Tag Archives: Christchurch

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Yo, Christian, our world doesn’t understand religion, it’s time to make sure you do

Jacinda Ardern is, from what I can tell, a lovely lady and an inspirational Prime Minister. You can tell a lot about a leader by how they respond in the crucible of a crisis; and Ardern responded to the recent Christchurch shooting with grace, poise, and a tonne of empathy. She won praise for her speeches, for her leadership in bringing people together across religious and ethnic divides, and for her humble empathy, especially when she wore the Hijab; an outward sign of solidarity with her religious neighbours. A religious symbol that she wore, not because she decided to subscribe temporarily to Islamic doctrine, but as a symbol of another sort of religion; unity and solidarity. In Ardern’s speech at the memorial service she said the answer to the problem of terrorism lies in finding our shared humanity, and that the events in Christchurch now form part of our shared experience, and that this comes with a new responsibility.

“A responsibility to be the place that we wish to be. A place that is diverse, that is welcoming, that is kind and compassionate. Those values represent the very best of us.”

She finished her speech quoting the national anthem; a call for unity across creed and race, and a call not just to our humanity but a prayer for divine intervention.

Men of every creed and race,
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place
God defend our free land

From dissension, envy, hate
And corruption, guard our state
Make our country good and great
God defend New Zealand

The attack on a mosque, a place of prayer, was for many in our modern age a racist attack (and though I haven’t read the shooter’s manifesto, race was certainly a part of it). But there’s something more insidious about such an attack for those who have beliefs about the nature of religious belief; that exploring religious questions is part of what the podcast The Eucatastrophe described in an episode that discussed Christchurch as the fundamentally human ‘religious quest.’ For those of us with religious convictions the attack on a place of prayer is not just a hate crime, it’s a different sort of sacrilege; an attack on something so profoundly located at the core of our experience of being human that we should have a deep empathy, even across religious or doctrinal divides; not simply because we believe our muslim neighbours are made in the image of God, but because they were killed while pursuing something so intimately connected to the fabric of reality; an experience we, as religious people, can relate to with a different lens. Our ‘solidarity’ with our muslim neighbours at this point should be of a different depth to the solidarity expressed by our secular neighbours, not because they care ‘less’ about the humans involved, but because they care less about the religious experience and religion as it defines our personhood. Though our ‘secular age’ might see religious belief, or any belief in the supernatural as contested or superfluous for understanding life in the material world; religious people see more to this world than just the material, more robust motivations for and solutions to ‘terrorism’ than just ‘our humanity’ (though most religious belief gives humanity a certain sort of sacredness), and more to the hijab than simply a marker of cultural practice that can be appropriated to whatever narrative we see fit (though, it’s true, that there were people in the Muslim community who appreciated the expression of solidarity).

Ardern’s use of the headscarf, and the praise she received for it, reveals something about how the modern world understands religious belief. Religious belief is just one commitment amongst many; one consumer choice, that we use to construct and perform our identity; one path to our ‘authentic self’. Again, The Eucatastrophe digs into this brilliantly, but they, like the book Disruptive Witness, are digging in to Charles Taylor’s work not just in A Secular Age but in Sources of the Self. When something ‘transcendent’ or divine is removed from our common ‘social imaginary’ — the backdrop of beliefs and ‘things’ that give our life meaning and help us understand who we are — we’re left constructing meaning for ourselves. We can don religious garb without it meaning anything deep, because religion is no longer a fundamental driving part of our personhood — God and the ‘givenness’ of our life no longer constitutes who we are; religion is a market choice. That it is viewed this way explains, in part, why religion always loses out to sexuality in clashes of identity. Our modern world is not equipped to see religion as inherent to a person’s personhood in the same way we understand sexual preference. You don’t don your sexual attraction like a hijab; we can’t, following a shooting at a gay bar, adopt those things that constitute a ‘gay identity’ the way we can use the words and symbols of religion after a shooting in a house of prayer.

It’s interesting, with Islam, that it’s so often understood in public dialogue in ethnic or ‘race’ terms; a reality that became starker as Sonny Bill Williams, a muslim, publicly participated in the mourning process around the events in Christchurch. Here’s a man who obviously believes things deeply, but who also, when he isn’t on the football field, is comfortable wearing the symbolic markers of his faith.

