I have a had a fantastic week in Christchurch NZ. It has been tremendously interesting to travel here and find out how technology development and commercialization is done in a different part of the world. On a personal level it has been very interesting to go intercontinental again and discover what travel is like now that I have a growing family of my own.
First off, the city of Christchurch was hit extremely hard by the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and there are still many visible signs and daily reminders of this destruction for New Zelander’s. I was staying in the central business district (CBD) which was hit very hard and where the majority of the deaths occurred. Walking around at night was spooky, in a very other-worldly and post-war sense. The people here are friendly and I certainly didn’t feel unsafe, rather the spookiness comes from the dark buildings, the empty streets and the rubble of buildings all around. I did have the good fortune to spend time with some friends from Denver that have moved to Chch as a change of pace. Kea and Jason, with their son Porter showed me around the city and we took a short drive out into the country as well. it was fun to re-connect with people from my past and to hear a familiar accent upon arriving here in NZ.
On the second day here I rented a car and drove out to Mt. Cook. This wasn’t my first time driving on the left, but it’s been a few years since I was in Scotland so the skills were a little rusty. The roads here are great in the narrow and windy sense of the word. I was able to cruise along and the enjoy the scenery while still maintaining enough concentration to keep the car on the correct, eg left, side of the road. Particularly impressive are the hedges, they grow they massively tall to act as wind-breaks I suppose. Many a prairie farmer would be envious of these hedges, some of which were solid walls of green towering 20 feet high or more!
After a few wrong turns (that’s just how I navigate) I stopped at Lake Tepako for lunch, leg stretching, and great photo opportunities. Lake Tepako is an enormous and beautiful lake with a glacial aqua-marine colour that would rival Lake Louise. In fact, picture Lake Louise and Moraine Lake crammed together and you’ll get a good image of the colour. Now imagine 108.75 Lake Louises all squished together and you’d have the 87 sq km Lake Tepako. Simply gorgeous. From Lake Tepako I continued on to Lake Pukaki and took the road that winds up along the west side. This road leads to the Hermitage and ultimately to Mt Cook.
Mt Cook is an inspiring place set into a verdant and familiar feeling valley. When I was there the summit was wreathed in clouds and all-but inaccessible to mere mortals. We did have a great view of some sub-peaks and the large gaping crevasses that have opened up in the Kiwi spring. I took a short walk up the Hooker Valley trail, across swinging bridges, and decided to climb up Hooker Bluff. My goal was to get as high up the bluff as possible and to change my view of the towering Mt Cook, even so slightly. On the way up the bluff I passed a group of Japanese tourists that had pulled of for tea and I smiled when their leader told me “this is not the trail” – that’s precisely the point! My grin turned to a grimace before long as the bluff became a frustrating mix of loose scree and tight thorny vegetation. Finally, I reached a suitable and respectable stopping place and sat down to enjoy the view. I peeled an orange, saved from breakfast, and looked out over the Hooker Valley trail. The well groomed and graveled path led a steady stream of tourists through the scraggly valley bush to the cool blue Hooker Lake and above it all stood the giant of Mt. Cook. Finishing the orange and taking some water I put my camera away and headed back down the bluff and thence back along the path to my rental car.
The drive back to Chch was largely uneventful and my stomach started to rumble right around the local dinner time. It was then I also discovered some small amount of big-city snobbery that I seem to have developed. Despite being quite hungry I passed up many grungy looking small-town restaurants in hops that I would find one more suitable. I suppose flexibility and openness are skills that need to be practised. Finally, I asked a girl working at the local gas station if they “had any restaurants that were any good”, yes, those were my exact words. I cringed inwardly when I heard them but she didn’t seem offended and after paying for my fuel ($2.12/litre!) directed me to a local pub/restaurant. It had all the signs of a small town place, furnished in the 70’s and only a handful of clearly regular customers inside. However, i was immediately struck by how warm and friendly the owner was, she struck up a conversation with me and I felt myself smiling and changing my attitude. The roast lamb dish was excellent with flavourful gravy and a heaping side of potatoes, squash, and fresh vegetables. The dinner included a huge helping of a banana caramel cream pie on a biscuit (cookie) crust, which was also amazing. The rest of the drive back was uneventful and I enjoyed the short walk from the rental car place to my hotel.
