Christmas in Christchurch

Christmas has never been one of my bigger holidays – and that’s nothing against it, but over the years I’ve just drifted apart from what many people enjoy about it. Christmas while travelling is stranger than you might think, as while we know what it’s supposed to be, often we’re spending it with new friends and total strangers.

There’s something oddly satisfying about that.

2020’s Christmas was stranger still. We’re lucky here in New Zealand that we can live normally compared to most of the world still trying to contain Covid-19, but the lack of backpackers has made every hostel I’ve been in feel like a ghost town.

That meant a very chilled and relaxed Christmas doing my own thing.

Bliss.

The Garden City

Christchurch is known as the Garden City of New Zealand, and it’s easy to see why. There are plenty of parks, reserves and green areas around, and this helps break up the buildings – especially in the CBD.

Some of these are newer, making more use of the space after clearing the damage from the earthquakes in 2010 and 11.

The Botanical Gardens is one of the most peaceful areas in the city, and it borders the River Avon as it loops around. There’s a lot of different parts to the garden to explore and enjoy, and it’s easy to spend hours just discovering it all. From the rose garden to the greenhouse and everything in between, I spent a few hours on Christmas Day taking my time to stroll through it. It was the best use of my time on a day where very few places were open.

Walking to the beach

From my hostel, the River Avon was just a two-minute walk away. Following it one way would lead along the edge of the CBD and through the Botanical Gardens, which I’d already explored. Going the other way, however, would take me to New Brighton – after an 11-12km walk!

Now, I’m all for a good walk, especially one as picturesque as this one, but I chose a very hot day to do it, and while I kept to the shade where I could, it’s safe to say I cooked!

Surprisingly, for such a good day, I saw very few people on the trail. That was not only a good sum up of my stay in the city, but giving the weather, I thought I’d see more. Even as I passed parks and picnic areas, no one was around. It was a little eerie, but it meant more peace for me!

After a couple of hours, I made it to New Brighton and the beach. I can tell you now that it looks a good place for surfing, with some of those waves drawing people to them. It made me want to get back on a board and try again.

One day, hopefully!

I had the traditionally ice-cream on the sand and walked to the end of the pier to look up and down the coast, before walking along the coast on a dune walk before opting to take the bus home (walking back another 12km did not appeal).

A little bit of history

On my final day, I took the chance to visit the Canterbury Museum, which has a huge range of exhibits, ranging from life in the early years of the Christchurch settlement to the Antarctica expeditions, from earthquakes to Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House. There’s a lot to absorb, and temporary exhibits make sure there’s always reasons to keep visiting.

Of course, there’s also a lot about Māori traditions and history, too, and this is an area where there’s always something new for me to learn.

I remember hearing about the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes and decided to pay a visit to Quake City, a smaller museum dedicated to these two events. From explaining about the cause of earthquakes, their effects and showing examples of what these catastrophic events can do, there’s a lot to absorb.

Most humbling, however, are the real-life stories of the people who were caught up in the quakes. Some were trapped in buildings, others were searching for loved ones trapped, some were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s worth a visit, if you can, to hear in their own words what happened.

And before I knew it, a week had passed, and it was time to do something really cool. That meant yet another InterCity trip to Lake Tekapo.

Until then.

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