Birmingham – Dubai – Brisbane – Christchurch
We flew out of Birmingham airport on Tuesday evening. By the time Qantas delivered us to Christchurch, South Island NZ, it was early Friday morning, partly because we paused our travels in Brisbane, Australia for 12 hours.
If, like us, you have loving and hospitable relatives in Brisbane, I highly recommend this choice of itinerary. It offers a much-needed break, and could save you a lot of money. Turns out Brisbane is a crew change point for Emirates/Qantas, so they like to go there. We saved thousands of pounds off the original flight quotes by specifying Brisbane on the itinerary.
It was cool and pouring with rain in Brisbane. But who cares when you have a delightful nephew and niece-in-law to chauffeur you round the city, and provide great food and a very welcome shower? We drove round my old haunts from my time as a Brisbane schoolgirl; I recognised virtually nothing. Brisbane has become a high-rise multicultural city that bears little resemblance to the quiet little city of my teenage years. But still a lovely place.
On to Christchurch. Having pre-booked a transfer from the airport, we stayed two nights at the Breakfree on Cashel, a well-located and comfortable modern backpacker hotel with good catering. The weather was much cooler (14 degrees) and wetter than we had expected, but we donned our British outer gear and set off to explore.
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, but still compact and approachable. It was devastated by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, and this legacy is clearly at the forefront of minds here. We were very struck by the energy and commitment of the people to restore their city. Everyone knows the famous Cardboard Cathedral, of course; and a great deal of care is being made to preserve beloved Victorian buildings as well as taking the opportunity to build for the future.
Breakfast in pretty New Regent Street, pastel-painted Spanish Mission revival style, rather like Clough Ellis’ Port Meirion. Then we took the old electric tram to the wonderful Botanic Gardens, the legacy of a group of keen Victorian horticulturalists. Their efforts to recreate an ideal English garden had mixed results, but the fusion of native trees and European species is a happy one. The conservatories bear comparison with Kew. The paints looked as if a troupe of busy fairies equipped with dusters and leaf shine was ahead of us at every point. We spoke to the head of the volunteers there, herself descended from the fifth ship to arrive, who explained that Christchurch had been a middle-class English settlement, hence botanical gardens on the Avon river (narrower than its namesake) was a key priority back in the day.
On our way out of Christchurch the next day, heading to Akaroa, we passed a poignant memorial to the victims of the 2011 earthquake:
Every Sunday, the families of a lost loved one bring out on silent display a white-painted chair to represent their loss. One was a baby’s car seat.
Despite its energy and positivism, Christchurch has not, and will not it seems, forgot its losses.