Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Environmental Impact

I spent the afternoon sitting in the Rose Garden in the middle of Christchurch's Hagley Park. It’s hard not to fall prey to the 19th century Euro-mentality that we are masters of our own universe while sitting in a rose garden. Everything is arranged in beautiful concentric circles with the grass cut just so and the hedge trimmed just right. The roses were obligingly blooming in an array of colors, some of which I had never seen before and I’ve been in a lot of rose gardens. There are benches around the outside strategically placed to be quiet and serene; most of the walkers take one of the inner paths through the flowers, so even when it’s busy (as it was this afternoon), it still feels peaceful. The air even smells nice. 

I arrived at the Rose Garden after having wandered through crowds of tourists in the middle of Christchurch who were there, it seemed, to watch and sometimes take part in the International Buskers Festival (complete with “jokes better than your dad’s”). The festival, I learned from a handy program, has been part of the Christchurch landscape every summer since 1994, and while most of the acts were from New Zealand, the range of performers did almost live up to its name—at least more so than the “World Series”. I caught bits of three separate acts in three separate venues, doing similar feats of acrobatics and juggling in three extremely different contexts. My favorite gimmick of the afternoon was “Mulletman”, who, as a finale, waved his impressive locks while a multitude of tools (some flaming) from atop a 10’ unicycle. 

View toward Golden Bay
Both the severe organization of the Rose Garden and the chaos of the Festival are a stark contrast to where I was last week at this time. I was out in the relatively untouched wilderness, walking one of the 9 Great Walks. I say relatively untouched because the Heaphy Track itself was originally graded for a road, so the trail itself is wide enough and gentle enough to not truly be considered bush-whacking. Likewise, its status as a Great Walk means there are huts (cabins) along the track in which walkers can stay, complete with mattresses, gas stoves, and the occasional flush toilet. In addition, I was hiking as part of a coordinated group led by an extremely helpful (and strong!) guide, who not only produced amazing meals from a cavernous backpack, but also did the dishes afterward. (Those of you who know me well will understand what an appreciated luxury that was.)

Gouland Downs
The track itself winds across 82 km of varying vegetation over 915 vertical meters of elevation. The views are the kind you just can’t do justice to with a camera, and every corner we turned I wished my mind worked more like a 3D 360° digital recorder rather than an antique Polaroid camera. There were high grasslands, knobby mountains, mossy forests, rivers, caves, and a palm-lined shore, all underscored by day after day of sunny weather.  Arriving at the end of the track was bittersweet…the return to roads, cars, power, and the urban environment. (I have to confess, though, that first hot shower was very nice.)

As I become more familiar with Christchurch, there are lots of things about it that I really appreciate about it. It’s a small city that manages not to feel much like a city, even in the thick of downtown. This doesn’t, however, mean that I’m not already planning on when I can get myself back out to a National Park…

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