Australasia | New Zealand – The Canterbury Tales
The Canterbury Tales
February 6 10, 2004
In the heart of Canterburys city of Christchurch, New Zealand, I am spoiled for the first few days in this country, booked into a spacious one-bedroom unit at the Stonehurst Hostel. The suite is equipped with its own small kitchenette, Jacuzzi tub, and not one, but two televisions, a stereo unit, and a queen size bed. Staff at the hostel are, as the English would say, a little bit mad, and they have to be while catering to the backpacker set and everyone up to the three bedroom family flats. Internet, swimming pool, pool table, and even a piano surround the common kitchen and laundry facilities. Pricey pizza or pasta, and unbelievably cheap beer are on tap. Its a good place to get your bearings in a place that for me seems so familiar, but underneath it all, has a unique a charming character.
On the long weekend that celebrates Waitangi Day marking New Zealands constitution and agreement with the indigenous Maori people, there is some disappointment in the land. The agreement was meant to offer equal as well as special status to the Maori people, but the opposition members elected to the government are meddling. Protests and front-page headlines reporting on the troubles are the order of the day.
Here in Christchurch, the mens world softball championship is in town and I catch a game between Canada and Japan. Canada wins and eventually gets to the final with New Zealand where the hometown Black Sox wins it all. There are also over 1000 cyclists here, mostly from Australia, but from other places in the world. They are here for a big organized and controlled ride around the south island. And the big Speights Coast-to-Coast race will take place in the ongoing downpour that seems to be afflicting us at the moment.
On to the attractions and the people:
Christchurch Cathedral and square is the heart of the city. It was built in the mid 1800s and everyday, the local wizard creates his own speakers corner railing on about the way he thinks women and men should be. Hes been declared a living art exhibit by the prime minister and sells maps that show New Zealand as being at the top of the world instead of down under where the sun is in the north at high noon. I climbed the cathedral tower, visited the Arts Center and museum, the botanical gardens and went punting down the Avon River. Punting is not that difficult, but there was a strong current after the thunderstorm and it was a little bit harder to get the steering right.
Nearby New Brighton Beach has a surf club and surf lessons that I hope to take if the weather is better on my return.
The people here refer to themselves as Kiwi and Im doing my best to learn the language. First its a matter of getting the right tenor and pitch when you say Howre ya goin mate? Then you get a grip on the more subtle things like Ta, Awesome, Fantastic, and Yeah No. I was talking to a Kiwi the other day and he mentioned that the country had four million people. Yeah I said. Four million people and sixty million sheep!
Whats wrong with sheep mate?
Nothings wrong with sheep.
How do ya know that mate?
I dont know that. Is there something wrong with sheep?
Ah. Youre asking the wrong bloke, but are ya sure you dont know theres nothing wrong with sheep?
I think you get the drift of the humour. They are a good lot and have a good sense of taking the piss out of you so to speak. As far as restaurant service goes, you could think everyones just plain rude and doesnt give a hoot, but they dont survive on tips, so you just get used to it after awhile. And really, its pretty straight forward not a fake pleasantness that you can become accustomed to in North America. As a Canadian with a loonie more or less on par with the Kiwi, I notice the differences in prices. Most things in New Zealand are between 20 and 100% more, so Im glad I did get most of my gear together at home.
Ive been spending some time here in Christchurch dealing with some repacking issues and filing claims due to some theft from my luggage at LAX. Apparently, there has been such regular theft from luggage in transit on NZ1 to Auckland that the Kiwi police wont even take reports, referring people to the Los Angeles World Airport police, who dont respond to calls or emails, and the info people suggest you write to the LA Times to try and create some media pressure for an investigation.
There have been a few lessons already. Number one do a trial pack well in advance. Thanks to my friend Sherry for taking the extra 19 pounds out of that big hockey bag. Did I really need three bottles of sunscreen? Not in this rain!
Charge up the charge cards even more as in New Zealand, you can easily live off them without having to go to the ATM for cash. Every ounce or gram really does count, because eventually they all add up. That means Im trying to get lighter as I go along.
Me and my B.O.B. trailer from Black Sheep bikes in Vancouver will soon hit the road meeting up with Lannie from my Beer and Loathing Softball team and her beau Aaron from Fort St. John in Northern British Columbia. We will make our way over the Southern Alps and then up the West Coast. Currently Im planning to bus to Queenstown and then bus to Haast where we will meet up and begin the ride.
Thanks for checking in and seeing whats up.
Next update in a week or so.