Te kitenga o Ōtautahi i roto i taramu, te kaipuke me te anuhe – Seeing Christchurch by tram, boat and caterpillar

First off I’m going to apologise for all of the translations in my blog titles. I am using Google translate, albeit through several iterations back and forth between languages, but I anticipate that some of it is probably not going to make sense.

After leaving the airport, we stopped for a quick breakfast at McDonald’s to discuss our plan of attack. (It was weird ordering Macca’s without the horror that usually comes with seeing the kilojoule content displayed on the menu…) Seeing as it was such a lovely day, with clear skies promised, we decided to take a tram ride in the city and see the botanic gardens.

The last time we passed through Christchurch, we really passed around Christchurch, keeping to the airport and outer suburbs so as not to get in the way of the earthquake recovery works. But after checking the website of the tram company and a few Trip Advisor reviews by oblivious tourists who claimed that the tram route was too short (because of the earthquake! That killed people!) it appeared that Christchurch CBD was open for tourism.

On the way to the city, we stopped at a little area of wilderness which we spotted from the highway. It was a great little find, a wonderful showcase of Autumn colours, with some lovely inhabitants.

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Driving through the CBD was incredibly eerie – crumbling brickwork, glass towers cordoned off and empty shop fronts, punctuated by modern art installations.

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We found a park and walked towards where we had seen a tram. We were greeted by a very enthusiastic man in a frock coat who convinced us to purchase the trifector – a tram ticket, a guided tour of the Botanic Gardens by caterpillar and romantic punting along the river.

While we waited for the tram, Davey topped up his energy stores with a coffee from a cart which had the best sizing strategy and had a chime like an old school audio book to signify when your coffee was ready.

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I love historic trams. In fact, I like trams in general. They are like buses but you know exactly where they’re going to go because of, you know, the rails. The first tram we went on was Tram 11, named “The Boxcar”. It was built at the turn of the century (the one before last) in Philly PA and spent most of its working life in Dunedin. It “retired” to Christchurch in 1990. The seats run the length of the tram rather than facing forwards and backwards which meant we could sit opposite each other.

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The Boxcar took us past a number of historic and modern buildings. The earthquake was indiscriminate in the buildings it took – some Victorian buildings were untouched, some are in ruins; the modern art gallery (modern by construction and content) is now structurally unsound, but every pane of glass in it survived.

At the end of the line, we stopped at the Canterbury Museum, constructed in Gothic Revival style, situated within the grounds of the (formerly Royal) Botanic Gardens.

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The museum had a lot of very interesting curiosities, some haunting Maori artifacts, which I didn’t feel comfortable photographing and some more typical natural history displays like this weird squid thing:

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There was also a historic high street set up with fully stocked shops and historically appropriate transport options parked for visitor participation (I hope)…

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In the centre of the building, there was a striking hall with a vaulted ceiling, containing household artefacts. My favourites were a suit of armour that was actually a heater and a Victorian mannequin with her “typical” pet monkey.

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We didn’t get through the whole museum because we were intending to take the 11am caterpillar tour. While we were waiting in the gardens, we admired the cast-iron Peacock Fountain, which interestingly doesn’t actually feature any peacocks (it’s named after John Thomas Peacock, who donated money to the Christchurch Beautifying Society). It was originally assembled in 1911, disassembled and stored in 1949 and then re-assembled in 1996.

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Davey also spotted these, which are apparently ornamental cabbages.

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We sat at the back of the caterpillar, so that we would have uninterrupted views of the gardens, but it was a little confusing with the tour guide referring to things that were on our right that were actually on our left and vice versa.

I took lots of photos of trees, some just because they looked awesome, like these ones:

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And some that had some significance like these ones – an ancestor of the Kauri tree, which was thought to be extinct; one next to Scott’s magnetic workshop for this Antarctic Exhibition; one which is where wine corks come from (very important); and one that was grown from a cutting of a willow tree at Napoleon’s grave.

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Intially, the gardens had been created to mimic an English country garden but eventually, themed gardens were added such as a native New Zealand rainforest (which smelt really really fresh), a rose garden, daffodil woodlands, sakura (cherry blossoms), Scottish heathers (pictured below) and many others.

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At the edge of the garden was the Curator’s House, which used to be where the head gardener lived, but it got to be too public so it was converted to a restaurant.

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These gardens are a place that you would need to visit more than once on different days of the year to appreciate all of its majesty and beauty. I would also recommend not visiting it on a day where you had had less than 3 hours sleep the night before.

Davey also found that the gardens were a little cold.

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After we left the caterpillar, we wandered a little down stream to find the boat shed from which the punting launched. The boat shed was very Victorian looking, a wooden series of pitched roofs painted with green and white vertical stripes, with a very noticeable lean (which it turns out was not due to the earthquake). Inside there was a delightful display of boaters (the hats) presumable worn by boaters (the people).

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We had to wait about half an hour, but luckily there were ducks, ducklings and fish (hiding in the stream) to keep us amused.

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The punting was just so relaxing! We crawled along, listening to the punter’s commentary and watching the sky, trees and water pass by, while snuggling under an essential blanket.

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Davey bought some bread for the trip and we fed the ducks. Some particularly keen ducks followed our trail of breadcrumbs for quite a while, finding it too difficult not to keep swimming for free food.

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We travelled back to Cathedral Square via the tram, this time with a jolly conductor who looked like Santa Claus, who had to change the pentagraph direction at the end of the line (it’s probably not called a pentagraph when it’s on a tram, but I mean the electrical connecty bit at the top).

Our friend in the frock coat was also kind enough to take a photo of us with our favourite tram.

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It was then time to make our way to Akaroa, which is further towards the coast. The road wound through a range, which disappeared every now and then due to the fog.
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One of the things that strikes me about landscape here is the imposing, sheer hills that just pop up in front of you like a wall. These photos were taken from the car but for some reason the focus on them makes them look a little bit like they are models. They aren’t.

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The view over Akaroa was breathtaking (it wasn’t just the chilled mountain air).

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We were very happy to get to our cottage, which was lovely and warm, with a gas fire, and so picturesque with its beautiful view.

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Davey cooked us a delicious and comforting soup for dinner, which I accompanied with a Speight’s cider (which I had been waiting to have again for about 18 months) and we had a very welcome sleep.

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