The wide open spaces of Summer

28 January 2018
Ben Pentreath

So January has nearly disappeared and we didn’t even blink! What happened?

I’m afraid it’s taken me a week to get back to the blog – as I’m sure you’ll appreciate. There has been just a little bit to get my teeth into on my return from New Zealand.

There is something so magical about flying, floating far above earth… here we are above the north western coast of Australia; infinite blue.

Arriving in Auckland… that magical moment when a day’s travelling is nearing its long conclusion.  Heaven to be arriving into summer and heat.

Charlie’s first mission, always, on arriving in NZ, is to find a great cup of coffee. We were staying in Auckland for a couple of nights; the following morning, mission was accomplished at Dear Jervois:

It was so amazing wandering around Auckland, a city of plants and trees and bungalows and roads rolling into turquoise water.

We did masses in Auckland, but perhaps one of our favourite visits was to the beautiful Museum – where, so many years ago, Bridie Hall used to work.

It’s come rather a long way since it first opened in Auckland in 1870.

A new building was constructed a few years later, of which this is the magical interior. I rather miss rooms like this.  We saw the model of the Giant Moa, nonetheless.The upper floor of this sublime building is a deeply moving war memorial.

The walls are lined with thousands of names of those from Auckland lost in the First and Second World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Borneo. New Zealand has borne a heavy price in distant wars.

Beautiful and poignant, the final panel was empty save for one small line.We walked away deep in thought and emotion.

The day we left we visited the Pah Homestead and the brilliant cafe set up by our friend Sam Mannering…

And then back to catch the ferry to Waiheke, the Auckland skyline disappearing in to sparkling blue sea and sky…Our home for the next two nights – the perfect Oyster Inn.

A huge storm had blown through a couple of days before we arrived; for us, the weather was hot and still and beautiful.
Luckily a lot of ice cream was therefore needed.

We tore ourselves away.  We were heading south. A flight to Wellington… Grey and misty and magical, although we were there so fleetingly that I want to return.

We were heading to South Island on the ferry to Picton.

We entered the Marlborough Sounds through insanely beautiful mist.

We arrived in Picton in good time; lunch with Charlie’s dad…And then stayed with his Uncle and Aunt, surrounded by their beautiful fields of peonies, vegetables and fruit trees..

The following morning, up early for a trip back out to the Sounds, this time through beautiful sunshine as the clouds cleared. 

We came ashore at Ship Cove, visited by Captain Cook on his remarkable journeys – it feels as if nothing has changed today.

We walked to Resolution bay through beautiful virgin forest.

We returned to shore, thrilled with the Sounds, vowing to return.  We were heading south towards Christchurch, but just had time for a visit to the perfect Upton Oaks garden, near Blenheim.

And then the road south; kissing the coastline, the deep blue Pacific stretching to the horizon.

A wonderful journey. We stopped for tea with Charlie’s other aunt and uncle, in Kaikora, badly damaged in the last earthquake – the State Highway 1 is only just opened (and then only nearly).  We arrived in Christchurch by darkness.

Coffee at Black & White, followed by breakfast with Charlie’s sister – great to catch up; then down to stay with Charlie’s mum –  can I admit it was heaven lying all afternoon in her lovely garden in 30 degrees of heat, or is that just annoying at this time of year?

The following day, we headed to the farm, but not without a trip to the Staveley Store for lunch.

The happiest time being here, summer evenings, wine and conversation into the long, warm evenings.

And of course a visit to Charlie’s grandfather Hamish, 95 this week.

We went to see Charlie’s friend Rose Acland, and her dreamlike garden at Mount Peel Station. 

The woods are filled with the famous Mount Peel lilies – which finished flowering a few weeks before; I long to see and and smell and experience a woodland filled with these amazing flowers at their peak

Beautiful stained glass in the Victorian chapel:

And then, the next day, South to Simon and Koo at Glenbrook Station.

Lake Tekapo, breathtaking as before.

Koo’s garden is always lush and abundant and full of summer.

Ben with the chickens and ducks.

The following day, we went to visit Birchwood – Simon’s old family station, in what is now the remarkable Ahuriri Conservation Park. The boys thought it was a nice day for a swim.

But as if by magic the clouds cleared and brilliant blue skies and sunshine emerged.

Another perfect evening at Koo’s, eating the most delicious food, talking in to the evening under the stars. 

