Monday, October 19, 2015


Christchurch, NZ (May 27, 2008)

I mentioned it before, Christchurch is full of students. Surprisingly enough for an Italian living in US like me, these students were all wearing uniforms. I know that this is true in several other english-speaking countries (and not only, Japanese schools also require uniforms), but I still find it interesting.

When I was a kid I had to wear uniforms only in primary school: an over-all designed to protect the regular clothes and keep them clean. From middle and high school there were no uniforms. Apparently now the uniforms are not even required in primary schools, even though there are talks to re-introduce them. The reason given for the re-introduction is that if uniforms are required, everybody would wear the same, regardless of the spending power of the families. I guess that would appeal to many parents of high school teenagers caught in the peer-pressure fashion arms-race. Enforcing the same uniform is certainly more democratic.

A chess game in Christchurch, NZ (May 27, 2008)

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lyttelton Harbor

Lyttelton, NZ (May 27, 2008)

This is the view from Bridle path. The Bridle path, as I described yesterday, intersects at the highest point the Summit road, that runs along the Crater rim walkway. This walkway crosses the Port Hills between Christchurch and Lyttleton, which are part of the extinct Lyttleton volcano. From the walkway one can see Christchurch on one side (see my previous post), and on the other the Lyttleton harbor. The photo above shows the inner portion of the harbor (Lyttleton would be to the left of the photograph). The Pacific ocean can be seen peeking behind the hills on the horizon.

The port of Lyttelton
The Lyttelton harbor had been the home of Māori for centuries when it was discovered by Europeans in 1770 during the first voyage of James Cook's HMS Endeavour to New Zealand.  It was settled by the Canterbury association in 1848, the first colony of the Church of England in New Zealand. Lyttelton was hit very hard by the February 22, 2011 and its subsequent aftershocks. There was widespread destruction due to the proximity and shallowness of the epicenter to the city. Extensive damage lead to the demolition of high-profile heritage buildings such as the Harbour Light Theatre, the Empire Hotel and the Timeball Station. Reconstruction was deemed too expensive and as such much of the architectural heritage of the city was lost, including Canterbury's oldest stone church, the Holy Trinity.

One thing impressive about New Zealand is how well its government works. Being Italian, living in the US and being married with a Venezuelan this seems quite shocking. Roads, for example, are really well maintained. All road, even the small walking paths like the Bridle path. Need proofs? Look at the public documents of the Christchurch City Council concerning the maintenance of Bridle path...

Lyttelton, NZ (May 27, 2008)

Friday, October 16, 2015

The Bridle Path

The Christchurch gondola, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)

My first full day in Christchurch I was all by myself, as Mayli was busy with her meeting. I still didn’t have a car, so I decided to go somewhere in the vicinity of the city, reachable by public transportation. After conferring with a few of Mayli’s friends and a lady at the office of tourism, I decided to do the bridle path (called "bridal path" in this cute schoolchildren page).

Hiking and Biking
The path links Christchurch to the port of Lyttleton, where the boats from England were arriving in the late 19th century. The path was made in 1849 to shorten the route of the new settlers coming to the city. The name derives by the fact that the path was so steep that pack horses carrying the settlers luggage needed to be led by the bridle. The bridle path starts at the base of the gondola station, which can be reached by bus (no. 28 to Lyttleton) from the city Bus Exchange. Then it is an hour or so to walk (or you can take the gondola) to reach the Summit Road at the top of the Heathcote valley. From there there is a beautiful view of Christchurch on one side (see photo), and of the Lyttleton harbor on the other side (that is for the next post). It was quite a warm and sunny day, so I spent some time at the top visiting the gondola arrival station (you can get food and drinks there), and then hiking a little on the Summit Road (and enjoying the view). Then I followed the path all the way to Lyttleton, and I got the bus 28 to Christchurch.

At the start of the bridle path, Christchurch, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)

Saturday, October 10, 2015


Central Christchurch, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)

Christchurch is a nice little city. With a population of ~350,000 people, it is actually the largest city in the South Island, and the second largest in New Zealand. It seems however much more livable than similar sized cities in the US. Despite the comments of my taxi driver it still has the character of the traditional-style buildings that survive in the center. It was a pleasure to walk leisurely around, and to look at the architecture, the people and river crossing its center. Even though it was the beginning of winter, the temperature was just right. One thing that I immediately noticed was the large amount of young Japanese people roaming the streets. It turns out that they are mostly students practicing their english. New Zealand is cheaper than the US, not much farther away from Japan, and certainly at a more convenient time zone for Japanese people. This makes it a practical destination for the Japanese youth that wants to study the english language (and that can afford the trip).

The Cathedral in 2008
If you travel to Christchurch now, you won't recognize many of the buildings in the photos of this post. Between September 2010 and January 2012 Christchurch has been hit by a sequence of strong earthquakes, two of which among the strongest ever recorded in urban areas. A total of 185 people lost their life, and over 1,000 buildings (one third of the total) in the center of the city had to be demolished. One of them is the Cathedral pictured at the left, that was severely damaged and lost its spire. The damage was so severe that it is currently being demolished, even though this sparked a controversy between the diocese (that would like to rebuild an entirely new building) and organizations (like the UNESCO World Heritage Center) that would like to preserve as much as possible the historical building. The city has now been experiencing a rapid growth thanks to a comprehensive Christchurch Central Recovery Plan, with over 50,000 houses that are being reconstructed in the greater Christchurch urban area and many projects for the revitalization of the historical center of the city. We stayed in the city for 5 days, while Mayli was finishing her meeting, during which I visited the city and its environs.

