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Before the quakes: one great weekend down south

eatToday a region of the South Island including the city of Christchurch suffered a devastating series of earthquakes, almost six months after a magnitude 7.1 struck. Whereas the first quake was miraculously free from loss of life, the situation this time is very different. The full enormity of the impact of today’s quakes is yet to be realised.

In light of today’s events I wanted to post a few words and pictures about a fantastic long weekend we had down in the Christchurch and Banks Peninsula area three years ago.

Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and is 45 minutes by air from Wellington. Mike and I flew down and collected a rental car, heading for the inner city to enjoy breakfast at a cafe near the Avon River. We didn’t linger too long but did walk around the Bridge of Remembrance world war memorial – I wonder what the state of that is now.

The first of our two nights away was at Sumner, a seaside suburb about half an hour from central Christchurch. We loved Sumner – nestled above and below high cliffs, it had a lovely village vibe to it with good access to beach and interesting rock formations to walk around. Today those cliffs made Sumner especially vulnerable.

Sumner as seen from the Port Hills

One of the most striking geographical aspects of Christchurch is the Port Hills – the hills between the city and the town of Lyttleton where the South Island’s biggest deep-water port is located. The hills have quite an extensive road network across them and it is really interesting just driving around looking at the landscape and the various features and lookouts.

The following day we headed south into the Banks Peninsula, beginning with a short stop in Lyttleton. One of the roads to Lyttleton goes around the side of the hills with places to stop and look over the port. Today slips came down cutting off that road – as well as the main tunnel route.

Looking out over Port Lyttleton

Lyttleton was the epicenter of today’s quakes. We were really quite taken with it on our visit, it could easily be a fairly rough and ready port servicing town but it had a real charm with its heritage buildings given new life from vibrant shops and cafes. There were also some beautiful houses and gardens if I recall.

The port town of Lyttleton

Our destination for the night was Akaroa, a lovely settlement with British and French origins located in the Akaroa harbour on the southern end of the peninsula. Only 75kms from Christchurch, it is a fantastic drive and we enjoyed it despite our very budget rental car. The superb weather highlighted everything to perfection, particularly once we arrived in Akaroa. A more picturesque and idyllic seaside village you would be hard pressed to find. We have not yet heard how they fared today.

The Akaroa waterfront as seen from our hotel

A little pier in Akaroa

Back in Christchurch the following day and with spare time before our flight, we drove out to the suburb of New Brighton. The big feature here is a 300m pier on an 18km long sandy beach. A wet and grey day it nonetheless was a great way to end our weekend.

Lake Ellesmere in Banks Peninsula, a quick detour off the main road

The New Brighton pier

I’m sure the events of today have changed forever some of what we saw three years ago, making these fond memories all the more special.

A damp stroll on the New Brighton pier

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