photos – Christchurch New Zealand

I lived in 2002 near New Brighton beach, actually a poor neighbourhood of Christchurch. I never was able to surf further than about 20 feet.

To see the annotated photos jump to the permanent webpage in Rick’s photo archive. OPEN icon


Life is Beautiful – New Zealand

Nov 22, 2002

I finally saw the charming film Life is Beautiful. The academy award for best actor to Italian Chaplin Roberto Benigni was well deserved.

I was convinced — if I played my cards right — I too could win a real life tank.

Life is beautiful. You simply need to put the right spin on things.

I have always been cheerfully skilled at self-delusion; looking for the positive, no regrets.

Peanut butter and banana sandwiches, Altadore Gym Club, Europe 1976, University of Calgary, Saskatoon, Mott the Hoople and the game of Life. Looking back it all seems right and wondrous to me.


Life is a beach too.

One of the best things in New Zealand is living on the sea shore — especially for me coming from the arid North American high prairie.

Strolling the flower strewn dunes of New Brighton beach. Bright sunshine. Cooling Pacific breeze. It is hard to beat.

At low tide, I often bike between home and the gym.


Did you celebrate Bonfire Night? For some reason beyond my ken, people here celebrate a terrorist named Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up the King and British Parliament in the 1600s. New Brighton pier is the centre of Fawkian revelry.

It was very Apocalypse Now with helicopters trailing fireworks, blaring Ride of the Valkyries. Rockets mounted on the pier like mortars.


My neighbourhood is the wrong side of the tracks. Drunken vandalism, garbage can fires, graffiti and like hyjinks is a typical Saturday night. We have a huge police station nearby but I have yet to see a cop outside a police car.

When I mention where I live to Kiwis many grin broadly and recount one of a number of fantastic drunks they had in New Brighton. It was once the most popular beach in New Zealand being the only one open on Sundays. It is still famed for a good piss-up.

My last month working in Christchurch, I actually will miss many things in my neighbourhood — the best veggie burger in the world; (egg, pineapple, beet root, tomato) from New Brighton Burger Bar. Mr. Wong from Hong Kong has been slapping these together for over 40 years.

Hong Kong Take-a-ways for Chow Mien … and the Chang Rai Thai lunch special. The library, watching the surfers, Jackson’s Bakery.

Ah well, Thoreau told that a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone. I can move on. My stint at the Christchurch School of Gymnastics was … beautiful. It is a great life experience to live in another country.

Friends are arriving from Canada next week — I will join them December 21st on the NZ backpacker trail.

Looking forward to the holidays?

– Kiwi Rick

Photo — an elderly Chinese man traipsed across the artwork in the sand oblivious to the beauty underfoot. Can you see his shoes?


Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Oct 11, 2002

A friend reminded me that life is precious. Reminded me to aspire to greatness; to be kind, patient and polite. To follow my bliss. To live every day as if it is my last.

Thank-you Denise.

I chase Captain Cook again.

I who had ambition not only to go farther than any one had done before, but as far as it was possible to go.

Captain James Cook, HMB Endeavour

Age 39, snatched from obscurity mapping Newfoundland, Captain Cook sailed in search of the Great Southern Continent.

Queen Charlotte Sound Cook made his place of refuge in the Pacific. He returned here 5 times, 100 days total, refitting his ships, tramping the same hills as I — now the Queen Charlotte Track.

I stepped ashore as Cook did first at Ship Cove.

I came to stretch my legs on this 78km 4 day walk. A tad shattered, I needed time off following the National Championships which we hosted in Christchurch. It was by any measure a quality competition.


But I left town deflated. Of the 14 athletes who competed from my club, several were disappointed with how they competed. I empathize.

Others had some great results. That is sport, I reckon. The delicious uncertainty is what keeps it interesting. (results of NZ Nationals — PDF file)

The only other to disembark at Ship Cove was Paul, a Dutch bio-chemist who had hiked Patagonia and in the NWT. (He immediately noted that the Dutch sailed New Zealand before Cook.)

We walked quickly. This sub-tropical Track is surprisingly tropical; giant ferns, waterfalls, strangling vines like steel cables. Some trees are covered with weird black lichen. The best sections are walking the spine of a long isthmus enjoying the views 400m down to the sea on both sides.


We were parched and hungry by the time we reached the first pub. (It is difficult to find true wilderness in New Zealand.) Monteiths Black happened — we then stumbled dark pathways to our backpacker cabin. Glow worms lit the way.

