Departures: New Zealand 2004: Christchurch

I allotted too much time for Christchurch. If I had it to do all over again, I would have visited the telegraph museum at Ferrymead Heritage Park and skipped the rest. If I wasn't in a mood to see a telegraph museum, I would have skipped the whole accursed city to give myself more time in the woods.

Wed Dec 8 2004

The flight from Nelson to Christchurch gave some hints about the land. I saw the clear-cut forests around Nelson which I hadn't noticed before. As we flew to the West side of the island, there were few trees on the mountains. We'd come over to the island's dry side. A wide plain stretches around Christchurch. Flying over it was about as much fun as flying over the USA's Midwest: not very.

I stayed at Stonehurst--a place mentioned in my Lonely Planet that also had a free phone at the airport. In hindsight, I wish I'd given myself a chance to explore the area on foot a bit before choosing a place to stay. Learn from my mistakes.

[Photo: Giant Sequoias!  Exo]

Rutherford taught in the area, and there is a small tourist attraction "Rutherford's Den". I'm not sure what I was supposed to get out of it. There was a Disney-Haunted-House-ish ghost conversation which somehow managed to make physicists seem boring. There were replicas of old scientific equipment "similar" to that used by Rutherford. But anyone who'd visited a couple of science history museums would have seen plenty of old scientific equipment. There was an old English classroom where you could sit to listen to an old lecture--but sitting in the old English classroom didn't really make the lecture come alive. I noticed that an "L. Hopkins" had carved his name into the desk where I was sitting. Obviously a relative from a branch of the family with better spelling skills, but less resistance to the vandalism urge.

Botanic Gardens

I walked a little in the botanic gardens. The botanic gardens seemed drab compared to Abel Tasman. I guess it's not a fair comparison.

The first thing I noticed were the exotic foreign giant sequoias.

[Photo: Puzzle Hunts are Eve]

Puzzle hunts are everywhere. I noticed people running around the botanic gardens clutching pieces of paper, looking around intently. They looked like they were playing a puzzle-hunt game, and they were. I saw where they were getting their pieces of paper--from a dude standing on a patch of lawn. So I talked with the dude. He said that this was a business--these people were taking part in a team-building exercise. I watched some folks shoutingly help a team-mate to navigate a rope-based virtual minefield. I watched other groups hunt for a particular statue.

I had perhaps the blandest chana masala of my life at a place called Tulsi. It was probably the blandest--but are our brains really set up to remember things like that? Maybe. Maybe it was the blandest chana masala ever.

Wed Dec 8 2004

[Photo: Tidal flats with cla]
[Photo: False plaque]

Cold, windy, and rainy.

I walked to the Ferrymead Historic Park. Going to Ferrymead was a good idea, but walking was not. You see more by walking, but the outskirts of Christchurch were not worth seeing: houses, strip malls. I got trapped in a horrid Brookhaven housing subdivision whose roads twisted away from my intended direction of travel. It was cold and windy, and threatening rain.

[Photo: Telephone switch]
[Photo: Old telephones]
[Photo: Some Morse keyboard ]
[Photo: Creed Model 54 Telep]
[Photo: Cable map around the]
[Photo: Morse printer]
[Photo: AD Hobbs]
[Photo: Man, I have no idea]
[Photo: Early fax machine]

But going to the telegraph office in the Ferrymead Historic Park was a good idea. The dude there had some good stories. I'm not sure I ever got his name right. The lady at the admission desk called him "Pattrick," But when I reached the telegraph museum, his photo was pointed out to me--and that photo was labeled "A.D. Hobbs". Maybe I heard the admission clerk wrong. Maybe I looked at the wrong photo.

Whatever his name was, he knew that there were two different standards for telegraph message tape. The Murray system used leading-edge alignment. The Bordeaux system used center-alignment. That is, there were two ways you could align the holes punched in telegraphic tape. There were two sizes of hole, and you could align them so that their centers were in line, or so that their leading edges were in line. If you used a Murray-style reader to read a tape punched by a Bordeaux-style writer, you got sketchy results.

Who knew that there were two standards for telegraph message tape? Not me. Not many people. Not the right people at Bletchley Park. The curator of this museum had been in contact with the guys working on the Colossus rebuild back in Bletchley park. He had pointed out that they were using the wrong kind of tape, saving them some frustrating debugging time.

He pointed out the hazards of the early explorers as reflected in cable. The submarine cable between the North Island and the South Island followed a twisty course--the winds are strong in the Cook Straights, and the cable ship had been blown off course. The cable across the southern part of the North Island seems to be an unreasonable curving meander--until you learn that it was laid that way to avoid the Maori wars. (I didn't ask what the Maori called "the Maori wars". That was a question for another museum.)

In the park's Wheelhouse, I saw New Zealand's first Radio-Picture ("Pix"), used, as you might guess, as a way to transmit picture data. I saw the first test picture transmitted from San Francisco to New Zealand--a girlie picture. Does this prove that the internet's most natural purpose is the transmission of pornography? Maybe.

To get to the park, I'd walked close to the shore. To get away from the park, I decided to take an inland route, the better to avoid the cold wind off of the water. I got a little lost and then it started to rain, so I was mighty glad when I stopped at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere and a bus stopped and took me back to central Christchurch. (Actually, the bus was going the wrong way, but I hopped on to get out of the rain. Thus, I rode to the end of the line at Lyttleton, which had boats and old buildings. If I ever get talked into going back to Christchurch, I think I will visit Lyttleton.)

Fri Dec 10 2004

This was shaping up into another Grade-A gray day.

[Photo: Wind shaped rocks fr]
[Photo: Critter in an aquari]

I took the bus to the Antarctic Research Centre, just the touristy bits. The touristy bits were pretty touristy. There was an interesting video "The Longest Night", but it worth spending another day in Christchurch. If you read English, don't bother with the audiophone tour--it's redundant with the printed interpretive text.

Close by, there was a totem pole given to the people of Christchurch from the people of Oregon in appreciation of hospitality during something called Operation Deep Freeze. Apparently, there's a matching totem pole in Portland. I didn't think to check on that a month later when on a road trip. Oh well. Maybe next time.

[Photo: Ferns]

I went back to the city center. I got rained on as I ran through the botanic garden to look at the fern greenhouse. Seeing a fern greenhouse after you've been at Abel Tasman National Park for a few days is a recipe for letdown.

I dried off and ate lunch at Dux DeLux, which was warm and not windy. Sometimes those qualities are sufficient to achieve Best Restaurant Ever status, and this was one of those times.

Art Imitates Death

[Photo: Sketchy sketch from ]

I passed some time at the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna O Waiwhetu. One painting caught my eye--"The Fall of Icarus" by William Hammond. This showed some avian humanoids, some of them hanging from trees by their arms. Were they supposed to be Christ-figures? The reminded me more of broken-necked cormorants.

Marlborough Sound and Wellington[>]

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