Re-Visiting Christchurch and Banks Peninsula

After our restful two nights at Lake Ellesmere, on the outskirts of Christchurch, we arrived in ‘The Garden City’ on Friday 7th May for a couple of weeks with Barry’s daughter Jamie. Ewok, the resident Shitzu, loved having extra people to fuss over him!

We’d caught up with Jamie in September, and again in November, and this time we were able to hang around for a couple of weeks. The first weekend was spent helping to tidy up the garden, and doing odd jobs around the house. Barry is a tremendously practical and ‘can-do’ kiwi. Maybe I should hire him out?!

First In The World For Women

On Sunday 9th May, Jamie had a dance workshop in town, so we took the opportunity to visit the newly revamped (and opened by Jacinda) Kate Sheppard House. The House and gardens have been cared for by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga since late 2019, and they were truly awesome. As we’d joined Heritage NZ whilst in Northland, we got in for free. Usually, it’s a $15 entry fee for adults – or $7.50 for Gold Card members like Barry!

New Zealand, of course, was the first country in the world to gain the right for women to vote on 19th September 1883. Due entirely to the exhaustive and unrelenting efforts of a British woman. It frequently appals me how women were, and sadly in some countries still are, treated. It was 1928 before women had the full right to vote in the United Kingdom, which puts it into perspective how far FORWARD NZ is – not behind.

Kate and her family lived in the house during the crucial years of the campaign (1888 to 1893) writing articles and letters, organising and sending out pamphlets, preparing speeches and directing women’s organisations throughout New Zealand. She was instrumental in amassing three large petitions, the third consisting of 31,872 signatures, collected by hand from around the country. The final infamous petition was pasted together, onto a paper roll, 274 meters long, at her dining table in the Clyde Road home and sent to the House of Representatives in Wellington. This incredibly represented almost a quarter of all adult women at the time as people frequently believe.

Margaret Sievewright organised the Gisborne branch of The New Zealand Woman’s Temperance Union and was one of the ‘team’ instrumental in forging the historic policy change. Fast forward to the present day, and another famous, forthright, strong woman, Jacinda Ardern, opened the ‘repurposed’ house officially on 15th December 2020.

Banks Peninsula

During the week, Jamie was at work, so we amused ourselves around and within the city. On Tuesday 11th May we drove to Banks Peninsula, a short way from the city. We last went to Akaroa in November 2020 with Jamie, but spent only a couple of hours there. We’d wanted to explore a little more of the 1,150 square kilometres jutting out into the ocean.

Our first stop was Lyttleton, where we hoped to see the famous time bomb. Unfortunately the street lo the Timebomb was extremely narrow and steep, with nowhere to park the van. So we had little choice but to drive past, and I attempted to take photos from the road below. Not terribly successfully!


We found a fabulous free campground right in the centre of Akaroa, which we could stay in for for two nights. However, we also discovered that we could freedom camp in most places on the peninsula, apart from marked red zones. How amazing.

We overheard tales from years gone by, when tourists apparently trashed a freedom campground, which is why they now limit the area in town. I also read online of someone who arrived late at night, parked in the wrong place, and got an on-the-spot $200 fine at 6am the next day. There’s really no excuses. You read the signs wherever you park, or you pay the penalty.

The French Influence

Our friend Gary Libaeu’s family were amongst the first settlers to arrive in Akaroa on the Compte De Paris on 17th August 1840. They had to spend two days sitting on board in the bay while tents were erected to ‘house’ them temporarily. Blimey, it was cold enough sleeping in a campervan in May! Especially when the gas ran out as tea was cooking on the first night, too late to find a replacement. Thankfully once again, the camp stove sufficed, but we had no back up for heating. It was an early night in bed wrapped up in a quilt and blankets. Thank goodness there was a garage in the township that sold gas the following morning. Sadly though, unbeknownst to us, they sold us an out of date canister that we then had trouble replacing a couple of weeks later!

Along the waterfront, almost at the pier, there’s a chair in memory of Gary’s whanau.

Next we visited the Akaroa Museum, which focused on the history of Akaroa. We were very impressed with the exhibitions and information, it really captured our attention. we learnt that The Compte De Paris had left France on 20th March 1840, and along the route three passengers died and one baby was born. It’s reported that those who came were mostly peasants escaping their lot in France for a better life. There were 48 French, 8 German, and one Belgian. Once they disembarked, they would’ve found the land disappointing after it had been ‘talked up’, and the sight of a British flag meant their dreams of land ownership may have been thwarted. Fortunately things progressed and many families flourished and remained.

There’s an unmistakable French influence in the town, with an abundance of stunning buildings.

I was delighted to read about a semi-tame yellow-eyed-penguin living in the early 20th century, behind a store in Akaroa. My experience at Moeraki endeared me forever to these majestic creatures.

Since the 2010 and 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, cruise ships haven’t been able to dock in Lyttleton where they previously visited. Until last year, they’d had around 80 a year anchoring and visiting the bay. Unbelievable! You can imagine how devastated the townships has since been due to COVID.

