As English as putting Mayo on your chips

Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
Trip End Oct 22, 2004

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Flag of New Zealand  ,
Sunday, September 12, 2004


After a nice cooked breakfast in Outrigger's restaurant we were collected at noon by a courtesy taxi that would take us five minutes up the road to the Kea Campervans depot.

As at the Darwin branch of Kea, we were greeted by a very nice Dutch girl who was well aware of our predicament with our previous van, and once more we were kindly compensated with a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc waiting for us in the van. This company just can't do enough for you and it was no surprise that in a newspaper recently we read of Kea winning a major tourism award for service.

For our trek around the chilly South Island we were given extra duvets, blankets, pillows and a set of snow chains before heading towards Christchurch city centre with a stop-off at a local supermarket for a stock-up.

We found a really nice campervan park five minutes from the centre and booked a space for three nights which would give us ample time to see the city's sights. Being experts in tourist park ablution blocks now, we could see immediately that this one was up there with the best of them, and it seemed every little amenity was automatically controlled with sensors. As you entered, the lights would come on and the floor would heat up, on approaching the basin the tap would start to flow, and on approaching a urinal a small robotic hand would emerge from . . . sorry, gone too far as usual. And what about the basins? It was minimalist to a minimum of minimalicity being just a long slanting flat slab of granite which sloped into a shiny silver gutter at the back. I could go on all day about toilet blocks.

After calming down from our pleasurable pissoir we drove into town for our first look at the 150-year-old 'Garden City'. We found a parking metre all too easily in what is the biggest city in the south before realising it was Sunday afternoon, and as we took our first steps through the streets we were already getting a 'nice city' vibe about the place. The route to the town square took us past lovely old buildings like the Canterbury Museum and the Arts Centre, as well as a smart modern one in the shape of the new Art Gallery. And once over the Avon River, Cathedral Square was the hub of the city dominated by Christ Church Cathedral celebrating its 100th birthday this year, and in its shadow stood a stunning cone-shaped silver and blue sculpture that complemented it perfectly. Circling (or squaring?) the square was the sightseeing tram that weaves around town on a 2-mile loop and in another big Gothic building was Tourist Information. All of what we were seeing supported the oft-repeated description of Christchurch being the most English of cities outside England, but we were getting more of a Belgian feel from the place with traces of Ghent and Bruges coming through, backed up by the surprising number of bars serving Stella Artois and Moules Frites.

After an aimless stroll we stopped off at Oxford Terrace, scene of a number of inviting atmospheric bars and cafes so choosing just one proved a challenge in itself and after four or five walk-pasts we finally plumped for 'The Viaduct' for beer, vino and wedges, before heading back to base to spend an evening in the toilet block marvelling at its many wonders.


Today we had a proper look at Christchurch beginning with a punt along the Avon River. We enjoyed a twenty-minute journey from the Worcester Street bridge up to Victoria Square and back again taking in the views from sea-level including a semi-submerged shopping trolley. Now that's where they get the Little-England thing from.

With our trusty travel guide we then embarked on a self-guided walk around all the best bits including a pedestrianised New Regent Street with its Spanish Mission style rows of shops, the City Mall, another pedestrian-only street with all the nicest boutiques, followed by a look at the Bridge of Remembrance with its stone archway, and then up to peaceful oasis that is Victoria Square once more, before heading into a local Belgian bar for a lunch of Moules Frites and Leffe beer.

This is a really nice walkable city, and where there wasn't a pedestrianised area there wasn't a lot of traffic to worry about anyway, and the streetnames constantly reminded you of its English roots with names like Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester and Oxford interdispersed with more exotic names like Colombo, Armagh and Manchester.

Back at base we had a laundry session before resuming our worship of the holy U-bend.


Once more we drove into Christchurch for a cruise around Hagley Park, the city's vast green expanse of sports-grounds, walking tracks, lakes, botanical gardens and golf course before popping around the corner to take a look at one of the city's most historic homes, Mona Vale, with its Englishy homestead and sweeping lawns on the banks of the Avon. We'd have loved to have gone inside but it was closed so we settled on a duck-feeding session.

With some skiing on the cards in the not too distant future we then headed into town to visit a local ski shop. Figuring we were going to be on the piste quite a few days we decided to invest in some skiwear to save money on rentals, and after an hour or so deliberating over different trouser styles we came away with jackets and trousers in fashionable(?) black.

Heading out of town we took a scenic route following the Avon River all the way to the coast and the town of . . . any guesses? New Brighton.

Like its namesake it was windy and it had a pier, but that's where the similarities ended. This town had a population of what seemed twenty and a parking space was found in no time. After nearly being blown off the end of the pier we walked along an eerily quiet high street before shooting off home via the bright lights of Palms Mall, a local shopping and cinema complex where we dined at a little Chinese restaurant then watched Spider-Man 2. Verdict: Not bad, not brilliant, not as good as the first.

Christchurch had been enjoyable bordering on charming. It was the kind of town you could see yourself living in, a real good mixture of the old and the new, full of friendly people and interesting places to visit. If this is 'England 50 years ago', then sadly we've been born 50 years too late.

Next up, a drive inland to the mountains to see if we'd remembered how to ski . . .

Armitage & Shanks
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