A Sudden Plan
In the busy Melbourne life, suddenly I got two weeks break while changing jobs. Being a traveler at heart, immediately decided that am off to somewhere for a week! Considering its winter in July in Australia, the cheapest and best option was New Zealand. Within couple of days I booked my week-long trip to South Islands, New Zealand.
I wanted to have a relaxing trip and hence decided to visit only two cities – Christchurch & Queenstown. This was a solo trip, so I kept the itinerary simple. In no time I found myself in the JetStar flight from Melbourne to Christchurch! I had dozed off during the flight and woke up with the Captain announcing that the flight is landing. I opened my eyes and looked out of the window, the view was breathtaking. Something inside me said that my trip was going to be amazing!
The TranzAlpine train trip
Checked-in to Ibis, Christchurch. The hotel is located at the heart of the CBD (main city). My day 1 was just walking around the city and getting myself used to the cold. I called it a night pretty early as I had an 8am Tranzalpine train to catch the next morning to visit Arthur’s Pass National Park.
The Kiwi rail personnel picked me up at around 7.30 from my hotel and dropped me to the Christchurch station. The Tranzalpine train was already standing there and looked very striking and impressive. This train is operated by ‘The Great Journeys of New Zealand’ in the South Island over the ‘Midland Line’; it’s often regarded to be one of the world’s greatest train journeys, for the scenery through which it passes. The journey is 223 kilometres one-way, taking almost five hours. I had decided to go half way till Arthur’s Pass and then return back the same day.
The train left the mainland and soon was running amidst the mesmerising Southern Alps. We crossed snow clad mountains, rivers and waterfalls. There was a pantry inside the train, from where I got a nice coffee while I enjoyed the views. It felt both peaceful and exciting at the same time! The co-passengers were from different countries and they seemed to love New Zealand as much. With every turn the train took, there were more mountains and sometimes tunnels, overall this was my best ever train journey!
Arthur’s Pass National Park
The train reached Arthur’s Pass at around 11am. Few of the passengers got down here. The scenery was breathtaking! I couldn’t believe nature can be so beautiful.
It was freezing though, but I was all wrapped up in my jacket and beanie. I found my way to the Visitor Centre, collected some maps of the area and chose to do a hike to the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall. My return train from Arthur’s Pass was around 4.30pm in the afternoon, so I had around five and a bit hours to myself, to explore this beauty.
Started my hike, there was ice on the way but no one else around! I was very excited as I have not seen much snow in Melbourne or in the other countries I have visited, so it was a very different experience. Kept walking on the trail, was getting exhausted as it was uphill, but then I met some tourists coming from the opposite direction, who said it’s worth finishing the trail! The track crossed through a sparse forest and I could see snow-clad mountains from some points, the cold was getting intense but when I heard the birds chirping yet felt the silence of the place, I was feeling happy and ignored the cold. It was an experience I never had before! Finally, I reached the Devil’s Punchbowl waterfalls.
The waterfall was massive and really worth the hike! On one side was the waterfall and on the opposite side was this huge snow-clad mountain. I felt an immense happiness inside me. Nature had waved its magic wand again and made me ecstatic! I spent some time by the waterfall, just hearing the sound of water gushing down and then forming a stream. The return trail felt shorter as I was already so gratified and had all my energy back from the picturesque magnificence around. I reached back to the base and grabbed some food in the Wobbly Kea Café and Bar. Then I explored around little more and soon headed off to the station for my return to Christchurch. Chatted with the co-passengers on the journey back and shared my solo journey experiences with them with a glass of wine! Nothing feels better than telling your stories to strangers, who are your friends in a strange way! Arthur’s Pass had made my day and so did the transalpine train journey. After a quick dinner at Christchurch, I crashed off to bed.
The city which recreated itself
As many of us know, the intense earthquakes in Christchurch in 2010 & 2011, created widespread damage to buildings, infrastructure and human life. My third and final day in Christchurch was exploring the city and enjoy a laidback day before I head off to Queenstown. I walked down to the Canterbury Museum after a sumptuous breakfast and coffee.
The museum had a beautiful adjoining garden and some really amazing piece of architecture. After spending some time there, I walked up the street to do a punting tour on the Avon river. It was a perfect day for punting! A leisurely trip along the picturesque Avon River, being punted by a friendly, informative guide felt very relaxing. There was lovely scenery in the Botanical Gardens. We were given blankets and hot-water bags to make us feel warm. The short half an hour tour felt even shorter when the surrounding was so breathtaking!
After the punting tour, I walked across the ‘Bridge of Remembrance’, dedicated to the soldiers of the World Wars and then reached the Christchurch Cathedral. As I got to see more of the city, I noticed how much damage was caused by the earthquakes and how the people here had accepted that and bravely rebuilt the entire city! Met many locals, who spoke of their loss during the earthquakes, but they loved this city and embraced all that they had to face because they felt Christchurch is where they belong! Many of them were immigrants from Afghanistan, Israel, Bangladesh and India. You learn so much, when you travel!
I was pretty tired by late afternoon, had some food but kept thinking of how brave the locals were and how much they loved this city. I reached the hotel by evening, went to my room and packed by bags as I had an early flight the next day. I went out to have some dinner in the Indian restaurant just opposite Ibis, called Mumbaiwala and had a happy tummy!
When reality strikes!
It was around 9 pm and I was watching the television in my room, almost half asleep, considering I walked a lot around the city that day. My mind was full of thoughts and my body was tired. Suddenly, my bed, the television, the tables, chairs and everything in the room started trembling horribly! My first thought was that I was dreaming, since my mind was full of those broken buildings which I had witnessed throughout the day. But it took me couple of more seconds to realise, that it was an actual earthquake!!!
I held the bed frame strongly and was scared to death, started thinking of my family back in India and every fraction of second felt like ages! After around 30-40 secs, the shake stopped. I was still immobile on my bed and was having a brain-freeze too. As I regained my senses, I jumped off the bed and dialled reception. The lady from the reception seemed pretty calm and said there is nothing to fear, this was just a minor tremor! I was freaking out on the other side and immediately hung up and rushed to the ground floor! Saw many frightening faces like mine in the lobby, all with the fear of what that city was infamous for! The receptionist calmed us down and after spending an hour in the lobby, anticipating another tremor, I was too drained out and returned to my room and felt asleep!
From the first day itself, Christchurch won my heart! The way this city has faced the most dangerous natural calamity and has accepted that fact and rebuilt itself, is sheer bravery and courage. Rebuilt not just buildings and infrastructure but also their minds, their hearts, their history and their future.
Life’s never easy but happy are those who face their fears and move on! No wonder the receptionist that night was so calm! She has experienced much more intense earthquakes than that minor tremor. Christchurch taught me that history and culture of a place is not only to treasure what was created by our ancestors, but it is also what we create as we progress. The history of Christchurch is not the infamous earthquakes, but it is the people who love that city more than their lives and properties. They say, ‘a thing of beauty, is a joy forever’, and Christchurch, you will be the most dangerously beautiful city I have ever been to! Stay safe Christchurch, until next time!