It is always so sad to leave Koo and Simon’s amazing place. We stopped at Lake Pukaki on the way back home.

The foot of Mount Cook merges imperceptibly into the lake.

Two weeks fly by so fast; suddenly, it was our last days in Christchurch.  A fantastic supper in Lyttleton with Laura and Andy…

Charlie looking cool…

And the following day, morning tea with Charlie’s grandmother Heather in Governor’s Bay; then back to the city, for a good walk, for a fleeting visit to the botanical gardens, and supper with Charlie’s dad and sister. A sight for wintry English eyes:And then home; the long flight back, via Hong Kong, blinking and stumbling through the time zones, but arriving back feeling as refreshed and enriched by New Zealand as it would be possible to be. The heat of a wonderful summer; the brightness of the days; the early mornings, late evenings; and the powerful happiness of family and friends and good times.  A true tonic; and that is how January has flown by. Happy New Year.

P O S T S C R I P T :

How and how not to rebuild a city

I hate to end on a negative note, but I couldn’t help feeling a moment of sadness for Christchurch – a city I didn’t know before the earthquake, of course, but which we can imagine.  Two years ago it felt on the brink of reconstruction, so much of which has now happened, or is nearly completed – and that is something to celebrate.  But I cannot help but have a regret for a style of rebuilding which, wherever you look, seems to focus on five ingredients – almost without exception.

  1. Strong earthquake-proof structure must be highly visible, especially at pavement level (where it will create the most inhumane environment for the passer-by).
  2. Buildings must have absolutely no detail of any kind, and must be rectilinear boxes.
  3. The material palette will be exclusively white or black cladding or plastic, with either black or blue or green tinted glass.  Large areas of glass walling (with earthquake proof structure visible behind) will be allowed.
  4. The only other colour allowed is brown – brown timber cladding, or fake copper cladding.
  5. Absolutely no reference to the history of Christchurch or what the city looked like before will be allowed.

Here and there, people had obviously decided to get a bit creative, with even more tragic results:

A sense of the old Christchurch exists now mainly in its landscape, and the remarkable river flowing through the city, which one suspects will be here for a long time after all this junk has gone. 

So, it was amazing to get an email, while we were in NZ, from Susan Henson, who is the fundraiser at the Christchurch Arts Centre, asking Charlie and me if we’d like to have a look around. Timing was a little tight, but on our last day we met Susan for a wonderful, whistlestop tour. Formerly the 19th century University of Christchurch, this collection of stone, gothic buildings – built by the founding fathers of the city in distant memory of Cambridge or Oxford’s dreaming spires back home – was comprehensively destroyed by the earthquake. Almost immediately, the decision was taken to rebuild, and now the works are roughly half complete. Funding is a major issue to complete this gargantuan project, but the quality and extent of work completed so far was extraordinary.

Every brick and piece of stone has been removed and reconstructed, with strong, earthquake-proof structure concealed behind.

Here is the ancient lecture hall;

The further away from the lecturn, up at the back rows, the more elaborate and numerous the carved names.All rebuilt:

Outside, gleaming new stonework alongside old; including the reintroduction of many of the original architectural features lost even before the earthquake, such as the chimneys you see below, removed in the 60s.  Fine welsh slate on the roof.  Craftsman and stonemasons from around the world have come to work on the project.

The restored roof of the great Hall.The disco ball is a temporary installation for the Christchurch World Busking Festival, which was in full flow while we were there.

Temporary structures retain damaged buildings for now.

Where the fund has run out, buildings have been consolidated but left with damage clear to see.

Beautifully carved new stonework in Oamaru limestone.

New architectural features have been sensitively introduced into the old.

A fine and extensive record of the damage and reconstruction has been carried out by the photographer Johannes van Kan.Even features never originally built, but detailed on the early architectural drawings, such as this lead and timber finial, have been incorporated, which is an approach to conservation that I find deeply refreshing.

Best of all was the ice cream shop downstairs, owned by this guy, just in case we’re getting too serious.I know that not everything can or indeed should be rebuilt as it was; i know that cities cannot be preserved in aspic, and must be allowed to breathe and grow and change. I suppose it is the tragedy of Christchurch that its earthquake was in an age which lacks the confidence and the architectural vision in which beauty, detail, or historical meaning might have a component – how different to Napier (which I’d love to visit), now one of the great art deco cities of the world after the Hawke’s Bay earthquake of 1931.

