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Re-visiting Christchurch

quakecityLast in Christchurch 6 years ago, we were prepared for some changes. The 2010 and 2011 earthquakes were devastating and such destruction takes a long time to recover from. The city centre has only just been opened, revealing gaps where buildings once were. Lots of parking and not so much to park for. But there are clear signs of rebirth too - a cardboard cathedral, container mall and creative, light-hearted gap-fillers (art projects) to cheer people up.


We spent our first night at the Jailhouse Accommodation - a friendly hostel with former cells as guest rooms around the dramatic landing and stairs. You can almost imagine the jeering of prisoners as they hang over the banisters. It's been well-renovated - blending old with new - leaving a couple of cells, kept as they were, displaying inmates artwork, whilst also providing a homely lounge and mini-cinema. It's located in Addington, which pre-earthquake wasn't such a good part of town but now, with the relocation of many restaurants, has plenty going on around it. A 25-minute walk takes you into the city centre and a large park is just over the road.


Our stay was brief, consisting mainly of sleep, as we needed to recover from 4 consecutive flights to get here. Once refreshed and warm from hot showers, we headed off to Akaroa. Christchurch quickly dissolved into a green sheep-strewn landscape, after an hour passing the Hillside Cafe with a panoramic view of harbours and descending into the Banks Peninsula. Its volcanic claw has a bay with dolphins and penguins within its grasp. We had lunch at an outside table at the water's edge at a great place called L'Hotel. A platter with New Zealand mussels, Bluff oysters, salmon, dips, breads, cheeses, meats and salad, meant for 2, fed the 4 of us with a carry out for later. Guinness and hot mulled wine kept us cosy in the crisp sunlight. If this is a typical NZ winter day I'm more than happy with it.











We took a stroll along the shore and through the Garden of Tane, a wood with hundreds of species of trees, and past the graveyard, showing some signs of earthquake damage. Then in the car we drove up the stunning hillside, away from town, to Onuku Farm Hostel, which several people had recommended as a place with cabins where you can look out of stargazers at night. It was closed for winter unfortunately, as some places are, so we ended up in a backpacker's in town (Bon Accord) with an adventure agent over the road from where you can arrange plenty of things to keep you entertained.


You can hire a bike and cycle the volcanic rim road (about 35km in a round trip) which gives a great overview of the area. Or if that's too strenuous, get a lift to the top and breeze the 13km downhill. There are dolphin cruises too - there were a couple of boats taking 2 hour trips in winter around midday each day ($70 per adult/ kids free). Plus there are pleasant walks around the waters edge; to the lighthouse and past impressive houses that its easy to daydream about moving to. Or you can go to the arty cinema or play mini-golf. You'll quickly notice a french theme to the town, which although diluted with time (there's only 1 french resident family remaining) can still be seen in the names of places and casual workers may be french too. We really liked the place - it was peaceful and pretty in winter - but since the earthquake cruise ships do stop here so there are bursts of sudden activity too.


Actually we skipped some of our original plans as a lovely couple running the hostel offered to babysit and we got sidetracked into a huge night out Kiwi-style with Jagerbombs - which were scarily delicious. The boat trip suddenly didn't seem quite so appealing next day!


Back in Christchurch we were welcomed by an old travelling mate of mine and his family. We lunched outdoors, walked the dog on the city's wide misty beach, and later tucked into BBQ lamb with yams and caught up on life. They have obviously been through some stuff since our last visit. They aren't quick to complain as they are happy to have come out of the earthquake alive. There has been over 11,000 aftershocks, some serious, since the event to keep them on their toes too.





Their house looks alright and is liveable, but is damaged by the quakes - but their's is way down the list for being fixed. There are so many people whose houses had to be left, whole estates of them, and in some areas like Sumner, a once prime spot, homes and belongings were strewn over the cliff edge. Some people and businesses gain from the situation, and there's plenty of work in demolition and building too, but many folks will loose out despite government support, on top of the emotional affects. Some moved away, replaced by others who have come to rebuild.


We were taken into town to the Quake City museum to get a real blast of this bit of past - well worth going to. The victim interviews make it horribly real. Driving around, through cones and road blocks, routes are altered regularly to avoid this constantly evolving city. We passed churches with spires propped beside them, cranes looming, containers holding up weak structures, and there was one facade remaining - its building long gone - waiting patiently for a new home to lean on. Most of these old facades fell, causing injury, during the tragedy.


On our way home we see a block, where once a building stood, with many rows of white chairs. Each is different, like the people they represent - and it really sinks in as you pass a tiny white baby seat. There were 185 victims of the February 2011 6.3 magnitude quake that hit central Christchurch.


To attempt to brush off the sadness we pop to a lively pub, Pomeroys, which now stands alone in its street. Inside it's full of life and vitality reminding us of the resilience of the Kiwi spirit to make the most of life and carry on.




Despite the seriousness of a visit to Christchurch, I highly recommend you go there. It's good to see the positivity and courage in it's recovery. The city centre is interesting to tourists, but lets just hope that it revives as a hub for locals themselves as well. Akaroa is just an hour down the road, showcasing what South Island is made of, and you can ski/snowboard a 2 hour bus ride away at Mount Hutt. The snow-capped mountains are a striking backdrop to the city.