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Avon River DevelopmentThis was my fifth visit to Christchurch. It has been very interesting to see how the city has changed over the years, especially after the 2011 earthquake. I love coming back here to see what buildings have been renovated or are still being restored and what changes or improvements there are in different suburbs, like Sumner and Lyttelton. Like a phoenix rising up out of the ashes, this wonderful city is slowly returning to its former glory, reshaping its future along the way.

One new development on the Avon River is the Oi Manawa Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial. This memorial was opened to the public on the 22nd February 2017, at the sixth anniversary commemoration event of the 2010/2011 earthquakes. It was designed as two distinct areas either side of the gentle curve of the Avon River, which runs through the city. It pays respect to the 185 people who lost their lives in these earthquakes, those who were seriously injured and to the survivors. It also acknowledges the shared trauma and the support received during the response and recovery that followed. I liked the memorial. It’s a calm, quiet space along the river and a peaceful place to pay respect.

The future of the Anglican Cathedral has finally become clear, six years after it was badly damaged in the 2011 earthquake. Wall of Remembrance, Avon River, Christchurch It has taken a long time for a decision to be made as to whether it should be kept or demolished. It will be rebuilt by the Anglican Church in New Zealand and the rebuild is expected to take 10 years.

 Another tragedy which happened recently in Christchurch was the mosque shootings on 15th March 2019. There were two consecutive terrorist attacks in which 51 people were killed and 49 injured. I went to the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch on the 11th April, where there were still hundreds of flowers, candles and messages of condolence and support, outside the railings, for those affected by the mosque attacks. There was also a Book of Condolence in the new Turanga Library in Cathedral Square, which I signed.

There were also Books of Condolence in libraries all over the country and messages written in public spaces with the words “You Are Us”. This was the theme of the benefit concerts held in Christchurch and Auckland to raise funds and donate all proceeds to the “Our People, Our City” fund. This was set up by the Christchurch Foundation helping those affected by the mosque shootings. There was a lot of talk about this while I was there. The community spirit in New Zealand but especially in Christchurch is so admirable. As a city and a nation, the people here are so open and welcoming to different nationalities, religions and backgrounds. The support the people of Christchurch give to their communities, especially in times of hardship, is exemplary I think.

Wall of Remembrance Memorial Text, ChristchurchIn November 2014 Christchurch held an exhibition of an unusual kind. Proceeds of this exhibition went to local charities to help rebuild the city and people’s lives there.  It was called Christchurch Stands Tall. Ninety nine giraffe sculptures were scattered throughout Christchurch, with a focus on the Central Business District (CBD) as part of a public art series. Forty nine of these giraffes were 2.5 metres tall and made of fiberglass. A further 50 calf-sized giraffes were sponsored and decorated by local schools. Artists of all ages and artistic abilities were invited to submit their designs and the best ones were selected by sponsors to feature in the sculpture trail.

The schools got to keep their giraffes after the exhibition ended on the 24th January 2015 and the tall giraffes were auctioned on the 11th February 2015. This project was the brilliant idea of a UK based organization called Wild in Art, which have held 26 arts trails all over the world with Christchurch’s giraffes being their first in New Zealand. I liked the idea of this Christchurch Stands Tall exhibition, as it was a great way of encouraging the people of the city that they should be proud of themselves and their community and all that they have achieved so far. Christchurch Stands Tall Facebook page

When I was in Christchurch I stayed with a very good friend of mine and we drove out to Akaroa one afternoon. Akaroa JettyThis beautiful little French settlement on the Banks Peninsula is about an hour and a half’s drive south east of Christchurch. The village is nestled in the heart of an ancient volcano and has plenty of activities to keep you busy including boat trips to see one of the rarest and smallest marine dolphin, called the Hector Dolphin. There are lots of accommodation options, art and craft shops, bars and restaurants and a great fish and chip shop called Murphy’s, with the most delicious, freshly caught fish in the village. In the 2011 earthquake Lyttelton Harbour (which was where all the cruise ships coming into Christchurch used to dock) was badly damaged. So from then on, Akaroa has been playing host to cruise ship passengers.

One jewellery shop on Akaroa main wharf that really caught my eye was the Blue Pearl Gallery & Visitor Centre/Eyris Pearls. Blue Pearl is a company that farms/sells blue pearls from paua shells. Paua is the Maori name given to the 3 species of large edible sea snails, known in the United States and Australia as abalone. The native New Zealand species is called Paua, which are found in the cool, clear waters close to the New Zealand coastline.

Akaroa HarbourEach pearl that this company farms is unique and has its own colour, which can vary between shades of blue, green, gold, pink and some have flashes of red and violet. Blue Pearls are farmed by inserting a seed beneath the mantle tissue of the paua. The paua, which possesses the greatest range of colour and iridescence of any abalone shell, then begin to overlay this nucleus with its brilliant colourful Mother of Pearl.  Roger Beattie, a New Zealander, established the first ocean based blue pearl farm at Whangamoe Inlet in 1989 on New Zealand’s Chatham Islands. Jack Pawlowski, a European-trained master jeweler is the founder of the Blue Pearl Gallery in Akaroa. In 2000 he met Roger Beattie, the force behind Eyris Blue Pearls and they have worked closely together ever since.

I love the paua shell with its turquoise blue/green colours that catch the light when seen from different angles, but I’ve never seen blue pearls before. The range of colours are amazing. Blue pearls can be set in gold or silver. I prefer them in silver, as this seems to bring out the blue of the pearl more so than gold. They can also be set in different designs of jewellery. Surprisingly the price of some of the earrings was quite affordable at NZD89, which was the equivalent of £47.

As some of my friends know, I do Lindyhop dancing here in Edinburgh. Lesley and I, near AkaroaI was lucky to get the opportunity to do some of this dancing with a group of local swing dancers in Christchurch, called the Swing Town Rebels. Before I left Edinburgh I checked on facebook and online to see what swing dance groups had events on in New Zealand during my holiday there. I was delighted to hear that this group meets up every second Friday of the month in Cathedral Square to do social dancing, weather permitting. They also teach, perform and give classes and workshops throughout the year.

The dancing was due to start at 6.30pm. When I got there, there were 2 guys chatting, with an amp and a laptop. A few more people turned up and in the end there were 6 of us. We danced for an hour, in the fading light, with a cool breeze in the air. The clocks had gone back the night before and it was getting dark fairly quickly. The lights of the food trucks in the Square brightened things up and even though there weren’t many people milling about, there was still a nice atmosphere around the place. There was a girl of about 7 or 8 dancing to the music with us, doing her own thing. I enjoyed it and was glad I went. I have a huge soft spot for Christchurch, as I’ve mentioned before, but it was a privilege and a thrill for me to be able to say I danced with the Swing Town Rebels in Cathedral Square.