Christchurch after the quake

We hadn’t appreciated that our arrival in Christchurch, on February 25th, was so close to the anniversary of the 22nd February 2011 earthquake that devastated the city. Eight years on, there are still plenty of visible scars here in what is recognised as the most English of New Zealand’s cities.

On arriving at the airport, Ishbel identified a bus we could get to our AirBnB. We weren’t exactly slap bang in the city centre, so it was a pleasant surprise to discover that we had a public transport connection available. We hopped on the bus, paid our fares, and high-fived the driver. He was a young Indian guy who seemed to enjoy getting, or at least attempting to get, a high-five from all of his passengers. We had a chat with him before the bus set off and discovered that he was from the Punjab region of India. We told him that, coincidentally, the drivers of the two taxis we took when we were in Auckland were both from the Punjab. He seemed unfazed by this coincidence. “Punjabis like to drive,” was his philosophical response.

We were safely delivered to a bus stop just round the corner from our AirBnB. We easily found the house and recovered the keys from the lockbox then made ourselves at home. I had discovered that the local casino hosted a poker tournament on Monday evenings. But not a run-of-the-mill Texas hold ’em tournament but Pot Limit Omaha, or PLO as it is known to aficionados. This is a game that I play but Ishbel doesn’t, so we would be going our separate ways after dinner. The casino was about halfway to town from the AirBnB so we headed out for a look at the city, walking down the riverside for a bit before changing direction to get a look at Christchurch’s centre.

There is, as you would expect, a lot of recent construction replacing the structures lost in the earthquake. But there’s also a fair amount that survived.

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As we wandered on, we noticed tram lines on the road and, shortly thereafter, a tram. Ishbel was keen to have a go on one so we duly paid our $25 fares (tourist prices for a hop-on, hop-off service) and saw a little more of the city from the comfort of a museum piece.

IMG_2916We hopped off down by the riverfront just after seeing the damage sustained by St. Paul’s Cathedral.

IMG_2898It would appear that this particular structure is a long way from being restored to its pre-earthquake splendour.

We grabbed an early dinner then went our separate ways. I strolled off to the casino for my PLO tournament while Ishbel hopped back on to the tram for a jaunt around the rest of its route. She enjoyed a visit to the local Botanic Gardens, as tradition now insists, and I had quite a decent run in the tournament. They attracted 28 players and 14 of those bought in twice, which boosted the prize pool. I lasted a long time in the tournament. They were only paying three people and I went out in fifth place after my nut flush/straight flush draw was called by two pair with a second nut flush draw. My nut flush hit, but unfortunately the board paired, giving the villain a full house and knocking me out just short of the money.  If you don’t play poker, none of that will make sense but don’t worry. Most of the poker talk will wait until our Vegas arrival in June.

After I bust, I walked back to the AirBnB and called it a night. The next day, Ishbel’s sister and brother-in-law were joining us in Christchurch for our extended NZ South Island tour. We had some time in the morning before they arrived so we put it to good use by heading over to the Christchurch Gondola, a cable car that ascends Mount Cavendish and affords wonderful views over the city.

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The family’s flight from Brisbane arrived dead on time and they, too, used the bus to get to our place. We met them at the bus stop and, after settling them in the house, we went strolling once again into Christchurch where Ishbel was part qualified as a tour guide thanks to her attentive listening on her tram rides of the previous day. After seeing the city, we headed back for dinner and an early night. We had an early start the next day and didn’t want to oversleep.

 

Unillustrated Auckland

Saturday, 23rd February saw us take flight once again. We were flying Qantas to Auckland. This would be our 8th stop of the 15 permitted on our RTW ticket, so a halfway point in a sense.

There was a little excitement in the air as we arrived in New Zealand because, as luck would have it, our initial brief stay in Auckland coincided with a decent size poker tournament with a NZD 500 buy in, which is around GBP 250. This was a single day tournament so it fitted perfectly with our schedule. We were planning only two nights in Auckland before flying south to Christchurch as part of our extensive tour of New Zealand.

