Tragedy and inspiration are rarely found in such close proximity as they are in Christchurch. The scars of the 2010-11 earthquakes are shockingly visible two and a half years on and yet the efforts of the locals to rebuild and create a whole new city centre from shipping containers is admirable beyond words. It is at once fascinating and moving, poignant and forward looking and gripped me far more than than any other city I’ve visited.
After nine months in Australia, we headed to New Zealand where our adventures on our Kiwi Experience bus included glowworm caves, geysers, hiking across Mordor, horse-riding in Hobbit land, partying at the Poo Pub, heli-hiking a glacier, climbing a mountain, jumping off a canyon, snowboarding, drinking at an ice bar and checking out the eighth wonder of the world – Milford Sound.
Our Kiwi Experience driver Mangee drove us out of Queenstown to Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shephard to take photos, before stopping at the town of Geraldine for a pie. Man, I miss those New Zealand bakeries.
We rocked up in our final Kiwi destination Christchurch at around 4.15 in the afternoon. It was sad to say goodbye to Mangee – what a legend. We checked into our YMCA hostel and wandered into town to see ‘The Restart’, where shops and banks and so on have been built in colourful shipping containers since the 2010-11 earthquakes. They have done a far nicer job than I expected and it was genuinely very nice to walk around. Such an interesting place to soak up. Many locals have left town since the awful destruction of the city centre, which is now home to a lot of construction
workers, many of whom are Irish. The ‘quakes didn’t take out a suburb or even a few suburbs, which whilst tragic would have been easier for the city to recover from. No, it was the city centre that was demolished and the effects of that on the region cannot be understated. It took until the middle of 2013 for construction work to overtake destruction work as many of the damaged buildings had to be pulled down. I continued my global haircut tour of San Francisco, Adelaide, Melbourne and now Christchurch in the evening, and the guys at the hairdressers’ confirmed just how different the place is these days.
The next day we wandered into town and used a shipping container bank before checking out the Earthquake Museum, as I was keen to learn more about the events of 2010-11. It was fascinating and we ended up spending the best part of three hours there. We watched an entire 1hr12m documentary of interviews with survivors which was incredibly gripping and moving. We spent another half hour playing with lego bricks in the ‘How Would You Rebuild Christchurch?’ section. Unlike Wellington, for instance, Christchurch’s buildings were not originally built to withstand earthquakes in the same way as it was historically not such a seismic hotspot.
We wandered around the remains of the famous Cathedral. One of the most moving survivor stories from the documentary was of the lady who was trapped in her office in the Cathedral and thought she was going to die. The destruction was evident across the CBD – it was as if the ‘quakes happened six months ago, not 30 months ago. So many buildings were clearly flattened and it’s devastating how the CBD took the brunt of it. At the same time, though, the attitude of the locals to rebuild and take pride in their efforts with ‘The Restart’ is inspiring, and so they should take pride. We even found a wonderful photography exhibition housed in a couple of the containers; life does go on.
You can see my Christchurch video here.