Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Christchurch in a Day

With it shaping up to be a wet week here in Brisbane, I had a call from work making me an offer that I found difficult to refuse. The offer went something like this. If I was willing work my next three days off, I would be sent to Christchurch to ferry a 737 back to Melbourne from heavy maintenance. Hmm...that sounds interesting! He went on to explain that due to the way the flights worked out I would need to go over Monday morning to be ready to bring the jet back Tuesday midnight. Who am I not to help out when they are in a bit of a tight pinch? Sure, I can do that for you! Father's day just got even better!

After having Father's day out at O'Reilly's guest house, it was home to pack some gear. Should I take one of my bikes? The weather forecast looked good for the next two days. A quick search of the interwebs and I had found a company in Christchurch that hire quality mountain bikes. An equally quick email to them to secure a bike and it was onto the passengering(paxing) flight without even time to get a response as to whether the bike was booked or not.

Landed in Christchurch and once the accommodation was squared away I was on the phone finalising the hire bike. It would be dropped of at 8:30 the following morning. Sweet. Now time to meet the locals and their beers for a few hours.

Unfortunately, Christchurch has been in the news lately for all of the wrong reasons. The earthquake last September, then the following shake in February had permanently changed this picturesque city. Here and there, random buildings are smashed, leaning or completely gone. Random selection seems to be the theme for most buildings, apart from the churches. For some reason every church I saw had major damage. I don't want to be controversial, but there is some twisted sort of irony at play here.

I jumped on the bike on a cold and foggy morning wearing all of the cycling clothing I had brought with me from home. I was very glad of the Ground Effect spray jacket that kept me warm. That Flash Gordon is becoming an essential piece of cycling kit in cooler climes. Wearing it here, in the Ground Effect home town felt right too.
First up was a cruise past the cordoned off central business district. A very sad sight indeed.

Then it was out to Halswell quarry to the start of the Crocodile track and the climb up onto the Port Hills. I was glad I had my gps with me as the road wasn't looking familiar and with the fog I couldn't see the hills to get my bearings.

But I managed to find the entry point and began to warm up very quickly as the trail leads straight into steep switchback climbs, first through pine forest then out into open sheep paddocks.

Grinding away for quite a while in the fog it was hard to tell if I was making much progress. The sad km/h reading on my gps seemed to be confirming my slow progress when all of a sudden I burst out the top of the fog into brilliant sunshine. I looked back where I had emerged from the fog and was gobsmacked by the scene that greeted me. Looking out across the top of the fog to the snow capped Alps certainly made all that huffing and puffing worthwhile!

The gorse bush was in full bloom and reminded me of wattle tree back home, but the fragrance from the gorse was something that I have never smelled before and seemed much sweeter than wattle.

The trail became very badly eroded and I took the chance to jump off and push. My right hamstring was getting tight and sore from not having the seat on the hire bike in the perfect position so I took a few minutes to get that setting right. Of course setting it up right before I started out would have been the idea, but them thar hills were a callin'.

At the top of this climb (Kennedy's Bush Track) I could look over the hill and down into Lyttelton Harbour which was shrouded in mist, with hints of snow still on the hilltops.

I then made my way along Summit road to the start of the Flying Nun trail. I recall this being one of the best trails in the Port Hills and I was looking forward to seeing how it flowed this time around with me having some more experience at this mountain biking caper under my belt. I wouldn't be disappointed!

There were new sections of track. There were rock gardens. There were berms and switchbacks. There was one BIG smile. Before too long it was over and I was passing the Sign of the Kiwi tea house(or what was left of it after the quakes) and climbing Summit Rd again toward Victoria Park. There were warning signs for blasting and rock rolling everywhere here as the city council get stuck into cleaning up the loose rocks in this area, so it was straight onto the Traverse Track for me. This is a particularly pretty section of trail that crosses more sheep paddock (notice a theme?) with views out across Christchurch on your left.

From here I trundled around Mt Vernon to Rapaki rock. This is the end of the line since the February quake hit. With large, exposed rock outcrops the Summit road and adjacent mountain bike track are either covered in huge boulders or at risk of having them crash down at any moment.

Now I am not normally a party to the "Nanny State" mentality that pervades our modern society, but in this case as work was sponsoring my riding trip and I needed to be in functioning condition later in the evening I complied with the trail closed signs and dropped down the Rapaki Track into the suburbs for some rubbernecking.

After a chilly, long descent to sea level I headed out toward the beach side suburb of Sumner for a first hand look at February's devastation. The first thing you notice is how rough the road is. What was once smooth blacktop is now a torn, twisted patchwork. Nearing Sumner, strategically placed shipping containers act as barricades to catch further rockfalls. Houses met their end here. How they will ever rebuild this area is beyond me.

A stop at Underground Coffee in Sumner for a rest and bite to eat has me pondering the name of the shop as I took in the view across the road.

Time now to mosey back toward the hotel while soaking in the glorious spring weather. High teens and sunshine are perfect riding weather in my book. During the ride back it really becomes apparent how random the damage is with many building seemingly normal, then one will be abandoned with warning notices plastered everywhere. I can't help but feel there are going to be some deep psychological scars carried by the locals here. I know I cringe a little these days when the heavens open in Brisbane, feeling uncomfortable for the people that lost everything in the floods. But, with respect, you can see a flood coming. You can see a cyclone coming. You can see a bushfire coming and prepare yourself, even if it is only slightly. But you cannot see an earthquake coming and the power unleashed is incomprehensible to mere mortals.
All I can do is wish Cantabrians good luck and try to support them by injecting a little coin into the local economy.

Back at the hotel it was just a case of handing the bike back, having a shower, then off to refuel before suiting up for a nights work.

What a great way to start the week.


  1. Awesome stuff! Such a terrible life you have....

  2. For the biggest tight arse i know, a little coin is all those poor kiwis would have got.


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