Impressions of New Zealand's South Island
No, New Zealand is not some sort of extension to Australia, as it is sometimes perceived by Europeans. Why should it, this Pacific islands country is at a solid 3000km distance! By the way, coming from Europe, when you travel further than New Zealand, you are getting closer to home again.... Auckland and Christchurch, the main cities on the two long-stretched islands, are a full 24 hours of effective flight away from Brussels, London or Paris. The atmosphere of Kiwi isolation is therefore hardly surprising, even if the footprint of British colonial history is undeniable and omnipresent. Yet, just like New Zealand is not Australia, it is not England either. The country does effectively have its very own identity, with a laid-back feel of frontier life, close to nature, not in a struggle with it, but in a refreshing, respectful and gentle harmony.
Above all, the South Island offers an encounter with its spectacular nature of sharp and icy mountain ranges, fjord like seascapes and abundant marine life, with Marlborough and Milford Sounds as the highlights. Furthermore, the only land based albatross colony in the world, on the Otago Peninsula, and the humpback whales migrating and playing along the East coast are the gracious protagonists of the Island's natural spectacle. There are no overwhelming geothermal phenomenons to be checked out here, nothing comparable to the North Island. And yet, also here, on the South Island, Mother Earth has been playing some of its most violent tricks. Ask the citizens of Christchurch, shaken by a devastating 6,2 R magnitude earthquake on February 22nd, 2011. Seven years later, the city and people of Christchurch were still licking their wounds. But the inventiveness, spirit and courage of their way to bounce back, is one of the most powerful impressions I have taken away from New Zealand after six weeks of country-wide travel .
Before visiting the place of your choice:
Christchurch is the largest city of New Zealand's South Island, and the second city of the country after Auckland. It was founded in 1848 on the banks of the Avon River and named after Christ Church of Oxford, England. The city's Anglican cathedral was built in 1864. Christchurch is a remarkable city, though, for its much more recent history. On February 22nd, 2011 the city was struck by an earthquake of 6,2 on the Richter scale, killing 185 people, injuring some 2000 others and flattening much of town. A year earlier another earthquake of 7,1 Richter had strangely enough taken a lesser toll. On one of the 'gaps', the open spaces where once buildings stood, a very touching monument, simply composed of 185 white chairs, is a tribute to the 185 lives which were lost. The most remarkable thing about Christchurch, though, is the way the city and its people have bounced back, with courage and inventiveness. There is more involved than just repairing and reconstructing bridges, roads and buildings. Pending the reconstruction of the 1864 cathedral, literally broken in half, a makeshift cathedral has been erected with even a level of elegance, containers have been transformed into ATMs, shelters with public pianos and music instruments have been planted around town for passers-by to play, and in the beautiful botanic gardens of Christchurch open-air concerts are held. The intangible mood of the city is strikingly upbeat and speaks of courage and inspiration. One comes away from Christchurch humbled, and full of admiration for the way these people are bouncing back from natural disaster.