploration, historical Christchurch, and the characteristics of and threats to the natural environment of this country.  We were amused to notice little Santa Claus figures that had been placed in several of the dioramas, and the kids in the Museum loved finding these “interlopers” in the displays!

While watching TV last night, we had learned about the heat wave in Sydney and the terrible bush fires in other parts of New South Wales, but luckily the temperatures were back to normal by the time we arrived back in Sydney for a final night before the end of our trip.  Our flight on Air New Zealand was delayed about 1 hour while we waited for some folks whose connecting flight was late, but we both enjoyed the personal entertainment systems for movie viewing again.  I watched a great Japanese film, “Until the Dawn Breaks,” and Mr. E watched “The Avengers.”

Since our arrival in Sydney was a bit later than we had expected, we decided to cancel our planned stroll across the Harbour Bridge and instead took advantage of the free drinks and upscale munchies in the Sydney Hilton’s Executive Lounge (thanks to Mr. E’s gold status).  We also managed to complete our 2 errands to procure the set of espresso cups from Starbucks with Sydney and Australia designs on them along with a couple of bags of the chewy fruit candy that I had discovered during our initial stay in the city at the beginning of the trip.  The evening wrapped with wine in the beautiful Marble Bar, a historic restored gathering place in the basement of the Hilton (pricey drinks!).

Throughout our travels, we noticed several linguistic differences between US English and Aussie/Kiwi English, some of which have already been mentioned earlier in this narrative:  different “to” instead of different “from;” “takeaway;” “section” for “parcel/lot of land;” “cellar door;” “toastie;” “compendium” for “hotel guide;” “capsicum” for “bell pepper;” “rocket” as a type of arugula-ish green.  Also, during monetary transactions, people tended to say “that will be $$$, thank you” instead of “that will be $$$, please” – sort of like showing appreciation for the payment even before you’d actually paid!

Jan. 10:  Sydney > SFO > Sac
The Sydney Hilton has a full-fledged Health Club available to hotel guests, and I got to take a morning Pilates mat class – a bit different in format and style from what I’m used to here in the US, but still a great opportunity and amenity!  Thanks again to Mr. E’s gold status, we enjoyed the full buffet breakfast and then headed off to tour the iconic Opera House, the top priority for our brief revisit to Sydney at the end of the trip.  We had a wonderful tour guide and learned all about the history of the site (opened in my birth year of 1973), the design elements, and the incredibly ambitious programming, with at least one event happening every single day.  Some good job security for the tech staff!!!

Opera House Interior 

We then both headed to the hotel Health Club for a pre-departure workout – I enjoyed a short swim in the 20-meter lap pool and Mr. E used the elliptical.  Then we were off to the airport, this time in a taxi rather than the train, and psyching ourselves up for the loooong flight home.  Oddly enough, the return flight was only 12.5 hours instead of 14.5 hours.  I don’t quite understand how that can be possible, but I certainly wasn’t complaining about the lesser time in the plane!  Mr. E was able to get some sleep during the flight and also during our 3-hour layover at SFO, but I was awake for most of the trip home.  Thank goodness for some decent in-flight movies!

Next time, our itinerary will include return visits to Wellington and Christchurch along with a trip to Melbourne, which we didn’t get a chance to explore this time around.

Happy 10-Year Anniversary to Us!


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