Bay Watching

Having had our two nights in Akaroa, we left late on Thursday 13th May looking for somewhere to camp for the night. Not far from the town, we found Pōhatu and Akaroa Marine Reserve. Not the quietest of places, as it’s right by the road, but pleasant enough.

Okains Bay

Okains Bay is across on the northern side of Banks Peninsula. It felt as though we’d arrived too late, the few shops we found were closed. Whether that was permanently, or whether it was seasonal, we weren’t sure. It seems that if we’d visited on 6th February, Waitangi Day, we would’ve discovered a very different place. Since 1977, Okains Bay has played host to thousands of visitors who gather for hangi, speeches, waka launches and traditional games and activities.

The buildings were rather quaint, and I was fascinated to see the post boxes and post office looking remarkably unchanged by time.

At the end of the road, we came across a paid campground. It’s so remote that you have to bring all your own drinking water or boil the water supply for three minutes! It looked like some of the caravans were static. And there were areas where ground seemed to have been covered by holidaymakers for many weeks or months. Unusually, there’s no access to the beach unless you’re a paid camper! We broke the rules somewhat as there was no-one around and it didn’t look like the campground was even open. Once in the ground, there was no internet coverage. Wow, imagine how idyllic it would be here during a sultry summer.

We’d heard great things about the Okains Bay Museum being full of amazing Maori artefacts, but sadly it’s only open at weekends from May to October. It was gifted to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand by founder Murray Thacker Q.S.M. in 1977.

Little Akaloa

We then carried on around the coast to Little Akaloa. Before the settlement, we spotted a church and felt compelled to stop for awhile. We were so glad we did as St Luke’s Church is glorious. Built in 1906 to replace the 1874 church destroyed by fire, this small church is still often used for weddings. The decorative work inside using Māori motifs, superb carvings and biblical quotes etched into the beams, blew us away. The stained glass windows were pretty impressive too.

Little Akaloa was settled by Europeans in 1848, and this was one of the most beautiful churches we’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. It was severely damaged in 1922 and 2014 by earthquakes, but generous donations enabled it to be fully restored.

Back To Christchurch

We were slowly heading back to Jamie’s in Christchurch, filling up on superb sights along the way. There were spectacular views of the harbour and bays, though not many stopping places for photos.

Birdlings Flat

I’d read somewhere we could find gemstones on Birdlings Flat, at the end of Banks Peninsula close to Lake Ellesmere. As if I needed to collect any more gemstones!

The area was named for the Birdling family, who were the first European Settlers to farm the area in the 1840s. Sadly gale force winds prevented any fossicking, to Barry’s relief. It was pretty hair raising – literally. Barry chose to stay inside the confines of the campervan while I at least walked out to say I’d been there. Blimey, it was scary, I thought I’d be swept up into the sky like Mary Poppins!

Killinchy Cemetary

There’s quite a bit of Barry’s family history around this area. Barry knew there was another cemetery with relatives in it, and although it was getting late we knew this was our last opportunity to find it. we had to go to ‘the dump’ station anyway, and eventually found Killinchy Cemetary, near Leeston. Isaac Mawson was buried here, Barry’s great grandfather, and Eleanor his great-grandmother. Issac had tragically been swept away in his buggy on 15th August 1883, returning home from Rangiora. His wife Eleanor had predeceased him on 8th April 1879 …

New Brighton

We got back to Jamies that evening, and on Saturday 15th May headed to New Brighton beach and pier to meet Jamie’s cousin Sandra (a popular name!). It was rather dissimilar to the UK version, as it had a sandy beach! It amuses me that both Dunedin and Christchurch chose to call a seaside place Brighton. The pier is the venue for the annual Guy Fawkes fireworks display held on the 5th of November every year, when thousands of people gather on the beach to watch.

Barry spent a few days doing lots of DIY for Jamie, cleaning gutters, and fixing window latches. I was kept busy with several evening work calls. Nothing too onerous, and it meant we could explore more during the daytime.

More Of Barry’s Heritage in Clarkville

Barry recalled his grandmother being invited to the centenary of the opening of nearby Clarkville School, so of course, we found time to visit here as well. Clarkville was named after Joseph Clark, his great grandfather, whose grave we’d visited the week before.

Clarkville was originally known as Kaiapoi Island, because it was in between two equally large branches of the Waimakariri River. This led to the area being flooded often by the unpredictable Waimakariri River. In the 1860s, farmers cut a new course for the river and choked the north branch, rendering it just a stream, known today as Silverstream, of which the Silverstream Estate (where Mitre 10 Dream Home 2013 was located) was named after. In 1880, the name was changed to Clarkville, in honour of Joseph Clark, who donated land for the local school.”,_New_Zealand

That’s quite cool aye?!

Christchurch City

During the week we kept ourselves busy sightseeing in Christchurch. I had lunch with an ex midwifery colleague, Catherine, and a walk in the Botanical Gardens. Following this, I visited the outstanding Arts Centre. The stained glass window in the Great Hall was splendid, and I loved the explanation of what it represents.

On the grounds of the Arts Centre, I read with fascination the story of the Christchurch earthquakes. The billboards contain photos and stories ranging from the first earthquake in 2011 to the present day.

