Despite the stress of almost not being allowed to leave Australia, I was excited when I touched down in Christchurch. It has been nearly a decade since I was last in New Zealand and I have held the country fondly in my heart ever since. It seems things have changed a little since my last visit, however. The first thing I noticed was masses of street art and tags. I love street art that makes you smile or makes you admire the artist – it is everywhere across the city and a lot of it has been created by very skilled artists. The tags however, I despise – people scrawling their names across buildings and walls seems nothing short of vandalism.
As we got closer to the centre of town, the next change is obvious. The destruction. Five years ago an earthquake ripped the centre of Christchurch apart, killing one hundred and eighty five people in New Zealand’s second most deadly (confirmed) natural disaster. In the four years that followed, 1,240 building demolitions occurred in the four avenues of central Christchurch. What stood out for me most, was the Christchurch Cathedral. It’s an iconic building, synonymous with the city, but still stands in disrepair. A wooden tunnel covered in growing plants, a symbol of hope, has encouragingly been erected in front of it.
After a night on aeroplanes and in airports, we were exhausted when we arrived. Arriving at a hostel too early to check in, we passed out in the common room on bean bags, only to wake up and find the room full of people. Then came our bicycle search.
We intended to cycle from Christchurch to Queenstown and back up to Auckland, but soon discovered that finding bicycles and cycling routes was a little tricker than we hoped. By the end of the day we had no more than the bicycle helmets we had arrived with, although we did put down a deposit on two bicycles. They weren’t the bicycles we had hoped to get as the model I had been assured would be in store, was not in store. Next morning, we found out all hostels in Christchurch were booked out and went to pick up our bicycles. Mine was to be blue and Leah’s was to be red – unfortunately they got the colours mixed up, so we bought very expensive* bicycles that we didn’t want that much.
*As I am used to cycling on super low-cost bicycles, I thought these bicycles were expensive, but they were pretty much the cheapest bikes in the store.
As we explored the town, we encountered a curiously large volume of interaction with randoms. One gentleman on a motorcycle called us ‘F***ing **** ****’ amongst other things whilst flicking us off multiple times because he felt we took too long to cross the road. I maintain that the ‘crossing man’ was still flashing. We then had several other curious encounters concluding in being offered drugs at the bus station, then watching someone suffering from heroin be neglected by security guards and an ambulance before being taken away by the police. That was shortly after he peed against the large glass windows of the bus station.
Our search for everything we needed was fairly unsuccessful, although we have acquired a rather decent tent. The rest of our equipment, most notably our panniers, are a little substandard.
After a bit of research, we decided to rethink our route and instead, cycle from south to north. Doing this meant catching the early morning bus to Invercargill. Although I’m not keen on sleeping wild in cities, it wouldn’t normally be a problem as I have spent many nights free-camping around the world (and only been arrested once). Yet Christchurch by night made me very uneasy. Arguments, people throwing street signs, kids tormenting security guards, every traffic cone knocked over – it was as if the city went mad under a full moon. Instead of sleeping, we headed to a 24 hour diner after midnight, when the bus station finally closed. While we were in it – I kid you not – it caught fire and we ran out as two fire trucks and their crew came storming in. At this point we found out that the tyre on one of our brand new bicycles was completely flat.
I don’t remember Christchurch being such a rough place, but exhausted, we finally lay upon the pavement to rest in front of the bus station as intoxicated people continued their yelling around us. This morning we boarded a bus to Invercargill where we will start our ride. All in all, it has been a curious start to our trip – deflating might be the best way to describe it. I look forward to getting back to the nature of New Zealand and away from the (unexpected) madness of Christchurch. Trees can be so much nicer than people at times.