By Bonnie and Bill Neely
When we visited Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand (now renamed the continent of Zealandia), it was still recovering from the 6.3 earthquake in 2011 that destroyed or damaged many buildings. The Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament and the city center had already been damaged by a 2010 earthquake. The church was still undergoing reconstruction, and the surrounding area was blocked off in many places, but the park in front of it, where locals gather for all kinds of events, was open.
We enjoyed the nearby Canterbury Museum, which is filled with wonderful and well-displayed exhibits about the country's rich cultural and natural history. Regretfully, we discovered this free museum only an hour before its 5 p.m. closing time. Next time, we'll plan to stay longer.
Hagley Park, the main recreation area for Christchurch, consists of 406 acres of beautiful grass, trees and walkways with lovely flower beds. In 1850, when the city was formed, this huge plot of land was set aside for the enjoyment of the citizens by the city's founding fathers. It was named Hagley Park, the same name as the country estate of Lord Lyttelton, who became chairman of the Canterbury Association in March 1850.
Today, the prime feature is the Christchurch Botanical Gardens, with a beautifully designed glasshouse of tropical plants, a peace bell, a restaurant and bathroom facilities. Several other, older buildings are part of this tranquil place, where you can spend a day or many more.
This is the city's center for outdoor fun, individual and organized, for locals and visitors. At all times, there are people running on the pathway, fishing, watching ducks on the stream, pushing baby strollers, playing games, and just enjoying being outdoors in a safe and beautiful environment free to all citizens and also to visitors. What a far-reaching gift of the founders of Christchurch, which will continue to be enjoyed and treasured for generations.
We had to alter our planned route back to Picton, where we would board our ferry to North Island, because Highway 1 north of Christchurch had been severely damaged in an earthquake at Kerikeri a week prior to our arrival. So we took an alternate route, the highway through the center of the island, and stopped for the night in Hanmer Springs. Because this is a favorite holiday place for New Zealanders, we were lucky to find a very nice motel on short notice. All vehicles had been rerouted this way due to the earthquake, so the sleeping accommodations were nearly at capacity.
This drive was a picturesque detour we would otherwise have missed. The yellow hayfields were backed by tall mountains forested with dark green evergreen trees. Rows of giant "Christmas trees" served as fence lines outlining the pastures. Thousands of sheep dotted the fields.
As we entered Hanmer Springs, we stopped for the gorgeous overlook of a river in the peaceful valley far below us. This pretty and welcoming little mountain town has one long street of shops, eateries, tourist entertainment and accommodations. It has long been a choice holiday place because of the beauty of the mountains and the healing qualities of the natural hot springs. There are also many thermal pools, but they have been commercialized and kept sanitary with chlorine, so the entrance fee seemed a bit high. This little town is a popular destination year-round, with skiing in winter.
Scarborough Lodge was a great find, with a lovely, large, private apartment for about $100. We had a full kitchen, a patio and a large jetted spa bathtub as well as a shower. The manager, Philippa, is an excellent massage therapist and owns Sanctuary Massage, which is part of the motel. We booked ahead because she is often booked up, and she got us in good shape for our very long drive the following day.
WHEN YOU GO
Bonnie and Bill Neely are freelance writers. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
The overlook on the way into Hanmer Springs provides visitors with a view of the river valley before entering this delightful town on New Zealand's North Island. Photo courtesy of Bill Neely.