Visiting Christchurch was a sobering end to an action-packed road trip across the North and South Islands. The Garden City, as it is called, really surprised me; naturally it was sad seeing the city for the first time after the earthquake, but at the same time, it was great to experience the reconstruction, innovative projects and the great attitude of people!I didn’t quite know what to expect. My first few minutes of driving through town were quite “normal“. A bit of dirt here and there, but I did not see any damaged buildings and thought to myself that it must either be an unaffected part of town, or that reconstruction had progressed much more than I had imagined.
An old building across from the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, with the spire on the ground.
However when I got closer to the centre, it started – detours, earthquake signs, gaps. Suddenly I was glad I had been there before and knew my way around the detours to get to my hostel.
The soundtrack of a city rebuilding
I set out to explore Christchurch, one of my favourite cities, by foot, as I knew from visits before that distances in the centre were entirely walkable. Unless you have a Red Zone that cordons off all the roads you want to take!
Maps of the new Christchurch after the earthquake are available at the iSite and can also be found along the fence, outlining what areas of the city’s centre are accessible in the ever-moving red zone.
Where there were buildings, there was nothing. Rubble everywhere, but no people, and still it’s far from quiet; a constant rumbling follows me around wherever I go, the audible signs of reconstruction, now the new omnipresent soundtrack of Christchurch. Many new parking lots from Wilson and Tournament Parking, on land previously occupied by homes or commercial properties. It’s a ghost town that I’m walking through at 11 am. Is everyone at work? Walking around the CBD (literally, around, as the Red Zone cordons off the CBD completely), there were hardly any people to be seen. Only around the areas of Cashel Mall, the punting spot, the Botanic Gardens, etc., one sees fellow visitors or groups of people in general, as far as central Christchurch is concerned.
Earthquake signs are found everywhere.
Helping Christchurch rebuild
None of this should deter you from visiting the city though; on the contrary. There are quite a few things you can do, and it’s not just checking out the gap filler projects and enjoying a coffee in one of the new pop-up cafes (although I highly recommend this too). If you know where to go and stay, Christchurch is great for a few days. I will write more about what to do, where to stay and how to get around post-quake Christchurch in my next post; but for now, let’s explore the effects of the earthquake in pictures.
And I am sure you will agree, there was still plenty a good reason for fundraising efforts! I threw myself off a plane, jumped off a bridge, rafted down a 7m waterfall, and did a few other stunts outside my comfort zone, to raise money for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal as part of my Blog4NZ tour of New Zealand. Thank you for everyone who has donated to date; the donation site remains open for another few weeks, so there is still time to give a few dollars to much-needed community projects in Christchurch. Remember, Microsoft will double your money!
Thank you very much to everyone who has donated to date; your contribution is very much appreciated and will reach the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal once the donation site closes and the funds are matched by Microsoft.
The former parking garage next to the Christchurch City Library.
What’s left of Christchurch Cathedral.
This is Worcester Avenue leading towards Cathedral Square, cordoned off from the bridge over the Avon. There is a debate on whether the famous Christchurch Cathedral can and should be saved. There are currently plans on developing a cardboard cathedral until a more permanent place of worship is built.
A few fences still carry messages, photos and flowers, put down in memory of loved ones that lost their lives during the earthquake.
Regent Street is still cordoned off, but many of the beautiful buildings didn’t look too bad.
A house alone with no neighbours – a common sight.
A common sight – a lot of rubble is cleared away, but ruins remain, next to once occupied lots.
The streets of Christchurch, gaps, cracks and remnants of liquefaction.
Where a church once stood, only the bell tower was left. Near Peterborough Street.
The memorial at St Luke’s church near Peterborough Street, in memory of the 185 people that died when the earthquake hit.
There are many roads in central Christchurch that are fine, but you do come across a few seriously big cracks and gaps here and there.
Looks fine from the outside, but I came across many shops, offices and restaurants that are still closed, 1.5 years after the big earthquake. It’s not easy to find an open restaurant, especially in the evening when the mall is closed.
The Public Defence Service in the centre of the city.
A gap filler project – the Dance-o-mat. Gap Fillers are creative projects occupying vacant lots that are awaiting reconstruction. The council has put quite a few interesting and innovative projects up, one of which is the Dance-o-Mat, allowing people to plug their MP3 player into a converted washing machine, pay a couple of dollars, and have a dance party on the dance floor, with music and lighting!
Gap filler project: with the crayons provided, passers-by are invited to finish the sentence on this giant board near the new bus station.
Gap filled – a much needed cafe next to the Avon River. Great latte, highly recommended
Signs and more signs about earthquake recovery works.
In all the destruction, there’s also plenty of colour, creativity and expression in art to be found around the centre:
Fencing is providing plenty of empty canvas here in Christchurch. Creativity ensues.
Broken houses, broken hearts.
A colourful fence amidst all the grey emptyness.
Once surrounded by other buildings, now there’s art to be seen across the now empty lots.
Part of a mural I came across while walking north / north east of the Red Zone.
Gigantic mural in Christchurch. Definitely worth stopping at for a while.
Gap filler project: another empty lot where the rubble has gone, waiting for a clever and creative project.
To meet people in the centre of town, head to Cashel Mall, the new retail centre full of old and new shops, cafes and restaurants in colourful containers. It also hosts market stalls with arts and crafts, music, entertainment and more food!
Pointing towards the new container mall – the mall is much more colourful and lively than the rather drab sign suggests.
The German bratwurst stand has also relocated to Cashel container mall, from its previous location next to the Arts Centre.
Entertainment and street performances at Cashel Mall – finally a place to meet people, a place where life is happening.
A slice of cake in exchange for a charitable donation, at Ballantyne’s where the first anniversary of the Re:Start Cashel Mall was celebrated at the end of October.
Cake decorating competition at Christchurch Cashel Mall during the 1st anniversary celebrations.
Christchurch stay strong – a message found on many a slice of cake. Kia kaha!
Window display at Cashel Mall.
1st anniversary of Re:Start Cashel Mall – time for celebrations!
Cashel Mall on a nice spring day.
Market stands at the Cashel Mall
Cashel container mall, Christchurch’s provisional commercial high street
Bicycles and floral arrangements next to the cordoned off rubble at Cashel Mall
View from Cashel Mall towards The Crossing – still cordoned off in November 2012. The tracks for the tram are not in use anymore.
As you can see, Christchurch still has a way to go to get back to some sort of normal, and that includes homes for people (especially in the badly affected suburbs), critical infrastructure but also places to meet, community projects and all the things that make a city worth living in. If you’d like to contribute, consider donating a few dollars (or any other currency) to my fundraiser for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal by clicking on the button below. Your money will be doubled by my employer.
The next post will feature Christchurch again, this time focussing on things to do in Christchurch after the earthquake.
Have you been to Christchurch recently? What did you make of the Garden City? Or do you live in Christchurch? How do you feel about the current situation and reconstruction developments?