“This is by far the largest earthquake to have occurred in the Christchurch region in historic time. Earthquakes larger than magnitude 6.0, usually deeper than this event, occur about annually in New Zealand, including one of magnitude 7.8 that occurred in the remote southwest of South Island in July 2009 with little damage.”
– Dr Gary Gibson, principal research fellow in the School of Earth Sciences, University of Melbourne
In February 2011, Christchurch was struck by a 6.3 earthquake with devastating consequences. Killing 185 people and damaging countless buildings, it was and still is the second most deadly natural disaster ever to hit New Zealand. Knowing this before we arrived in the city, I was curious to see the damage and indeed the rebuild work being done and so with a rough idea of where to go, we set off for a wander around.
The first thing we visited was the Re:START mall as we were both absolutely starving and in desperate need of something to eat. We’d spent the morning doing washing and sitting in the TV room which hadn’t been the most fun in the world and so it seemed like the perfect place to start our little tour about. Annoyingly, we’d ended up paying to use the dryer only to have to hang our very damp clothes up on the bed anyway. Grrrrr. I’m really quite excited about getting to use proper washing machines and things and actually having lovely, clean clothes again! Anyway, the mall is made up of numerous shipping containers each one run by a different shop or cafe to form a proper little shopping centre full of different gifts, food and clothes. It really does look very cool, certainly a lot more interesting than the places at home, and we soon navigated our way through and found some little trailers selling tasty looking food. We opted for a very greasy looking pork belly roll and a portion of chips as it came as a meal deal for $11 and we were so, so hungry. We then sat down at the benches to have a little look around whilst we ate. I think it’s such a good idea to have something like that as not only does it become a focal and talking point of the city, it also meant that shopkeepers were able to get back on their feet as quickly as possible and that’s always good.
After another little walk around the mall, we headed off to Cathedral square and it was there that the devastating damage of the earthquake become more apparent. I didn’t notice it at first as I was too busy trying to get a decent photo of a metal sculpture but as soon as I carried on walking and saw a few people looking through a gap in the fence, I noticed the very crumbled cathedral behind it. The entire spire had gone and whilst I think that part of it was demolished as opposed to it just having fallen down, it was still shocking to see how much damage had been caused to such an impressive looking building. When we got back to the hostel I read that there had actually been tourists in that section when it collapsed which it’s really horrible to think as it was so ruined. Really, really horrible. Once we’d walked around having a look at it from different angles and admiring some of the art nearby, we then headed off to New Regents street to see what that bit of Christchurch was like. My friend Jordan had taken us past it last night and had told us it was really nice and so I had high hopes as we wandered through the tram station. There was a place inside where you could sit and play lego and I lost Codie for a while though not because he was playing with it but instead because he was transfixed by a Middle Earth map made out of it. I suppose it was quite cool and everything but I’ve never really been into lego so I wasn’t quite as impressed. It was good though.
Of course we were really in New Regents Street to see the infamous “Wizard of New Zealand’ so off we went to see if we could spot him. The wizard is actually British born with a double honour degree in psychology and sociology and moved to Australia to lecture at the University of Western Australia. Following his creation of ALF (Action for Love and Freedom) movement, he was fired from his position and then decided to see if he could legally become a wizard (as you do!) before taking on a position at the University of Melbourne. A little while later he moved to Christchurch where he began preaching in Cathedral Square and became so popular, he ended up with an “modest annual honorarium” of about $16,000 from the council. Perhaps a little bit strange but I suppose it’s a pretty good way to get his opinions across! I’m not entirely sure I understand why he gets paid so much a year when there is so much still needing to be done in the aftermath of the earthquake but apparently he does try to encourage people to help with that amongst other things. At 82 years old, at least he’s still doing what he loves and is doing his best to make a difference even if it is rather strange. Good for him. About 2 minutes later, Codie spotted him sitting with a coffee and talking to a guy. We did try to get a photograph of him but it felt a bit weird so ended up just getting photos of the whole street in the hope that he’d be in the corner. Hehehe. We also saw his little car, two front halves of a VW Beetle, and that was equally as strange. I suppose if you’re going to dress up as a wizard all day then there’s no point having a normal, boring car is there?
