Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Punting in Christchurch: A time warp to Victorian England

The best way to see Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens and the Avon river in Christchurch.

This is seriously one of THE most relaxing things that I have ever done... I hesitate to say better than a massage but truly that is how I felt. Punting at the Antigua sheds at Christchurch is something, like the city itself, very English to do. And we were blessed with the most beautiful winter's day: fresh cool but sunny and clear.
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A Punt is a flat bottomed boat that does not have a keel. Typically, a punt is approximately 21 feet (6 metres) long and 3 feet (1 metre) wide. It should be propelled by means of a pole - about 16 foot (5 metres) long. The punt and consequently, the passengers sit very low in the water, although at no time do the passenger feel in any danger and I did not even get my feet or anything else wet.

You can read more about the Punting history here:

The abridged version is "To punt without losing your balance, getting wet, wetting your passengers, while keeping the trip smooth and making sure that the passengers enjoy the ride, is something requires expertise indeed. Punting originated as a means of fishing, dredging, carrying and transporting all kinds of materials.

In other words, the punt was originally a work boat. The punting style consisted of starting at the bow, where the operator dropped the pole to the bottom, leaned on it, and then ran after it, pushing the boat under his feet. It was a method that often left the novice clinging to their pole while the punt drifted away in solitary splendour. Pleasure punts were unknown prior to 1860 and found in Nelson and Christchurch and a couple of places in England.

A time warp would take me back to the days when men were gentlemen, women genteel, men wore Botas, and ladies, hats and gloves, but it was not necessary to build a time machine, instead, take a 30 minutes of the Punt ride: To Victorian splendour.

There are two Punting routes to choose from, one passing through the river as it goes through the main part of the city and the other, which is close to the hop on hop off point of the city trams, just a short stroll past the entrance to the museum and Botanic Gardens. There you will find a small cafe and the quaint and delightful "Antiqua Boat sheds" which is the starting point for the Gardens punt through the gardens and Hagley Park. I only hope the historic Boat sheds, which appear to have changed little since early last century have not been ruined by the recent earthquake.

We were also blessed to have the punt all to ourselves, not having to share with anyone else except Andrew, "Mr Gondolier" or should it be "Mr Punter"?!!!

Christchurch Map

Location of the punts.. at the two green arrows. You can see how close it is to the Tram route.

Along the way, we all had to duck our heads as we went under a very low road bridge, and Andrew maintained the perfect balance whilst undergoing this manoeuvre.

Andrew, a University dropout with a flare for business, and a love of history and stories, has turned this tourist attraction into a successful part of his thriving business empire. He does not have to work, but does so he claims, "because he loves his job" and who wouldn't: even in the rain, the guests are protected with blankets and large football umbrellas from the elements.

Although his name is given as Andrew, the website lists him as:
Wesley Golledge – Managing Director Wesley first started punting in 1989, as a summer job to get him through university. In 1994 he established the Park branch of Punting on the Avon and is happy now to manage a fleet of 10 punts between the two branches.

The ride through the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park, a 50 acre green zone in the middle of the CBD which is never to be built on, the legacy of a pioneer settler, is a dream for those who appreciate and love nature. Also a wonderful area for environmental oxygen carbon dioxide exchange, a green zone in the metropolis, although Christchurch could hardly be called a metropolis. Just a nice sized city, really.

You also pass by the curators house and herb garden. The punts themselves are very comfortable and Andrew has blankets to keep you warm on cooler days.

Other creatures enjoying the Avon will be the endemic ducks, swans, and other aquatic life, the Daffodil garden which is really a lawn, as the daffodils are not mass planted but erupt from beneath the soil anywhere to the point that they mow a path through the daffodils in spring. They would be a bright point in the city's current misery, as I feel sure that they would be in full bloom at this moment. (We were a few week early for the daffodils but a few weeks late for the earthquake and for that I am truly grateful. {But right on time for the Lambing})
A few brave early plants showing their blossoms amongst the grass are seen here, before the mower gets to them.....

The daffodil garden shortly to be cropped by the mower....

Our ride was around 10 in the morning and the punt is silent. No motor pervades this almost spiritual atmosphere, the water is shallow and clear, rocks form the bottom of the river, and the excellent and entertaining commentary given by Andrew, pertinent and interesting.
Near the end of the ride, you get a good view of the Curator's house, and adjacent herb garden, seen on our approach to the Punting on the Park Attraction.

The Ducks, here you will see the Yellow eyed duck, named so for obvious reasons, paddle quite close to the punt, totally unaffected by the punt or the humans, and definitely not camera shy!!

"Some days you are the statue, and some days the pigeon...." one of my favorite sayings, so I had to take a photo of one of the important people in Christchurch history...

This was definitely a day where I was the pigeon, on top of the world as I knew it then, and felt that in finding a new relaxing pastime, in a foreign city, discovered something new about myself. Surely that is something to ponder about..... even on a punt....

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