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Two Japanese women, on a mission, experienced the best of Christchurch attractions and spring weather with Welcome Aboard this week.  Youko and Tomiko, leaving hubbies behind, are experiencing Australasian and Pacific cultures in an effort to commemorate their BIG womanhood 60s.  They had met as teenagers during their junior high school days in the Nagoya Prefecture.  Tomiko now lives near Tokyo.  Youko lives in Hokkaido where, with hubby Yoshio, she runs an excellent guest house (minshuku), May Road, near Wakkanai, Japan’s northernmost city.  The women made a special trip from Australia’s Gold Coast to Christchurch the to meet myself and my partner, Haruko.  We had enjoyed exceptional May Road hospitality on two occasions; one in the 2001 winter, then three years later when starting our 4200 km length-of-Japan bicycle ride as part of an agreement to have a World Peace Bell gifted to New Zealand – it can be seen in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.  During the winter May Road visit Youko taught me a new Japanese word shibareru meaning, simply, “bloody, bloody, cold.”  The word would never be uttered in Tokyo.  It is reserved for temperatures of minus 10 degrees.  During our visit it was minus 22 with gale-powered snow.  Youko’s cuisine preparation, especially breakfasts, deserve to be legendary.  As the first Kiwi to stay at May Road an easy, rewarding, friendship was forged.

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Arriving next time, in gathering darkness following a 42 km bike ride from Cape Soya, Japan’s northernmost point, Youko’s enthusiastic welcoming “Yokoooso” might have been heard in Russia – the nearest land mass, less than 50km away across a turbulent ocean.

I recall Yoshio’s late night delicacy of shiokara – squid guts and salt on rice.  It tastes better than it sounds when accompanied by a powerful sake.

In Christchurch we accompany Youko and Tomiko on a red-zone punt ride, enjoying punter Mick’s patter heard above the on-going scraping and clatter of demolition machinery.  The blue sky is punctuated with a patchwork of spindly building cranes.  Then we set off on the Grand Tour led by Ray Pyne who typically presents an excellent performance.  Punting from Antigua boat sheds is especially tranquil early in the day with rhododendron blooms reflecting brilliantly in the unruffled river.  Backlit spring growth presents a vibrancy in greens.  Punter, Kevin Parker is his usual best.  Youko is all smiles, uttering her Japanese versions of “Ohaas… and ahaas…,” while enjoying the close proximity of ducks, and cute ducklings bravely struggling to paddle against the downstream current.

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A rock ’n roll ride on the quake-damaged road to Sumner follows (coffee stop).  Sumner still offers a graphic experience of seismic destruction with dwellings precariously clinging to edges of collapsed hillsides and shipping containers (some artistically decorated) preventing rockfall onto roads.  Further on, a short walk to the viewing point near the Sign of the Takahe on Cashmere Hills proves to be the highlight for Tomiko, then a spectacularly-colourful Caterpillar Botanic Garden tour follows with guide, Molly.

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The comprehensive Grand Tour concludes within walking distance of the funky shipping container Re-start  Mall.

It has been a day to shed surplus warm clothing.  I ask Youko what hubby Yoshio will be doing back home in the Hokkaido late autumn?

“Oh probably clearing snow, eating his shiokara, drinking his sake and missing my excellent cooking,” she says, her head tilting back with laughter.

Pleasingly, numbers are building on the Welcome Aboard Grand Tour.  Better fortunes can be looked forward to with The Press newspaper this week reporting the pending re-opening of the Port Hills Gondola attraction by the New Year and the Heritage Tramway re-start next June.