The visit to Christchurch was emotionally draining. I’d never seen the effects of a natural disaster up close the way I did there.

Earlier this year I was worried that Hurricane Irma would hammer my hometown (Atlanta, Georgia). It did a lot of damage elsewhere, but unlike Opal, it mostly left my parents’ city alone. Hurricane Andrew was bad, as was Katrina, but Atlanta just isn’t close enough to the coast to ever get the worst of those storms.

Probably the closest I’ve personally come to experiencing a natural disaster was at the Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where I and my 8-year-old classmates nervously rode out the deadliest of the dozens of tornadoes that struck the region while were on a field trip. That night, us kids had fun playing with our flashlights because our hotel had no power. The next day I remember seeing buildings with their walls ripped away leaving raw gaps in the architecture like the gaps in a child’s smile, but a lot less cute. What force could do that? I didn’t know it then, but twenty people had died.

When in 2011 Christchurch was struck by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake on 22 February, it left 185 people dead and thousands injured.

Shift happens.

The Quake City museum in Christchurch is an educational tourist attraction, but it’s hard to call it entertaining. I’m pretty sure going to the museum was the right thing to do, but it colored my experience for the rest of my brief stay in the city. Everywhere I looked, there was rubble, construction, graffiti, and a sense that everyone who hadn’t just up and left was making an effort to stand strong. It was a painful object lesson in the fragility of normalcy.

Below are 41 photos.

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The planes to Christchurch

We flew from a small airport in Blenheim on the South Island back to Wellington on the North Island, then got a plane from Wellington to Christchurch on the South Island. I had fun looking out the windows. Plus I saw Gandalf in the Wellington airport…

There are 54 photos below.

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Interislander Ferry & Marlborough

We took a giant ferry for about three hours from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. We almost got stranded in Picton, but found a shuttle driver to take us to the Marlborough Vintners Hotel, a good base of operations for wine tours.

Below are 5 photos from the ferry and 16 from Marlborough wine country.

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Bottle Shock (2008)

The folks at The Marlborough Vintners Hotel, a lovely place to stay, are no fools. The people who pass through Blenheim care about one thing: wine. The shelf of DVDs at the front desk therefore includes the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, which I watched with my mother-in-law (who had seen it before). I mean, what else were we going to do with the rest of the afternoon, after the wine tour we went on?

It was a delight to see Alan Rickman play a British wine snob in this movie, a storyteller’s take on the watershed 1976 Paris Wine Tasting event that brought California wines to the attention of the world.

The Northern Explorer train trip & Wellington

Over the course of something like 11 hours, The Northern Explorer train took us through beautiful scenery from Auckland to Wellington.

Below are 11 photos from the train and 76 photos from Wellington (mostly taken in the botanic garden).

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Brass bird sculpture from Waiheke Island

This bird sculpture was made by Paora Toi-Te-Rangiuaia, a Maori artist whose shop I wandered into on Waiheke Island. He is a jeweler and self-trained sculptor who uses traditional Maori symbols and subjects, and is fascinated with bird and feather forms, which he has reproduced in stone, wood, and various metals. I’m proud to have been able to bring this little bird home with me.

Here’s a photo of a real wax-eye or silver-eye bird, the kind the sculpture was modeled on, taken by someone good at bird photos:

Waiheke Island & Waiheke Ferry trip

My husband and I stayed overnight in the airport hotel in Sydney at the beginning of our Australia/New Zealand holiday. Then we moved on and met his parents in a hotel in Auckland. We didn’t really do anything in Auckland except take a daytrip to Waiheke Island.

Below are 12 photos from our visit to Waiheke Island, where I admired the flowers, tasted some local wine, and bought a small brass bird sculpture.

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