I was amazed to spot daffodils out in May, which is the equivalent of November in England!

Also within the grounds is a statue by Anthony Gormley, called Stay. One of two, the other is in the Avon River in the city. Gormley was approached in 2014 about contributing an artwork to Christchurch, having visited in 2007, and he provided two identical cast-iron sculptures that can contribute to the ‘healing’ of the city, as he called it.

“Christchurch is a well-ordered city based on a 19th century urban plan which suddenly became chaotic through planetary forces rupturing human design. SCAPE 8 presents the ideal opportunity to ask whether art can instigate and give space for new attitudes and begin to heal and encourage reconciliation. Post-quake, this city is a human habitat forced by nature to reformulate. The attitude of the work I have made for it carries a sense of reflection or ‘taking stock’.”

A Wander With Barry

The following day, I went back into the city with Barry. We found a park for $5 a day and walked in. Along the route we passed the ‘Cardboard Cathedral‘ which looks oddly like a large triangular box outside; inside is sublime. It’s called a ‘transitional cathedral’. That morning there’d been the funeral of Peter Kirkwood, originally from Wales, who’d died with his friend Richard Phillips whilst climbing Mount Taranaki a couple of weeks previously.

Next we chose the Ernest Rutherford exhibition. A New Zealand physicist who came to be known as the father of nuclear physics, Mum would’ve adored it. The lecture theatre where he gave some of his talks, had been recreated along with wooden desks where student’s had carved their names deeply into the wood.

Again, a thoughtfully set out exhibition full of facts and information.

In 1873 NZ was at the forefront once again, as Canterbury College admitted female students from the beginning. My mum gained a First Class Honours Degree in Chemistry, at the University of Birmingham in the early 1950s. She and her best friend Nancy were two of four women in a year group of over 50. It was amazing she even got to University in England even then. Shameful.

Stories From The Quakes

I’d wanted to read the stories from the earthquakes at Quake City but sadly we hadn’t left ourselves enough time to do them justice. I touched the large Mauri pounamu stone at the entrance, meant to protect the exhibition and is a powerful symbol.

The photographs were unnerving. Also a video someone had captured of the earthquake actually happening and people running across the road as buildings collapsed made my skin shiver with horror. Many brick chimneys fell down – a business has since been set up producing replica chimneys. It was heartwrenching hearing stories from people who’d experienced the earthquake. Some were survivor stories and others about loved ones who’d died. Further on, some of those people were sharing where they were physically and emotionally ten years later.

We’d twice visited Three Boys Brewery near Jamie. On the morning of 8th September 2010, an aftershock knocked out power for 45 minutes during their brewing process. Consequently, the temperature dropped. It could’ve been a disaster, but instead, they turned it into a special 7.1 per cent Proof edition.

Many heroes emerged from the quakes. The Wastewater Treatment Plant suffered significant damage. 42,000 chemical toilets delivered by Christchurch City Council, 2,900 portable toilets on city streets. Rather than moan and groan about the difficulties this caused, they held a ‘show us your long drop’ competition. Many residents had no water or sanitation for days, weeks, or months in some areas. The things we take for granted …

A Black Billed Takeover

We’d heard in the commentary of the tram ride we did in November, about the Black-billed gulls who’d set up a breeding colony in fallen building and as they’re protected, can’t do anything unless/until they leave. Which looks rather unlikely! It’s like a mini-seagull-city. There are, however, moves afoot it seems to move them on –

It’ll be interesting to watch how that progresses.

Camping Near The Eerie Residential Red Zone

Barry had discovered that it’s possible to freedom camp anywhere but the city centre. Jamie was having a night out, so we camped at ‘South New Brighton’ near the river Avon. We realised the following day we were across from the ‘residential Red Zone‘. We’d been wanting to visit this area for a while.

Words that spring to mind include eerie. Otherworldly. Ghostly. Unreal. Sad. Walking around the previous presidential streets sent tingles down my spine. On the bright side, it felt like Mother earth had reclaimed her land. Yet more reason not to get so attached to ‘stuff’ like big houses, and expensive trinkets.

Lampposts still line the street, and you can make out where houses used to be by the driveways on the pavement. Many places are turning into large wetlands where the local avian population are moving in. You can just about make out where gardens would have been. Street names remain and street petrification is marked in green. There’s an occasional snippet of a garden, but mostly it’s all grass or mud.

Surreally there’s Neighbourhood Watch signs still visible. No amount of watching or reporting could’ve saved this area. I found the colourful electrical wires strangely artful.

It was a humbling experience.

Last Days at Jamies

Meanwhile back at Jamie’s, Barry cut the lawn with the new lawnmower, and they both planted the newly purchased greenery Jamie had bought with her birthday gift vouchers we’d got for her 2020 birthday!

Barry’s Slideshow

It’s a long one this post! Below you’ll find Barry’s view of the places we experienced – plus a few from the market we went to with Jamie on Saturday 22nd May. We’ll reveal more about that, and the people who came to see us, in the next post.

5 thoughts on “Re-Visiting Christchurch and Banks Peninsula

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