Sunday, June 26, 2016

Christchurch Five Years After the Quake

The road along the north east coast of the south Island runs most of the way right alongside the beach. We gazed for several hours at a palette of fresh blues and turquoises, each twist in the road bringing forth more exclamations of how gorgeous it was.

At one point we stopped to get out and take pictures. We were out of the car and overlooking a small cliff-like drop of about a dozen feet when I noticed fur seals on the rocks - a whole colony of them in their hundreds, stretching all along the coastline.
Even more exciting, they had babies and many were suckling.

It seems we had discovered the Kaikoura Seal Colony. After hanging out here for a while we set off again for Christchurch.

It was with some amusement that we ended up in Belfast first!
You can walk and cycle on the Belfast road (perhaps on your way to the cemete...ry? I guess...)
Belfast seems so out of place besides the exotic names of the South Pacific!
For our two night stop in Christchurch we stayed in a gorgeous one bed-roomed apartment in The West Fitzroy apartment complex on the Armagh Road! It really was a home from home.

Part of our motivation for staying in Christchurch was to find out how it was recovering after the big earthquake in February 2011 and to support the regrowth of the city.

I'd been hoping to write an uplifting post about how the people of Christchurch had inspired me with their fortitude. Sadly that wasn't the case. Instead, I only saw a sad city embroiled in petty politics and in-fighting that resulted in a stalemate, halting any progress beyond the "make-do" arrangements they'd put in place immediately after the quake. Insurance companies were refusing to pay out and people were understandably frustrated that their city was now suffocating in a quagmire of red tape and bureaucracy.

At least this was the impression we got when we took the city tour. The tour guide and a couple of locals on the tour (they were hoping to become guides) did nothing but bicker with each other about the decisions that had been made and sniped at the politics behind it. It created a nasty atmosphere in my opinion. Perhaps, we'd just been unlucky to have that perspective thrust upon us, but it certainly tainted my view of the city.

If this was how a "first world" country coped with the aftermath of such devastation, what hope was there for less wealthy places like Haiti, Mexico and Nepal? I have not visited any of these and so have nothing to compare it with. I wonder if perhaps not having insurance and red tape allows you to forge ahead and fix the place up.

They still had the Re:Start Container Mall in place. An ingenious use of cargo containers that was intended  to tide them over until the rebuild. They are all still there and threatening to become a permanent fixture.
The destruction of the Christchurch Cathedral seemed to really knock the city sideways. Especially tragic because the scaffolding that was shoring up the building after the earthquake in 2010, fell and took out so much of the building during the February 2011 quake.
Our tour guide made no secret of the fact she abhorred the Transition Cathedral.
 It's base was constructed from containers which were used as offices and meeting rooms.
The huge cylinders holding up the roof were made from huge rolls of cardboard, hence the nick name the "Cardboard Cathedral." We'd been really looking forward to seeing this, but our guide's obvious disgust at the building put us off asking our usual nerdy questions... it was a case of shut up and put up... a lesson I reckon our guide could have used.
Some buildings had been beautifully restored - like these university buildings.

However, it was more common to see many derelict and abandoned buildings.
 The graffiti added a dystopian feel to it all.
Some still needed structural support and weren't safe to enter.
One sector of town had been beautifully rebuilt, but I switched off as the guide began to recount some gripe with the developers "doing it wrong" - which was silly of me because now I can't present a measured discussion myself... But it's a picture of nice buildings in Christchurch.
By far the most poignant sight in Christchurch is the simple but effective White Chair Memorial.

185 white chairs sit on a lot in the city. Each chair represents a person who died in the earthquake. The variety of the chairs, some high chairs and baby seats, shows the uniqueness of each life lost - death is not choosy. The earthquake did not discriminate.

This haunting reminder put it all in perspective for me. The city will recover physically. People will get past their anger and frustration, but those who lost loved ones will never forget, and rightly so.

Byddi Lee

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Just One Click Away

I'm as far from being a soccer fan as you can get. I just don't have the patience for it, but during Euro16 I have become a fan of the Irish Fans!

It started when I saw hundreds of them cheer for the Random French Guy on his balcony. Or perhaps it was when they sang "Dancing Queen" with the Swedish supporters. It was definitely after I read about the disgusting fighting by fans from other countries (you know who I mean without me naming them!)

Long before the Irish Fans began changing tires for the elderly, praying with nuns on trains, picking up litter and singing lullabies (of a fashion!) to French babies, I was already proud of the Green Army. Such great ambassadors for Ireland. The only sad thing about it is that people being decent to each other at sporting events was such a News-worthy item!