But we can all thank god that the Arts Centre took the decision, bravely, and expensively, and immediately, to rebuild rather than to flatten and start again. We can watch, with encouragement, the debate on the Christchurch cathedral which is now to be reconstructed as it was – a monumental task; I somehow imagine the questions will rumble on.  It is sad to see the cathedral still a great hulking ruin, filled with wild flowers, while so much else has changed.

Two years ago, when we visited, I wrote this in my blog:

Christchurch is filled with new construction. I suspect when we are next back it is going to feel dramatically different. I don’t know much about the city at all – but I’ve got to suspect that the trauma of the earthquakes will turn out to be the best thing that ever happened.  There is an energy about the place.

The remarkable New Zealand energy is still there, for sure, and the centre of town was fizzing on the days and evenings we were there. So I suppose this is just a passing lament for something a little richer, a little more varied, a little more contextual, that could have happened, but probably now will not – and the memory of Christchurch as a wonderful, historic, layered palimpsest will fade within a generation or two.

18 comments on this post

Edward T. Grodersays:

Ed says,

In the modern world we have become so numb to ugliness that we fail to see the beauty in the small every day things that are still present. The selective vision of the “Pentreath Filter” can be cultivated and enjoyed every time we walk about our own environments, especially in noticing the sky, which in Manhattan where I live must be a deliberate action. So thank you Ben for reminding us to see what is right there in front of us.

Andrew Msays:

If you want to recreate that old museum look Stroud Auctions are selling some Edwardian display cases that came from the V and A on the 7th of Feb, no stuffed Moa’s sadly…..

Clay McCleerysays:

It’s a shame about Christchurch. I imagine others feel as I do, that there isn’t a reason, now, to visit (an ugly town).
But kudos to the Art Centre. A beautiful resurrection!

Diane Keanesays:

So glad you two are safely home! As I sat at the computer reading your blog, Ben, I opened a Google satellite map of NZ, what fun! I followed your travels and came to really appreciate the breath-taking topography there. (You should try this if you haven’t already–totally amazing looking down on those hills, ravines, mountains and lakes from way up, and being able to swoop way down.) Belated Happy Birthday to Charlie’s grandfather, may he enjoy many more!

From other comments, it seems you are not alone in your negative assessment of Christchurch’s new buildings. While I much prefer traditional architecture, I have to say, I didn’t think the new buildings were all that awful (except for the “creative” one) but maybe that’s because as an American, I am immune to such modernity. Believe me, I see worse here every day.

Looking forward to posts from Dorset and London! Thanks as always.

Hugs from Diane in Pittsburgh, PA, USA



Thanks so much for your blog – and I repeat my earlier offer to show you around Wellington when you have more time here!

I am from Christchurch originally, and still yearn for the city it was. I agree with your assessment of the condition of the developing architecture in the city, and what a great shame it is that the quality of the lost structures is not reflected in the new. The buildings that have been spared are looking all the more spectacular (Arts Centre, Canterbury Museum and in time the Provincial Council Chambers, for example) against this mediocre new canvas!

Thanks again,

Mary-Anne, Wellington

Lindsey Backsays:

I think the cost is a huge factor in the new buildings, so many damaged and needing to be re-built to ensure they can survive another catastrophic quake, for there will be another. NZ is not a wealthy country by any means with a small population and perhaps safety has been front and centre of the re – building project, the cost of quake proofing buildings would add millions to the overall cost. I agree that it is awful but perhaps for Christchurch people safety comes first. We lived in Palmerston North for 4 years and experienced many quakes, none like that which devastated Christchurch but the building code there is pretty rigorous nevertheless. They are definitely called the shaky isles for a reason!!


love the exquisitely blue of lake pukaki! thank you for sharing your new zealand expedition, dear ben and charlie. charlie looks just like his dad and his grandfather! thank you for speaking your architectural truth(s) of the poor lack of architectural choices in christchurch, especially when the lady needs a hand-up/rebuild her beauty. bet that mavis girl was happy to see your sun burnt faces. am thankful you are home safely!


There’s something quite wonderful about viewing my home country through the Pentreath filter. I can see the beauty, the contrasts, and, all those expanses of teal and azure in the first photos. In Otago, as elsewhere in NZ, we are experiencing our hottest summer on record, and you capture that heat and dryness so well. I really enjoyed all these photographs.


