Day One: Arrivals and Frist Impressions
I got my first good look at New Zealand from the backseat of a taxi on my way to the hotel from the airport. It took me almost 10 hours of actual flight time to get from my home in Honolulu to Christchurch, the largest city on New Zealand’s south island, but what I was seeing through the taxi’s windows seemed almost familiar. Except, of course, that everybody was driving on the wrong side of the road, and that all of the street signs were the wrong color and shape, I felt a lot like I was passing through an American suburb. The homes, cars, and even the bright orange and red leaves on many of the trees all felt like images I’d seen somewhere before. We passed by several different parks and joggers, many pushing fast moving strollers, and all sorts of bicyclers and rollerbladers. Honestly though, the familiarity of what I was seeing was sort of comforting after such a long flight.
It really wasn’t until we got a little closer to the city’s center that I started to notice some pleasant surprises. The structures lining the street seemed to grow older as we continued, and brick homes popped up here and there. Larger brick buildings, with wonderfully ornate facades, became more prominent, and colorful storefronts and gardens were everywhere. In total, it didn’t take much more than ten minutes to get into the center of the city, and the layout there reminded me a lot of some the European towns I’ve visited, complete with a number of pedestrian walkways and squares.
It wasn’t long before I was lugging my purple duffle through the rotating doors of the Grand Chancellor Hotel, which was without a doubt the tallest building in town. In the lobby I met a number of fellow tour goers, including Neil Dudley, who is a pretty important guy at Scenic Tours—the company hosting all of us on the trip. Neil was an affable fellow right away and quick to laugh, which worked out well because we ended up being roommates in most of the hotels we stayed at. I also met Rachel, a Scenic Tour Director and the leader of our group. She too was quick to laugh and had a bright smile and warm way about her that I liked instantly. In short, after more than ten hours of excitement, and a great deal of jet lag, I felt like I was in good hands.
After unpacking my duffle and checking out my room a little, I headed downstairs and into the city for a little stroll. The center of Christchurch is filled with all sorts of little shops and great window-shopping, so I wandered down several streets, looking in all kinds of windows, without any real goal in mind. Without much effort I stumbled upon a charming city square featuring a large modern sculpture. Shaped a lot like an ice cream cone—one nearly the height of a two-story building—the metallic sculpture was bright in the sunlight and had ornate cookie cutter shapes sliced into to its circumference. The whole thing reminded me a little of an Olympic torch without an actual flame, and while it certainly stood out in the square, it did so in an impressive way and was hard not to admire.
I sat for several minutes on a bench near the sculpture and watched people snapping photos of their friends. Eventually, I decided to wander over to the square’s prominent stone cathedral for a look inside. I’ve always been a fan of cathedrals, and this one was certainly delightful. Constructed with beautiful stones and sweeping lines, the building shared many similarities with those I’ve seen in Europe. Overall, however, it was much less flashy, with fewer of the gothic and baroque details found in France and Italy, and gave off a refreshingly austere and subtler sense of self.
I’d also walked in at an opportune moment because a large choir of both men and boys was practicing near the altar. Dressed in long, flowing garments, they were covered from head to toe in black with just a moment of white around their necks. The conductor, standing in front of the group and closest to me, was actually quite a show all by himself. His arms passionately gestured about him, punctuating particular notes with long fingers, and he had no problem stopping everything suddenly to offer commentary and direction. Then, as quickly as they stopped, the boys and men were at it again, filling the stone building with the beauty of their voices.
Night One: The Grand Chancellor
Accommodations : The hotel itself was a nice place and big. The service was prompt and courteous, and my room was very comfortable, complete with a gigantic bathroom and an all too tempting mini-bar. The New Zealand chocolates were particularly hard to pass up.
Food : Dinner was a buffet with all sorts of tasty options. I enjoyed the grilled chicken breast, roasted potatoes, and the nice selection of fresh fruit.