It’s also interesting, with Islam, that because it’s understood in ethnic or race terms, so little is said about Islamic doctrine on social issues; one can, it seems, don the Hijab in the western world without asking what that symbol means in other parts of the world; one can express solidarity with muslims without sharing any belief in the substantial elements of religious belief (that prayer isn’t just to an empty room, but is part of a search for the divine); and one can do that only so long as one never has to come into contact with not just the question of the reality of a transcendent God, but the particularity of the sort of creeds brought together under the human banner ‘New Zealand’… While I believe in a fundamentally different God to my Islamic neighbours, I believe in the one revealed in the divine person of Jesus, and so my doctrinal commitments are utterly different to other religious commitments, there is a ‘shared quest’ that I recognise in this community, and a shared framework of sorts, that stands at odds with the modern secular account of reality. I can stand with my muslim neighbours the same way the Apostle Paul stood with the religious philosophers in Athens, recognising this religious quest, while making a claim about the exclusivity of the truth found in Jesus, see how he balances this ‘religious quest’ with this claim of truth, while engaged in dialogue with other ‘very religious’ people:

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” — Acts 17:24-31

Paul speaks in categories almost universally shared by religious people; an assumption that there is a transcendent reality out there, and that the human religious impulse is not simply an act of identity construction, but the pursuit of something real and true. Something that will, ultimately, define who we are and shape the way we live. Not just a ‘tack on’ or a fashion accessory, but something fundamental to how we understand our personhood. Our muslim neighbours understand this in a way that our ‘secular’ neighbours do not.

It’d be curious to see how Sonny Bill would respond on Twitter if someone asked him what God’s plan for gay people is. And curious to see how long people comfortably don the Hijab when confronted with genuine religious conviction. Which is an interesting hypothetical because of what is happening at the moment with Israel Folau. Another footballer. Another religious believer for whom religion is substantial not just symbolic; for whom religion is public, because it is part of his understanding of his personhood, not just private, and not just a consumer choice that he’s made to look good on Instagram.

Israel first kicked off controversy because he was asked just that question, and he responded according to his beliefs (note, again, he responded in a way that I wouldn’t). He ‘doubled down’ on that after much discussion, and apparently a new contract with a social media clause, and now he has been fired because he’s in breach of his contract; because his comments (an articulation of his religious convictions) are in breach of Rugby Australia’s inclusiveness policy (and, apparently also the NRL’s own ‘inclusivity’ principles, that will allow a bloke convicted of a violent rampage in New York, and accused of domestic violence, to be registered to play despite public outcry). This is the same Rugby Australia who are sponsored by QANTAS, whose CEO is a well known activist for inclusion and rights of the LGBT+ community (as he should be). QANTAS put pressure on Rugby Australia last time Folau spoke up, and were vocal again this time, but this is the same QANTAS who partner with nationalised airlines from Islamic nations where homosexuality is a capital offence; it seems their real religion might actually be the more conventional god of ‘mammon’ (money), with ‘inclusivity’ a convenient piece of religious garb to don when it will make more dollars.

Rugby Australia’s inclusivity policy includes religion as something they’ll include… here’s part of the statement they made in announcing they were going to no longer include Folau in the Rugby family:

“Rugby is a sport that continuously works to unite people. We want everyone to feel safe and welcome in our game and no vilification based on race, gender, religion or sexuality is acceptable and no language that isolates, divides or insults people based on any of those factors can be tolerated.”

It’s clear from the Folau case that it’s not a definition of religion that would be shared by religious people with the sort of conviction about reality expressed by Paul in Athens; it’s the approach to religion that sees religious garb as a bit of bling added to make an ‘authentic’ you, but a ‘you’ with a pre-commitment to a different religious framework — the one where ‘humanity’ is our solution, and where ‘diversity’ and ‘tolerance’ mean sameness (or a conviction to those things as ultimate ‘goods’ not as ‘means’ by which we live together through thick disagreement. If Folau’s religious commitments were more like Ardern’s hijab — something he’d hold loosely so that he could reach out to the Islander community, or the Christian market, and there was a dollar, or a fan or two, in it, then Rugby Australia might not come down so hard. But the reality is, Rugby has its own religious commitment to uphold, and Folau is now a heretic. One could ask if some of the commentary around Folau comes pretty close to intolerance and vilification of Folau based on his religious beliefs; but to do that, you’d have to convince the people you were asking that they’ve misunderstood religion.

