Thursday, 7 January 2016

Christchurch, Camping and … Crime

This blog was written by Andrew from the living room (which is also the bedroom, kitchen and everything else room) of a two-man tent (Didn't think that was possible).

The AIEG (Anglo-Irish Expeditionary Group) arrived in Christchurch on St. Stephen’s Day after a long but uneventful flight from Heathrow via Singapore.  Very full flights, sporadic sleep and little turbulence;  ‘nuff said.

Christchurch, Canterbury.  A name that brings back happy memories for me of five years spent being educated in the shadow of Canterbury Cathedral also known as Christ Church, Canterbury. 

However, the Christchurch where we spent the first four days of our trip now is a very different prospect.  Devastated by the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 the city centre is an extraordinary place.  I have never been to a war zone or seen the aftermath of war apart from newsreels but the city centre is an aweful (Ed: ‘sic’ please as I mean a sight full of awe) sight.  Being laid out on a grid basis the extent of the destruction soon becomes clear:  cleared gaps between buildings that survived, intersections that are four razed areas and nothing else.  There is evidence of building everywhere with the steel skeletons of new structures to the fore so it is to be hoped that the spirit of this noble city will survive and thrive.  We enjoyed a two hour guided walk around the city and from our enthusiastic guide, learnt more than the guidebooks’ offering.  For example, 10% of the population of New Zealand fought in the First World War:  170,000 men of which 17,000 were either killed or wounded.  Like the small island to the west of New Zealand, Gallipoli and the ANZAC have become a significant part of the respective national identities.

After our few days in Christchurch, we met some of the IFEG (Irish French Expeditionary Force) at the airport where they arrived after a short flight from Auckland having travelled from Tahiti the previous day.  All looked well and relaxed and we left them to collect their campervan before we headed off to Akoroa and the camping section of the trip.


Camping for some.
I’m sure there are as many reactions to this word as there are road kill possums on the road to Akoroa:  hundreds.  One member of our small group who will feature later in this blog for reasons that will become obvious, had set their mind against the idea of spending one, let alone three, nights in a tent.  Our camping gear (tent, mattresses, gas cooker and gas bottle, kitchen kit) were all delivered to the hotel in Christchurch two days previously and sat, large and forbidding, in the living area of the suite we had booked as if daring us to have a go and unpack the tent.  So we did.  Never people to resist a challenge, we started by trying to erect the flysheet thinking it was the main body of the tent.  How we laughed at our simple ways.  Luckily the carpeted floor preventing us from pegging the tent to the ground with the very efficient hammer that was part of the kitchen box.  We were quick to appreciate that all it needed was a degree of common sense and, as they say in the very French town of Akoroa, “voila!”

Off we set to Akoroa on the Bank’s Peninsular a mere 74km from Christchurch yet driving in NZ is not really to be measured in kph but hours.  But more of this later……

Camping for others...
The campsite was set above the town and having checked in with Francois we found our site which was opposite where the two campervans would be situated.  I’m not sure who had the better view.  Dear reader, how can I describe what happened next?  Let me describe the allocated area.  A square measuring 10x12m neatly sectioned off from the adjoining sites.  It had a power source (yes, dear reader) a power source which I was told when discussing the booking with Tina was necessary for the hair dryer.  Our neighbour’s set up was more like a (small) tented city that contained a sleeping area, a day area, a cooking area all in three separate tents, alongside which was parked their trailer (huge) and their 4WD wagon.  Our little two person tent looked modest in comparison and together with our hire car meant we had acres of space in which to play volleyball, practice archery or simply get lost in.  Feeling suitably self conscious we started to unpack the camping gear and get stuck into the erection process.  Simple we thought and it was – thanks to Jill, our new Best Friend.   After a minute of rising temperatures both climactically and emotionally, I ‘knocked’ on the flap of Jill’s tent and asked her if she had a hammer.  By this stage I had forgotten that a hammer was part of our kitchen kit (I don’t know about you but I don’t keep a hammer in my kitchen kit at home).  Jill was all smiles and quite obviously realised she was watching two ‘inexperienced campers’ at work. Barbara asked her if she knew how to put up such a small tent and she metaphorically rolled up her sleeves and set to work.  Within a matter of minutes she had all but put the tent up and left us to finish the job off. By the time the others arrived it was done deal and our tent looked a homely little place in the sun.  All our own work, ahem. 

