The steering wheel was on the right. That was the big difference in the Ford SUV we rented to tour New Zealand’s South Island. Driving on the left made for some harrowing close calls as each of us took turns behind the wheel. Of course we launched into the most challenging bit first off – driving from the airport into downtown Christchurch. My Drivetime Yoga techniques were put to good use to keep us calm. There were rotaries to be navigated. All fine when you want to go straight, provided you remember to yield to whoever’s barreling towards you from the right. At any rate, New Zealanders are very patient and while we earned it a few times, not one honked at us.
Within two hours of landing, we checked into the Scenic Suites on Kilmore Street, a few blocks from downtown. It wasn’t scenic at our second floor level but modest, offered easy parking and was close to what we wanted to see in our one day there. After quick showers, we were wandering the streets on our way to the Cathedral Square at the center of town.
Christchurch is a great city for walking! There are many parks, a lovely river winding through, and an interesting architectural mixture from the very modern (Contemporary Gallery in the Arts District) to the blatantly Victorian. The Cathedral is modest in scale but had all the stonework, the stained glass, the marble, etc. one would expect in say, central London. The square also hosts street performers, speakers and pleasant places to sit and ponder. We watched an incredible Maori chorus performing to raise money for a competition in Sydney. Nice to know our appreciation helped them get there.
Upstairs on the far side of the square is the Lotus Café, a vegetarian restaurant run by the Sri Chimoy organization. The gentle, delicious fare was just what we needed before exploring the town. My favorite experience of the afternoon? The rolling Botanical Gardens full of unusual trees, roses and cicadas. Most charming experience? The recreation of the Paua Shell house created by Fred and Myrtle from Bluff. It’s featured in an exceptional short film buried in the Canterbury Museum that is to my mind, every bit as interesting historically and anthropologically as any of the other exceptional exhibits.
Paua shells are smaller relatives of Abalone and their brilliant mother of pearl sheen has been coveted from Maori times to now. Fred and Myrtle turned their home into a Paua shell exhibit, covering the walls with them and creating other shell kitsch. It turned the humble elderly couple into an international sensation in the 1970’s. For decades leading up to their deaths in early 2000, they invited millions of visitors to see their home 7 days a week. Can’t say I’ll ever look at an Abalone shell in the same way again.
Copyright 2010, Elaine J. Masters, RYT, speaker, author of Drivetime & Flytime Yoga.