But to come full circle, Ardern, who led her nation through a time of mourning; who modelled empathy and compassion to the religious other, showed that while she might be happy to grab a Hijab, so long as it doesn’t mean anything substantial (or so long as she can re-appropriate it to mean what she wants it to mean), isn’t really a fan of actual religious conviction. She, too, was asked about Folau’s views:

“Obviously at a personal level I clearly don’t agree with what he said, and … very mindful of the fact that he is for many a role model. He’s a person in a position of influence and I think that with that comes responsibility. I’m particularly mindful of young people who are members of our rainbow community, there is a lot of vulnerability there. As I say, I totally disagree with what he’s said and the way he’s using his platform.”

She could’ve said something like: “our unity as humans comes from our capacity to hold different creeds, and profound disagreement — even about each other — and still be united as people. I support Israel’s right to hold these religious views, even as I disagree with him. I love watching him play football — even if it’s for the Wallabies — but I believe these views are harmful to our rainbow community, and here’s my alternative vision for our society…”  But she didn’t. Because that’s not how religion operates in our society, it’s meant to be kept to privacy of the prayer house — until people who hate religious convictions (or people who hold competing religious convictions) attack religious people, then we’ll “come together.” We can’t ask for unity amongst people of different religious convictions in the public enterprise on one hand, and then exclude those we disagree with on the other…

It’s well within Ardern’s rights to disagree with Folau; I disagree with Folau, but there’s not a whole lot of ‘solidarity’ from the secular world for religious people when it comes to actual religious beliefs, or substance, and our right to operate in life in a way that doesn’t just see ‘religion’ as a thing we tack on to this new, secular, view of humanity but as the thing that most profoundly defines who we are.

And so, the question for those of us who claim religious beliefs is increasingly going to be — is this how religion operates in your life? And if it isn’t, could it be that your ‘religion’ is, to you, a ‘consumption decision’ that is about performing some identity, signalling something, just as Ardern’s hijab was for her. And if so, what’s the point? Especially if Paul’s words in Athens are right, that our ‘religious quest’ comes from a creator God, a God who wants to be the foundation of our life, but who’ll also judge us for false religion — for building our lives around ‘idols’ or ‘gods’ other than him; for taking our ‘religious quest’ and using that impulse to pursue ‘human’ solutions like “diversity,” “welcome,” and “inclusion” — good things though they are — at the expense of pursuing truth, love, and the God who made the universe.

New Zealand: Reflections

As our trip comes to a close – we fly out today – Robyn and I have been doing some early post trip analysis. Here are our thoughts on our trip.

Best Coffee
I’ve written a lot about coffee so it seems only fitting this is the first cab off the rank.
N: Bureau de Cafe, Queenstown
R: Bureau de Cafe, Queenstown
Unfortunately I didn’t take a photo of it – but honourable mentions go to the Sugar cafe in Kaikoura, Gusto in Picton and Coffee Culture in Christchurch.

Gusto, Picton

Worst Coffee

There have been some stinkers on this trip. It’s hard to pick. But here goes.

N: The Why Not Cafe, Kaikoura, I’ll tell you why not – the coffee seemed to be exothermic. It got hotter as time wore on, the coffee itself was untastable because our taste buds were scalded off.

R: Piazza coffee at the Hermitage Hotel/Edmund Hillary Centre at Mount Cook.

Best Budget Accommodation
N: Top 10 Holiday Park, Franz Josef. Talk about million dollar views. It worked out at $42.50 pp so that’s value. Plus there were bunk beds in the room so we could have been even more efficient.
R: Holiday home at Hanmer Springs. Worked out at $30pp and was clean, well equipped and very comfortable.

Best Accommodation

We’ve stayed in some nice places as well as some budget places. Here are our top picks.

N: Living Space, Christchurch. It was quirky, colourful and handy to the CBD for strolls and coffees.

R: Breakfree Alpine Village, Queenstown. The views of the lake from the balcony were stunning and it was a spacious one bedroom apartment handy to town.

Worst Accommodation

N & R: Te Anau Holiday Park – the lakeside A-Frame cabins look cute and cozy, but inside were anything but. It was cold. We were supplied inadequate blankets and the bed was like a marshmallow.

Dishonorable mentions: Picton Holiday Park – full of smokers, poor facilities and dangerous cliffs.

Best Breakfast

N: Sugar Cafe, Kaikoura – Big breakfast – venison sausages, hashbrowns, bacon, eggs and a terrific relish.

