Christchurch: A daily choice to make

A world away from her Irish home, Molly Davies finds another home a world away in Christchurch, New Zealand. In these uneasy times the city offers her forking paths: homesickness and anxiety, or settling into this green and friendly place, for a while.

The lockdown was announced while I was in the air, so when I landed at Queenstown airport my phone blew up with concerned messages from friends. “You have 48 hours to get yourself to somewhere you can stay for the next four weeks”. It felt surreal, and while it was a moment I had prepared for – having closely followed the situation back home in Ireland – it still hit me like a tonne of bricks and sent adrenaline coursing through my veins.

Heathcote River in Christchurch. Photo by Molly Davies

With shaky hands, I managed to reply to my friend Tom, who had previously offered me a place to spend the potential lockdown at his house in Christchurch. You see, my job involved living and working on a boat in a very remote part of New Zealand for one week out of two. This set-up meant that I had no home in this country; on my week off, I would travel from hostel to hostel, and spend a few nights in my small, self-converted campervan. However, with many hostels closing their doors and campsites shutting down, these options were not readily available. Many, many tourism workers and travellers now found themselves in the same tricky situation; I was extremely lucky to have a helping hand.

'I had no home in this country; on my week off, I would travel from hostel to hostel, and spend a few nights in my small, self-converted campervan.'

Until this very moment, I had been intending to go to work the following day in Te Anau, on a revised, shortened schedule. But then the frantic messages rolled in, confirming that of course we would not be working tomorrow, and that our fellow crew members were packing up our leftover belongings as we spoke, to be brought off-board the following day. Christchurch was an eight-hour drive away, in the opposite direction to Te Anau, and there was no time to lose. I took a deep breath and turned the keys of the car, propelled away from the airport and onto State Highway 6. It was already fairly late in the afternoon, and I would spend the night in Wanaka – just over an hour away - to break up the journey.

I arrived in Christchurch the following afternoon, and settled into my new home for the next four weeks. I lay out a yoga mat at the foot of my bed, admiring the view of the treetops from the large windows, ever grateful for the splashes of green. Cashmere, the suburb of Christchurch which I am in now, is close to the hills; walk for half an hour and you forget you are in a city entirely. In fact, with the sun-browned grasses, and the neat rows of houses stacked up the slopes, you could even persuade yourself that you were in the exclusive hills of L.A. – at least, to my amateur eye.

Christchurch hills. Photo by Molly Davies

There is a dog here, a chocolate labrador, and taking her for daily walks along the nearby Heathcote River is such a treat. The area is so pretty and full of life. Tall, leafy trees line the water, in which ducks swim peacefully. Winding paths lead in each direction from the house, so there is a daily choice to make. There are always people out and about (maintaining social distancing, of course); weary-eyed parents and their small children, other dog-walkers, and healthy-looking joggers. There is enough space for everyone, and it is nice to see the community making the most of the sunshine. It makes the city feel more warm and open, and connects everyone in a period of unease.

I am grateful to be in an area with access to green spaces. I think isolation would be a whole different ball game in a dense, grey urban landscape. Taking some time out of the day to appreciate the things around us, indoors or outdoors, no matter how small, is a game-changer. I am so far from home, but my feelings of homesickness and anxiety have been thwarted by the realization that location doesn’t matter in this lockdown so much as positivity and good company. I am lucky to have such good company in my ‘bubble’; in my experience, the kindness and generosity of the general population of New Zealand is second to none. It is hard for everyone who is far from home in these unsettling times, but I am trying daily to appreciate this opportunity for reflection, and being more grateful for the outdoors. Christchurch may not be my city, but I am making it my home.

Molly Davies is a travel-lover and budding freelance writer from Ireland, currently experiencing the lockdown in New Zealand.

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