Back In Christchurch – Discover New Zealand


Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Looking forward to catching up with old friends.

(This is the sixth post in a series. Missed the first five? Click here to see them all.) At one of the rest stops we make journeying from Lake Tekapo to Christchurch I hear what sounds like the Xhosa language. I am deeply in love with Africa so my heart quickens its pace as I find the source. I see two women and ask where they’re from. They’re from South Africa! I am delighted to speak with them for a few minutes. They are impressed that I know a few words of Xhosa and, for a moment, I feel like I’m connected with this wonderful country. It reminds me why I love to travel so much and the joy at instantly connecting with so many of the places I’ve now been on this earth.

We arrive in Christchurch, I say goodbye to the women from South Africa and grab an Uber to Cashmere, where Deb lives. This is my second trip to Christchurch. It’s a cute town but the downtown somehow lacks a compelling attraction. Cashmere, however, is right near some beautiful scenery and has more of a local feel to it, so I’m glad to be returning. A few minutes after arriving, Deb and I pop out to a bar in another Uber and enjoy some red wine and food with some of her friends. It’s great to feel like I have a good friend so far from home. 

A beautiful view from Cashmere.

Photo by Heather Markel, copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

The next day I see my friend Fran. He’s a tour guide I met last February, in Argentina. We’ve stayed in touch and I’m looking forward to seeing this connection I have to that wonderful country. He’s now working in New Zealand, outside Christchurch, for three years as a farrier. We hug hello, and reminiscing now, this will be one of the last hugs I will have for quite some time. Fran drives us to the nearby town of Lyttelton. We walk out to the port, take a few photos, and then, well, we thought there would be more to it! We both end up being starving. Fran treats me to lunch at Eruption Brewing, a nearby restaurant/bar. It’s a gorgeous day so we sit upstairs in the sun. Later I buy us another round of drinks. This experience teaches me a valuable lesson about New Zealand – the sun is not just hot, it’s dangerous. I didn’t realize so had no sun protection. My skin later was burned to a crisp and I was in pain for a few days. The rest of my time in New Zealand, I slather on sunscreen even for small walks if the sun is out, or it’s cloudy and not raining.

Fran and I enjoying the Christchurch Gondola.

After lunch we go back to Fran’s car and decide to go to the Gondola. It’s one of the things I didn’t get to see my first trip to Christchurch so I really wanted to check it out. I feel so special as Fran, once again, covers my entrance ticket, and it’s not cheap! The ride up is lovely and we’re treated to nice views, as it turns out, of the port of Lyttleton! So it feels like I recognize something from above. We walk around a little, and then I grab a coffee as I need my caffeine fix. Then, we head downstairs for a real treat – a journey through time! We get into a small vehicle with a guard rail and I joke that I’m scared. We journey through the dark and get an overview of the history of Christchurch. It was surprisingly fun!

“A perfect 3-day visit.”

Proof that I won mini golf. 😉

Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

After the gondola we try to find the Red zone, the area that was devastated by an earthquake in 2011. We go where our GPS tells us, but perhaps because it’s been so long, and the area has changed since the earthquake, it’s hard to make out whether we’re in the right area. So, we look for something else to do, and that’s when I find….mini golf! It was a strange drive to what seemed the middle of nowhere, but well worth the drive. We chose the grasslands and I kept score. It was a heated match but I won! (And I let Fran know it, of course.) Then we took our balls and went over to the Volcano Park and lost them within the first 4 holes, so gave up. But we had a great time. A short drive away is a small outdoor night market. We check it out and find ourselves in a makeshift small town with what I thought was a church, but is actually a Freemason meeting spot. We meet the current leader and he dispells all the secrecy and Christ bloodline rumors I have been led to believe about Freemasons.  He explains it’s intention was to create a community of masons; metal workers, wood workers, and so forth. To ascend in level, you have to ascend in your craft. So, no mystery at all, actually! Nobody is protecting secret treasures, that’s just a movie, lol.

During the day, Fran and I talk about Argentina and how we both miss yerba mate. I’m wondering if coronavirus will mean they can’t share it anymore. Being with Fran makes me all the more excited to get to Argentina again later this year. He drops me off at Deb’s place and we say goodbye. I’m really happy to know such a nice person and grateful for the time we spent together. Deb and I have dinner. I should clarify, Deb makes us dinner. Besides being an amazing host, she’s an awesome cook, so I feel blessed multiple times over. The next day she takes me out for another fun day.

We start at the Willowbrook Wildlife Center. The first thing I do is really strange. I feed eels. Deb has bought the food, and I’m not sure what this is about…I end up on a small deck with the eels all around me, and silver spoons attached to the deck with strings to scoop the food out and wait for them to grab it. I should be scared, even grossed out, but I find it strangely fascinating. I am a little scared they might bite my hand by accident, but they don’t. We walk through the reserve and I see a Takahe bird – it walks right near us, I’m amazed! I didn’t realize how beautiful this bird is. Nonetheless, those of you that know me will understand that my favorite part of this reserve are the cows! There’s a small herd and I delight in feeding them. Then some girls come over and I learn a fun trick – if you put the food on top of the rail between you and them, they stick their tongues out to eat it, photo opp!

A takahe up close. Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

We try to see the resident kiwi, but can’t, it’s too dark. We see the tail end of a chicken auction, and it’s just like those farm auctions where the announcer is speaking fast and incoherently yet the bidders seem to completely understand whatever he’s saying. I love this reserve and would recommend a visit if you get to Christchurch. Afterwards, Deb takes me to a seafood festival at a restaurant in Christchurch. We have some rose wine and enjoy great food with a live band. Rain starts, and they cover up the music equipment and keep playing for us. Later we go back to Deb’s place and play with Lily, her cat. This is another interesting and strange fact about at least the Southern Island – everyone seems to have a cat! Thankfully I’ve got my allergy meds with me. 

Cows enjoying a treat.

Photo by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

It’s been a whirlwind 3 days in Christchurch. I’ve loved every moment and will miss Deb and Fran. But, I have to hurry and get North because I’m planning to go to Sydney in a little less than two weeks, and there’s still so much to see. Tomorrow I have a 7am train up to Picton. Deb, unbelievably, has offered to wake up super early and drive me to the train station. I check in for the train. Deb and I say a tearful goodbye and then the train is off, carrying me northward.

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