R: Sugar Cafe, Kaikoura – maybe it was the seal swim induced appetite, but the Sugar Cafe scored again for their eggs benedict – Robyn says it’s the best she’s ever had.

Best Lunch

N & R:  Fergburger.

Honourable mentions go to the Skyrail buffet, and the Honey Pot Cafe for their sensational toasted sandwiches.

Best Dinner

N & R: Bailies Pub, Christchurch. Robyn had Lamb Shanks, Nathan had a sirloin cooked to tender perfection.

Honourable mention – the hot rock dinner at Hanmer Springs.

Best Activity

N: Seal swim, Kaikoura. Seals are cool.

R: The Skyline experience – paragliding, luge and lunch. What a winning combination.

Honourable mentions go to horse riding, puzzling world and the jet boating part of our white water rafting adventure.

Best Drive

N: Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura – the rest of the car was asleep but these picturesque mountain roads were fun to drive.

R: Te Anau to Milford Sound – lots of scenic stops on the way, a tunnel through a mountain and the constant presence of a glacier in the rear view mirror on the trip back made this a drive to remember. As did the early morning start.

Honourable mentions – Queenstown to Lake Tekapo for the Lord of the Rings style rolling mountains and craggy rocks, Lake Tekapo to Mount Cook for the cows and roadkill, and the Wanaka to Queenstown stretch.

Best City/Town

N: Christchurch – lots of cafes, churches, old buildings and a comfortable city feel.

R: Hanmer Springs – a cute little village in the mountains.

Honourable mentions – all the rest.

Most Memorable Person

N & R: The grumpy horse riding lady.

Most Memorable Day

N: Picton – simply because Robyn almost fell off a cliff. I won’t be forgetting that in a hurry.

R: Queenstown – paragliding, luge, lunch, and gondola ride – plus the best coffee all trip. A winning combination.

Honourable mention: Fox Glacier. I’ll never forget the pain in my legs during that walk – or the sense of satisfaction drinking a cold beer on our return. It was all worth it though – walking on a glacier is kind of cool.

Most Picturesque Location

N: Mount Cook

R: Lake Tekapo, Church of the Good Shepherd.

Honourable mentions: Milford Sound and Kaikoura.

We’ll add pictures and links when we get back to Australia – right now it’s off to breakfast.

Lake Tekapo, Mount Cook

Today is national bad similie day. I’ve just declared it. Hence this post will be filled with them – like a flea circus on the back of a mangy dog.

Our little car that could, a red kia Picanto, chews through fuel like a fire breather chews through kerosene – quickly and in spectacular fashion.

We made the 100km journey from Lake Tekapo (a quaint lakeside village) to Mount Cook (New Zealand’s highest mountain) in double quick time – like tinned food on pension day…

Actually, we were slowed unexpectedly by a chain of cattle at muster time. These cows – we guessed there were about 200 of them (a fifty/fifty split between adults and calves) – were travelling between paddocks – along the road. We spent some time travelling in cattle class – and some further comic release was provided when an add for a local butcher came on over the radio. We promptly wound the window up so as not to scare the locals into some sort of frenzied stampede.

Mount Cook is a glacial behemoth. It has killed over 130 people. So deadly is it that the Visitor Information Centre includes a book listing those who have died – and a video of a recent rescue effort that ended with the untimely demise of the rescued climber.

The base of the mountain is also home to the Sir Edmund Hillary centre – a museum dedicated to the kiwi mountaineer.

The coffee at the Edmund Hillary centre’s cafe was bad – like a similie without a corroborative noun. How hard can it be to make a palatable coffee?

The cattle were still lowing on the way back. En route I was surprised by the amount of roadkill on New Zealand roads.

The only billboards we’ve seen on our travels have been for road safety – and it seems that sentiment doesn’t extend to animals. The distance between Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo was 106km. On our journey we counted 136 individual pieces of roadkill. Birds, possums, rabbits, unidentifiable fur balls.  That’s a road kill index of 1.28 animals per kilometre. I’m sure that’s high. In fact, there was a 20km stretch about 10 minutes out of Mount Cook that accounted for 48 pieces of roadkill – a significantly higher roadkill index of 2.4. Is there anywhere else that boasts a figure like that? If so, I haven’t seen it.

