March 1, 2011 A Too-Short Visit to Christchurch
As word of the tragic earthquake which devastated Christchurch, New Zealand on February 22 reached me, my thoughts returned to that lovely town and the friendly people I met there during my short stop-over on the way home to California from Antarctica. Christchurch serves as the deployment hub for personnel of the U.S. Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation. Personnel traveling between New Zealand and Antarctica come through the Christchurch airport aboard U.S. military and New York Air National Guard aircraft. NSF also maintains offices and other facilities — including a warehouse and distribution center for field gear and passenger terminal for Antarctic flights — in the International Antarctic Centre adjacent to the airport.
We returned our Extreme Weather Clothing (good bye Big Red! )and received our hotel information and plane tickets to return home. My hotel arrangements were correct, two nights in Christchurch at the Camelot Hotel, right on Cathedral Square, but there was a problem with my plane tickets. My outbound flight was for 10:00 am the next day, not two days later as requested. A quick visit to the travel office next door left me hopeful that the problem would be fixed and I boarded a shuttle for the hotel. A steady drizzle did nothing to damper my excitement as I checked into the hotel, unpacked, and repacked my bags. Oops, I discovered I had a jacket, gloves, and wind pants buried at the bottom of my bag which belonged to USAP! I realized I could return them to the Clothing Centre when I flew out. Several phone calls about my incorrect plane ticket yielded no new news, so I headed out to sightsee before meeting many of the Oden folks for dinner.
There was very little evidence of damage from the September, 2010 earthquake, just a few buildings where scaffolding hinted at ongoing repair work. Our shuttle driver had explained that the earthquake damage had been slight and that everything was repaired and ready for tourists again. It saddens me that this wonderful town was hit again with a much stronger earthquake only a month after I had this conversation with our driver. Christchurch has a unique blend of British influence in its buildings and parks, and the native Maori culture in decorations and accents.
Cathedral Square is a beautiful square at the center of town, anchored by the Anglican Church with its tall elegant spire. The square is filled with pedestrians and street performers as David and I set out to explore the city. After an hour or two of sightseeing and shopping, we met many of the other scientists from the Oden for a nice dinner in a casual restaurant. It was very strange ordering food off a menu after being served meals in the Oden mess for 6 weeks. it was also interesting seeing my shipmates on dry land, walking down streets filled with cars and so many other people! And then we had nightfall! Seeing the dark sky, stars, streetlights, and car headlights after weeks of 24 hour sunlight really emphasized how unique my past 6 weeks had been.
We finished the night at Bailie's, a bar that has been featured in several movies about Antarctica. It is filled with Antarctic memorabilia, photos, signs and more! And they even give you a discount if you tell them you are coming home from Antarctica. I still didn't know my flight arrangements, so I said goodbye to everyone, hoping that my plane tickets would be changed and I would have another day to explore Christchurch.
Sadly, early the next morning I got word that my flight could not be changed and I had to fly out that day. So after a quick breakfast with grad student David and Swedish scientist Anna at the Cathedral Cafe, with a few more photo opportunities, I was headed back to the airport. It was fun seeing many of the scientists from the Oden and the NB Palmer on my flight to Aukland, New Zealand. All too soon we were in the air, leaving the lovely city of Christchurch behind us. After a short stop-over, I was aboard my Quantas flight for the 13 hour flight to Los Angeles. After many experiences with domestic flights, this flight was an amazing experience - hot meals, unlimited wine, dessert, bottled water, movies, snacks, an eyeshade for napping - wow! With the time change of 21 hours,after 6,888 miles/11,086 km , I landed in Los Angeles a few hours "before" I left Christchurch!
Lesson Learned: Take every minute you can to sightsee because the world is constantly changing and you don't want to miss something amazing!