Falling Down and Building Up

So, after 26 hours of plane-and-train-based travelling, mostly spent failing to sleep and wondering if it’s possible to make seats any less comfortable, I finally find myself in Christchurch, New Zealand. Capital city, if you like, of the South island, and focal point of the recent earthquakes. I share a shuttle from the airport with a civil engineer who’s also here to investigate, albeit in a more professional manner than mine. The suburbs look like any other grid-based suburb you’d find worldwide, with no real hint of damage; it’s not until the very centre, a couple of hundred square metres, that the devastation is plain to see. Picture an urban-based zombie holocaust shoot-em-up, with crumbled buildings, potholed roads, traffic lights ominously blinking amber, and an unsettling sense of ‘Where the hell IS everyone?’ and you’re probably close to how central Christchurch looks. What’s curious is that the majority of the destruction is confined to a very small area, bang in the city centre, with cracks and undulating streets rippling outwards.

As we tour the roads bordering the steel-fenced perimeter (wondering where on earth so much metal trellis came from) the driver tells me that he was in the middle of the earthquake when it struck, ferrying passengers. As buildings either side shook and started to fall, he swerved to the centre of the road, avoiding cascading bricks and narrowly eluding possible death when a tumbling lamppost brushed the bonnet merely inches from his head. He considers it a rather miraculous escape.

Speaking of miracles and matters devine, I spotted several churches which had steeples, roofs and windows missing, ecclesiastical skeletons which make me wonder how you could class such an event as an ‘Act of God’ – surely that’s some kind of self-blasphemy?


And on the subject of things that move in mysterious ways, 20ft campervans are rather cumbersome beasts aren’t they? In case you’re thinking ‘I wouldn’t know’, the answer is ‘Yes’. After an early-morning coach with the ‘Nakedbus’ company (not as exciting as it sounds), I hooked up with my younger sibling in the town of Oamaru, about halfway between Christchurch and Dunedin. When your recent driving experience has been based around a small hatchback, converting to a 6.6 metre behemoth with the handling capabilities of Mr Creosote is like playing tennis left-handed. Blasting out my ‘Rawwwwk’ CD doesn’t exactly help the boy-racer mindset, so I shove in some Doors and discover that the resulting ‘Hey man it’s the 70s, why the need to drive so fast?’ way of thinking is the perfect state in which to helm The Rambling Rose.

For that is its name.

The public voted! Well, about 14 of them. And I went against the flow and decided that the name only one person chose – myself – was the one the van should be christened. And so it came to pass, and there was much rejoicing. Ok, the bloke on the next campsite thought it was a good name (‘Nice, sounds like a pub’), and so it stuck.


After a night’s stop in Oamaru, a town which is so colonial Victorian I kept thinking it was a film set, Mark and I head inland a tad – via a quick wine-tasting – to the town of Kurow, which, we are informed every 5 metres, is the birth place of the Kiwi captain, Richie McCaw. Every other shop is adorned with a poster bearing his teenage face, not quite the hard-bastard face we are familiar with, but an imposing kid nonetheless. We stop over by a placid turquoise river that wouldn’t look out of place at the Augusta Masters, and, after a spot of laidback post-breakfast canoeing, hit the road – hit’s probably the wrong word… Caress? Embrace? – and cruise down Route 1 on the road South.

Nice place for a canoe...

We go via the Moeraki Boulders – large near-spherical balls of rock on the beach that I’m convinced are Alien eggs, awaiting an awakening a la War of the Worlds – and the Totara estate, which was the first place to ship frozen meat to the UK back in the 1880s, shaping the entire future of New Zealand’s meat exporting business. From there it’s a few miles to our next stopover, our base – as well as the England team’s – for the next few days, the East coast city of Dunedin….

Alien Eggs at Moeraki


About PaulWFranklin
Writer, wanderer, whatever.

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