We had wondered what we were going to find in Christchurch. The town had been hit by the 2010 South Island 7.2 earthquake which had caused some damage then hit again very badly in 2011 by an 6.3 aftershock centred on the city when 185 people were killed. What we found was a town that, frankly, doesn’t seem to have come back to life since. We went to the middle of town and were surprised to find a great number of big buildings derelict. Many were in a state of collapse, sitting in large boarded up exclusion areas. The most surprising one of these was the Cathedral. Large sections of the roof have collapsed and there is a huge iron structure in place at one end. It seems to be inhabited only by numerous pigeons. Reading the boards beside it, there is no immediate plan to rebuild or repair it. It appears that there is neither the will or the money to be able to do so . I would have thought six years would have been long enough to decide to do something with it, even if it is just to tarp the roof to protect what is left of the interior. One of the most beautiful WWI memorials I have seen sits beside the Cathedral, surrounded by weeds. Such a shame. There were two positives I took, wandering the streets of Christchurch. The first was the extensive, excellent graffiti which I assume would have appeared illegally, showing the city’s youth still has spirit and a considerable artistic ability. It covered many of the broken buildings. The second were the street artists – the best we have seen so far anywhere. Perhaps not quite what the city would want to be best remembered for.
Nearby to the cathedral, the “new” centre of town is a shopping area constructed of iso containers. They are pretty tricked out iso containers, but ultimately that is all they are and they have become semi permanent structures.
There are banks, the post office and lots of shops using multiple containers to make the required space. The little food market on the edge of the shopping precinct (more iso containers) was pretty good with a good range of fast food, mainly Far East menus, which provided us with a very good lunch. The new shopping centre to hold all of these displaced businesses has started construction nearby and is supposed to be finished 2018. A Scottish émigré who settled near Christchurch, originally playing semi pro football some 20 years ago before moving into the retail business (selling jade artefacts and local art) thought that this timetable is hopeful at best. Time will tell.
One of the problems seems to be the reluctance of the insurance companies to pay out and then reinsure. Insurance premiums, of course, have risen and there is a unpleasant debate going on about just how high those premiums should be. The only positive thing our Glaswegian footballer had to say is that if you want to settle in NZ, you get a lot of extra credits if you say you are willing to live and work in Christchurch for a period of five years. The population dropped significantly after the earthquake but is recovering slowly. The town still badly needs new blood and investment. It may be trying but it is not what I would describe as a happy, bustling, happening place yet.
I’m afraid that we decided not to stay and headed S towards our next destination of Dunedin. We had originally thought that we wouldn’t head that far S but with Alasdair’s No1 target being Invercargill and the Fastest Indian and our desire to remain as touring partners AND the small matter of Gill and Eleanor’s upcoming birthdays, we concurred in the desire to move on.