New Zealand 2014/15
Saturday January 3
A new dawn
A day in the city. We ride through town to Sumner, a suburb, so we can at least see the ocean. Para-surfers on the bay lean back into the wind and let themselves be pulled by the big gusts in huge arcs above the water.
We had forgotten about the earthquake that hit Christchurch four years ago. The city was originally built on reclaimed swampland and, when the earthquake struck, the ground under the buildings turned liquid. The city literally had the stuffing knocked out of it. Its reputation was one of galleries, museums, and architectural delights. These are all gone.
The wake of the quake
Today buildings are still cordoned off with fronts of twisted metal and crumbling brick. Downtown is gap-toothed – everywhere a building collapsed there is a parking lot. Shipping containers are stacked in front of those facades that are still standing to hold them in place.
Containing the damage
At a shopping mall on Oxford Street they retrofitted shipping containers into storefronts, fitting them with doors and windows. It gives the whole area the funky look of an outdoor pedestrian mall.
Immediately after the quake, the city fathers had to prioritize the rebuilding effort. They decided it was necessary to revitalize the city centre, the area hardest hit, to bring people back and build city spirit. So their first priority was to rebuild the rugby stadium, at great cost. As a result, some people lived for years on streets with portable toilets while a world class stadium was being built.
Government grants and insurance claims are still being processed according to priority. One woman we met continues to make mortgage payments on a house she can't live in; because she is self-employed bankruptcy is not an alternative.
Will Christchurch regain its old form? It puts on a brave face, but the reality will be hard.
When writing a postcard that night the thought struck. It was a beautiful postcard with a smashing photo – the kind that makes you catch your breath and say to yourself "I wish I was there". These are the moments you strive for on a tour, when all the hours of grinding pay off with a spectacular vista or unique setting. That is what has been missing the past few days. Riding across the Canterbury plain was pleasant, but there was never an "A-Ha" moment.
Sunday January 4
We take the train back to Blenheim. We are now under time constraints.
The afternoon is spent riding through wine country. It is easy riding, depending on how many tastings one has had. At Wither Hills, two pinot noires from vineyards 600 meters apart are like night and day, or as the sommelier put it, feminine and masculine. They serve a delicious lunch of lamb shank croquette with a mint hollandaise.
Wither Hills panorama
In the late evening we return to Blenheim on quiet side roads. It is not quite a hard day's ride, but very pleasant.
Belle of Blenheim
Our motel hostess books us a spot at Cafe Raupo, and it is excellent. There is no distinction between indoors and outdoors – windows are open, breezes blow through, casual shoes and sandals cross thresholds with no transition. Café Raupo, Whither Hill, and the Hot Waves café show us that we may have cooked a lot of good food, but we may have missed a lot of good restaurants.
Monday January 5
Mary checks temperatures at home this morning – just to see. They range from plus 1 with freezing rain to minus 29 with severe cold warnings. Enjoy these last few days of sun, let the heat soak into the bones ...
The ride from Blenheim to Picton is straight out on Highway 1, with no deviation left or right. The shoulder is good all the way (except when it isn't). Traffic is fast but not too heavy. The road surface is pebbly and slows us down, but not as much as the wind. About 5 km outside Picton there is a nine percent hill – not too long but enough to remind the legs that there is a difference between wind and hills.
The road to Picton
We meet a Dutch gentleman on the ferry who has lived in New Zealand for 45 years. He cycled Sri Lanka 5 years ago when he was 75 (not good for three reasons: humidity, potholes, diesel soot). You must always go a bit outside your comfort zone, he says. If you don't, your comfort zone gets smaller. He does not think NZ is suitable for touring cycling. The distances are too long and the scenery too similar.
Negotiating the hotel elevator
Our hotel in downtown Wellington has cooking facilities, except there are no pots or pans (despite the sign in the room). The front desk rustles up some pans from the kitchen. While Mary cooks steak and mushrooms I flap a towel over the smoke detectors so the fire alarm won't go off and empty the hotel.