We did the first 2 days together enjoying a terrific seafood meal in Ponga. (Ponga is the silver tree fern, symbol of NZ.)

I took Paul on his first kayak paddle there.


I later joined up with hiking tour guides from Nelson checking the Track for their customers. I heard great things about hiking in Iceland and Greenland. Even better company were the numerous Weka, another goofy, supposedly flightless Kiwi bird. They are curious, fearless thieves stealing anything shiny. We were warned not to leave our boots outside! A farmer told us Weka steal his chicken eggs every morning.


It was a long sunny day to Portage — I did not realize I was exhausted until I arrived. A superb backpacker hostel, a gorgeous sea harbour. We shared a kitchen with 2 Kiwi hunters tracking wild pig with dogs. Cook had released the ancestors of these pigs.

Hunting is illegal here in the Marlborough Sounds but, I have to admit, wild pig bacon is tasty.


It is great to be on the backpacker trail. This is my element. Especially in New Zealand. One welcoming hostel provides free coffee and home made bread, transportation, information, library, and movie room — $C12 / night.

I am looking forward to tramping more Lord of the Rings landscapes. It is instantly obvious that Lord of the Rings had to be filmed in New Zealand. A quick quiz;

Which of the following places are in LOTR and which are actual geographic locations in New Zealand?

Cape Foulwind?
Mount Aspiring?
Mount Doom?
Middlemarch Bluff?
the Remarkables?
Mount Awful?
Mount Misery?
Dusky Sound?
The Snares?
Mount Dreadful?

(Answer at the bottom.)

You have to love a country which has a picture of Ed Hillary on the currency. (The new $20 bill features different adventure sports including kayaking and tandem skydiving.)

My friend Elaine from Saskatoon is coming in December. Also Greg Chartier and his family from Saskatoon. We will holiday together over Christmas.

I once thought I would spend 2 years in New Zealand; I have decided to spend just 1 year here. I will give up my job by Christmas, travel the country, and return on my 1-year open airline ticket.

Life is precious. Follow your bliss. Live every day as if it is your last.

– Kiwi Rick

PS Only Mount Doom is from Lord of the Rings. The other evocative place names are actual NZ geography.

Spring is Sprung / Auckland Champs

Aug 27, 2002

rick_mugIn Christchurch they all tell you that Spring starts September 1.

I reckon that is about right. On August 20 I saw my first swimmers wading the surf. The dusting of snow on the Port Hills melted away.

On the mall workers are refurbishing empty shops. At Jacksons bakery the clerk told me summer would be full-on. She’ll be right.

My gym is built on a huge estuary of the rich Canterbury plains. Across the street, two percent of the original swamps are protected as Travis Wetlands.

pukeko3This is a sanctuary for birds including the endangered Pukeko, a creature so stupid it could only have evolved in New Zealand. Most Kiwis believe Pukeko cannot fly. Actually, they fly well but are too dim to recall this fact, preferring to dart under moving automobile wheels for protection.

A seal washed up in the river near the gym, perhaps injured. While some of the gymnasts went to take a peek we called Animal Protection.

Last weekend we travelled to the big city, Auckland, population 1.1 million. I saw only the motel and gym, however my gymnasts tell me Auckland is boring, all wanting to go to Sydney instead.

We were there for the Auckland Championships — equivalent to Provincial Championships in Canada. This year Auckland Champs was also the selection meet for NZ teams to Australia Clubs Championships in October so there was an added incentive for the girls. We had a good meet qualifying 4 of the 5 girls who trialed.

The competition was hosted in a fabulous new gymnastics sports training centre, better than any gym in Canada.

Jeff Thomson from Vancouver is moving to Auckland to work for NZ Gymnastics. Word at the meet is that he has already bought a house over the Internet.

Full-time gymnastics jobs are not numerous in NZ, but there are several open right now. E-mail me if you might be interested.

Sport in NZ is facing criticism. The medal table at Commonwealth Games looked bad; India, Kenya, Jamaica, Wales, Scotland, Cameroon, Bahamas, Wales were all surpassing us since the last Games. Imagine how this looks to Kiwis with Australia thriving. A last day flourish brought New Zealand back up to 5th on the medal table behind India — but the press was still questioning.

New Zealanders are not Aussies. They are far more different than Canadians and Americans. A recent newspaper survey found that over a third of Kiwis hate Australians. (Of course it was Rugby season.)

New Zealanders do not celebrate sport victories. I gleaned this insight within hours of arrival. When a Kiwi Rugby player scores a try it is essential to show no emotion; just the opposite of North America where half the football team does a funky dance in the end zone.

