We drove 2 hours from Akaroa to Christchurch, by way of the gondola to see the view over Banks Peninsula, Lyttelton Harbour and Christchurch. Christchurch is a large city of 350,000 people. We stayed downtown, close to all the museums and activities. First on our agenda was to visit the "Quake City Museum" to learn about the 2011 earthquake. The earthquake was 7.1 magnitude with a center about a mile from the center of the city. There were 185 people killed and they have a sobering film featuring survivors recounting their own experiences (very touching and sad). The museum has a detailed scientific explanation of the phenomenon of liquefaction - when the shaking liquefied the ground and caused massive flooding burying streets and sinking buildings. Most of the buildings and infrastructure throughout the city were damaged. The inner city was blocked off from public access for 4 years in order to assess and demolish the buildings. More than 100,000 buildings were damaged and more than 10,000 had to be demolished.
Driving around the city is next to impossible as, still to this day, almost every other street is blocked off for construction. It took us >30 minutes going in circles to get to our hotel. Evidence of all the destruction is obvious, with whole city blocks demolished, scaffolding on lots of buildings and major construction activities everywhere. It made a lasting impact on us. Especially, all the historic buildings that were destroyed, the mere magnitude of destruction and, most of all, what the people have had to endure and are still enduring. Still, there are some remaining beautiful buildings and areas of the city. (See Photos)
We also visited the Canterbury Museum and Botanical Gardens. The Canterbury Museum had some great exhibits, including the birds and animals, the Antarctic exploration, the people, and the geology of NZ. My favorite thing was the "paua shell house", which was an actual house decorated with paua shells. The adjacent 52-acre botanical gardens are spectacular during the spring and summer, but it was fall when we were there. However, there are miles of walking paths and we did a couple of loops. There were hundreds of magnificent tree species, many that were over 100 years old. (See Photos)
We spent a half day at the International Antarctic Center which focusses on the Antarctic explorations, and has a penguin rescue center. We did the full-tour including a ride in the Hägglund, a penguin feeding, a 3-D movie, and a chance to experience conditions in Antarctica. The Hagglund is an all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle. We were strapped in and they drove us up steep inclines, then did it on the side, where we truly felt as if it would tip over. They drove us over logs, through a gulley and it was quite a demonstration of what the vehicle could do. Then, Tony spent most of his time in the Antarctic section learning about life at Scott Base, and the history of the Scott and Shackleton explorations. Of course, I spent most of my time with the penguins. They have wonderful viewing areas, where you can see them in their nest, on the rocks, being fed, and swimming underwater. They had 17 penguins (both little blue and white-flippered little blue) that had been rescued and, due to their injuries, could not survive in the wild. (See Photos) (See Video of Penguins)
We also spent a half day at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve which is a 45-acre zoo with over 500 animals. But, all the animals are in their natural environment; not cages. When you walk around on the trail, you have to go through doors and gates from one area to the next and most of the time, you are in the animal's habitat with them. Our favorite part was the brown kiwis, kept in a dark barn (because they are nocturnal). After our eyes adjusted, we could find the kiwis and had fun watching them as they were feeding on worms right by the path. So cool! We couldn't photograph them, but we did get some good photos of other birds, ducks, and wallaby, which we had never seen before. (See Photos)
From Christchurch, we decided to drive straight back to the boat in Whangarei because we'd been gone 5 weeks. If anyone is planning to visit NZ, please feel free to contact us for more information.
More Later - G&T