My plan to go to Rotorua was an “if” one. As in, “if I got a cheap car” or “if the bus schedule were favorable I could be soaking in a thermal pool by the afternoon.” On a Sunday departure from Auckland, neither was actually a great option for price or timing. So when Frazer at the Aspen House suggested that I jump south and drive north, well, I jumped south.

Frazer quickly booked me a flight, a car and a shuttle to the airport and I was on my way to Christchurch on the South Island. I was so engrossed in Speaker for the Dead (thanks, Julian) that there were no fond last looks at Auckland from the shuttle bus nor disappointment that my Qantas aisle seat kept me from a aerial view of the South Island landscape. There may be time for both at some later point. (Needless to say, I recommend the book.)

The flight to Christchurch was short, and soon I was in another shuttle winding my way through the sunny day toward Stonehurst Accommodation, a highly reviewed backpackers hostel. The praise is well deserved. Although located on a stretch that looks fairly suburban, it is just blocks from central Cathedral Square. My very small room is nevertheless charming, and the layout of the entire place makes it easy to get to a large kitchen, laundry, rec room and pool. I kept my oohing over the Stonehurst to a minimum and strapped on my bag for a walk to the Botanical Gardens.

Christchurch quickly proved to be a much more pedestrian friendly city than Auckland. And cleaner. It actually has the look and sentiment of a quiet European town, with an architectural mix of “swiss chalet,” “roman cathedral,” and “city tower.” This is, I think, Canterbury township, with all of its English references.

As it was Sunday, the streets were extremely quiet. The few people I passed on the way seemed to be fellow travelers, backpack-laden and guidebooks in hand. With the exception of the souvenir sellers, most shops and restaurants were closed. I noted an open Korean restaurant, told my rumbling belly that I’d stop on the way back from the gardens, and pressed on.

Although my hunger kept my visit to little over an hour, I did enjoy my stroll through the gardens. The sunny day had really encouraged the local and visiting community to take a stroll, so the paths — while not crowded — were rarely absent of others. Spring is just arriving in Christchurch, so while there were some beautiful offerings from the early bloomers, I could only guess at the awe-inspiring display to come later. Still, it was great to see the kids dashing about, the man asleep in a quiet patch of sun, the lovers walking hand-in-hand, and the many small and large groups posing for just the right photo memory. I even saw a small gondola go by along the snaking Avon River.

Christchurch blossoms

I didn’t exactly run for the Korean restaurant when I left the gardens at 5, but I certainly didn’t stroll either. Mmmmm, bi bim bahp. The restaurant that I had chosen turned out to be tasty, with large dishes at very cheap prices. It’s 5:30 a.m. now, and if I thought they were open at this hour, I wouldn’t be sitting in front of this terminal.

I roamed a bit more after dinner, not ready to return to the Stonehurst. I stopped a local woman on a bicycle and asked her where the local cinema was. She pointed it out and then pressed me with questions: where are you from, how long are you here, etc. Although a fellow cyclist and helpful with the information, she wasn’t exactly “warm.” I was relieved when the light changed again and she hastened on her way.

I was just in time for a showing of The Village, by the same guy who did The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. Julian, was it you who told me the ending? In any case, I can say that knowing what was real and what was not did not take away from the creepy nature of the movie. I thought it was pretty good, certainly a fine way to spend a few hours on a quiet Christchurch evening. Certainly better than the laundry that kept me up until 11.

In just a few hours, the car rental company will pick me up, process me and send me on my way. I don’t know where I am headed, but I expect to figure it out when I get there.

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