The SkyCity Casino was hosting the tournament so, for convenience, we stayed at the SkyCity Grand Hotel.  We arrived in the early evening so didn’t get much chance to explore the city. The one sight we did see, since it was slap bang between the hotel and casino, was the Sky Tower.

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This is yet another tower built on exactly the same lines as the Stratosphere in Vegas and the Macau tower which we photographed back in January. We made it our mission to find out who was first.

The Macau Tower was completed in 2001 and is 338m high. Auckland’s Sky Tower was completed in 1997 and is 328m high. The Stratosphere Tower was completed first, in 1996 and is the tallest, at 350.2m. I’m sure that will settle lots of arguments around family dinner tables.

We called it a night at this point – there’s only so much excitement we can handle – and rested ourselves in preparation for Sunday’s tournament.

We had breakfast in a place just next door to our hotel – and across the road from the casino’s front door – called the Federal Deli, which was delicious. We registered promptly for the 12:30pm start and, like so many tournaments, it started a half hour late. Also in common with many tournaments, I busted out early and it was left to Ishbel to fly the flag for Scotland. There were 70 entries in the end and a five figure sum was on offer for the eventual winner. They were paying only 8 places in the tournament, so Ishbel was disappointed to eventually bust out of the tournament in 11th place.

After she finished, we had a late dinner and since we’d enjoyed breakfast there so much, we went back to the Federal Deli again.

So almost all of our Auckland activity took place in one small street in the centre of town. And that’s why this post is mostly unillustrated.

The following morning we re-packed our gear and stowed a suitcase and both instruments at a storage facility called The Luggage Hotel. We would be moving around a lot for the next week or so and decided to travel light.  Then it was off to the airport for a budget one-way flight to Christchurch. Ishbel’s camera should be back in action for the rest of the trip.

Country Walks and Poker (at last)

On Thursday, 24th January, we decided to drive up to Lamington National Park in the hope that by gaining altitude, we would lose heat. We got an early start and stopped en route for breakfast.

This place is popular with motor cyclists as it’s at the foot of the road up to the park which features long, smooth curves combined with multiple hairpin bends. It was interesting that the bikes represented here were one Ducati, one Harley, and three Royal Enfields. They are, of course, the new Indian manufactured Royal Enfields and not vintage British bikes.

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After breakfast, we headed up to Lamington. I pondered idly whether the park gave its name to the famous Australian cake. It turns out that they have a shared etymology. Both are, ultimately, named for the 8th Governor of Queensland, Lord Lamington.

We were planning on going into O’Reilly’s but stopped short to take a walk in the rainforest and down to a viewpoint over the valley below.

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Although it’s only a short drive from the Gold Coast, there is a sense of wildness and isolation once you are in the forest.

dsc_0378After our walk, we carried on up to O’Reilly’s. The O’Reilly family were farming in the area when the National Park was first proclaimed in 1915, but they became nationally famous in 1937 for the part played by Bernard O’Reilly in finding a passenger aircraft that had crashed in the park and helping the two survivors back to safety. The story is related in an Australian TV movie, “The Riddle of the Stinson” and the replica plane built for that movie is on display there.

dsc_0558 After a pleasant wander around, we headed back home for dinner. We had identified a poker tournament that was taking place in a local pub, The Helensvale Tavern. Entry was AUD 22, about £12, so we decided we’d enter as our game is getting very rusty on this trip. Also, the pub had a special meal deal on Thursdays so we opted to eat there and check out the arrangements in advance of the tournament’s start at 7:00pm. The food was good, but the portion was enormous. If we eat there again, we’ll share a meal.

We registered for the tournament and, unusually, we were allowed to choose our own seats. In general, tournament organisers will perform a random draw to prevent any possible hint of collusion, or “bum-hunting” which means trying to get a seat near a weak player or simply avoiding players you know to be strong. Since we didn’t know anyone there and they didn’t know us, the seating was, in effect, still random for us anyway.

My rustiness shone through and I made a couple of bad decisions early on in the tournament, calling a bet when I should have folded. I was out in Level 6. Ishbel lasted a good bit longer than me but didn’t get close to the money. There were over 70 entries for the tournament so it looks like poker is alive and well on the Gold Coast.  We may try again to see if we can do better.