Highlights of Christchurch

Cathedral Square has always been the heart of Christchurch.   According to English tradition, the presence of a cathedral meant that Christchurch was officially a city well before the size of its population justified this status.   Strangely enough, my paternal grandmother, who was German, had passed on this esoteric piece of information to me at an early age and armed with this knowledge I won a prize during a three-week long school geography tour of New Zealand which passed through Christchurch.   This is probably the first and last time that I have ever benefited from the masses of largely worthless information which I willingly crammed into my innocent mind.

Cathedral Square is a pleasant open area where tourists and locals can mingle, with plenty of good shopping and restaurants within close walking distance.   People might do their supermarket shopping out in the suburbs, but the center of Christchurch is still vibrant and a place that people like to go, unlike the empty core of New Zealand's largest city, Auckland.   In Cathedral Square itself you can climb the cathedral tower or sit outside to listen to local personality The Wizard, who dresses the part, rants at great length and volume about feminism, and might now have retired to not-so-quiet obscurity, leaving the city a poorer place.

click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format
citizens' war memorial statue

The citizens' War Memorial Statue is right next to the cathedral - you can see it on the left-hand side of the previous photo.   It commemorates all of the New Zealanders who died during world war one to make the world safe from Kaiser Wilhelm.

This statue caused controversy when it was proposed, because the Bridge of Remembrance had already been suggested as a memorial, and the two projects had to compete against each other for funding.   Nevertheless, they both got built and the statue with its more central location adds interest to the square.

electric tramcar

From Cathedral Square you can catch one of the old-time electric trams which were brought back into service as a tourist attraction.   They do a loop around the inner city, dropping people off at various destinations where visitors might want to go.

Christchurch was a carefully planned and controlled settlement and, as even its name suggests, a deliberate effort was made to create a little slice of England here, down to the transporting of a vertical slice of English society, with landed gentry at the top and servants at the bottom.

There's still an aspect of this class structure in the city and in some quarters it still matters which high school you went to and what your ancestor's station in life was.   However, in my six years in Christchurch I never experienced this snobbery personally and the strong egalitarianism of New Zealand society soon overwhelmed this attempt to transplant a foreign class stratification.   In some ways, though, Christchurch is "more English than the English", with the willows overgrowing the Avon river and boats still being punted by servants in boater hats - purely for the tourist trade, of course.

click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format

The Anglican cathedral isn't the only one in Christchurch; this is the catholic cathedral a bit further out from the center of town.   However, "The" Cathedral is the Anglican one, and catholics were always a small slice of New Zealand society, except in a few areas such as the west coast of the South Island.

catholic cathedral

Downstream from where the photo of the punters was taken you'll find the Ferrier Fountain, across the river from Victoria Square, a nice little park with a statue of - Queen Victoria, who else?   The Ferrier Fountain is similar in design to the El Alamein fountain in the suburb of King's Cross near downtown Sydney, Australia.

Ferrier Fountain   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

A bit further downstream is the old Edmonds Band Rotunda, now used as a restaurant.   Edmonds Baking Powder, with its slogan of "sure to rise", was a real New Zealand icon and I guess pretty much every house in the country had a packet sitting in a cupboard.

Edmonds Band Rotunda   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Sumner beach is near the spot where the Avon River and its smaller sister the Heathcote join forces and create an estuary, before meeting the Pacific ocean.   Cave Rock with a small structure on top is directly in front of you, with the Sumner hill behind, with a narrow and winding road climbing steeply up over the hill to Taylor's Mistake beach.

Sumner beach

Here's Cave Rock, Sumner beach and the estuary from the top of Sumner Hill.   In the background you can see downtown Christchurch, and far across the Canterbury Plains you can just make out the Southern Alps.   The estuary is a very popular spot for the city's windsurfers, even if this is the place where the city's treated effluent is discharged into the ocean!

Christchurch and the estuary from Sumner hill   (click here to open a new window with this photo in computer wallpaper format)

Downtown Christchurch from the top of the Port Hills, which meet the ocean at Sumner.   One less desirable aspect of Christchurch is the smog which you can see in this photo.   The Southern Alps in the background are about 50 kilometers from Christchurch, but sometimes they're much more clearly visible than in this photo.   Residents of the city have long had an unfortunate belief in their god-given right to burn coal, with the result that the city gets quite polluted, especially in winter.   The smell of smoke when I left the house in the morning is one of my earliest recollections of Christchurch, after moving down from the clear air of Auckland.   Another memory is the thick and rather surreal ceiling of smoke which gathers just above the level of the street lights, when a so-called "thermal inversion" traps the warm smog below a layer of cold air.

downtown Christchurch from the Port Hills

These dramatic cliffs are less than a kilometer around the hill from Sumner beach.   You can watch sea birds such as cormorants from the path at the top of the cliffs, or do paid tandem para-sailing jumps straight off the edge of the cliffs immediately before you, landing at Taylor's Mistake beach, outside the left-hand frame of this photo.

cliffs around from Taylor's Mistake

And here is Taylor's Mistake beach.   It was a favourite haunt of mine virtually every weekend during the summer, where I soaked up the rays which eventually gave me a melanoma.   It's a very pleasant spot and you can walk along a path visible above the water on the far side of the bay, all the way around to Godley Head, which has gun emplacements to keep Lyttelton Harbour safe from the Czar and Czarina of Russia.   Somehow I neglected to do this walk during my six years in Christchurch, so I guess I'll have to go back some day and make amends!

Taylor's Mistake beach