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Oceania » New Zealand » South Island » Christchurch
March 11th 2012
Published: March 11th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

The train ride from Greymouth to Christchurch was fun, but you sure wouldn’t want to do it every day. It’s about 5 hours total, with the first three through the Southern Alps and the last two across the Canterbury Plain. The Alps were spectacular as we climbed up river valleys towards Arthur’s Pass. One of the train’s cars has an open viewing platform which we checked out for a few minutes. The views weren’t much better than from our seats, but the fresh air (and wind) was invigorating. Just before Arthur’s Pass we came to the first (going eastbound) of 17 tunnels. This one is the 2nd longest in the world at (I believe) 8 miles and took us about 15 minutes to traverse. There is a pretty long stop at Arthur’s Pass and a lot of people got off the train to stretch their legs. Since we felt we were tall enough, we stayed in our seats. Coming down from Arthur’s Pass we passed through the other 16 tunnels and over four viaducts again with great views all around. Since it’s the end of summer here, there wasn’t very much snow on the mountains and everything was pretty dry, but pretty nevertheless. The Canterbury Plain is called the breadbasket of New Zealand and is just checker boarded with farms, pastures, and feedlots. We saw a lot more sheep. Sometimes, in the fields adjutant to the track, the locomotive would spook the sheep and they would start running away from the train. Since we were in one of the last cars, it looked like the wake of a boat moving across the field. You would think they would get used to the train. Just to prove that boys will be boys the world around, as we passed through one small farm town, there was about a 13 year old Kiwi lad on his bike flipping the entire train the bird.

We rolled into Christchurch a bit ahead of schedule, and with some difficulty (including Connie filling in for the driver by holding the sign with the passengers names and directing them to the tram) caught the Super Shuttle for the Airport. It was a Friday night at about 6pm and the traffic seemed like an absolute madhouse. This is our first real city after almost a week out in the country, gads how will we ever navigate this! Well, we finally got to the airport to be greeted by a Spitfire Mk16 on a pylon. The Avis lad was very helpful with directions and advise on navigating to the B&B, so off we went. It turns out getting around wasn’t bad after all. We had a pretty good map, and Connie did a great job keeping Pat informed on what turns, streets or roundabouts were coming up, so we got to the B&B without a problem. However, it was now about 7:30pm on a Friday night and we were getting pretty hungry. Fortunately, Alan the innkeeper had a good relationship with a nice bistro across the street (I suspect they just keep a table open for his guests) and we were able to be seated for dinner in the time it took to walk across the street. After a nice dinner we were able to get online to check e-mail and post a couple of these blogs before crashing for the night. The next morning we awoke to the sound of rain on the roof but were able to stay snug for a nice English breakfast. Alan’s wife, Karen had made homemade preserves and yogurt in addition to bread for toast. After breakfast it was time to venture forth with three primary sights to see; the RNZAF Museum, the Canterbury Museum, and the Botanical Gardens.

We started with the RNZAF Museum (because Pat was driving) and learned a lot about the service's history. For many years their main combat aircraft was the A-4K Skyhawk which they used as a patrol and strike aircraft. In the early 21st Century the aircraft were wearing out and needed to be replaced, but instead, the Liberal government then in power just disbanded the combat arm of the Air Force to save money. I guess that makes sense (in a somewhat cynical fashion) if you know you can count on the USN and RAAF to protect you, if need be. We’ll see how wise that decision looks over the next 30 years. They also offer a guided tour of their storage and renovation areas, which of course we signed up for. They are finishing up work on a Kittyhawk which should be on display later this year. Our tour guide was Don Simms who worked on the A-4s while in service and then co-wrote a big book on the RNZAF’s use of the Skyhawk.
Christchurch CBDChristchurch CBDChristchurch CBD

Part of the cordoned off "Red Zone" The Cathedral is down around the crane somewhere
Pat had been looking at the book in the gift shop and in a rare fit of frugality had decided not to buy it, until Don came over and pointed out he was one of the authors. Out came the credit card and Don’s autographing pen to seal the deal. It really is a pretty good book.

After airplanes we made our way through the wind and rain to the Canterbury Museum. This a combination of a Natural History and Cultural History museum covering the South Island but focusing on the east coast area around Christchurch. It really was well done with exhibits on the Moa, Maori, English settlement, and the Earthquake. Since it was a Saturday, and outside activities were pretty much out, the place was very crowded and it ended up feeling pretty strange at the earthquake exhibit to be looking at the artifacts while surrounded by people who had had their lives directly impacted by the events being described. After leaving the museum, we walked through the Botanical Gardens which are really wonderful, but did not get the time they deserved due to the weather. The last stop for the day was to check out the CBD area which is still largely cordoned off due to damage. In fact, the day we arrived the authorities announced that the Canterbury Cathedral could not be repaired and would be torn down. It was pretty sad to see all the damage still awaiting repair. On bright spot was a shopping area called Restart where a number of shops had been created using shipping containers. Very good idea and had we been in the market for clothes we would have had a lot of options. Back to the B&B for a couple glasses of wine with Alan, Karen, and some of the other guests then back to the room to get ready for the trip to Sydney.

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