Leif Pettersen's Travelogue

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Christchurch, New Zealand

Posted on January 28th, 2005

I’ll save you the time reading 1,088 words and tell you right at the gun that this essay contains precious little information about the city of Christchurch. I divided the bulk of my time in Christchurch finishing the Kaikoura article, getting stupid drunk and watching the shows at the World Busking Festival (for the American readers, “busking” is street performing). So, if you’re looking for practical information on Christchurch, do yourself a favor and go back to Google right now. That said, here’s the other 992 words about what transpired in during my time in Christchurch.

I frittered away my first two days in Christchurch laboring over the Final Edit, the Final-Final Edit and the 263rd Read-Through Just for Luck Edit of the Kaikoura article. Immediately after bagging that, I went out with yet another Juggler’s Rest acquaintance and our agreed upon, shared, single bottle of wine with dinner turned into a legless, gratuitous boozing display that would have humbled the Green Day boys. It took a full 24 hours to find my brain afterward, at which point I set out to see Christchurch.

My single day roaming Christchurch started out with a 10:00AM meeting with a representative at Christchurch Tourism and Marketing, who represents several businesses in Kaikoura. She and I had exchanged a few emails as I was bumbling through my Kaikoura arrangements and she offered to meet with me to facilitate my time in Christchurch. The meeting was supremely fruitful. I left with a full Christchurch media kit, a ticket for the restored tram ride that circled the city center and, best of all, a fairly competent itinerary for the remainder of my time in NZ.

After absorbing much of the media kit, I wandered down to the Christchurch Arts Center where I was promised free displays, artisans at work and, my favorite, a tour through the kitchen of the fudge store. The letdown was cruel. Many of the studios were closed on Mondays, the day of my visit, many more were simply thinly veiled stores, with no artists in sight and the fudge tour only happened once a day, in the middle of the afternoon and it cost $12. I was done with the Arts Center in about 20 minutes.

I moved further down Worcester Street, admiring the stone buildings of the former university grounds before I came to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Christchurch is supposed to be the “garden city.” Although I hadn’t yet seen a single flower anywhere in Christchurch, the huge botanic gardens virtually redeemed the city’s claim. With the Avon River snaking through the gardens in the shape of a big boot, lakes Victoria and Albert and the adjacent North and South Hagley parks, the area is vast, varied, perfectly tended and a joy to wander through. My favorite part was the Odor Garden, filled with rows of plants giving off distinct and remarkable smells. Sadly, none were of the chocolate or cider variety.


Next I climbed aboard the city’s restored tram. The ride is disappointingly short, but the tram driver’s commentary was enthusiastic and entertaining. It was a nice 15 minutes, but I think I would have been a bit disappointed if I had paid the full $12 fare. I jumped off the tram at Cathedral Square and, feeling that I’d done enough street beating for one day, I settled down with the collected, backpacker/juggler misfits to scrutinize the talent at the World Busking Festival. By pure chance, I had lurched into town on the second day of the 10 day festival. Free street shows were going on all over town, including right outside the front door of Base Backpackers - my reluctant hostel choice - for five hours a day in Cathedral Square. It was supremely satisfying to just walk out the front door and see a great show while sitting out on the grass with a beef kebab and a liter of water. As with all festivals of this type, there are some brilliant acts and some duds that made one wonder how they were invited in the first place. My favorite act, by far, was a talented duo from Japan called “Gamarjobat.” These two, mohawked, rose suited, middle-aged guys did quite possibly the most universally pleasing and internationally hilarious act I have ever seen. Their speechless show mixed mime, comedy, goofball magic, audience interaction and edgy sexual innuendo (keeping in mind that 2/3 of the audience was under the age of 10) with brilliant perfection. I was so close to tears the whole time that I barely got it together to help them with a brief gag that they forced on me.

I didn’t mention this before, but I had one very surreal, but wonderful experience in Christchurch. I met and was fed by a women I had met 11 years earlier, backpacking in Spain. She, a South African companion and I stuck together for two of the biggest, cluster-f*cked weeks of drinking in four cities that I have ever experienced, before or since. One memorable night in Granada, we discovered that the hostel had a vending machine in the lobby that dispensed single serving drink boxes of the worst red wine in the universe. I was not a wine drinker at the time. In fact I loathed the stuff, but our budgets had long since dropped below the level that would afford us sangria, so we had no choice. In less than 24 hours, we emptied the vending machine of the wine. The little boxes were piled up in the corner of our room, nearly burying the overflowing wastebasket. Next to that disaster were two cheap bottles of vodka that we’d found time for in the interim. Needless to say, it was a messy couple of weeks.

After only sporadic email contact during our years apart, Chris and I managed to coordinate a meeting on my third night in Christchurch. She picked me up and brought me to her home for a gut-busting home cooked meal and hours of catch-up and reminiscing. It was oddly comforting being with her again, despite our fleeting relationship and lengthy time apart. Unfortunately, it was a work night for her and I was still reeling from the week of hysterical running around Kaikoura and the worst hangover I’d subjected myself to in six months. The night ended early and sweetly.

These festivals always bring out the weirdos.

I ended up devoting two full days to the buskers, before I boarded the eight hour bus down to Queenstown, home of bungee-jumping and host to nearly every ancillary extreme sport imaginable.

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