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The wide open spaces of Summer



Ben

So January has nearly disappeared and we didn’t even blink! What happened?

I’m afraid it’s taken me a week to get back to the blog – as I’m sure you’ll appreciate. There has been just a little bit to get my teeth into on my return from New Zealand.

There is something so magical about flying, floating far above earth… here we are above the north western coast of Australia; infinite blue.

Arriving in Auckland… that magical moment when a day’s travelling is nearing its long conclusion.  Heaven to be arriving into summer and heat.

Charlie’s first mission, always, on arriving in NZ, is to find a great cup of coffee. We were staying in Auckland for a couple of nights; the following morning, mission was accomplished at Dear Jervois:

It was so amazing wandering around Auckland, a city of plants and trees and bungalows and roads rolling into turquoise water.

We did masses in Auckland, but perhaps one of our favourite visits was to the beautiful Museum – where, so many years ago, Bridie Hall used to work.

It’s come rather a long way since it first opened in Auckland in 1870.

A new building was constructed a few years later, of which this is the magical interior. I rather miss rooms like this.  We saw the model of the Giant Moa, nonetheless.The upper floor of this sublime building is a deeply moving war memorial.

The walls are lined with thousands of names of those from Auckland lost in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Borneo. New Zealand has borne a heavy price in distant wars.

Beautiful and poignant, the final panel was empty save for one small line.We walked away deep in thought and emotion.

The day we left we visited the Pah Homestead and the brilliant cafe set up by our friend Sam Mannering…

And then back to catch the ferry to Waiheke, the Auckland skyline disappearing in to sparkling blue sea and sky…Our home for the next two nights – the perfect Oyster Inn.

A huge storm had blown through a couple of days before we arrived; for us, the weather was hot and still and beautiful.
Luckily a lot of ice cream was therefore needed.

We tore ourselves away.  We were heading south. A flight to Wellington… Grey and misty and magical, although we were there so fleetingly that I want to return.

We were heading to South Island on the ferry to Picton.

We entered the Marlborough Sounds through insanely beautiful mist.

We arrived in Picton in good time; lunch with Charlie’s dad…And then stayed with his Uncle and Aunt, surrounded by their beautiful fields of peonies, vegetables and fruit trees..

The following morning, up early for a trip back out to the Sounds, this time through beautiful sunshine as the clouds cleared. 

We came ashore at Ship Cove, visited by Captain Cook on his remarkable journeys – it feels as if nothing has changed today.

We walked to Resolution bay through beautiful virgin forest.

We returned to shore, thrilled with the Sounds, vowing to return.  We were heading south towards Christchurch, but just had time for a visit to the perfect Upton Oaks garden, near Blenheim.

And then the road south; kissing the coastline, the deep blue Pacific stretching to the horizon.

A wonderful journey. We stopped for tea with Charlie’s other aunt and uncle, in Kaikora, badly damaged in the last earthquake – the State Highway 1 is only just opened (and then only nearly).  We arrived in Christchurch by darkness.

Coffee at Black & White, followed by breakfast with Charlie’s sister – great to catch up; then down to stay with Charlie’s mum –  can I admit it was heaven lying all afternoon in her lovely garden in 30 degrees of heat, or is that just annoying at this time of year?

The following day, we headed to the farm, but not without a trip to the Staveley Store for lunch.

The happiest time being here, summer evenings, wine and conversation into the long, warm evenings.

And of course a visit to Charlie’s grandfather Hamish, 95 this week.

We went to see Charlie’s friend Rose Acland, and her dreamlike garden at Mount Peel Station. 

The woods are filled with the famous Mount Peel lilies – which finished flowering a few weeks before; I long to see and and smell and experience a woodland filled with these amazing flowers at their peak

Beautiful stained glass in the Victorian chapel:

And then, the next day, South to Simon and Koo at Glenbrook Station.

Lake Tekapo, breathtaking as before.

Koo’s garden is always lush and abundant and full of summer.

Ben with the chickens and ducks.

The following day, we went to visit Birchwood – Simon’s old family station, in what is now the remarkable Ahuriri Conservation Park. The boys thought it was a nice day for a swim.

But as if by magic the clouds cleared and brilliant blue skies and sunshine emerged.

Another perfect evening at Koo’s, eating the most delicious food, talking in to the evening under the stars. 

It is always so sad to leave Koo and Simon’s amazing place. We stopped at Lake Pukaki on the way back home.

The foot of Mount Cook merges imperceptibly into the lake.