The township of Lake Tekapo is a small town on a big lake. There’s not a whole lot of exciting stuff there. There is a Peppers Resort – which is where we stayed. Our track record with Peppers hasn’t been great. It was a Peppers Resort that lost our booking on our wedding night – almost leaving us sleeping in a stable… before upgrading us to the one available luxury room. This Peppers experience was much better. On our second night in Lake Tekapo we dined in house at the restaurant, and enjoyed a fine sirloin steak and superb lamb rump.

One of the township’s famous attractions is the Church of the Good Shepherd – an old stone chapel built right on the lake. We spent a bit of time at twilight last night taking photos in what was pretty photogenic light.

Some photos were more serious than others

Some photos were more serious than others

The chapel is a working church – shared by the Anglicans, Presbyterians and Catholics in town – outside the chapel there’s a little letterbox styled post – asking for donations. There’s no need to pass the plate around if your church is a tourist attraction.

Heres one we prepared earlier

Here's one we prepared earlier

Actually, this afternoon we toured the Christchurch Cathedral – having only seen the outside on our first stop. They “encourage” a five dollar donation, and those looking for a “truly memorable” experience can donate a church chair for just $320.

As I’ve already pre-empted – like a US president’s foreign policy – this morning our trip came full circle – back to Christchurch. We’re at the Off the Square boutique motel which is the first place we’ve stayed to offer free broadband. Tonight’s dinner was probably the best of the trip. Bailies Pub, just around the corner from the hotel and the cathedral, cooked up a sensational sirloin steak with mashed potato. And Robyn’s lamb shanks were cooked to perfection.

Hanmer Springs

Day three of our New Zealand adventure began with an early morning departure from Christchurch. We picked up a quick caffeine hit from the now thrice mentioned Honey Pot café and then hit the road. Christchurch has an inexplicable array of streets with changing names. Streets change names without warning for seemingly no reason at all. This made following googlemaps directions hard. We got a little lost. Tempers were frayed because we were late, late for a very important date. It wasn’t Alice in Wonderland and we weren’t risking decapitation at the hands of the queen of hearts – but we did receive an icy welcome when we did arrive at Hanmer Horses – the specialists in horse tours of the surrounds of the quaint ski village. We were asked to arrive with half an hour to spare, and got there with 20 minutes up our sleeves. Not a bad effort considering we’d run the risk of quite literally “running on empty” to get our troupe of equine adventurers to the ranch on time.
Hanmer’s very own Queen of Hearts greeted us with possibly the grumpiest reception I’ve ever experienced from anyone in the tourism industry. Actually, make that the second grumpiest. The grumpiest was a deckhand on the Dunk Island to Mission Beach ferry – who when informed that the journalists and Tourism Australia media representative I was travelling with had not been issued tickets upbraided us with a series of cuss words that only a mariner can truly command. But I digress. Tourism is a people industry. If you’re not into people – but like the company of a horse – perhaps vet science is a better career path. This lady yelled at her staff and then quite literally “took the reigns” before they’d had a chance to heed her commands. She harangued us for being late. For having the nerve to expect to pay with credit card using a signature rather than a PIN and was abrupt and sour the whole time she interacted with her customers. She was a blight on what otherwise was by all accounts a pleasant ride through picturesque New Zealand territory.
I was left to my own devices for a couple of hours while the intrepid “four horsemen” where off gallivanting and galloping around the hills, I used the time wisely acquainting myself with the birds and bees of Hanmer Springs. Literally. For that to truly make sense you’ll have to check out some of the photos in our web album – I’d link to them, but we’re very close to running out of time with our hour of wireless internet.
The riding experience left our party saddle sore and weary – and it was time for respite and repast. We made haste to the Springs Deli – where we supped on salads, and other such delights. All this eating and merriment left us in need of a nanna nap – so our troupe trouped off to our holiday house to emerge hours later ready for dinner. We decided to head back to the town centre to pick up some meat from the supermarket but decided to make do with an antipasto platter when we determined meat was not so forthcoming in these parts. The platter sated our hunger somewhat as we tried to negotiate a recalcitrant wireless hotspot.
We decided to go for some real food – and experienced what was roundly acclaimed as the best food we’ve eaten all trip, probably all year in most cases. Stone grilled meat is something I’d never experienced before – and I can only wonder why. This pub specialised in the fine art of stone grilling – which means they basically bring you a really hot slab of stone and some raw meat and you cook it yourself, to your liking. It was superb. The Moroccan chicken pizza we had along with the meat was also superb – and you’ll hopefully find pictures of both in our album – or here if we locate reliable internet before you’ve digested this post.
After this meal it was time for a movie and bed. We had to be up the next day (today – or yesterday depending on your timezone) for some whitewater rafting thrills and spills at the appropriately named “Thrillseeker’s Canyon”. Thrillseeker’s Canyon seems to have its approach to staffing just right – our experience there was nothing but positive. We were a little nervous to begin with because we’d been told this was a category 4 rapid run – and that apparently meant some serious rapids and danger. In reality the journey was smooth sailing with just a few bumps along the way. Our Maori guide – Darren – was excellent, and made sure we had an enjoyable trip with some forced “abandon ships” to make sure we had the rescue and recovery process down pat should problems arrive further downstream. The typical rafting run covers about 7km and includes stops for jumping off high rocks into water, and general aquatic frolicking. Our atypical trip ended with a nice surprise. The trip ends at a swimming hole – and I had asked at the outset how we’d be getting back from b to a. A to b seemed pretty straight forward. Our very helpful kiwi leader told me with a straight face that the river was round – and we’d just paddle back. That was all the answer we were given – and I was inclined to believe this was the case, however improbable it may seem. We were pleasantly surprised then when a jetboat arrived to pick us up. Generally these jetboats ferry passengers back to base – in this case we were treated to a surprise jetboat experience. It seems there’s a rafting/jetboat combo, and some of the group we paddled with had purchased that option. It’s a case of one in, all in. If only a couple of passengers on a trip order the combo everyone gets upgraded (shame airlines don’t offer the same level of service). We scored. All morning I’d been watching these boats hoon past with a sense of envy. We were given the run down at the outset – these boats sport twin Lexus V8 engines, at full speed they glide in just one inch of water. They’re aluminium, with the walls just 4mm thick. Our very experienced driver had been handling the boats, and the rapids, from the age of 13. This would have been comforting to know before he’d hurtled upstream drifting towards and away from the rockface at incredible speeds. There are photos of these boating adventures (or there will be soon) in the picasa album.
Hanmer Springs is a nice little village – and it’s easy to picture it filling up during ski season. Hopefully the coffee improves during peak time. We didn’t manage to find anything spectacular – and suffered through a couple of shockers picked up in pubs. Even if a pub advertises its coffee on its roadside A-frame it’s unlikely to be good coffee. I can say that now, with the benefit of hindsight.

