March 12 -- Christchurch (43o 31.677'S; 172o 38.199E;  Elevation, 45')

Day l9

This, my only full day in Christchurch, and my last full day in New Zealand, was spent walking around the central part of the city.  It was another beautiful day, and the city, being pretty flat, with lots of gardens, is a pleasant place to spend the day.  The hotel (Copthorne Central) is located in the center city, just across the street from Victoria Park.


Here's the park (decorated for a Chinese New Year Celebration ------  And here's Queen Victoria

The hotel is just across the street. 

I started by walking a block or two up from the hotel to Cathedral Square, the center of town,  and the sight of an Anglican Cathedral that was consecrated in the 1870s.  Christchurch was founded about 1850, and was originally the idea of Robert Godley, whose statue is in the square, along with an impressive modern sculpture, “The Chalice” that marked 150 years of the city's existence.


In the cathedral, I climbed the 134 stone steps of the church tower, in a tight helix, to the to the observation area above the bells.  From here you get a pretty good sense of the city.  Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, with a population of about 330,000 people.  It is a busy town.  The church has a peal of 13 bells that are tuned to F and G.  They are rung only through changes--no tunes played.  This is actually the second set of bells that it has had.  The original set consisted of 10 bells, and were replaced in the 1970s.  All were made in England and shipped by sea.

One of the nice features of the center city is that a rapidly flowing stream, The Avon, winds through it, and is bordered by parks, with quaint bridges along its path.  You can sit and eat lunch along the stream, or go for a ride in one of the many punts that ply its waters



 Today, Feb 22, 2011, nearly four years after the above picture of the Christchurch Cathedral was taken, this picture of the same structure appeared in news reports after a devastating earthquake hit the Christchurch area yesterday in the early afternoon.


The hotel in which I stayed, The Copthorne Central, is reported to be badly damaged.

We hope that the wonderful New Zealand people can overcome this tragedy in Christchurch, that included deaths and injuries.  Hopefully this wonderful church will be restored to its former glory!



Along the Avon is a statue of Robert Falcon Scott, the Antarctic Explorer (Christchurch was his base of operations for the expedition).  The statue was actually sculpted by his wife, Kathleen--but never completed.  It was dedicated in 1917.




My next stop was the “Southern Encounter Aquarium and Kiwi House” which is located in an old Edwardian Theatre building right on Cathedral Square.  Not marked well on the street, or on the map, I had to circle around for some time before finding it.  But it was worth the effort.  They had some very nice displays of New Zealand marine and freshwater fishes, plus some of the native lizards, and even a Tuatara!  So I finally got to see a live, breathing Sphenodon punctatus after all of the years of telling students about them!  This one was about 30 cm long, and while the light level was low, I did get a picture of it

Shortly after going in to the exhibits, a staff member told me the Kiwis were up from their sleep, and I was ushered into a dark, humid room, where talking was forbidden.  After a bit of dark adaptation, I could see two North Island Brown Kiwi birds, working around a large soil-filled room, probing for worms and insects.  These were about the size of small chickens, and were quite active, giving each other a little aggression from time to time.  So, a tuatara and a kiwi, at one spot, made the trip to Christchurch worthwhile.

 I enjoyed the fish tanks, and particularly liked seeing the sparse freshwater fauna.  In addition to the galaxiid fish, there are a number of small goby-like fishes, and at least one flattened stream fish.  All of them are catadromous, having their eggs swept out to sea, where they hatch, and after a time, the young move back into the streams.  These are small fish, with most species being less than a few centimeters long, yet they can make their way up into the alpine headwaters of the streams, some reaching altitudes of over 1000 meters.

Leaving the aquarium I then took a short walk to the Christchurch Arts Center.  This occupies buildings that formerly housed Canterbury University, which has moved out to roomier digs in the suburbs.  The attraction here for me, was the re-creation of “Rutherford’s Den.”  Ernest Rutherford, who won a Nobel Prize in 1908, did his undergraduate and masters’ degree work at Canterbury University, and is surely the most famous alumnus of the place.  While here, he managed to lay claim to a basement room (known as Rutherford’s Den) under a lecture hall, and began the research that led to his development of the theory of atomic structure that we know today.  By 1919 he became director of the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University, and held that position (as well as head of the Royal Society) until his death in 1937 (from complications developed after a hernia operation).  Since my father was a graduate student at the Cavendish Laboratory about 1933-35, he could well have met Rutherford.  So it was with special interest that I visited it.

Once again, I found this to be a splendid experience.  The memorabilia, the recreated experiments, the nearly complete lecture halls from the 1890s, etc etc were superbly represented and presented.  A highlight is a holographic presentation of Rutherford (played by an actor), in the Den, talking about his time there and of some of the physicists he later worked with (we hear Marie Curie coughing, and so weak she can hardly talk).  One of Rutherford’s lines that I enjoyed was, “If (a scientist) cannot explain the meaning of his work to a charwoman, so she can understand it, then the scientist does not understand it.”

After leaving Rutherford’s Den, I enjoyed a nice lunch in a small café, and then took a long walk through the Botanic Gardens across the street from the Arts Center.  Once again, this extensive garden and adjacent Hagley Park is extremely well done.  The flowers are beautiful (and clearly identified), and trees from all over the world have been gathered and grown in an environment where many of them make maximum growth.  I only covered as small fraction of the area, but this display puts Longwood Gardens or the Arnold Arboretum to shame.  Add to this the presence of the Avon flowing along, filled with ducks (including New Zealand Scaup), punters, Bell Birds singing and Wood Pigeons flying about, and you have an idyllic setting.


                               Punters                                                                              Eucalyptus in Bloom

Eventually, though, I walked back to the city center (just about 3 blocks), and did some shopping.  I located a nice looking English pub that I’ve earmarked for dinner.  I plan to have an Inspector Morse meal of steak and kidney pie, with a pint or two of Best Bitter. Then I’ll pack my bags one last time, and get ready to move to the airport at 10am tomorrow morning.  It has been a wonderful trip.