This week I discovered a special thing to do in Christchurch. Just a few days ago Welcome Aboard’s punting chief, Jamie, was telling me how magnificent his stretch of river is after snow. Guess what? I have my opportunity, joining punter Kevin and two university students, calling themselves Sharon and Whiny, from Hong Kong. Jamie sees the punt off having equipped each of us with a hot water bottle and rug. It is so snug in a watery environment surrounded by snow. A lowering sun adds an additional element, delicately back- lighting the last autumn leaves. Kevin has been on the river all day so knows what to expect. He advises cameras ready after the second bridge. Stretched ahead, snowy banks describe a semi-circle of river. Autumn willows drooping almost to the water, and all manner of ducks appearing from an eerie floating mist, combine to compose an astonishingly surreal scene.
The Chinese students are absolutely delighted, their small digital cameras aiming in all directions. I reckon I spot Kevin with a self-satisfied grin. He knows when he is offering an out-of-the-ordinary experience. An umbrella is put to efficient use as we glide beneath dripping weeping willows taking on a new reality. A few people on the river bank are enjoying a snowy experience. Turning around after the footbridge into the Botanic Gardens, the views take on a new experience with the sun behind us. I take several photographs looking back. It is mid-afternoon but the sun is already low over the river. The silence is incredible, enhancing the racket from vocal wildlife, particularly the distinctive honking of paradise shelducks. Riverside park benches, caked with snow, look so cold and uninviting. In contrast, my hot water bottle is still keeping me snug. Then it is all over with a final, rare, ghostly, view of snow- encrusted Antigua Boat Sheds.