October 30, 2008 – Banks Peninsula & Christchurch, New Zealand
Kelowna friends, Sterling and Jessie Haynes, had given us a virtual introduction to Gordon and Libby Ogilvie, a creative and well-traveled duo in Christchurch. Both are writers, and Gordon has produced twenty books on the Canterbury Plains.
We couldn’t have asked for more hospitable hosts for our second day in Christchurch. After tea in the beautiful Ogilvie garden, Gordon took us for a drive to the highest spot on the Banks Peninsula, the weather station atop Mt. Pleasant.
Our next stop was the Bridal Track that switchbacked from Lyttleton, over a high pass, and down into Christchurch. Early settlers, the women dressed in crinolines, carried all their belongings over the steep path.
Arriving in a settlement that was far from the convenience of shops, they brought window glass, furniture, and even pianos to their new home. Every one of them had to be carried up and over the steep path.
Jane Deans was one of those hardy women. Though left a widow soon after arrival, Jane Deans went on to rear a family and become one of the leading figures of early Christchurch. Refusing to be drawn into the class-conscious society of British settlers, the Scottish immigrant was chosen to host the Duke of Edinburgh when he visited the colony. He had a very different visit with this strong, outspoken woman than he would have had in “polite” society.
Rotten Row was our next destination. Located on park land in the Scarborough suburb of Sumner, the row of tiny houses is the remnant of what was over seventy homes in caves and box cars and rough shelters. Tucked amid a profusion of flowers, the tiny homes are an eyesore to the people in the upscale homes on the hills above them. To residents and their supporters, who regularly fight off attempts to raze the houses, they are part of the history of this seaside community.
We had lunch at the Pegasus in Sumner. The food was only somewhat palatable, but the view was superb.
In the afternoon Gordon took us to see some of what we’d missed in Christchurch during our sodden walk the day before. The city has long been a cultural centre so the new performing arts centre is a magnet for large and small performances. We saw the magnificent pipe organ in the main concert hall and the baffles that can be moved to adjust the acoustics. Next visit we’ll hope to attend a concert there.
From there we walked along the willow-lined banks of the Avon and to the Provincial Council Buildings, where the official functions of the early colony were held from 1859-1876. The stone and Tudor buildings still host numerous functions so continue to be maintained for public use. The grassy centre of the buildings give the feeling of a cloister, a kind of oasis in the middle of the city.
I can’t begin to do justice in a short space to the wealth of stories Gordon told us over the day, of Christchurch history, of the Canterbury Plans, of Banks Peninsula. He made history come alive for us so vividly that we look forward to reading the many books he’s written on the area.
We ended our day dining on trout he had caught on a fishing expedition. It was prepared in a cream sauce with boiled egg and herbs and accompanied by stuffed tomatoes, green vegetables (peas and beans), and mashed potatoes and kumara (a Maori sweet potato). Dessert was a lemon mousse topped with fruit. Two local white wines added to our pleasure, but best of all was the company of such hospitable, interesting people. We hope they’ll add our home to their next travel itinerary. [The photo shows Gordon and Libby, along with their daughter Margaret and granddaughter Clara. Margaret is an accomplished pianist and has her own classical music program on New Zealand national radio.]