Secret boyfriend gets smashed up real bad

This is what happens when you take too long to finish writing about your August holiday in Christchurch – a massive earthquake hits the city, bringing about damage, destruction and devastation and therefore requiring you do a rewrite. Man, what a hassle, etc.

I came to Christchurch on the TranzCoastal train, as part of my “Oh, I am so weary of flying” phase, in which I discovered that the ferry and train can be just as boring as air travel, only much much slower.

It was a stormy day in Picton, and I was forced to take refuge in the town’s cafes to fill the four-hour gap between the motel check-out and the train’s departure. So my happy memory of Picton is sitting in a cafe, drinking too many cups of tea and reading Nick Kent’s 1970s memoir of sex, drugs and rock journalism as the wind and rain battered the giant plate-glass window next to me.

Killing time in Picton town

Finally I was on board the train, where I spent five and a half hours in a carriage half-full with special needs adults and their tired and impatient caregivers. And the carriage’s toilet was out of order, necessitating a long wobbly walk along to the next carriage. And the only thing left to eat was a “ham” and “cheese” “croissant”, where the melted cheese gave me a first-degree burn when it dripped onto my finger.

But there were scenic delights, particularly the Lake Grassmere Saltworks. A few years ago I visited Blenheim for the day and sent my parents a postcard with an aerial photo of the saltworks, because who puts a photo of a giant pile of salt on a picture postcard?

But as the train passed through the salt fields, I was terribly impressed. Massive briny ponds! Giant piles of salt! I will ask the same question that I once asked after seeing a giant pile of salt at the Mt Maunganui salt refinery in the ’80s – how big would one chip have to be to use all that salt? Pretty big, yeah.

The sun was setting and the last hour of the journey was through a dark landscape. But soon the lights of Christchurch began to illuminate the cityscape and I felt glad, safe and comfortable.

When I finally alighted the train, I was tired and had a cold, but after a couple of days of travelling, I was just happy to be in a place of urbanness.

Cashel Street

One month later, the earthquake woke me up as I slept in Wellington. I lay in bed, annoyed at having my sleep disrupted and wondering what the weird rattling sound was. About an hour later I dozed off again.

In the morning when I discovered there’d been a massive earthquake in Christchurch, I first wondered if my friends were OK. When it became known that there were no casualties, my thoughts then turned to the cafes. Specially, was that place where I had the really amazing scrambled eggs OK? It was, as was the place that does the really smooth lattes that taste like honey.

In August, Megan and Anna had taken me on a tour of Canterbury University. In September the uni released photos showing the shelves in the library toppled over, thousands of books strewn all over the floor. I wanted to jump on a plane and put the books back in the right order.

I’d visited the Christchurch Art Gallery a couple of times, one of my favourite places. After the earthquake, its strong, modern building was repurposed as headquarters for civil defence work. I imagined a hiviz-vest-clad worker casually resting her coffee cup on an artwork, while nervous gallery staff swooped in to cheerfully reposition it.


I’ve been to Christchurch three times in the last year. So much so that there was a rumour that I had a secret boyfriend there. Well, perhaps the city itself is my secret boyfriend. So when he gets smashed up a bit, it’s sad for me.

But, of course, I didn’t know that the seismic reset button was going to be hit just a month after I left. I didn’t quite make the most of my time there and did spend a bit of time in bed, feeling a ill from the cold, watching episodes of UK Big Brother on my iPhone.

But I’m glad I was able to have that visit. I have good memories – seeing the Pixies live, hanging out with friends, yelling at films, experiencing good art and good coffee, and putting on an extravagant beauty mask treatment one night in my hotel as I listened to Lady Gaga on my iPhone. I have a nice pre-quake memory of the city.

I shall return to Christchurch in summer to form some new memories.


6 thoughts on “Secret boyfriend gets smashed up real bad”

  1. The train and ferry from Christchurch to Wellington is one of the most boring forms of transport known to man. I’ve done it three times – each time in one day, rather than two – and by the end of every trip I wanted to kill someone, usually a travelling companion. In odd contrast, driving up (which I’ve done many more times) is quite pleasant, probably because you can put whatever you want on the radio and stop whenever you feel like it.

    1. Doing that drive – especially in summer – sounds like it would be brilliant. One of my long-term travel plans is to do the big South Island loop – down one coast, up the other.

      1. It’s really lovely – I’ve done the Chch-Blenheim-Nelson-Chch loop a couple of times, up the Kaikoura coast and down through the Lewis Pass, in both winter and summer. The scenery is incredible and there are lots of neat places to stop. I’ve never done south of Christchurch, though.

  2. I am so glad to be an occasional enabler in your liaisons with your secret boyfriend. It also cheers me that you enjoy Christchurch, not least because (like Hamilton) it is the subject of so much Twitter-sport from my Wellington and Auckland friends. With the earthquake, that has for the meantime stopped, although it seems a large price to pay for a small benefit to my finer feelings.

    You will be pleased to know that levels two and three of the Central Library have reopened as study spaces prior to student exams. It was on level three that the shelves fell domino style, including PR 9583.W 686 which is the library of congress number for Robin Hyde.

    In the absence of lending service, the central library users have been redirected to the Law Library. Some wag published a dress and behavioural guide to Law Library use in Canta recently, which has caused many non-law students to take grumbly umbrage in the letters to the editor column this week as a result.

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