We flew into Christchurch by night, declared the red Uluru dust still on our boots, and grabbed a taxi to our new home. We've swapped house for the next 4-6 weeks or so with Ray and Louise who are now settling in to our house back in Cork. The house here is terrific. It's 10 minutes easy drive from the centre of the city, and situated on the slopes to the south of Christchurch that mark the beginnings of the volcanic Banks Peninsula. The view from the window that first night was of a perfectly flat landscape below us, lit up into the distance.
When we woke the next morning to a clear blue sky, we could see the real view. That flat landscape we had seen is called the Canterbury Plains and it stretched in front of us, half way across the South Island, till it hit the Southern Alps. The contrast between the steady plains and the dramatic peaks gives a hint about what life is like here, especially for visitors. Christchurch is known as the most English of NZ cities. The beautifully laid out streets and the tranquility of the parklands give order to the meandering river that runs through it. The river is slow-moving and has been further tamed with the very reassuring name of Avon. But at the heart of the city, in the i-Site information office on Cathedral Square, you can book sky diving, white water rafting, zorbing (I'm particularly partial to this idea) , bungee jumping, ballooning, hang-gliding, skiing and other adrenalin-soaked activities that seem to have nothing to do with Christchurch's mellow setting.
It seems as though Kiwis are compensating for a lack of the lethal beasties and bities that Australia offered, by providing man-made routes to premature death or serious injury. Naturally we will be taking up New Zealand's offer on this. It would be rude not to really.
We have in fact already started. We started the days celebrations (Nina's 9th birthday) in a place called Adrenalin Forest. Here, for a very reasonable NZ$95 (47 euros) for the entire family, we strapped on some harnesses and spent 2 hours battling with our fears of height in an obstacle course that ran (for us) up to 6 metres from the forest floor, but could go to 17 meters for adults. The course included flying foxes where you clip yourself to a cable, leave go and think about how you're going to cope with the impact of the fast approaching tree. It wasn't easy for us, never mind the girls, and Nina and Sara had to really work through their fears (while Letizia and I tried unsuccessfully to mask ours) in order to complete the course. Let's just say that Nina had to prove today that she was a big 9-year-old. And she surely did.
Where are the brakes?!?
Trust me Sara - I'm an engineer!
After that heart-pounding start to the day we decided to try a more traditional route to cardiovascular trauma by having lunch in McDonalds. As with the Adrenalin Forest event, we were joined by Simon, Leah and Caitlin (yes - our Brisbane hosts. I really will have to explain in a post soon how it is that this long-suffering family managed to find themselves yet again surrounded by Lawlors). We had a quorum to convene a birthday party, complete with chocolate cake and candles, and of course pressies. Nina made her annual pronouncement that this was the best birthday like ever. We rounded off the day with was was supposed to be a nice quiet movie but as it turned out, The Spiderwick Chronicles probably bruised whatever heart muscle escaped the first two activities.
Over the next few weeks we'll have to make some decisions about what kind of activities we are most interested in. As ever, the budget is limited, and we have no desire to blow it out again like we did in Australia. So if anyone out there has any opinions on which extreme Kiwi adventures we should absolutely not miss out on, then please drop a comment and let us know. I feel another poll coming on...