It didn’t start well – a midnight Jetstar flight (RyanAir level awfulness) to Christchurch, some unnecessary dicking around at the airport due to uncertainty over visa requirements. No sleep on a cramped plane meaning we were both tired and irritable (yeah I know, plus ça change…..) when we got there.
Then we got to Christchurch – our AirBnB host picked us up at 0630 from the airport, we got a few hours sleep in his really interesting 150 year old cottage and then went exploring.
Christchurch is still recovering from massive earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and as a result the city is a mess. In fact we had a 3.9 Richter scale tremor to welcome us. I thought I felt it but I was half asleep at the time and by local standards it was nothing.
There are condemned buildings and empty blocks that used to contain things everywhere – over 60% of the pre 2010 city centre is or will be demolished. In parts it reminded me of what I imagine a city destroyed by a war to be like – especially the cathedral square area.
But there seems to be a lot of hope here. There’s public art everywhere – the empty plots are being used for this until they’re rebuilt. There’s a shopping area made of shipping containers so businesses who were made homeless can continue to trade.
Aside from just walking and exploring, the two things we thought were well worth visiting were Quake City – which shows the devastation of the 2010 & 11 earthquakes and how the city coped with it and what the future on a landmass that’s prone to quakes and earth liquifaction might hold, the other is the Botanical Gardens – which are a beautiful oasis of calm in the middle of the city – a real pleasure to walk round on a hot summer day.
We also got to see what it’s like to live in Christchurch – our friend Nic D put us in touch with her sister who lives in the city. Mary-Clare and her husband Brent picked us up and took us for a drive in the spectacular hills overlooking the city and then for a BBQ at their house. Bearing in mind that they’re currently staying in temporary accommodation whilst the earthquake damage to their own house is (finally) being repaired, it was lovely that they took the time to make us feel welcome in NZ.
There’s an ambitious scheme to rebuild the centre into a modern vibrant city. I don’t know if it’ll work or if it’ll be done well – but far from being broken I hope I can see a better future for Christchurch.