The next stop on our tour was the Christchurch Transitional Church otherwise known as the ‘cardboard cathedral’. With the actual 110 year old cathedral now in ruin and home to dozens of pigeons it was important to the residents to be able to maintain their faith which led to it’s construction. At 21 metres tall, it really is an impressive building and whilst not religious myself, I liked that people had somewhere to go during the upheaval. Everybody needs somewhere to feel safe and if your home or workplace had been damaged then at least they had the church. Such a good idea, at least that’s what I thought anyway. It was also impressive architecturally as it really was made of cardboard as well as shipping containers for the walls and polycarbon for the roof. Much more interesting that the usual old stone. Of course I’m kidding, I love a good old building but there was something about this that made it seem a lot more beautiful than the original. I’m not sure whether it was the determination of the people involved or the modern take on it all but it certainly was eye catching. Not satisfied with just having a look at it from the outside, I decided to go inside and see what it was like in there. If possible, it was even more amazing as you could see the huge cardboard tubes making up the A-frame shape and it gave it an almost childlike feel. A bit like when you’ve started some sort of art work and then decided to not bother finishing the painting but rather than looking messy, it added depth to it. I really liked it. I don’t think Codie was quite as impressed though as he kept saying that they’d nailed the church smell and we decided to leave so we could see more of the city.
On our way back to the city centre, we had a little look at the artwork on all the buildings as we walked. At one stage there seemed to be naked women everywhere which was a bit weird until we realised it was actually the wall of the strip club. Oh dear. It was pretty good though! We ended up back at the Re:Start mall to have another little look around and pay a visit to Johnson’s Grocers; a shop which sells products from all over the world. It took a while for us to find with all the containers looking rather similar but when we did, I realised we had found the best shop in the world. It was amazing. It was full of food from everywhere including cheese from France, Twinkies from America and actual Galaxy chocolate from the UK. They might not seem like particularly interesting things but when you’ve been living off cheap beans and things for a while then they become the tastiest things ever. I was a bit overwhelmed to begin with and left the shop with nothing but we ended up back in there so I could buy an Irn Bru and Codie could get some Twinkies. Yum. I don’t know what it is about Irn Bru that I love so much, especially as it gives me the most painful stomach ache but it’s really tasty. Fired up on my fizzy drink excitement, I also ended up buying a snuggly fleece for $20, convinced that I would definitely need it in Kaikoura. That too is amazing and I have to say, I was very pleased with my Christchurch buys. There’s nothing better than snuggly up with a nice drink is there? Nope, is the answer. Unless there are cats involved….or dolphins….
Back in the hostel and it was time for a little bit of a relax before Jordan came to pick us up to go to Sumner for a walk along the beach and a drink. We’d ended up walking even further than we thought we would after going for a sit down in the Botanic Gardens and realising we needed to go back to the Re Start Mall to do our time-lapse. Grrrrr. I’m sure it’ll be worth it though when the video is properly finished. Anyway, once we’d had a nice sit down and had a break, we got ready to leave for the beach. I don’t think we’d have made it all the way out there during our very brief stay in Christchurch so it was nice to have the opportunity to pay a visit with Jordan. Along the way we passed Redcliffs which had also been damaged by the 2011 earthquake and now had containers stacked up against the cliffs to prevent any rocks falling down onto passing cars. It was a little bit scary to think that that could happen but it was interesting to see, especially since they were also being used as a sort of art display. Talk about making the best of things! When we arrived at the beach, we had a little walk up and down the esplanade admiring the views and saw a couple of cute little rats before heading into the bar for a drink. The temperature had dropped quite a bit and the wind was nipping at my face so I was more than happy to sit inside and admire the view whilst staying nice and toasty. I also enjoyed being able to talk to Jordan again and hear about some of the things she’d be up to whilst over here. It’s all very well staying in touch over Facebook but it’s never really the same as being able to see someone face to face and talking properly. It was really, really nice. A couple of hours and one last look at the beach later, we all clambered back into the car and set off back to Christchurch. On the way, Jordan took us through New Brighton to see where she used to live. Despite a rather strange zig zag bridge, it seemed like a really lovely place and I can imagine it would have been a great place to start the adventure of moving abroad. Even more so when she told us that it’s full of British people who’d moved out there too. To me, living someone that close to the beach is perfect though I think I’d have ended up spending all my time looking for wildlife instead of getting on with anything else!
By the time we got back to the hostel, I was absolutely shattered and ready for bed. It’d been a long, long day exploring Christchurch and even though I was a little bit reluctant to visit initially due to hearing so many bad things about it, I’m really glad we did go. Yes it might be undergoing a lot of construction work and everywhere you go you will be faced with some sort of road works but it’s vital for the city to get back on it’s feet. I’m not sure I’d enjoy living there for a longer period of time due to all the noise, I’m more of a countryside person, but it’s definitely an amazing place full of so many cool things and interesting people. It just goes to show that if you trust other peoples’ opinions over your own, you could miss out on so many things and I’m so pleased we did what we wanted.