December 17th, 2013
I must confess: Geraldine was not on our must-see list of places in New Zealand. It is however a pretty, small town and was conveniently placed to break our two long driving days.
It also happens to be home to Barkers of Geraldine – an NZ institution of a company which makes jams, chutneys, cordials etc. And so it came to pass that before 9.30am I had mostly sampled more than a dozen jellies, pickles, chutneys and curds. It wasn’t the breakfast of champions, truth be told. But a roasted vegetable chutney (which reminded me of my beloved Branston) and a spicy eggplant chutney (destined for the Christmas cold cuts) joined us on our road trip and off we went.
It was drizzly in Christchurch, but we managed visits to Cashel Street Mall and the cardboard cathedral. Unlike my parents, I had visited Christchurch before the earthquakes which devastated the city centre (particularly the Feb 2011 quake which killed 185 people and injured thousands more). But it was hard to reconcile my memories of the city with what I was seeing. Just navigating into the centre was a challenge (and I never actually found the old cathedral on this trip!). Signs clearly haven’t been updated to match the patched and broken road network, so we would aim for ‘city centre’, only to meet a road block and a sign diverting us in the opposite direction. And let’s not forget the network of tram tracks which crisscross the city centre – many of which aren’t in operation, but which added an certain frisson to the journey.
More by divine intervention than any usefulness on the part of signage or sat nav, we stumbled across the cardboard cathedral – hastily erected to replace the substantially damaged original cathedral. A choir of children were rehearsing a carol service and their angelic voices combined with the simple beauty of the cathedral enticed us to stay longer than planned. Christmas in a hot climate has the drawback for us Northern Europeans that, well, things just don’t feel very Christmassy. Indoctrinated by the idea of a White Christmas, and more realistically, accustomed as we are to weeks of drizzle heralding the big day – well sunshine and barbecues don’t exactly combine to incite that pre-festive excitement. But carols being sung in the warm glow of the cathedral – with a grey day outside – meant that suddenly I could believe we were only a week away from Christmas and I started to feel the seasonal magic.
Equally inspiring, in a very different way, was Cashel Street Mall. This is the, now iconic, shopping centre put together in the aftermath of the quakes to keep the economy turning when most of the retail areas of the city centre were unusable. The shop units are stacked-up shipping containers with a glass front added to give entry. They are innovative, functional and beautiful (I think). I commented to a local friend that I loved the idea and hoped the mall might remain in situ after the city centre is rebuilt. However, she said it’s unlikely as locals tend not to use it and it is largely the tourist trade which shops in the mall. And although it seems a shame to lose a quirky feature of the city which always reminds me of the power of human resilience and imagination in the face of adversity, actually it IS less practical than large indoor shopping centres (especially on cold, rainy days) and perhaps if I lived in Christchurch, I’d feel I had plenty enough reminders of the dreadful earthquakes which the city is still recovering from.
We met said friend for a quick lunch and headed on to Kaikoura.
The journey up the coast is scenically varied – from the fertile plains of Canterbury up towards coast and mountains. But the drama of the scenery was sadly eclipsed for us all by the trauma of my idiotic refuelling policy, whereby I sailed past the last petrol station for miles with a blithe ‘oh there’s a bit of a queue, I’m sure we’ll make it it to the next one.’ Cue desolate, wild landscape for kilometre upon kilometre with not a dwelling in sight, let alone a petrol station.
By the time we approached Kaikoura, it was pouring with rain and I was seriously calculating how long it would take me to jog to a petrol station if the car clunked out of fuel – and whether I’d die of hypothermia in the process. Desperate fuel-conserving strategies included: turning the AC off until the windscreen steamed up (and then back on for just long enough to clear my vision), rolling down hills to pick up speed and reduce the need for acceleration on the uphills (a fairly nausea-inducing technique) and some fervent praying and swearing. All of which served to scrape us into Kaikoura on the last of our fumes, in time for a crayfish supper.
And the worst thing is, because we got away with it, I learnt absolutely nothing from the experience…except that you can go much further than you think with the fuel light on.