The next day, Tuesday, was the official start of the conference I was here to attend; however it was primarily focused towards students. I decided to walk from the hotel to the university, a delightful 6km walk that took me through the Botanic Gardens, Riccarton Bush, and a number of residential areas. The Botanic Gardens are amazing. With the mild climate and reputation as “The Garden City” they have the ability and desire to grow fantastic gardens. There were flowers of the like I’d never seen, towering trees from the 1870s, and rose blossoms larger than my hand! In the residential areas it was refreshing to see something that hadn’t been impacted by the earthquake and to know that life was somewhat normal for most people. The campus of the University of Canterbury is well established and buildings coincide with gardens in a very natural way. Like most of the CBD the campus was under some level of reconstruction and the site was swarming with men and women in bright orange vests blazoned with “Earthquake Reconstruction Team” and then in a smaller font below “Safety is no accident”. I didn’t spend much time at the student-focused conference, I did introduce my to the organizers and get the lay of the land though which helps for the following days.
The rest of the day was spent walking and wandering and generally touristing, albeit in a low key kind of way.
The conference was enjoyable, I met many new and interesting people including a large number of Canadians over here for work or school. It was interesting to hear their stories, fill them in on local news, and get a real perspective on what life in AUSNZ is like. Mostly they agreed that life is slower paced in Aus, and slower yet again in NZ; there was no consensus on whether this was good or not and I suppose is up to personal taste. Given that it’s winter at home right now I was envious of their ability to live outdoors most of the year and the ease with which they can blur the lines between inside and outside. I was staggered to learn that Aussie houses of a certain vintage do not have central heating/cooling or proper insulation, in fact one fellow mentioned wearing a down coat in the house because the winter was so cool and the house so drafty. It’s always good to hear things that change the default point of view.
At the start of the conference they had a Maori invocation and good wishes to open the conference. I’ve noticed that Maori is very integrated in the life of NZ even coming first on many official signs and structures. A few times during the conference they referred to New Zealand as “bi-cultural” which I found to be very interesting given that Canada is purportedly “multi-cultural”. So I assume then that the two cultures are Maori and “New Zelander” (my term, I don’t know of a proper one to use) and I would be curious to find out more about how immigrants from other cultures are integrated into NZ society. Does they need to fully adapt and integrate? Does the definition of “New Zelander” change over time to reflect a changing demographic? Does it retain a traditional anglo-Caucasian definition leaving cultural immigrants to exist in a shadow-culture? I don’t know, but I’d be interested to find out.
The first night we had a dinner in the Cardboard Cathedral, a transitional structure designed by a Japanese architect after the local Cathedral and traditional city icon was nearly destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. It was a fun and social time with a great group of industry and domain level peers. The food, drinks, and setting really set a positive and fun mood.
All in all I have very much enjoyed this short trip and the opportunity to see a new part of the world. I often find myself reflecting on the adventures and travels contained in this blog and sometimes lamenting how little travel or “adventure” we have these days. However, being away has highlighted so many of the good things that I have in this life, my family, kids, friends and colleagues. Sometimes it is hard to accept that one phase of life is over and that we are entering a new lifetime. Sometimes we need a reminder that the old phase like an old jacket, no longer fits in the way that it used to. I am thankful for all of my previous adventures, travels, and experiences. I am excited to be in this phase where I can watch our children grow and marvel at the world. And finally, I look forward to a day when Logan and Riley are of an age that we can travel with them, show them the world, and experience it through their eyes as well.
(I’m in an airport so can’t upload photos… for now check them out on Facebook link)