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New Zealand: Christchurch

Christchurch Cathedral
The turquoise spire of Christchurch Cathedral; the original stone one fell off in an earthquake

A number of people have told me that Christchurch is the most English settlement in New Zealand, and from the very first moment I could see their point; for a start, as I wandered through the beautiful botanic gardens, I found myself following the River Avon, surrounded on either side by Oxford and Cambridge Terraces. The gardens themselves are a gardener's dream, with a water garden, a rose garden, a pinetum, a Primula garden, a daffodil woodland, a cherry collection, an herbaceous border, a fragrant garden, a conservatory complex, a New Zealand garden, a rock garden and more... they're certainly comprehensive. All this is surrounded by huge swathes of park, a smattering of art museums and some very posh schools, and right in the centre of town is Cathedral Square, home to a beautiful gothic cathedral with a huge spire, the top of which is made of copper after the original stone one fell into the square during an earthquake.

Around Christchurch

A Christchurch tram
A Christchurch tram

I arrived in Christchurch after a long journey from Wellington, which consisted of a cold and rather rough ferry voyage across the Cook Strait to Picton; a dark arrival in the South Island at 2.30am; a restless night in the back of the car in a suitable rest area; the long and winding drive to Christchurch, down the east coast of the island strewn with rough volcanic rocks, odd weather, and dangerous hairpin bends (which I took very slowly indeed); and finally my arrival at the home of the local Acorn dealer Graham and his wife Bev.

Domestic Bliss

The botanic gardens of Christchurch
The peaceful botanic gardens of Christchurch

The second time I visited Christchurch, I was very kindly put up by another Acorn stalwart, Steve, and his lovely wife Jenni, in their house out near the beach in northeast Christchurch. The whole stay was very pleasant, more so because of Steve and Jenni's kids, two-year-old Ellie and nine-month-old Benjy; Ellie took quite a shine to me, driving Steve and Jenni to distraction with her constant demands as to whether Mark could come too, whether Mark was up yet, did Mark want a biscuit, and so on. Mark was quite happy with the attention, to be honest; it appealed to the unrealised paternal side in me.

The Luxury of Civilisation

There are plenty of sayings peppering the English language that concern themselves with jealousy and bemoaning your unhappy lot – 'the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence' is probably the most classic idiom – but in New Zealand I feel I've found a way of slipping through the fence whenever I fancy; if my grass isn't green enough, I find some that is, and visit it. It's obviously a luxury that comes from being free of the constraints of job, mortgage and attachments, but that doesn't make it any less valid.