Arriving by Taxi to our Hotel in Christchurch New Zealand was a bit of a shock to the senses. Six years on from the devastating earthquake that struck on 22nd February 2011 large areas around the main Cathedral square were still very much in the process of being rebuilt.
Our hotel rose up from the ground in front of us looking pristine and new it’s fascia gleaming from the suns rays, in complete contrast to the building site next door which was a scene of grey devastation with two tall towers, one a flat wall only being held up by iron supports seemingly inches from our Hotel! We were later informed these were the new lift shafts for the development about to rise from the ashes – lifts are built first and floors are slotted in acting to further strengthen the structure – in non technical speak that is!
There was no pre-planned itinerary except – beard/hair trim for the long-suffering before he became unrecognisable to friends, family and me, followed by the purchase of alcohol and snacks to help us transition to a static hotel room after leaving our wonderful home on wheels ‘Aramoana’.
Without ‘an itinerary’ we were in danger of drifting aimlessly around in our grief but luckily a fellow traveller recommended the daily ‘free’ walking tour of Christchurch. This two hour walk works on the principal you pay what you think it’s worth. The guides recommend a minimum of 15 dollars per person but it is really up to the individual.
The meeting place was the Challice at Cathedral Square – a cone shaped sculpture nicknamed ‘A Cornetto’ by the long-suffering! In fact it represented the Millennium and 150 years founding of Christchurch and Canterbury.
We walked out from Cathedral Square with our guide Martin, at each stop of our tour of the surrounding area and back to the centre we were given a bit of history pre and post earthquake. The tour was always interesting, very informative and went a long way to help the long-suffering plan a new itinerary for our short time here!
The two most poignant stops of the tour was the site of the Canterbury Television building where 115 of the 185 casualties died as the building collapsed and caught fire around them, and the 185 white chair memorial – standing out in the open on a vacant plot once occupied by a church, each chair; armchairs, wheelchair, babies chair, cafe chairs to name but a few form a stark reminder of lives cruelly taken.
Innovation in the form of the ‘Re-Start Mall a shopping centre created entirely from freight containers.
Part ruined Cathedral in the square still sadly waiting for a decision on its future.
Hop on Hop off Tram ride – on restored heritage trams with a new extended route with 17 stops. The trams ran every 15-20 minutes with a happy driver giving us a talking tour as we rolled along the lines. This charming way around was our only mode of transport – other than our legs – while in Christchurch.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens – Beautiful gardens started in 1863 with the planting of a single English Oak, now covering an area of 21 hectares including water gardens, rock gardens, Rose gardens, Victorian conservatory, Fernery and much more. I could easily have spent the day here if time allowed!
Punting on the Avon river – lazy, indulgent, romantic, half hour return ride along the river – this was instead of the long-suffering rowing me in our own boat ‘too hot’! Luckily we were able to sit at the very back with only three other tourists in the boat all facing forward!
Our puntsman decked out in traditional Edwardian dress propelled us slowly and gently through the water, passing resident ducks ducking and diving beneath the water as we glided along through the Botanic gardens before an expert turn sent us back to the start and almost the end of our time in New Zealand.
Christchurch still feels like a ghost town and parts are still eerily quiet despite the constant background noise from the ongoing rejuvination of this once busy city but it is clearly making progress to rebuild its future.
Hopefully when next we return as we surely must to this beautiful country that is New Zealand the rebuild will be complete. For now our journey continues to Australia…..