Much more than a ruined city or a tourism fail
OPINION: We'd been out on the water 15 minutes or so, still trying to wash the squelchy mud of Cass Bay at low tide off our feet, when she said "Shall we paddle across to Quail Island?"
The suggestion seemed momentarily ridiculous, because it meant traversing almost the full width of Lyttelton Harbour, but instantly made so much sense. That vast body of water was staggeringly flat and calm.
"Like a mirror, as it's been all week," a local pulling his kayak up the road would tell us the next morning, when we returned for another dose of water-borne tranquility.
It took about an hour, including time elapsed, for us to make good on my daughter's call. I'm not sure how currents work in the harbour, but it felt like quite an effort to get there. Absolutely worth it, though, with low tide meaning caves along the shore were accessible by kayak.
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* Why Lyttelton Harbour is nature's playground
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Paddling through milky inlets with vast seaweed formations swaying their fronds at me, glancing up at the rock faces above, peeking into the caves, it felt like a mini-adventure, from one of the story books of my youth.
I turned back to the harbour, to see Lyttelton shimmering in the sunlight on the opposite shore, and my daughter sunbathing on her drifting paddleboard, before the journey back, whatever current there was now in our favour.
The tide had risen enough to take us beyond the clingy Cass mudflat. Perfect.
They say - I'm pretty sure they do - that if you want to truly appreciate where you live, you should see it through the eyes of an outsider, and at that moment I felt downright evangelical about the place that had been my home for just a few weeks.
Not that that's a new thing. I've been Caroline Bay's unofficial social media publicist for several years. But after 12 years in South Canterbury, with regular trips up SH1, particularly over the last four, I was seeing the Garden City in a new light.
In truth, I'd been contemplating that - and this column - for a week or more already, but then travel writer Brook Sabin had described Christchurch as "soulless" and a tourism failure, sentiments that resonated widely. Columnist Johnny Moore had followed that up with a heartfelt piece welcoming Brook's observations and saying the state of the city is "directly related to the state of its people". Those who had lived through recovery after incomplete recovery, stretching back nine years as of Wednesday, were broken.
I can't argue with that. I can only say what I've felt, and obviously it's personal, tied to my own circumstances. So this isn't an attempt to change anyone's mind.
I understand most of these observations are about the central city and its recovery, that resentment about the time it has all taken runs deep. I understand that the drive to draw people back to the central city seems confused, and for many residents of the suburbs, served by malls, coming into the central city when they don't have to is not an attractive proposition.
But, speaking as a new resident of that central city, one of the words that has occurred to me as I've walked around it is hope. Maybe it's the street art - the thought of the city without it is unimaginably bleak - maybe it's the signs of things being rebuilt, perhaps much later than they should have been, but the main thing is it's happening; maybe it's the people who have been so welcoming.
So if I was showing someone the city for the first time, I've got some thoughts about our 'tour'. We'd walk, stopping in Latimer Square. I'm under no illusions about the deep emotion there, but it's been a special place for me to sit and observe, contemplate, facing the Transitional Cathedral on Hereford St.
Then we'd walk up that street, possibly stopping at the traffic lights to wonder aloud how fans of obscure German football team FC Hansa Rostock managed to tag the outside of one of the city's wrecked buildings several storeys up, before finding a coffee and wandering past the Bridge of Remembrance - stunning lit up before sunrise, just quietly - Victoria Square, the reopened Town Hall. We'd see the new library, the convention centre under construction, the crocked cathedral, a Wilsons car park or three, and New Regent St. Not necessarily in that order. We'd ramble.
But Christchurch is far more than the central city, and we'd take to the car, heading east towards Sumner and its expansive beach. A run, or a walk, then up the hill and over to Taylors Mistake. That beach is amazing to walk on before dawn, by the way.
Back over the hill and up another one, the newly reopened road connecting Sumner and Lyttelton, with a couple of stops either side of the summit to gaze in awe.
If it was a Saturday, we'd stop at the Lyttelton street market, then on to the bays, Corsair or Cass, to kayak, paddleboard, swim, or all of the above.. Then back over Dyers Pass Rd, and if we had any energy left, we might stop and wander up the beautiful Harry Ell Track, maybe even Rapaki. Those views ...
The point is, there's so much to do, and see, and yes, I realise I'm like the wide-eyed schoolboy unleashed in a lolly shop, and that's not the perspective of many long-time residents. But from a tourism point of view, there's gold out there, and even, with a bit of imagination, in the broken central city.
It's the sort of imagination fellow columnist Lana Hart recognised in a recent column, writing that "when things did start perking up again [post-quake], they were really cool", and arguing that the city deserves to be on the "cool radar". I agree.
Ōtautahi, you've been through hell, but I feel like it's going to be all right.