Strange Encounters: Christchurch

Whenever I move to a new city, one of the first things I do is scope out the local green space. I’m a big fan of parks because of their versatility. Run in them, read, take photographs, have picnics, whatever – it’s always nice to know there’s one nearby.

Hagley Park, Christchurch New Zealand
Hagley Park, Christchurch. Image by profernity on Flickr

In Christchurch, New Zealand, my park of choice was Hagley Park, 165 hectares (thank you wikipedia) of happiness for me to loll about in, which is exactly what I was doing one summer afternoon back in 2007.

The sun was shining brilliantly. I was lying on a blanket in the grass reading The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, vaguely aware of a traveling circus that was setting up on the other side of the lawn, about 400 meters away. The striped big top had been erected, and there were a handful of trucks parked around it.

I glanced up occasionally, but lost interest when there was no visible progress.

Among the twittering birds, rustling leaves, and buzzing insects, I became aware of a different sound.

The sound of two-toed feet, pounding across the earth.

It was a llama. A big, brown, shaggy llama, and it was headed right at me, full of panic.

Now that is one fierce animal. Image from

I froze. This is how I die, I thought. I could see it now:


The llama was bearing down on me. It was close enough for me to see the whites of its eyes, or at least it would have been if it had any.

My heart was pounding. I considered getting up, but where would I go? I wasn’t that fast, and anyway, it had twice as many legs as I did. No, I was just going to sit here and take it.

When it was about fifteen feet from my blanket, it abruptly changed direction, making a wide loop towards the big top. I saw a teenaged boy with some sort of whip, shouting and flailing his arms. There were two trucks attempting to corner the llama, but the animal wasn’t having it.

Now that I was out of harm’s way, I was rooting for the llama. He was the Braveheart of the animal kingdom, making a courageous bid for liberty.

You can do it, I wanted to shout. FREEEDOOMMM!

He failed.

Faced with the prospect of trucks, a whip, and a crazed teenager, he screeched to a halt and decided to eat some grass.That was when they collared him and led him into a trailer.

My book was a lot less interesting after that.

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  1. Random! I lived in Christchurch for five years and can honestly say that nothing as crazy as that ever happened to me in Hagley park. It’s usually a very peaceful place – perfect for picnics and watching social cricket.

    1. Nothing like that has ever happened to me again, either! Hagley Park was fantastic. I lived in St. Albans, so I was just within walking distance. Christchurch was a nice place to live. I can see why you were there for five years.

  2. I lived in Christchurch also for a while (just walking distance from Hagley), and never ever did anything like that happen to me either! I’m not sure what I would have done! Probably would have jumped up and froze on the spot.

    1. I like to think I’ve got some fight-or-flight instincts, but it turns out that when danger strikes, I just roll over and take it! Glad I’m not the only one, though I hope you never have to test your theory.

  3. Me too!! I think the most random encounter I had was finding a small hedgehog on the footpath outside my apartment house one night as I was returning home. I was living on Cashel Street at the time, and being from Canada where such things are not wild, it made me jump a foot back in surprise!

    1. I didn’t even know there were hedgehogs in New Zealand! Once I traipsed around a park in London for an hour after dark, looking for some in the wild. Didn’t see a single one.

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