Arthur’s Pass

Day two of our New Zealand adventure (we’re now on day three for those who came in late…) saw us hit the road in our Mitsubishi 4WD hire car. We travelled from Christchurch to Arthur’s Pass stopping for an unexplainable number of one lane bridges. Seriously. How hard is it to build a two lane bridge?

Driving out of Christchurch past a number of farms we were struck by New Zealand’s fencing method of choice – a large hedge. We’d noticed it from the air coming in. Every farm we went past had hedged boundaries. It looks cool from the air – but more impressive on land. Speculation as to why they’re there came up with a number of nefarious solutions – probably the pick of the bunch was that they were actually “smack farms” where parents could go to punish unruly progeny. Smacking is illegal in New Zealand.

The other thing I noticed (other than the rolling hills, mountains, creeks, lakes and valleys) was that New Zealand – or at least this stretch of road (and the stretch travelled today) has a lack of roadside advertising. There were no billboards. None. I wonder if this is a result of legislation – or just because there aren’t that many people interested in advertising. I suspect the former. Given tourism’s significant slice of the economic pie in New Zealand I suspect there are a number of “keep New Zealand beautiful” strategies – possibly including a ban on billboards. I’ll look that up later.

It was very cold yesterday – the car’s thermometer had the outdoor temperature hovering around the 10 degree mark – I don’t think that took wind chill factor into account. It was cold.

Coffee enroute came courtesy of a small cottage cafe called “Espress yourself” – I am of the opinion that there is a very limited number of coffee puns appropriate for cafes.

Espress Yourself - coffee in a cottage

Espress Yourself - coffee in a cottage

By the time we got there I was deep into caffeine withdrawal. The headache was a killer. I ordered a bowl of coffee.
The 50c piece is there for scaling purposes

The 50c piece is there for scaling purposes

Robyn scored the coffee here a 6/10 I think. She’s pretty fussy these days. We’ve had her doing video reviews at each stop – but she won’t let me post them online.

Today sees us in Hamner Springs – where the other four have taken a horse trek. While I, not relishing the thought of four days of post horse pain, have chosen to explore the little village – and here I sit, posting this. I should probably go collect the others now.