Living in a campsite has its rituals.  The evening rush in the kitchen block where if one looks helpless enough, there will always be someone to offer advice whether this be how to use a microwave or the best way to get grease off a pan or to clean the BBQs.  After supper, and washing up, the next rush is for the shower/loo block.  Most people are settled down for the night by 10pm even thought there was still a tiny bit of light in the sky.  For those in their campervans, the drop in temperature is not as noticeable as for those in tents.  But snuggled in warm sleeping bags listening to the rain beating a tattoo on the fly sheet (correctly placed on the outside of the tent, thanks to Jill’s expertise) only added to sense of security and snugness. In fact it reminded me of Pink Floyd’s great song ‘Comfortably Numb’ .  In the morning, the first thing I noticed was the personal offering of the Dawn Chorus.  By this I do mean the birds and not the next door site waking up.  It was so loud that I thought half the avian population of Akoroa was perched on our guy ropes giving full voice to their cheerful, welcome to the day.  For me the best time of the day as about 6 am when the sun is just getting itself together and you can feel its warmth on the skin – and I could go on but it’s beginning to sound a bit like an Attenborough commentary.

And so three days of camping were enjoyed, endured and all I can say is dismantling a tent is a lot easier then mantling one!  If, dear reader, you are gagging to know about what we did in Akoroa then a separate blog will be posted.

the Canterbury Plains
Now, to Crime.  I know that the title of the blog will have whetted your appetite and perhaps you have come straight to this bit and missed out on the City and Country sections.  I have to report that a crime has been committed by one of this party of two and it wasn’t me, your honour.  Driving in NZ is boring.  Let me be more specific. Driving on the Canterbury Plains is boring and I apologise to any Cantabrians who might be reading this but face it, the countryside is flat, boring and endless.   In fact I’m reliably informed that Florida cloud patterns are more interesting.  The countryside is almost exclusively agricultural with evidence of sheep and cattle raising and some croppage.  Being a major source of rugby players, it has much in common with Connacht not only from a rugby perspective but also the shared heritage of farming.

No names mentioned...
The speed limit is 100kph which in a campervan is more then adequate since to get to 90kph takes a few minutes.  We started off for Dunedin from Christchurch which as about 280 kms.  All was going swimmingly well and we changed drivers after a couple of hours.  For the sake of anonymity let’s simply refer to the drivers as ‘A’ and ‘B’.  B took over the driving and A went to sleep.  It wasn’t a long sleep but despite it’s brevity, was a deep sleep.  Until, that is, I heard B saying that there were flashing blue lights behind the car and as it was the police, should she stop?  She did, quite quickly.  When the very young policeman (is this an international requirement?) came to the car, he asked where we were going and that he had stopped us for exceeding the speed.  When asked what speed she thought she was doing, B’s ‘defence’ was that she had been doing 120kph and that  she was used to driving at this speed in Ireland and, less convincingly I thought, that she wasn’t used to an automatic car.  Our friendly traffic cop said that he had been to Ireland much enjoyed it.  At this stage I thought the somewhat flimsy defence might stand up but my hopes were dashed on the altar of a Traffic Infringement Notice and although the charming TC said he would count the speed as 115kph and not the 117kph he had clocked B as doing, the fine was still $80NZ.  When B asked him if he would like to be paid there and then, I thought we were in real trouble.  But no, dear reader, the wonders of the interweb mean that fines can be paid on line or at a branch of the Westpac Bank (I like to think there is account named ‘Traffic Infringement Fines).  The worrying thing is that B had only been driving for 10 minutes!

Barbara temporarily ditches me for the camper van and the wine
And so in the space of the first week, we have experienced the resilience, friendliness and authoritarian nature of New Zealanders.  It’s a great place!

To be continued……

(P.S, Happy Birthday Barbara) 

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