England Down Under

February 8, 2016

Today was a traditional tourist day in the city dedicated to English tradition, Christchurch. The Archbishop of Canterbury received in 1849 a Royal Charter to found a new city on the fertile Canterbury plain that surrounds the natural harbor at Lyttelton. By 1850 their were settlers and the city continued to grow. It is coincidental that the city was founded at the same time as San Francisco and both have suffered devastating earthquakes. Today was a day focusing on this most English-like of New Zealand towns.

After shopping in a most un-English supermarket, we headed for the Gondola that sits atop a extinct, I hope, volcano on the edge of town. The ride up to the top of what used to be the rim was easy for the non-acrophobes. Peggy was happy and I figured that it was safe one more day. The views were great and it was easy to see why the settlement succeeded as a farming center. There is flat, well watered land all the way to the Southern Alps. It is kind of like if Kansas was located on the ocean. Geologists assert that there were as many as 16 volcanoes making up the Banks Peninsula that juts out to sea from Christchurch.

After our thankfully excitement free ride, we returned to the center of town for a picnic. The Hagley Park is about the same size as Central Park. For a town of some 300,000 there is a lot of parkland. We picnicked next to the Avon River that winds through the city. Plenty of ducks. We enjoyed the Botanic Gardens and the Sequoia and Redwood trees that are doing quite well.

In February 2011 the city center was virtually wiped out by a 6.3 earthquake that killed 183 people and destroyed 70 percent of the downtown. The city is still in recovery and will be for a long time. We boarded the 100 year old street cars for a ride through town. It was easy to see that despite the damage, the Christchurch folks are bouncing back. Construction is everywhere but there are still plenty of empty lots. Most distressing was the damage to the Cathedral that has been desanctified and left to the pigeons. A replacement made of cardboard has replaced the church while the Bishop, et al figure out what to do. It appears that the earthquake damage was aggravated by liquefaction on this flat plain with its high water table. In San Francisco the Marina District suffered in the same way a few years ago.

We enjoyed a walk through the local museum to see the story of the demise of the extinct giant Moa at the hands of the Maori who found the flightless birds delicious and sitting ducks for their spears. The Maori had plenty of stone axes and weapons. I enjoyed the story of the early European immigrants. There were posters advertising for working class immigrants. You needed to get the clearance and recommendation from your vicar certifying that you were of good moral character,etc. Once in NZ the immigrants seemed to dive right into the process of creating a New England. This was a much better choice than the rocks of Massachusetts.

The young man punting us down the River Avon was enjoyable. The last time we had been punting was in Cambridge, England a number of years ago. This time our punting was not a self drive set up. We were safe without me in charge. We discussed American and NZ politics. The other passengers in the punting boat were Chinese and had no clue about our conversation. It was all quite pleasant as we managed to buy some ice cream bars and more Snickers in case we need to fend off some bears.

Christchurch has been a fun visit and we have enjoyed British civility in this land down under. We head for the mountains and hot springs tomorrow.

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