That said, you do have the nay-sayers - I'm not talking about the hilarious spoof article about how the Irish fans are just going out of their way to be nice as a way to show up the English fans! But I have seen some serious comments that disparaged the fans because they were just there for the party - Well, yes "Hello! Dah!"and whats wrong with that?  Or comments that claimed that the fans in France weren't real football fans because they didn't go to local club's matches during the rest of the season (or some such gripe that I honesty don't really get.) So these guys have a life - good for them!

Bottom line, they are spreading good will and good humor to the extent that the first thing I do when I hook into the internet over breakfast now is check up how things are going. I have become a convert to the cause. I want Ireland to stay in the tournament for a long as possible because those fans who had traveled to France deserve to stay and support their team. Yes - I even worried if we'd - see I say "we'd" cos I'm Irish and my team is in Euro16 - make it through to the next round. I cried tears of joy when Ireland scored a winning goal against Italy. Yes, I have allowed myself to be swept along in the tide of emotion surrounding this competition, and I like it!

Having your country represented in an international competition is something to sing about and the Irish Fans know how to do that.

But as I was reading through the various news articles, another non-Euro item at the bottom of the page caught my eye. It was about how refugees fleeing Boko Haram are starving to death in their hundreds.

One click away...

My happy heart skidded to a sideways stop then beat with sadness for these poor people.

One click away...

From joy and jubilation was terror and unspeakable horror.

One click away...

I was imagining what it must feel like to not only starve but watch those you love suffer the same and be powerless to stop it. It bent my mind to try to take this in. Do I turn a blind eye? Do I click back...just one click... and ignore it?

What can I do? One person in this storm of hatred and cruelty? I am no-one. I can do nothing.

I felt ashamed of the frivolities of indulging (albeit by proxy) in something as trivial as football. I was disgusted at myself for letting the kick of a ball matter to me when the world is full of hurt and nastiness. And not just on the other side of the planet. Even here in the country that I am currently residing, people dying needlessly from violence. In my city, homelessness and poverty. In my neighborhood, most likely, someone is suffering from domestic violence...

One click away there is a hard, cruel world out there.

For the rest of the day, I felt morose and depressed. How do I make the world a better place when it is so messed up? By laughing at stupid stuff, do I make it worse? Then I realized that my lack of laughter, my lack of joy wasn't changing anything. It was okay to celebrate the joys that life offers.

One click away, I read a piece about how happy the French were to have the Irish Fans in Paris, how it livened up a city that had become morose since the attacks there last November.

And then I realized that this is how we beat terror. We sing with joy. We dance. We show goodness to our fellow human beings. These "frivolities" are what keep us human. These types of celebrations of joy and humanity hold us back from the black abyss of hopelessness.

Yes, I am the lucky one who can indulge in this. Yes, one click away is someone struggling with something terrible. For that I am soulfully sorry. For them, I mourn. I pray I never have to face their trials. There are few, if any, words that don't sound trite, and less that will fix the world.

But it is okay to be happy when you can be. It is okay to celebrate when there's cause to, and it is fine to be proud of a crowd of drunken eejits who put smiles on everyone's long as we don't lose sight of the suffering of others.

Because one click away there is evil in the world and joy is our first line of defense.

Byddi Lee

Monday, June 20, 2016

Sparking Moments of Magic

When I look at a map of New Zealand, I imagine that the South and North Islands have been torn apart. The northernmost tip of the sound Island looks like it's fraying. The coastline line here is so recursively folded in upon itself that it's nearly impossible to trace a route out to sea from some of the deepest recesses of the Sounds. It's a bit like those mazes you got in kid's activities books - find the path from A to B!

Some accommodations in this part of New Zealand are only accessible by float plane.  I wish I were telling you about how we took a float plane to one such location, but neither time nor budget permitted that. Instead, we went to the moderately more accessible Anikiwa, a tiny little gathering of homes on the edge of the deepest tip of the Queen Charlotte Sound. We stayed in a delightful place called Anakiwa 401. This place is like a back-packers for grown ups in that it had the communal kitchen like you'd share in a back packers, but we had our own en-suite and access to our room from outside. The decor was charming, as were the owners and their fur family! To top it all off, we lucked out and were the only ones staying that night, so we basically had the run of the place.

The accommodation was across the road from the Anakiwa jetty. 
It is also where the Queen Charlotte Track ends too.

Our hosts were very informative about the area. They told us where to go to see glow worms (for free) - It's top secret, so I can't tell you where to go, but if you stay at the 401, they'll divulge all.

Anyways the directions were simple enough, culminating in the instruction to "stop just before the bridge and simply turn off your torches."

