Setting out in spirit of adventure a mistake

21:28, Apr 15 2012

I've just escaped from a hostage crisis in the Temuka Library. Sod the counselling – I need chocolate and booze, now. Thank God for Easter leftovers.

Adventure is usually of the "armchair" variety in libraries, but Temuka's flat terrain creates cellphone deadspots, and the library is one of them, at least for my geriatric phone.

Once in a while it would luck on to a signal and tingle with texts. When I tried to reply it gave that mocking "failed to send" music.

This crazy trip was rapidly becoming my own contribution to the Titanic anniversary. I couldn't leave the library to find a strong signal because I was using its free wi-fi to download Adobe Reader for half an hour because I couldn't read a pigging flight confirmation from Jetstar without it.

The flight had taken a pigging hour to book – longer than the journey will be – on their pig of a website.

"Calm down, Bob. You're on holiday. You're on holiday ..."


Adventure gives me the vapours. This one began with a wall unit I'd made for a friend in Christchurch. Coincidentally, I had an appointment 10 days later with my daughter's graduation in Auckland. Be bold, I thought. Line the two up.

I'd heard about these cheap campervan "relocation" trips to get the vehicles back to home base. Why not fly south with the kitset wall unit, catch up with my friend, flit to Temuka to see my sis, return to Christchurch to pick up a campervan for a cool road trip up the islands, then burst with pride at the capping and fly home?

You take your chances on scoring a campervan, but hey, that uncertainty is exciting. My itineraries are usually settled months in advance, and at super-saver rates. Boring. Time for some adventure.

Then again, perhaps my medication needs adjusting. As ever, the devil lurked in the detail. A $2000 bond on some of the vans would choke the most adventurous spirit.

By the time I'd sussed out cheaper bonds on the "mattress-in-the-back" campers, I was in Christchurch with the clock ticking. Every day spent waiting for new van listings was a day in which my fallback option, a cheap flight to Auckland, became anything but cheap.

You need nerves of steel for seat-of-the-pants travel. My nerves of souffle collapsed on day three. I sussed out airfares and chose a cheaper "up-front" offer from Jetstar. Suckered again.

By the time I'd waded through a website groaning with sign-ups and passwords and ads for rental cars and hotels, then fended off a $4 charge for choosing your seat – which ambushes you from nowhere – the "cheaper" fare was almost exactly the same as Air New Zealand's. The Aussie airline should take a hard look at that booking procedure.

Having crumbled, I started to enjoy Christchurch. First, some sobering context. My friend took me on a drive through red-zoned Avonside, with street after street of bashed, bent and half-sunken houses, gradually being consumed by weeds.

They looked as if they had been much-loved, and the occasional owner still clings on grimly until the bulldozers come. The scale of damage is overwhelming.

We needed a mood antidote, and found it in the new "shipping container" shopping centre created next to Ballantynes in town. Clever glasswork, a coat of funky paint and Christchurch has a vibrant heart again.

The container shops are too upmarket for an urchin like me, but the gutsy spirit I'd buy any day.

That night we took in Calendar Girls at the Court Theatre, now reborn in a shed at Addington.

"Warning: this play contains strobe lighting and nudity," said the notice. Not really. Precious little of either – which will disappoint fans of disco lighting. The play delighted the audience, and the famous CWI "nude" photo shoot is done so cheekily that no-one could be offended. (And admit it – we all love looking at naked bodies.)

The star of the night was the Court itself, featuring much nudity of the architectural variety. The walls are naked chipboard and exposed girders, the booking office and bar are remodelled shipping containers, the 400-seat auditorium itself has comfy seats, excellent acoustics and sightlines, it was all done in 16 weeks, and the pricetag of $4.6 million would silence the most rigid critic of expenditure on the arts.

Bravo, Christchurch. An outstanding success.

The Court even threw in a little adventure. Halfway through the first act the shed began shaking and rumbling. The battle-hardened Cantabrians were ice-calm – and I finally twigged that it was a passing train.

My adventurous friend kindly drove me south, down side roads less travelled. At a tiny enclave of fishing huts near Lake Ellesmere, we chanced on a garage sale and I scored an Arctic leather jacket, with fox-fur-lined hood ("harvested in a sound ecological manner", says the label, so don't go throwing paint at me).

At Leeston, a cafe in the beautiful old Power Board building yielded a coffee and lamb and kumara pie that raised the bar. Adventure does have its rewards. I'm starting to relax. I might give Jetstar a ring just to double-check that flight.