Shaken and stirred to action: A post-earthquake Christchurch

My first thought upon arriving in Christchurch was about how everything seemed very much the same. Sure, I’d flown in on a different airline than I usually would and there had been a little bit of a revamp of the terminal (new and sparkly!) but most of it seemed the same old Christchurch that it had always been. We crossed to the parking building, hopped in the car and decided on Mexican for dinner; that’s when things started to change. Instead of heading to our old New Regent Street haunt, we headed to the northern fringe of the city where The Flying Burrito Brothers have set up shop in a former Pizza Hut building. Still showing from the outside the eighties retro flair that Pizza Hut restaurants were known for, the inside had been rapidly redecorated to give off that south-of-the-border vibe that the old restaurant had exuded.

On the drive to our weekend accomodation we drove through some of the city-adjacent suburbs and it was here that it really hit home that things had changed. I saw a lovely old stone church with plexi-glass coverings over stained-glass windows and large metal braces on the sides. It looked like it was literally being held together; one of the things I have always admired about Christchurch is the beautiful old buildings it has gracing it’s streets and here they were, falling apart. It was bizarre to see houses that were perfectly fine next to vacant lots where shops and homes have already been demolished. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason as to why some houses were affected and some weren’t – literally on the same street there would be empty lots next to buildings that seemed fine. We were lucky that the street and house we stayed in were largely inaffected – just a few places looking a bit worse for wear!

We set out the following morning to visit the CBD, our first stop being the Re:START mall in the former Cashel St area of the CBD. The bus ride in was an interesting one; the previous day I’d been too high on the excitement of returning to one of my favourite towns to notice the state of the streets. Feeling a little like ice in a cocktail shaker, we juddered our way into the city. We decided to get off on the outskirts of the city and walk in, having a little bit of a nosey around on our way in. Again I noticed how much things had changed. All the landmarks I used to negotiate my way around the CBD no longer existed. How far away were we? I only gained my bearings when we came across the fenced-off Bridge of Remembrance, across from Re:START.

©Sweet Mama M, 2012

Re:START has been constructed in the former Cashel St shopping strip. The only recognisable store still standing is the Christchurch department store institution Ballyntynes. The rest of the shopping street has now been assembled in renovated shipping containers – and it looks great! It’s something really special and unique to Canterbury and I hope they keep it even as they rebuild. I loved that the cafes are multistoryed, with built in roof decks; it’s also great to see the former shops I loved in the CBD making the most of innovative new spaces. It was here that I also met up with Christchurch blogger Bridey, and while I wish I could blame my epic juice spillage on an aftershock, sadly it was just me being a little uncoordinated!

©Sweet Mama M, 2012

From here we moved out to take in more of the red zone. Almost all of the former CBD is still cordoned off, with one street available for one-way and pedestrian traffic to move through the CBD to the other side. I was a woman on a mission, trying to identify places that had been favourite haunts of ours. I was stunned to find how few places still existed. The cafe that gave Papa M his nom de plume on my previous blog? Gone – no more Stunning Buns! New Regent St and Cathedral Square closed so no more Yellow Rocket Bagel. The Poplars Apartment Hotel? Now a gravel carpark. Even the convenience store where I bought Papa M some Panadol was nothing but a heap of rubble. It was a serious “whoa” moment!

©Sweet Mama M, 2012

While watching workmen spackle the cracks in a building did boggle the mind, what dropped my jaw completely was seeing what remained of the Anglican Cathedral. I’d known, after seeing the damage done to several other historical buildings, that it wouldn’t be good. One of the quintessential images of Christchurch is the Cathedral and it holds a host of great memories for me. Rounding the corner, I was thinking of a photo we have in our house of me on the bell tower balcony – sleep deprived but deliriously happy to be there with the man of my dreams. The reality was confronting. I didn’t realize that I was standing there with my mouth open for about a minute. I’ll let the picture do the talking here:

©Sweet Mama M, 2012

Yup, that’s the bell tower, no longer in the foreground. It’s not all doom and gloom, however; Cantabrians are coming up with some fantastic things to fill in the gaps left by former buildings. In our walks, we came across several! Right next to Re:START is the Dance-O-Mat, an outdoor dance floor where you can rig up your iPod to a refurbished pay laundry machine and throw your own dance party! We came across the finishing stages of a huge outdoor artwork commissioned by the Christchurch Art Gallery and saw several plots that were part of the “Greening the Rubble” project, which sees vacant lots comissioned as community green spaces. It was also neat to see that many of the central businesses had relocated into the suburbs, some of them into residential addresses. One thing you can definitely say about the people of Christchurch is that they are resilient!

We’ll definitely be back – not just because cousin B is getting married either. Until then…

©Sweet Mama M, 2012



5 thoughts on “Shaken and stirred to action: A post-earthquake Christchurch

  1. It was great to catch up with you (juice spillage and all!)
    It’s a bit of a shock seeing all the damage isn’t it? I haven’t actually been in to see the Cathedral yet so seeing your photos is a bit of a shock.

  2. I’ve never been there but these images and your account are heartbreaking. I do know that from such disasters a strong people will always get back up…

  3. I just love how Christchurch has been able to reinvent itself out of the rubble in such a creative, innovative and positive way. To have the heart ripped out of a city like that, but for everyone to do a damn good job at putting the heart back in (even if re-imagined) is inspiring.

  4. Do you know what the building is on the left in the last group of pics? It made me wonder what has become of the arts centre. I have family that live in Christchurch, but I haven’t been since the earthquakes. It’s really sad.

    • Good spotting Mel! That is indeed part of the arts centre! From what we could see, only one of the buildings (the one next to Dux de Lux) was still open, although some of the businesses are double bunking with others in the area.

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