Peace. Comfort. A family Christmas down under … My second summer Christmas, that is! Having lived, worked & travelled in beautiful Aotearoa New Zealand for well over a year, returning to this special place on Earth always feels a bit like coming home. And more so this time, what with Christmas & the start of the Kiwi holiday season there to greet me! Four years after Christchurch’s devastating earthquakes, I am happy indeed to find that the spirit of “my lovely Kiwi family“, including delightful Simon, Alison, Max, Katie & Toby Rutherford, hasn’t changed – in contrast to New Zealand’s second-largest city itself. “Thousands of people have moved, entire communities – schools, sport clubs – have shifted. Recently though, Christchurch has seen many people return”, they tell me after welcoming me at Christchurch City Airport. Like a family, really. My heart beats fast as I move through immigration, rushing towards them, hugging each other on Christmas, all of us so happy … I feel like coming home.
“Tena koe Elena. We are so looking forward to having you with us on Christmas day. Safe flying and see you soon. We have booked for dinner at a local eatery. Food and wine will be plenty I think. Simon.”
And plenty is an understatement, what with all the warmth & love I have received here by the Rutherford family during this visit of mine! “Your mum is a true force of nature, Alison!”, I laugh, smiling warmly at Waveney, Alison’s mum, who at 82 is going strong as ever, talkative, active, open-minded, you name it. “I want to be just like her one day”, I think to myself, smiling next to her in the car as we are going out for a summer road trip with the Kiwi family on Christmas day.
Let me share with you how Christmas gets celebrated down under!
Just before getting back home for the family Christmas dinner, Simon offers to take me for a drive around “post-quake Christchurch”. Brace, brace Elena, I remember thinking to myself before heading into what was once, the city centre of a place I thought myself familiar with. Well, no longer. Four years after the 7.1 earthquake that struck Christchurch in 2010/2011, entire building blocks have “shifted”, being either demolished, repaired, rebuilt and/or having had to go completely. As we drive through the streets, I gasp as the only actual memory are the “familiar street signs” – but the modern-day vision betrays the memory of what used to be there. I grow silent, as Simon drives me around neighbourhoods whose houses have vanished completely, leaving nothing but bumpy roads, fenced-off areas and wildly growing vegetation. “Things go wrong when you shake up a swamp“, Simon quietly says next to me in the car. “And that is essentially what happened to Christchurch: ‘Liquefaction’, with grounds slumping from the impact of the quakes & aftershocks, leaving houses & buildings at an angle that still now, several years after, continue to be taken down …” Dear me. It really gets to me, sensing not only the actual but also the emotional upheaval that has struck people and places ever since. A drive around Christchurch …
KORE Kiwi Sailing, Simon & Alison’s Outdoor Education Business, has me learn how to sail in no time, really. “It’s the most fun you can have going slow”, Simon says about sailing, laughing happily. A creative travel experience of a kind!
I love it. It is being surrounded by people who just love what they do, that you cannot help but fall in love yourself as well – “even if it is something exotic as learning how to sail in Christchurch, New Zealand”, I remember thinking when I visited Christchurch all these years ago and Simon offered me a first go at sailing. Me? Sailing ?? Yes, baby.!
“So are you ready for another lesson? We teach you how to sail in just one afternoon, with the aim of getting overseas visitors such as yourself to the stage of sailing on your own in virtually no time really …!”, Simon tells me enthusiastically, and full of confidence. He beams at me with delight, as “going out on Lake Pegasus with the kids & adults we teach here in Christchurch is the most fun you can have!” Going slow, that is … And soon, as I am taking my first official creative Kiwi sailing lesson, I can totally see why. Have a look at this – creative travel reloaded, I would say!