Greetings from Kiwi-land! After a very – very…VERY long trip from LAX (via Tokyo, Singapore, + a 17-hour layover in Singapore) I finally arrived three days after my departure. It was just after 10am in Christchurch, and I noticed three things before I even left the airport:
1. The people are ridiculously friendly. I’m talking make-you-feel-insanely-welcome friendly. From the guy at the airport info counter, who joked and laughed with me in addition to answering my questions, to the lady at the currency exchange counter who gave me change for my $50 bill, to the guy on the bus who didn’t hesitate to assure me that he’d tell me which stop I needed to get off at for my hostel…I was floored. And I felt instantly at ease and comfortable in the city, within 10 minutes of arriving.
2. The air, I kid you not, is fresh, clean, and sweet. I stepped out of the airport into a brilliant summer day beneath a stunning blue sky, and breathed in the first fresh air I’d inhaled since I left LA. Maybe it was because I’d been breathing in stale airplane and airport air for three days, but I think it’s more than that. Of course, the fact that New Zealand boasts the purest air on the planet could play a part, too.
3. The toilets flush backward. No, really. Check another item off my bucket list. I actually grinned when I watched the swirl in the airport toilet.
For those of you who don’t know, Christchurch was slammed by a 6.3 earthquake in February 2011. The epicenter was just over the hills, not very deep into the earth, and it brought the entire city to its knees. To make matters worse, they have been rattled by no less than 11,000 aftershocks to date.
Massive restoration projects are underway, rendering tourism in the city rather bleak. Construction zones dot the landscape, orange cones pave the way for detours, and many local businesses are closed. Despite this, the city has gingerly found it feet again, and everywhere you look there is encouragement for a more promising future. Still, the earthquake(s) have left a lasting impression on the area, and the memories are always in the back of everyone’s mind.
My local Kiwi friend, Tresca, had already offered to show me around Christchurch a bit while I’m here, but I didn’t expect her to show up at the coffee house where I was using free wi-fi on the afternoon I arrived. It was a pleasant surprise, and she proceeded to take me out to dinner at a local ale house by the beach. For the first time, I rode passenger-side on the LEFT in a car, since New Zealanders drive on the right side of the car (left side of the road.) I have to say, I’m not particularly fond of it. Tresca laughed every time she turned out onto the road and I grabbed the dashboard, yelling “WATCH OUT! Oh…”
At dinner, I tried what is apparently a “kiwi classic” – a thick slab of beef on a bun, slathered with such curiosities as “onion jam” (explained to me as similar to relish), beetroot (it’s purple), and BBQ sauce. I was surprised to find it was actually quite tasty, although extremely filling. And I think New Zealanders need to embrace the delights of ranch dressing in their cuisine, but you know, that’s just me.
Afterward, we drove over to Sumner, a quaint little seaside town in the foothills near the epicenter of the earthquake. It was about 8pm and the sun was still high in the sky (down here at the bottom of the world, there’s a LOT of sunlight during the summer!) We saw brave souls parasailing in the chilly wind, but otherwise the beach was blissfully vacant.
Today brings scenic drives and routes by the sea, the delights of “buskers” (street performers), and botanic gardens.