An Aussie journalist writing about the famed Kiwi All Blacks called them dark visaged, menacing, and morose … forbidden by contract to ever smile.

A bigger problem for the sports coach here is the tall poppy syndrome; anyone successful in sport or most anything is immediately chopped down by one and all. Poppies keep their heads low.

Actually, this Commonwealth Games was the second most successful ever for NZ. Kiwis won more medals than Aussies on a per capita basis. Our gymnasts finished 4th, as high up as we could have achieved. This accomplishment was celebrated, but modestly.

Finally got to the highest mountain in New Zealand, Mt. Cook. Captain Cook? Seems everywhere I go the last few years this bloke has already been there.

Hawaii? Can I get there before Cook? Some good coastal hiking I hear.

Mount Cook Village is charmingly undeveloped compared with similar resorts around the world. We listened to a folk singer and had lunch at the most famous hotel in NZ, the Hermitage. We visited with the town teacher / karate sensei and her mountain guide husband. I got some good advice on the tramps around Mt. Cook — they are poor.

We ended up at Mount Cook after being turned away from the ski hill which was closed due to wind. This was all the snowboarding we got that day.


The Road to Oxiana published 1937 by Robert Byron (distantly related to Lord Byron) was touted as the best travel book ever written. As you know, I am attracted by hyperbole. It is good.

Best travel books? I have been reading mainly travel since 1996 — a few of the classics that jump to mind:

Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands

Jonah Blank, Arrow of the Blue-Skinned God (India)

VS Naipaul’s India trilogy

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard (Himalayas)

Eric Newby, A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

Art L. Karras, North to Cree Lake (northern Saskatchewan)

Less acclaimed is Around the World in 18 Holes by sports writers Tom Callahan and Dave Kindred. These blokes dreamed up the mother of all boondoggles; a round of golf selecting one hole from courses around the world.

For those who want to die like Bing Crosby, New Zealand is a paradise. Average green fees on the empty courses about C$17.

I must rattle me dags.

– Kiwi Rick

to Nelson, New Zealand

July 22, 2002

New Zealand is synonymous with tramps; Abel Tasman, Routeburn, Milford. I have a map on my wall with Great Walks highlighted.

I am too busy for hiking so far, but I did finally get a Sunday afternoon walking the volcanic Banks Peninsula near Christchurch. It was misty on those ancient crater rims. I learned all about NZ stinging nettle.


The top of the South island is home of the Abel Tasman coastal track, undoubtedly and deservedly the most popular and crowded hike in the country. But I was not there to tramp. I was there for the TOTS gymnastics competition in Nelson, the biggest and most important invitational in New Zealand.

Our team had won the Shield for best all-around club in 2001 and we were determined to repeat in 2002 despite the fact that North Harbour from Auckland, by far the best elite program in New Zealand, was attending this year. Shield points formula credits participation as well as performance — we managed to win again by a combination of good results … and bringing 56 competitors!

Nelson, population 52,000, is a classic tourist town packed with bars, backpacker hang-outs and hiking gear shops. I stayed an extra night to wander the streets, eat Chinese takeaway and walk along the river to the Marina at sunset.


We earlier took gymnasts to another competition in nearby Blenheim, a small town of 26,000 renown only as the centre of the most famous New Zealand wine district. We raced past the largest winery in the country, Montana.

Aside from good wine, we travelled to Blenheim as this meet is hosted by Marlborough man Tony Quirk — one of the great characters in NZ gymnastics. Tony is a lawyer but spends most of his time as volunteer administrator, judge and coach. He runs a great club where competitive coaches are still volunteers. We stayed at Tony’s house and I had a good chance to get to know him.

The competition venue was most excellent too. It goes to show what is possible in a very small town.


The highlight of this trip for me was the drive back to Christchurch on twisty highways, snow-capped mountains in the distance. We stopped several times to admire the scenery and take photographs of seals. One had somehow washed up almost on to the highway.


Driving New Zealand is the best way to travel. Most of the many narrow bridges are one way only.

Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography is a good read similar to, but not as essential as the autobiography of Gandhi. Everyone needs to read Gandhi’s book, My Experiments with Truth.

It is election time in New Zealand. The incumbent Prime Minister had her hands slapped when it was revealed that a painting she had donated to charity was signed but not painted by the politician. It seems certain she will be returned to power.

Voting with my feet.

– Kiwi Rick