Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ch'Ch Down But Not Out

The first time anyone visits the South Island of New Zealand easily better than 90% alight for the first time in Christchurch, Canterbury. It is the largest city on the South Island and second largest in the country behind Auckland with something just under 400,000 total residents. Auckland is like San Diego, generally quiet but wild at the weekend while Wellington is like San Francisco in nearly identical look and feel, missing only the Golden Gate Bridge to be a virtual dead ringer. Christchurch is an easy mix of old England charm with a ready resemblance to the Denver area thanks to the surrounding mountains. I mean, can you imagine Denver today with only 400,000 folks? Wow!

The second time I flew in Christchurch was merely the jumping off point for a driving tour along the west coast of the island via Arthur's Pass on the way to the Golden Bay area in the far north east corner. The first time, however, was a deliberate visit to the city to visit a local friend living in the area at the time. Christchurch, abbreviated Ch'ch for those who want to be like the locals, is not the place to go for nightlife and cutting edge much of anything. One goes there to escape from the relative mayhem of Auckland and be able to step out in to the "bush" for walks and river adventures. Want further proof? The huge green space in the middle of the city is Hagley Park, half of which is a golf course.

There are two river Avons, the more famous one through Stratford in England. The smaller, shallower one slides through the heart of Ch'ch, weeping willows bending low over the water almost touching the straw hats of the punters working canoes slowly, romantically through the heart of town. It is picture postcard perfect, the water a slight green, the curl around the Christchurch Cathedral under Worcester Street like something from Chaucer and all from a river a good decathlete could jump in hardly a bound.

The Cathedral is not the largest thing in the world but this is New Zealand where anything "flash" and over the top is never needed or appreciated, particularly in the conservative south of the country. It's a cathedral just the same and sits at the very center of town, a symbol of the city and as much a part of the hearts of the locals as St. Mary-le-Bow is to any Cockney from East London.

The Canterbury Crusaders are the local rugby "side" (team) with a very loyal following to go along with the many wines produced in the hills of the area that are world renowned among collectors. Others, including myself, came here for my first experience with jet boating, an activity right up there with bungee jumping and equally thrilling in its own right. The best conditions are a shallow river of no more than 12 inches of water plus a boat holding up to 16 people and powered by a Chevy 350 belching water from a propeller tube to give you up to 60 miles per hour over low rapids and along the canyon walls through endless donuts to the squeals and delights of tourists from all over the world. Just watch out when the driver twirls an extended index finger in a circular motion and hold on for thrilling dear life.

Christchurch is hurting now. My heart goes out to those in the area that have suffered from the most recent earthquake. I discovered though, that the people are resilient and strong in spirit. Ch'ch will be back soon I've no doubt of that. After all, they rebuilt the cathedral four times from previous temblors.

Gotta go.

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