I'd seen glow worms before and knew how amazing they were, but My Husband took some persuading especially since we had to go at night, in the dark. It wasn't that he was afraid. He says it's because I was such a jittery-bug and jumped at every little noise which then set his nerves on edge. But off we went... and when the moment came to switch out the lights were we plunged into darkness ... until these little tiny lights appeared all around us, twinkling like close-up stars
Glow worms are actually the larval stage of a type of fly that dangles sticky threads. Their light attracts flying insects that get stuck in the treads. The larvae then reel 'em in and scoff 'em!
Our hosts had also tipped us off to the fact that the sea water had phosphorescence. I'd also seen this phenomena before. My Husband hadn't. so I felt like a sorceress weaving magic as I marched to the end of the jetty with a stick in my hand.

I stirred the water and sure enough, it sparkled with phosphorescence! I splashed the water some more and felt like I was casting magic into the ocean. My imagination then took a u-turn and fed my brain with images of creatures rushing up from the deep and swallowing my arm! Enough magic for one dark evening.

Next morning, we reluctantly had to move on again. As we left we could see our host out water skiing - what a life!
As we drove closer to Picton, where the ferry from the North Island arrives we stopped to look at the view. A delicious smell of fragrant wood filled the air.
We realized, on close inspection, that we were overlooking a lumber yard in the distance, yet it still looked pretty!
We passed Picton and headed south for Christchurch. The scenery changed again so that in the blink of an eye we felt like we'd driven straight into California!
New Zealand is full of magic and surprise!

Byddi Lee

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Over The Hill

If I could spend a week in one place in New Zealand, Abel Tasman National Park is where I'd choose to spend that time. Situated at the north western corner of the South Island, it is a beautiful coastal paradise. Last time I visited this park, I kayaked at Kaiteriteri. Here you'll find the iconic Split Apple Rock - a Kodak moment if ever there was one!

This time I wanted to venture deeper into the park, to see what was on "the other side" at Golden Bay. It wasn't hard to see where the name came from! 
To get here we had to travel "Over The Hill" on a heart-stoppingly winding road, with steep drop-offs. The view from the top was pretty epic.
The alarming warning sign bothered me...

... not the skidding per say - more the fact that it's physically impossible for any car to make skid marks in this shape. It really buzzed my OCD!

We stayed in Pohara, in another beautiful, self-contained cottage over looking the bay at the Pohara Beachfront Motel.
We'd brought our own food since the place was so remote and cooked in the cottage. A walk on the beach and early to bed - a beautifully relaxing evening.

Abel Tasman Park only has one road that we could take our rental car on...
 ...and even that was iffy!

With more time you could hike or water taxi this area. I'd love to have had more time to explore the golden beaches,
...the little harbors
...and simply kick back and watch life go by - such as this bird collecting materials for its nest, I presume. Unless it was just tidying up the beach!
And even in this remotest of remote of joys - a coffee shop!
Great coffee, a spectacular view and the best of company...
Being "Over The Hill" certainly has its perks!

Byddi Lee

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pancake Rocks and Car Scones

It's a three hour drive up the West coast of New Zealand's South Island to get from Franz Josef to Punakaiki overlooking the Tasman Sea most of the way up.

The main attraction at this stop is Pancake Rocks. Layers of limestone rocks have been eroded and shaped by rain and ocean into what looks like ... you guessed it... stacks of pancakes.

There is a nice easy access to this intriguing feature allowing for excellent views of the rocks.

From the view point we could also see our accommodation - a charming beach house right by the waves.
We stayed at Punakaiki Beachfront Motel, just a (pancake-shaped?) stones throw from Pancake Rocks and Blowholes.

When I say right by the waves, I'm not kidding. There was a big stone sea-wall keeping the waves out of our bedroom! 
With a huge cliff at our back, disconcerting thoughts about tsunamis were hard to dispatch.
The locals seemed very chilled out though. This weka was very friendly and cute too!.
That night the storms that had begun when we were in Franz Josef, caught up with us. The crash of angry surf right on what felt like our doorstep was almost deafened out by the hammering of rain on the roof. Several times I wondered if the sea-wall was big enough. Evidently it held, but not before I'd decided that beach front accommodation had it's anxiety-riddled drawbacks.

A foggy day ensued. Being Irish, this was no problem.
We knew what was needed - a good spot to park along the way while we indulged in car scones! Picnics in New Zealand, as in Ireland, don't need to take place in the open air.
And the road - still spectacular even with the rain - especially when it came with it's own naturally build in rain protection!

Byddi Lee