Christchurch - Closed for Business?

Trip Start Aug 04, 2011
Trip End Jan 04, 2012

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Flag of New Zealand  , South Island,
Friday, December 2, 2011

What's the deal with a city that just under 10 months ago was hit with it’s second decent size quake within 6 months? In fact since the quake last September, Christchurch has been hit with approximately 7000 little tremors and obviously a couple of bigger ones which have had a devastating effect.

What do you expect when you visit a place like this? We didn’t have a clue.

From dropping off the campervan and getting our taxi shuttle to the Hostel the first thing we noticed was how long it took to get across town. This seemed to be because we were going around the houses a little dropping off another couple of customers but it eventually transpired that we were having to drive right around the city centre. The city centre is in fact closed. From north to south this encompasses about 8-9 blocks, and from east to west about 5-6, but it includes all the main shops, restaurants, and streets that make up central Christchurch.

The Shuttle driver asked us how long ago we booked the hostel because at the moment the place is 'choka’, in his own words. The town didn’t seem that busy. He meant that all the hotels and hostels are full, and that is easy to understand being as there aren’t all that many open at the moment. A lot of the hostels and hotels are clearly caught in the central district shutdown.

Our Hostel, The Old Countryhouse is based along one of the grid-like streets coming out from the centre and we booked it 7 months ago. It appears to be in a slightly poorer area and it is difficult in some ways to tell apart earthquake damage from decrepit buildings. On the whole however, it’s clear that the Earthquake was devastating. You won’t see that many houses flattened, but you will see an awful lot of empty plots – The re-build is on it’s way.

We visited a nice little pub last night; called "The Fitz Clubrooms". We took in a couple of jugs during the elongated happy hour and had a lovely pub lunch. The place had recently been refurbished (we assume off the back of the Earthquake) and it appeared to be doing well. As it seems to be one of the only pubs open, you can’t help feel that some people must be making a killing from a quick recovery while others struggle. It’s the best place in the world at the moment for an independent builder for example.

Today we had plans of taking a look at Canterbury Cathedral (Closed – including the road leading to it), the Art Gallery (Closed – because the building next door is being demolished slowly), the Arts Centre (Closed due to some apparent structural damage), the Shopping Centre for a bit of souvenir hunting (Closed – because it’s in the city centre) the Museum (Open!) and the Botanical Gardens (No Earthquake problems here either).

The shopping bit was expected. We knew the roads would be closed and so henceforth so would the shops. However, and it’s quite an unexpected big however; Christchurch appears to be making the best of a bad situation. A small little shopping district (which looks temporary but because it’s been done so well, now looks permanent) has been erected from decorated portacabins and so the independent retailers have somewhere to ply their trade. The shops with money are still doing ok then. The area has a bit of a funky trendy feel to it as if it is meant to look temporary but I’m sure that it’s not the case. This is the displaced town centre.

We were disappointed with the Arts Galleries as they are outside of the closed zone but seemed to have been caught up in the problems anyhow but thankfully the customary trip to the local museum couldn’t fall by the wayside. It stands proudly open next to the botanical gardens and we spent a good 4 hours browsing around inside.

It is a museum offering a lot of different bits and pieces which I can’t go into detail but which I very much enjoyed. Particular favourites included;

A Wearable Art display which is touring from Wellington – very clever costumes including a bra made up from three dead budgies and a dress carved from wood.

A small house mock up of a couple from the South of New Zealand who over the past 40 years (before their deaths in 2000 and 2001) opened their property to tourists as they had collected a series of polished Paua shells. It was a sweet collection with a nice story behind it.

An Antarctic collection – My obsessive nature towards this subject remains. If anything it refueled my intrigue to the early Antarctic pioneers after watching a 40 minute in-museum screening of the Trans Antarctic crossing carried out by Vivian Fuchs and Sir Edmund Hillary. It showed how easy this crossing was in comparison to the advances of Scott and Shackleton, yet was a success in itself. I love the stories of the Antarctic triumphs and tragedies and never tire of reading the same story from different perspectives. Nice to see the big Sno-Cats used in the crossing too.

Christchurch Street – Kate on a penny farthing. Excellent.

After the 4 hours I was hungry and tired and so we sat outside on the Archery lawn of the Botanical Gardens. We didn’t explore them like we usually do but we did sit and chill for a bit in the scorching afternoon sunshine. It felt very odd seeing a tourist golf buggy driving round the gardens with tinsel in the lead up to Christmas in such heat but the surrealness of Christmas in a hot country will be short lived with us moving onto the States soon. The last couple of days have brought Christmas to the forefront while confusing us completely. Firstly on the drive into Christchurch I was listening to a summer hits album from 1993 or something with Summertime by Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, Wannabee by the Spice Girls  and various others and then when the tracks ran out, flipped on the radio to be greeted by “Do they know it’s Christmas”.  I was thinking, “No they bloody don’t!”

I’ve also noticed that it feels like I’ve never had such long days as we are experiencing here where it is light up to about 10pm. It might just be a trick of my mind, but at home I’m sure it gets dark just a bit earlier than that. It’s certainly bloody odd being that light at the start of December.

Back in the Botanical Gardens and I was displeased to see a young mother pointing her child towards a bush to go and take a tinkle (It’s not just the Chinese that feel comfortable letting their kids do this then) when the toilets were just a mere 50m away. It just seems a bit needless.

Another bit of people spotting pointed out a young couple taking a posed photo session in the park. It seemed pretty over the top. The boyfriend was getting his missus to bend in all sorts of positions over a bench for the sake of art and she seemed to be loving it. I was just waiting for her to start ripping her kit off but it never happened. Kate pointed this out to me by the way, not vice versa. It reminded me of a few days earlier on the walk back from Mount cook when the most stereotypical old French man in the world (wearing a beret, with a moustache and a striped blue and white long sleeved T-shirt)was directing his wrinkled old lady into some slightly risque poses in the greenery beneath the mountains while snapping away. It must have been a matter of time after we walked past that the famous French erotic nature must have got the better of them and they rolled around passionately in the flowers. I shudder at the thought.

Anyways, back to Christchurch. The town is pretty devastated. Beyond what I have written there is not a lot going on. The roads are in areas a bit rutted (Kate tripped on a rut) and many houses have little Hazard stickers saying “Do Not Enter” – it must be a squatters dream. But this does not mean the place is not worth a visit. Christchurch has a bit of charm, it is certainly still pretty. It is also a place where you can see hope. A couple of things that have made me smile have been a group who want to ‘Green the rubble’ by having urban planting sessions and another group who name themselves GapFillers. This little army looks like they are using the empty plots to add things for the community – the one which we saw was a little fridge filled with books providing a book exchange of sorts. It all seems like something out of a movie when you get communities banding together, but it does appear to be the case. Good for them.
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