The first day of our whirlwind tour of New Zealand and Fiji could be summed up in two vastly different words – chaos and calm. In my first really big trip since last year’s United States adventure, I’ve had a little bit of both and maintained a smile through most of it.
After getting in to Christchurch so late the previous night, we slept late in our surprisingly comfortable hostel beds. We’d accidentally awoken our Eastern European room-mates when we’d arrived, but they’d managed far more discretion in their early morning departure. With the room to ourselves Fallon slept in an extra hour or so, and I got up to get started on documenting things.
By the time we’d showered and dressed it was almost 11am, and we made a leisurely walk down towards Cathedral Square. As we walked I felt a cold trickle of water run down my back, and hurriedly shrugged off my backpack to discover it was leaking water. I quickly pulled it open and fished around in a full inch of ice cold water – snatching up my Canon Sx20 IS and my iPod from the watery mess. the iPod, durable brick that it is, was fine – but my camera hasn’t been able to power up since its first (and apparently last) bath.
The fault lay with me, of course. I’d filled my water bottle for the day ahead but hadn’t secured the lid. Lesson learned. I was more annoyed at myself for not managing to bring along my small point and shoot – because now I’ll be relying on Fallon’s camera for any photography until I can find an affordable second hand model.
Still, Christchurch had turned out a beautifully sunny day for us and I wasn’t going to let a waterlogged camera stop me from enjoying myself. We dawdled towards Cathedral Square and eventually managed to find a courtesy shuttle running in that direction. The strains of ABBA’s ‘Dancing Queen’ lifted my spirits just a little more.
I’d heard mixed reviews of Christchurch from our friends Dave & Jess, who only recently did their own tour of the shaky isle. But walking the sun dappled stones of the square and listening to cheery tune of a bone whistle – I was instantly enchanted. The Gothic cathedral, a sight in itself, is surrounded by all manner of eye catching things. A massive Christmas tree is flanked by a pair of London style telephone booths purporting to be a direct line to Santa. A large count-down clock ticks inevitably towards the 2011 Rugby World Cup, and a colourful array of market stalls immediately grabbed Fallon’s attention.
With our bellies rumbling we’d hoped to find a vendor, but instead happened upon a Scottish street performer enchanting a rapidly growing crowd with his charisma and cheeky sense of humour. We watched as he swallowed a balloon and brow beat his gawky volunteer, working towards the feat of having somebody stand on his chest on a bed of broken glass.
That someone, it turned out, was to be me. Looking for ‘someone with a bit of muscle and mass’, he picked me from the crowd and all 99 kilograms of me perched on his bare chest just a few moments later. Even stuck between an Aussie and a sharp place he still managed to keep the crowd laughing. It was a real treat to be a part of the show, and he was kind enough to pose for a photo with me afterwards.
After the show we went back to the task of finding something more substantial than the snickerdoodle blondies Fallon had baked for the trip – and found a New York style sandwich bar in an arcade lined with garishly colored former terrace housing. I hadn’t been expecting much from my Little Italy slider, but the bread was hearty and the Elderflower flavored sparkling mineral water really hit the spot after we’d been out in the increasingly fierce sun.
Our bellies full, we headed back toward Cathedral Square to do a bit more exploring. We paid a visit to the iconic cathedral firstly. While it’s an Anglican cathedral, you’d be forgiven for assuming it was of the Catholic faith with its ostentatious decoration and decadence. I’ve been somewhat fascinated with churches ever since I read Ken Follet’s Pillars of Earth, and exploring the Christchurch Cathedral only further cemented that interest. I’d love to be able to tour different European churches, and cathedrals someday.
It was while walking through the church that I experience a feeling of complete peace. Despite all of the tourists bustling around and the distant sounds of traffic, the world seemed to quiet as I stood alone before the tabernacle. I’m not a particularly religious person, nor am I one taken to prayer, but I’ll confess to muttering a short prayer of thanks to whoever it is up there who watches over me. I’m healthy, I’m on my way back to doing what I love, my site has started to earn me a small amount of money, and I’m out traveling with one of the best friends I’ve ever had.
The moment was short lived, and soon we were off to explore the city again. It was time for a bit of boredom as I trailed Fallon through the markets with a frozen yogurt to keep me company. I should point out that she’s been most accommodating of my need to stay connected though – so I won’t begrudge her a little window shopping.
The Scottish entertainer had been replaced by a small troupe of local girls raising money for their Irish dance recital and a local crazy preaching nonsense to an audience of none. The way the square plays host to a whole host of community spirit is just so enchanting. You get that festival vibe wandering in Darling Harbour or even Circular Quay, but this was a far more sedate kind of festivity. Buskers were spaced far enough apart that they didn’t clash, and rather than rushing too and fro – tourists seemed content to loll in the great leafy shade of the trees that dot the courtyard and just soak in the day.
Fallon’s shopping bug continued as she investigated a string of local souvenir shops, so I stretched out on a comfortable looking bench and pulled my hat down over my eyes for a mid afternoon nap. With the tree shading me from the sun and the slightest of breezes to cool the sweat on my brow, I drifted off for a good half hour before the awkwardness of my angle woke me up and I went off in search of Fallon.
Dinner found us exploring Christchurch in search of the Twisted Hops Pub. Fallon and I have always shared a love of a good microbrewed beer, and we weren’t going to turn down the opportunity to sample some New Zealand flavour while we had the chance. The brewery lies down Poplar Lane with about four other similarly cute eateries and pubs. It all felt as I’d imagine it must feel to eat in an Italian city – with clientele seeming to mingle in the open courtyard that existed between the Vespa and the Twisted Hops.
We took up the six beer sampler and ordered up meals – Fallon grabbing beer battered fish with sweet potato fries and me opting for the BBQ ribs with fries on the side. Our healthy eating begins anew in Queenstown, but for the time being we indulged ourselves. We’re on vacation after all!
A little sleepy from the beer and the food, we made our way back to the hostel to get ourselves packed for our 8am flight to Queenstown. A beer in front of the TV with a few of our fellow backpackers was a fitting end to a very chill day, and now it’s off to bed before the fun and adventure of New Zealand’s adrenaline capital.