Christchurch - a city in ruins


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April 16th 2016
Published: April 16th 2016
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R: On 22 February 2011, a earthquake with magnitude 6.3 struck Christchurch, just a few months after a previous earthquake had already caused major damage to the city. This time though, the epicentre was nearer and not as deep. The effects have left a huge scar on Christchurch - 185 people died, and 80% of the CBD was either destroyed or needed to be demolished. In the suburbs, liquification of the ground caused further destruction to residential properties and streets. The power, gas and sewage systems were heavily disrupted. 5 years on, some people told us that it would be depressing, some said inspirational, so we went to make our minds up.

We once again lucked out with the Airbnb we had booked - a smart town house on the outskirts of town. Our first day we spent looking around the centre. We went to join a free walking tour of the centre, which started by the cathedral, but the guide didn't show up so we looked around by ourselves. The cathedral is a sad looking building. One half of it has tumbled to the ground (see photo) and there are large fences around it to prevent you going near
Construction sheepConstruction sheepConstruction sheep

Guarding the reconstruction from inconsiderate drivers
it. Apparently, it didn't fall on the day of the earthquake, but due to an aftershock. It's stuck like that as locals want it rebuilt exactly the same, but the church has no money to do it.

The buildings surrounding it were a mixture - some abandoned office buildings, surrounded by metal fences and keep out signs - that had obviously been breached at some point as there was graffiti on the inside of the Windows. There were also other buildings that looked fine and had no mark on them from the quake. Then there was the ever present building work. Christchurch is full of building sites as the insured buildings are replaced or repaired. As I said, 80% of the buildings had to be demolished in the city centre. There's a huge amount of empty space, where a building has been levelled and not replaced - many of these have been turned into gravel car parks with the streets around them like a SimCity where no one has designated a zone yet. I've added a google sattilite photo of the city so you can see how much of it looks "grey" where the buildings have disappeared.

But it's not all bad. We walked down to the site of the old mall which has been demolished. They have built a new mall out of shipping containers called re:start. Local businesses and cafes have been able to transport their businesses to these temporary containers while the repairs continue. They have been spray painted colourfully, and they wouldn't look out of place in east London. We stopped for a coffee to marvel at it. It showed the mark of a really positive attitude.

Other areas of the city haven't been too badly hit. We walked along the river and parks and saw, what I think, was most likely to be a reflection of pre-2011 Christchurch. We stopped in at the botanic gardens and a district just north of the centre for lunch. You can even go punting on the river, reminding you how close to being in England it can be in New Zealand. But it was Cambridge style punting, so we didn't bother...! Walking back we saw more building projects and repairs, along with already repaired, prefabricated buildings which have taken over some areas very quickly. On new Regent Street, we saw a series of old terraced buildings, some of which were damaged, some repaired, and some abandoned, that reminded us that for local business, it's not so easy to reopen after such a disaster. (Have a look at this photo closely - see if you can spot anything odd - add a comment if you see it). We dropped in at Quake city - a museum that centres on the quakes and aims of educate and horrify you with the local people's stories of the day. After that, we went to the transitional cathedral, a building designed by a Japanese man, specialising in disaster recovery architecture. He designed it to be made from cardboard tubes and plastic, and that is exactly what it is made from. The structure should last 50 years, until a decision is made about what to do with the old one.

One of the most poignant reminders was the site of the CTV building, which collapsed during the quake, being responsible for over 100 of the 185 deaths. Nearby there is a car park filled with white chairs as a temporary memorial to those who died here, while the site has been cleared, no decision has been made as to whether this
Punting on the riverPunting on the riverPunting on the river

(Cambridge style, though!)
site should be a permanent memorial.

In time, it's clear Christchurch will rise again, with new glass fronted metal structures going up everywhere. The question remains as to whether everyone will come back as some businesses and residents have abandoned the city. I hope they do, as through the disaster, Christchurch has the opportunity to reinvent itself a bit. Sadly, it won't bring back the people or the historic buildings, but what's to come is very exciting.

We ended up renting Lord of the Rings : The two towers to watch and tick off places we had been. But sadly we didn't see many, and I fell asleep during it, so wasn't much help.

Next day we headed to Banks Peninsular, which is about 60km from Christchurch, and was formed by two volcanic eruptions. It's very pretty and steep to drive around and we stopped first for some cheese tasting (again!) and then at Akeroa for some of the most overpriced and underwhelming fish and chips we have had in New Zealand - thanks lonely planet for that tip! This area is famous for blue pearls and Paua shells so we stopped at the visitor centre to
New Regent StreetNew Regent StreetNew Regent Street

Spot the oddity...
make sense of the process before heading on to some deserted beaches, and caves and more steep driving.

This was our last evening as a four - so after a Thai green and massaman curry cook-off at home, we hit Christchurch's reemergeing bar scene for a few beers and wines. It's been great to travel with Dave and Shannon, but now it's back on our own for a bit. We said goodbye at the Jucy rental car office as we were heading further south to Dunedin as they were heading north...


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