Thursday, March 21, 2013

A Visit To The South

The dreary monotony of life in the “real” (i.e., non deco) world was alleviated for us when we went for a journey to the Deeeep South this week.  We started at Queenstown and had a few days there.  Whereas the countryside around Shoestring Cottage in the Waikato region of the North Island is of a domestic and cosy nature, the landscape in that part of the South Island is altogether more imposing and on a grander scale.  The sky curves overhead like an enormous bowl and the mountains seem to be bursting from the earth in the form of solid rock, rather than being gently sloping and covered with lush vegetation.  Even the quality of the light is somehow more intense.  (Mr Shoestring explained to me that it was all to do with latitude and the sun, but my eyes glazed over and I began to feel a little unwell, similar to the feeling you get when you think about infinity for too long.)


While in Queenstown we travelled on the TSS Ernslaw, the vintage steamship which turned 100 last year.

She took us across the darkening waters at dusk to the Walter Peak Station and we enjoyed the beautiful gardens where the roses were still flowering as though it was spring time.  

After dinner there was a chance to see the sheepdogs working the sheep and watch some shearing.  Also there was a litter of beautiful sleek puppies, watched over diligently by their mother when she was not rounding up the stragglers.  There are some good walks around Queenstown and a trip to Arrowtown is worthwhile to see the old cottages from the days of the gold rush

and the remains of the settlement where Chinese immigrants hopeful of making their fortune and being able to return to their families and loved ones in China lived out their days, poor things. 

One part of the South Island which charmed us was Invercargill.  This was surprising because it is often the target of ridicule and harsh jokes.  Perhaps because it was a beautiful warm still evening when we arrived and we found ourselves at Queens Park things seemed more than usually fetching, but for whatever reason we were pleasantly surprised.  The strange thing about Queens Park (and something I have never heard of before) was that the park itself is enclosed by a golf course, increasing the feeling of size and expansiveness. 

Apart from the park there was also the fact that Invercargill has a high proportion of well preserved Victorian and deco buildings and Mr Shoestring indulged ourselves by playing the peculiar game we have developed which involves going for a long walk and pointing out the most picturesque homes and selecting the ones we like best.  This phase lasts up to and including the point where a particular breed of imaginary dog has been selected and a new life has been mapped out for the participants, and modifications and improvements made to the home and garden selected.    This is followed by collecting two copies of local real estate brochure at which point the players sink down onto a comfortable seat and spend a happy time turning the pages and murmuring things like, “Turn to page 21, what a beauty in the top right hand corner!  And look, very reasonably priced too!”  This goes on for some time until the invariable ending of the game, where we both turn to each other and say (as if it was the first time such a thing had occurred to either of us), “But what would you do for work in a place like this?  There must be virtually no employment here!”  And so it goes on. 

This was my favourite building.  Who would have the confidence now to put an enormous representation of some random bird on their building just because they thought it was exceedingly pretty?

Mr Shoestring in particular adored the long rolling rrrrr of Invercargill residents.  The first time he came back from the motel reception office he mentioned how attractive it was, then he went back shortly afterwards for some extra milk and once again praised the dulcet tones of the rolling Southland r.  Fortunately he did not continue on in this fashion and wear out his welcome, possibly because he could not think up any more reasons to visit reception. 

Oamaru was another attractive town, particularly because of the imposing Victorian buildings hewn from the local stone.  Most of them had survived and were glowing warmly in the late afternoon sun.  Then it was on to Timaru, larger and more prosperous but with far less stone buildings. 

Last of all to visit was Christchurch, where we saw the sad reminders of the earthquake; the demolished and partially demolished structures and the vacant land where redevelopment has not yet started.  Also there was the inevitable problem of traffic jams because of the diversions in place while areas are worked on.  If the earthquake causes a major rethink of building codes and the need for strengthening and/or reinforcement of the historic buildings around the country it seems as though many of them would be demolished because of financial considerations, and what a tragedy that would be.  Look at the character of these buildings and try to imagine what might be thrown up in their place if they were demolished.  The Victorian buildings in particular have such a confidence in the future and desire to be seen and admired, which makes them all the more endearing and enjoyable to look at.