Sorry for the lack of updates this past week! I haven’t really had decent WiFi access to upload photos until now. Earlier this month I spent a couple days checking out Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island. As mentioned in my last post, the city is still slowly recovering from the February 2011 and September 2010 earthquakes. In fact, repercussions of the events still occur as small aftershocks rattle the region from time to time. I actually felt my first New Zealand earthquake as I drank a cup of tea on the balcony of my hostel, barely an hour after arriving in the city. It’s been a long time since I last felt an earthquake so I wasn’t really sure what was going on at first. The whole house swayed slowly for a few seconds before settling again. New Zealand gets earthquakes all the time, but I didn’t expect to feel one so soon!
Due to the major reconstruction going on, public access is still very limited in most parts of central Christchurch. Looking in from outside the red zone, it’s a pretty grim sight. Empty dirt lots mark where tall buildings once stood. Abandoned buildings flagged for demolition quietly await their fate. The sounds of heavy machinery and construction echo through the streets. You can still walk into Cathedral Square at the heart of the city, where the famed Christchurch Cathedral lay in ruins. At night, an eerie silence overcomes the city—there are barely any people walking around, there is very little traffic, and downtown is unusually dark.
There is still a lot of work to be done before Christchurch ever returns to a state of normalcy again, but signs of progress are showing around certain parts of the center city. Some of the more noticeably innovative projects that have come out during this reconstruction phase include a shopping mall made from shipping containers and a cathedral made from heavy-duty cardboard. It will be interesting to see how the new city develops over the next few years!
Outside of the CBD, things appear pretty normal and life seems to go on like it always has. There is a large park just west of the center city called Hagley Park. It’s a popular place for people to get out and do their daily exercises: walking, jogging, playing rugby…there’s also punting on the Avon River and strolling through the huge botanic garden in which the city gets its namesake as the “Garden City”. On the eastern edge of the park, there’s also the Canterbury Museum which was a free attraction worth seeing. I went in thinking I would only spend a short time checking it out, but ended up walking around for hours. They had a few good exhibits in there on Maori culture, Antarctica, dinosaurs, the earthquakes…I’m not the kind of person that usually frequents museums, but this one was pretty interesting!
For the most part, the weather was pretty cold and rainy in Christchurch, but one day it was a glorious sunny day and reached 25 degrees (77 degrees Fahrenheit)! I believe it was the hottest part of the country that day. Anyway, I took advantage of the nice weather and took the bus outside of the city to the Port Hills to do some hiking. The gondola to the top has since reopened since it closed for a time after the earthquake. I could have paid the $25 to take the ride, but in true Northwest fashion I decided to hike it. A good workout for the day with some awesome views up top!
Despite the current disruption from all the reconstruction, I actually enjoyed Christchurch. In some ways it felt more like I was in England than New Zealand as it had a slight British vibe to it in some places. I may come back again sometime, but for now I’m currently enjoying beautiful Queenstown and plan on doing more exploring around the South Island!