Avon river, Christchurch, New Zealand (May 27, 2008)

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A New Zealand Glacier

New Zealand (May 26, 2008)

The flight from Sydney to Christchurch turned out to be a real treat. As the New Zealand coast was approaching, the snowy peaks of the Southern Alps arose from the Tasman sea. The day was very clear, and the view was quite majestic. I could clearly see Mt. Cook, and several glaciers, one of which is shown in the posted photo. I spent a good couple of hours in Google Earth trying to figure out the name of this glacier, but so far no luck. It is not the Fox Glacier, or the Franz Joseph Glacier, because these are much longer, and they are closer to Mt. Cook, which I already passed 10 minutes before. This one is more to the North. Anybody has any idea of which glacier is this?

A glacial valley
The landing in Christchurch was uneventful. The airport is small and cozy, and the people there are nice. I did immigration (uneventful, as it should be), and then custom, where they only asked me if I had hiking boots to clean them up. New Zealand is trying hard to avoid the accidental introduction of alien pests or parasites, so even the dirt attached to used boots is removed and the boots disinfected before being allowed to enter the country. My boots were quite new and clean, so the nice lady at custom let me in without the need of brushing them. I then got a taxi to the hotel, downtown Christchurch, where Mayli had arrived a few days earlier when her conference started. The taxi driver was very keen in talking, and as he was driving gave me his very opinionated description of the city. He was particularly upset by the fact that the historical buildings at the center of the city were not being preserved, and were gradually replaced by high-rise apartment building causing the city to lose its character. There were other things he was upset about (student drinking too much at night and then driving too fast in their parent’s car, foreigners buying all the nice villas in the city outskirts and then renaming them with silly names coming out from some Hollywood movie, the rising cost of gasoline, the road traffic and of course the US using the airport to send stuff to the outposts in Antarctica... he went on and on and on), but all in all it was an interesting (one way, mostly) conversation.

Arrived at the hotel my temptation was to just go to sleep, which of course would have been a mistake (given that it was only early afternoon, local time, even though it was way past bed-time in my personal time-zone). So I got my camera out, found a map of the city (the taxi driver left me one) and walked out to have a look around, while waiting to join Mayli during her next coffee break. But this is a story for another day...

New Zealand (May 26, 2008)

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Very Long Flight

Sydney, Australia (May 26, 2008)

This image is from the airport of Sydney, Australia. I am usually a little wary of shooting pictures in airports with my large camera (you never know how security may react), but in this case there was this huge window looking towards the city, with the beautiful colors of sunrise, and I couldn’t resist. And I wasn’t alone, as many other passengers were taking out their cameras and doing the same.

Getting to Sydney was just one of the many legs to get to New Zealand from Boston. While there are direct flights (on the way back we flew through Auckland), when we finally started looking for tickets, we found that flying through Australia was considerably cheaper. Cheaper doesn’t mean painless, though, as flying through Sydney adds ~3,000 miles to the trip. Plus, even if one doesn’t have to do immigration (one never exits from the international terminal), if you are not from the European Union, US or a few other selected country, you still need to get a transit visa on your passport. Which is exactly what Mayli needed to do (since at the time she only had her Venezuelan passport), and that ain’t completely free.

So I first flew to Los Angeles, then Sydney, and finally Christchurch, our final destination in the north sector of the South island. I travel quite often to Los Angeles, and I always think of that as a pretty long flight. Well, in this case was just one leg of a much longer trip. Which at the time it really seemed never coming to an end.

Sydney, Australia (May 26, 2008)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

New Zealand Diary

Lake Matheson, New Zealand (June 1, 2008)

In 2008 Mayli had her bi-annual neutrino conference in Christchurch, New Zealand. It was too much of an opportunity to pass, so we put together as many as free miles as we could, and I joined her for the trip. After the conference ended, we rented a car and traveled for over 2,000 miles up and down the coast and valleys of the beautiful South Island. We saw amazing scenery and wildlife.

NZ Alpine Pacific Triangle
Once we were back, I published a photographic diary of the trip on the first incarnation of my photoblog. It became a popular internet destination as the tourism was soaring in the country following the Lord of the Rings cinematographic fever. Now that my old blog has fallen in the graveyard of the collapsed hard drives, my New Zealand travel diary has been consigned to the forgotten corners of the internet. But nothing is really lost in the age of infinite digital copies and storage in the clouds, and my New Zealand photos keep cropping up from the virtual shoebox where my digital pixels are stored. So here it is; for the next few weeks I will repost the memories of our 2008 trip to the kiwi land. An occasion to remember the time I forgave one bostonian summer for the antipodal winter, and test new processes on the old digital files taken from the other side of the world. Buckle up, and I hope you will enjoy the trip!

Along the Alpine Pacific Triangle, New Zealand (May 29, 2008)