The next morning, we wake up to blue skies and sunshine, although it’s getting pretty cold now and we wrap up in fleeces. There is a bus stop right outside the campsite so we head off to the Bus Exchange in the city centre (aka the bus station), disembark and get our bearings. We walk up to the Cathedral Square to see the Cathedral and also the silver chalice sculpture that was erected in 2001 and see the trams which pick up here for the circuit of the city centre streets. After taking pictures, we walk through the square over to Oxford Street. It adjoins the River Avon and in the sun looks beautiful with lots of café bars next to it, already starting to fill up with diners (mostly suits and tourists like us) and people sunning themselves sitting along the banks of green grass
There’s a small grassy island in the river near to one of the bridges and attached is a waterwheel in the water - apparently this little island is the site of a former flour mill. Can’t see anything of it now thought but some lovely scenes of the river as it winds
its way through the city. You can see why lots of people decide to go for a punt on the river.
We walked back towards the main street, called Colombo Street (I was amazed it’s not called Victoria St but there is a Victoria Square, just north of the Cathedral Square so I guess this makes up for it), as we were going to have our first hair cut of the trip! We’d chosen a reputable salon called Mods (of Paris apparently!) which we’d found on the internet and went there for an hour of a little pampering (hair cuts to some people are just normal - to us living in a van - they are a luxury item).
After we emerged back outside with our locks suitably cut and styled, we headed to a Mexican Café (aptly called Mexican Café) for a bite to eat - it was upstairs on the first floor and had the most liquor bottles behind the bar that I’d ever seen - cocktails were a speciality and they had a whole page of their drinks menu dedicated to Marguerita’s. The food was pretty good also and judging from all the posters on
the walls, it‘s a good venue for live music (www.mexicancafe.co.nz). After a late lunch, we get back on Coloumbo Street and head out of town to a department store for a mosey.
The next day we're not as lucky with the weather and we wake up to grey, overcast skies and intermittent showers. However, we're not put off and jump on the bus back into town. We go into the large department store called Bannantynes which is a bit like John Lewis except sells possum fur gloves (amongst other things) and then have another look round some of the streets which we missed previously. We have lunch at the Honey Pot cafe (which is bang next door to the previous days Mexican) and then we thought we'd retreat from the rainy, dreary day and go to the cinema. We went to the Regent cinema, just off the Cathedral square to watch Star Trek (not my choice but it wasn't so bad). By the time we emerged, it was dark and time for us to get back on the bus.
On the third morning, the weather had improved and a hazy sun was with us. Instead of going back
to the city centre, we head out of town towards the airport where The Antarctic Centre was housed. We spent a good hour walking round the exhibits, but the best one was the room with snow in it kept at a constant minus 8 degrees centigrade. Every half an hour, they simulate an arctic storm to illustrate the effect of wind chill and there were winds blowing at 40mph - bloomin' freezing! After coming outside and warming up, we then head over towards Lyttelton where the Christchurch gondola is based. This is a cable car ride to the top of a small mountain range where, on a good day, the views are fantastic. We weren’t so lucky as it had clouded over but we could still see the snow capped peaks of the Southern Alps, miles into the distance. As we were so close to Lyttelton, we went through the tunnel and paid a visit to the old port town. It was set on a very steep hill and houses looked lobsided as we walked up the steep path. There were lots of old, wooden slatted houses, built at the turn of the C19th and a couple of impressive stone
buildings on the corner of the shopping street. It had a nice, quaint feel about it - not new, or tacky but with a history to it. A little distance out of town is the Timeball Station which is a building that ships used to use for something or other (Look, all I know is that it's venerated in local maritime history and looks like a little castle). We also walked up the hill to the Old Cemetery that was used in the filming of The Frighteners but we couldn't see any resemblance.
The rain got us, well and truly, the next day so we retreated to the van and wrote the day off. However, the following day, we woke up and blue skies were back. We went back into town and walked out towards an area called Merivale which had a nice little shopping centre. Back in town, we then caught the tram to see some local sights as it goes in a little circuit around the centre. We got off at the Arts Centre which I think is an old school with the classrooms turned into little shops. The only one I was interested in was The
Fudge Cottage which sold delicious fudgy morsels as well as those of the chocolate variety. We then walked on to the Botanic Gardens which looked beautiful in the sunshine.
Our last day in Christchurch ended with our journey on the TransAlpine railway. We caught the train just outside of Christchurch as it travelled over the Canterbury plains and then through the Southern Alps. After 3 and a half hours, we got off at a place called Moana (permanent population a wopping 66 people) and had a great lunch at the Stationhouse café. We were the only people in and the owner took us for a drive to show us the local scenery before we had to get the train back. The scenery is fantastic - the snowcapped mountains in the sunlight, the hidden lakes, the pockets of old houses (mostly unlived in) nestled in the valleys. It’s like being in another world. So there endeth the Christchurch week and we are headed - guess what? South again…
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