Two weeks fly by so fast; suddenly, it was our last days in Christchurch.  A fantastic supper in Lyttleton with Laura and Andy…

Charlie looking cool…

And the following day, morning tea with Charlie’s grandmother Heather in Governor’s Bay; then back to the city, for a good walk, for a fleeting visit to the botanical gardens, and supper with Charlie’s dad and sister. A sight for wintry English eyes:And then home; the long flight back, via Hong Kong, blinking and stumbling through the time zones, but arriving back feeling as refreshed and enriched by New Zealand as it would be possible to be. The heat of a wonderful summer; the brightness of the days; the early mornings, late evenings; and the powerful happiness of family and friends and good times.  A true tonic; and that is how January has flown by. Happy New Year.

P O S T S C R I P T :

How and how not to rebuild a city

I hate to end on a negative note, but I couldn’t help feeling a moment of sadness for Christchurch – a city I didn’t know before the earthquake, of course, but which we can imagine.  Two years ago it felt on the brink of reconstruction, so much of which has now happened, or is nearly completed – and that is something to celebrate.  But I cannot help but have a regret for a style of rebuilding which, wherever you look, seems to focus on five ingredients – almost without exception.

  1. Strong earthquake-proof structure must be highly visible, especially at pavement level (where it will create the most inhumane environment for the passer-by).
  2. Buildings must have absolutely no detail of any kind, and must be rectilinear boxes.
  3. The material palette will be exclusively white or black cladding or plastic, with either black or blue or green tinted glass.  Large areas of glass walling (with earthquake proof structure visible behind) will be allowed.
  4. The only other colour allowed is brown – brown timber cladding, or fake copper cladding.
  5. Absolutely no reference to the history of Christchurch or what the city looked like before will be allowed.

Here and there, people had obviously decided to get a bit creative, with even more tragic results:

A sense of the old Christchurch exists now mainly in its landscape, and the remarkable river flowing through the city, which one suspects will be here for a long time after all this junk has gone. 

So, it was amazing to get an email, while we were in NZ, from Susan Henson, who is the fundraiser at the Christchurch Arts Centre, asking Charlie and me if we’d like to have a look around. Timing was a little tight, but on our last day we met Susan for a wonderful, whistlestop tour. Formerly the 19th century University of Christchurch, this collection of stone, gothic buildings – built by the founding fathers of the city in distant memory of Cambridge or Oxford’s dreaming spires back home – was comprehensively destroyed by the earthquake. Almost immediately, the decision was taken to rebuild, and now the works are roughly half complete. Funding is a major issue to complete this gargantuan project, but the quality and extent of work completed so far was extraordinary.

Every brick and piece of stone has been removed and reconstructed, with strong, earthquake-proof structure concealed behind.

Here is the ancient lecture hall;

The further away from the lecturn, up at the back rows, the more elaborate and numerous the carved names.All rebuilt:

Outside, gleaming new stonework alongside old; including the reintroduction of many of the original architectural features lost even before the earthquake, such as the chimneys you see below, removed in the 60s.  Fine welsh slate on the roof.  Craftsman and stonemasons from around the world have come to work on the project.

The restored roof of the great Hall.The disco ball is a temporary installation for the Christchurch World Busking Festival, which was in full flow while we were there.

Temporary structures retain damaged buildings for now.

Where the fund has run out, buildings have been consolidated but left with damage clear to see.

Beautifully carved new stonework in Oamaru limestone.

New architectural features have been sensitively introduced into the old.

A fine and extensive record of the damage and reconstruction has been carried out by the photographer Johannes van Kan.Even features never originally built, but detailed on the early architectural drawings, such as this lead and timber finial, have been incorporated, which is an approach to conservation that I find deeply refreshing.

Best of all was the ice cream shop downstairs, owned by this guy, just in case we’re getting too serious.I know that not everything can or indeed should be rebuilt as it was; i know that cities cannot be preserved in aspic, and must be allowed to breathe and grow and change. I suppose it is the tragedy of Christchurch that its earthquake was in an age which lacks the confidence and the architectural vision in which beauty, detail, or historical meaning might have a component – how different to Napier (which I’d love to visit), now one of the great art deco cities of the world after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931.

But we can all thank god that the Arts Centre took the decision, bravely, and expensively, and immediately, to rebuild rather than to flatten and start again. We can watch, with encouragement, the debate on the Christchurch cathedral which is now to be reconstructed as it was – a monumental task; I somehow imagine the questions will rumble on.  It is sad to see the cathedral still a great hulking ruin, filled with wild flowers, while so much else has changed.

Two years ago, when we visited, I wrote this in my blog:

Christchurch is filled with new construction. I suspect when we are next back it is going to feel dramatically different. I don’t know much about the city at all – but I’ve got to suspect that the trauma of the earthquakes will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened.  There is an energy about the place.

The remarkable New Zealand energy is still there, for sure, and the centre of town was fizzing on the days and evenings we were there. So I suppose this is just a passing lament for something a little richer, a little more varied, a little more contextual, that could have happened, but probably now will not – and the memory of Christchurch as a wonderful, historic, layered palimpsest will fade within a generation or two.

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