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Christchurch

We’ve spent our first couple of days in New Zealand in and around the city known by airlines all over the globe as Chch. Actually that’s not true. By Australian standards we’ve been around it – but two hours travel in New Zealand is a relatively long distance. In the truest sense of the word. Relatively that is. Whether or not it’s the truest sense of the word distance is a subjective matter and for you, the reader, to decide.

Christs church?

Christ's church?

Christchurch is a city that resonates with me. Maybe it’s the name – which for a Christian is about as theologically “home” as I can be. It feels like Melbourne – or at the very least the block we’re staying in does. Other parts feel decidedly country townish. The fact that the sun doesn’t go down until 10pm makes the CBD feels a bit like a ghost town.

Christs church? Even the pubs get on theme in Christchurch

Christ's church? Even the pubs get on theme in Christchurch.

The surprisingly large number of cafes and restaurants are still closed for the Christmas period adds to that effect. But there are some nice bars, cafes and pubs within the immediate vicinity of our accommodation, and a nice creek/river/brook running through parks around the city centre making the city aspect altogether pleasing. Trams are another similarity with Melbourne. The restaurant tram would be an interesting experience I’m sure – but our desire to see New Zealand without breaking the bank meant tonight’s dinner at least was bolognese – with the ingredients picked up at the local “Pak’n’Save”… which is a grocery experience unrivalled by anything I’ve seen in Australia.

I mentioned the Honey Pot in my last post – but their open grill sandwhiches deserve another plug for outstanding flavour combinations, especially the homemade chutney.

The appropriately named Joe Bloggs - Chicken, bacon, brie, mayo and mushrooms

The appropriately named "Joe Bloggs" - Chicken, bacon, brie, mayo and mushrooms

The coffee on the other hand – in this case a cappuccino – came garnished with so much chocolate powder Robyn suggested spooning it off to make hot chocolate back in our hotel room.

Robyn still scored this a generous 7/10

Robyn still scored this a generous 7/10

Last night’s dinner was at a Chinese restaurant with a generic, forgetable name. Having a Chinese speaker (or a learner) at the table with us was an advantage – the Chinese pages of the menu were designed to obfuscate dishes the owner felt westerners like us would not appreciate. The helpful waiter recommended the place up the road if we were on the lookout for authentic Chinese cuisine. But we stayed. The crispy duck was sensational – as duck is wont(on) to be. The Chinese beer – the Tsingtao – was also good.

Mother duck said quack, quack, quack, quack and one less little ducky came back

Mother duck said "quack, quack, quack, quack" and one less little ducky came back

I told Robyn’s little sister that we’d book some haunted accommodation to really make her first (and mine) overseas jaunt extra dramatic. She’s a dramatic person. There’s a wind tunnel type effect creating ghost noises outside our room at Living Space – and we had to furnish the room with our own ghosts to complete the experience.

Who you going to call?

Who you going to call?

Today we made the trek to Arthur’s Pass – from the comfort of our car. I’ll have none of that stuff the kiwis call “tramping” on my holiday. I’ll have to write about that later – we’re off to Hamner Springs early on the morrow.

New Zealand

So we’re in New Zealand. We being my wife, two sister-in-laws and brother-in-law-in-law. We arrived yesterday at 3.30pm here time (midday ours).

The cross cultural feel didn’t kick in until we left the airport. Everything looked the same – and having kiwis doing menial jobs for you is nothing out of the ordinary. That was a joke.

As we travelled to our salubrious digs in the Christchurch CBD in our hire car we all had a little giggle at the following ad:

“Million dollar beard sale for a limited time only.”

Everything but the beard was clearly understood. I know bagging out the accent is old hat – turns out it was a clearence sale for beds.

Our first stop was nextdoor to our 3 bedroom unit – in a funky refitted warehouse called Living Space – at an equally funky little cafe called The Honey Pot. They made very good sandwhiches and ok coffee. Robyn’s video review of the coffee will be posted at some stage when I complete a more comprehensive travel journal.

We trapsed through the streets of Christchurch until the wee hours of the morning – it was daylight until 10pm. I took close to 600 photos with our new camera. Taking photos is now too easy. Deleting unwanted ones is going to be a nightmare. Anyone fancy a slide night when we get back… No. I didn’t think so. We still have 12 more days to amass photos for your viewing pleasure. That’s a lot of photos.