Dear Ben & Charlie
Thank you for your many wonderful and amazing photos which you have shared with us.
It is summer in winter ……. the colours, the landscape are so fantastic !
How nice for Charlie to be with his family, I love the photo with Charlie and bis grandfather 🙂
Beautiful photos from your holidays in NZ !
All the best , have a nice week at home again,
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂


Thank you so much for sharing your photos with us today. It was an epic journey and I enjoyed every photo.

Liz Allensays:

Sometimes I should not read these at the office. As I finished this post I find myself homesick for a place I don’t remember living permanently in (we emigrated to Canada from Wellington when I was 2) but so endearingly familiar to me from visits back there to visit family, it has left an ache this a.m. and an overwhelming desire to get myself to the airport. My parents spend 6 months of the year in Gisborne and I am wishing I could wiggle my nose and be there right now enjoying my Mum’s garden and drinking my Dad’s fresh-squeezed juice from oranges just picked. I have not seen Christchurch since before the earthquake and while your note re. the rebuild of the core is depressing it was lovely of you to finish on a positive note of news regarding the efforts to restore & preserve the Arts Centre with new features to withstand earthquakes. Your pictures, as usual, captured your surroundings perfectly and were extremely well-received by me on this grey day in Burlington ON, with snow looming and a weather advisory in effect! cheers, Liz

Amber Cottonsays:

Thank you for your beautiful photographs. We too have just returned from 3 weeks visiting my husband’s family in New Zealand over Christmas, and your pictures have brought back happy memories of our wonderful trip. Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington was a highlight for us – the stunning Gallipoli exhibition for my husband and I, which left us mulling over what we’d seen and read for days, and the Giant Squid for the children. Napier was stunning (but perhaps not with tired cross children in tow), and Queenstown was an action packed blast. And yes, enjoying ‘summer’ in the middle of winter felt deliciously decadent!

Clare Bryce-Smithsays:

OMG – what utter HEAVEN! New Zealand is definitely on my Must Visit list now.

We’re going back to Manhattan and Long Island this summer, with both the boys, who were so little when we left. It’ll be lovely to see our old ‘hood again!

Have you still got your good old Crate & Barrel sofa? I never seen it in your blog photos. Can’t believe you got it up all those stairs in that walk-up of yours!!!

C xxxx

Carole Segalsays:

I cannot tell you how thrilled I am to find your new blog after your trip!I thought you had disappeared and were never going to resume your very informative and interesting blog!
I am bowled over by the sheer beauty of the place, having never really thought of New Zealand as a paradise – but it is and so beautiful and atmospheric with all the mists and the power of the landscape. Quite knocked out.
Thank you so much for sharing for people like me – who may never get there, and now feel as if a little section of the picture has been revealed. Loved this so much. Best wishes for a very successful and happy year Carole

Andrew Bsays:

Thank you for sharing your halcyon days with us again


Heavenly post. So agree about the architecture, hope your landing back home was not too bumpy!

Vicki Janesays:

Hello Ben.
I have enjoyed reading about your lovely holiday here in NZ. It looks like you timed it well as the heat waves have well and truly hit and we are sweltering now.

I love the Auckland war Memorial Museum too and visit it often. In the week before ANZAC day (our national day of remembrance) there are projections of memory of war on the front of the building at night. The most poignant was a few years ago when the whole front of the building had falling poppies. It was nice to just sit in the dark and think about it all. All those young men.

The most interesting thing about the rebuild of Christchurch is how life has moved out to the suburbs and how the focus has moved from the city. I think a lot of people have been truly disappointed in the rebuild and have created new villages that work in a way people now want to live. A lot of focus on family and sustainability. There are community gardens being set up on land that has been red zoned. I agree with how blocky and uninviting the city centre is now. I was there for work for 3 weeks last winter and just felt a general sense of slight melancholy. Its all just a bit grey.

Please try to get to Napier next visit. It is a lovely place to be. It also helps that it never seems to rain there.


David Sanderssays:

Thank you Ben for taking the time to have a look around Christchurch – your observations are very much appreciated. Like Charlie I come from an old Canterbury farming family, but have spent a lot of time in Christchurch over the years and have, not only a lot of affection for the place, but also, I have an abiding interest in its future direction.

Needless to say, it’s difficult to remain positive at times, which is why I live over the hill from CHCH, in the wilds of Banks Peninsula – actually if you had looked hard enough, you could have seen my house, from where you were in Lyttelton.

Best wishes,

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