Monday, December 22, 2008

The Historic Appeal of Christchurch, New Zealand

I was in Christchurch, NZ recently. I parked the rental car outside the hotel in Cashel Street, south east of the city. It was a non-descript street in a non-descript part of the city. I arrived in the late afternoon, tired after a long drive from Lake Tekapo and across the Canterbury Plains. I went to bed a bit flat. The little bit of the city that I saw was uninspiring and disappointing. It wasn't until I went venturing in the morning, and over the next couple of days, that I saw how beautiful Christchurch really is. Here is a summary of its historic riches:

1.The Press Building- tucked away in the square behind the popular Cathedral building is a tall gothic style building that many people probably don't even see. It was built in 1909 and has tall vertical windows and houses the journalists and management that work on the major daily newspaper. I saw this building during my last morning in Christchurch, and already on a high, it made me feel even more uplifted.

2. St Michael and All Angels Church- I parked the car on a busy streey just around the corner, then walked back down Oxford Terrace and had a long look inside. The church is beautiful and homely. The courtyard surrounding the church is friendly and has a strong community vibe. The church appealed to me especially because it is has a lovely grey and white timber. It is apparently a Gothic Revival church and was built in 1872. Unique and definitely worth seeing. I found this church, south west of the city, on my last morning as well.

3. Christ Church Cathedral- obviously a key focal point of the city. There were a lot of people outside in the square watching street entertainment, in this case a juggler and mono cyclist extraordinaire. The inside of the cathedral was less busy. There were small clusters of people, New Zealanders mostly, signing condolence booklets for Sir Edmund Hilary who had died the night before. The area inside is vast but not out of proportion. In comparison with the great European cathedrals, it is very young, with construction starting in the 1860's, and then finished in 1904. The exterior bluestone is lovely and the interior is respectful and echoing. There is a simple floral motif in the elegant spire.

4. New Regent Street- this is a beautiful street, partly because so much care has been taken by shop owners- (and the street consists solely of shops, not houses) - to present the shop fronts with elegance. Each shop is built in the same Spanish Mission style, so we have a whole street that has been built to a single architectural style. What a luxury! If only Lygon Street in Melbourne, or O'Connell Street in Adelaide, or Oxford Street in Sydney were the same. And the shop fronts are painted in a variety of single colours- soft yellows and greens and pastel pinks and purples. The shop fronts of Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland make a good comparison. And the shops have got good things in them, too.

5. Worcester Street/ Rolleston Avenue- If you go to Christchurch, the best walk you can have is along Worcester Street, from the Cathedral entrance about a kilometre to the Canterbury Museum. Along the way you will pass the beautiful Edwardian building known as the Regent Building (1905), as well as a building known as Our City O-Tautahi (1887), a Queen Anne design different to anything else in the city. Worcester Street, at its junction, joins Rolleston Avenue. This is where a huge parcel of land, adjacent to the lovely Botanical Gardens, is set aside for Christ's College. Christ's College has the grandiose feel of sections of its namesake in Cambridge, UK, although of course it belongs to a much more recent era (early 1900's). The Memorial Dining Hall is prominent on the street frontage. The beautiful stone building of Canterbury Museum is close by, and further along nearer the Botanical Gardens is the quaint Antigua Street Boatsheds. These are lovely weatherboard buildings built in 1882, still hiring boats for pleasure along the aptly named Avon River.
Antigua Boat Sheds
There are other innumerable places of architectural interest in Christchurch. If you find yourself in a drab motel somewhere along the south eastern part of town (say, Cashel Street for instance), ensure you have a good look around before you pass judgement and get back on a plane, disappointed.

No comments: