Often called the gateway to the south island, Christchurch, New Zealand was shaken by a series of devastating earthquakes between 2011 and early 2012. The city is truly beautiful, and some of that beauty comes from the unique and resilient way it is clearing out the rubble, so to speak. Our flight from Rotorua was delayed a few hours so we unfortunately didn’t have all the time we expected. Still, we were able to see many lovely parts of the city, including two cathedrals, a beautiful park, the iconic tram, and some eco-chic shipping containers.
We started our little tour of the city at Hagley Park & the Botanical Gardens because of its close proximity to our hotel. Just a short walk away we found some of the most lush and beautiful spots. Larger than life trees dotted the green space, and quaint paths led to ponds and gardens and other tranquil little hideaways. I’m not sure how much of it we actually saw, but we pretty much used it as a thruway to get from our hotel to the other side of the city. If you have a few days in Christchurch it would be a perfect spot for a leisurely stroll. Once out of the park and into town, we stopped at Fiddlesticks for a quick and delicious lunch- we hadn’t realized it was one of the highest rated bars in town!
As we got closer and closer to the center of the city, we noticed more and more derelict buildings, so beautiful at some angles and completely ruined at others. It was clear this part of the city had felt the earthquake very hard, and some of the bigger buildings had not been cleaned up or fixed yet. The most striking example is the iconic ChristChurch Cathedral. Even with the spire and tower missing and a giant hole in its front, you can tell it was once positively grand. I did my best to imagine it when it stood tall and strong. It wasn’t just one earthquake that did all this damage, but a series of a few different ones that destroyed different pieces. While the spire and the top of the tower fell in February of 2011, the round rose window in the front did not shatter until later in the year- partly in June and completely in December- thanks to subsequent quakes and aftershocks. Apparently there isn’t any definite information yet in regard to whether or not the cathedral will get rebuilt. A wall nearby has been covered in messages of hope and encouragement from passersby that were nice to read.
Since the cathedral cannot be used for worship in its current state, a new one had to be built for services and events while the city was in transition. Hence, the Transitional Cardboard Cathedral was born, just a few blocks away from the site of the permanent cathedral. When we first entered this place, the first word that came to my mind was warmth. The air was warm, the atmosphere was warm, the people were warm… and not in a stifling way, but rather in a comforting way. The cathedral was constructed with huge cardboard tubes arranged in an A frame style, flanked in the front by a window made of wood and glass. This triangular window is really neat in that it incorporates some design elements from the round window of the permanent cathedral that was destroyed. Natural light flooded the space and enhanced its simple beauty. We sat for a while and just reflected on the uniqueness of the cathedral before having a look around. I wish our visit had coincided with a service or recital because it would have been such a warm and welcoming place to spend the afternoon.
After making a donation to the church we continued with our tour of Christchurch, and after a bit of aimless wandering we stumbled upon the Re:START Container Mall quite by happy accident. Like the cardboard cathedral, this mall embodies a beautiful resilient spirit. Large rectangular shipping containers were stacked on top of each other and seated side by side, creating a flowing line of stores. Clothiers, cafés, grocers, sundry shops, craft outlets… even the public restrooms were housed in the big containers! The idea behind this mall was that reconstructing real buildings would take too long, and the center of Christchurch needed to be revitalized as soon as possible. The mall opened in late 2011 and since then the number of business has nearly doubled.
Also nearby was a circle of food trucks selling all kinds of cuisines, from fries and ice cream to curry and tacos. We made plans to return there for a meal later before heading back to the mall area and browsing around the shops. At one of the souvenir stores we bought a flock of stuffed kiwi birds, one for each of Chris’s two nieces and one for my niece or nephew that will be arriving in April. We were enjoying the atmosphere around the mall so much that we almost didn’t want to leave, but there was one more thing on the day’s to-do list- a ride on the Christchurch Tram!
I had noticed these adorable little trams as we were walking around, so we paused at one of the stops and took a peek at the price. For NZ$20 each we would have unlimited rides for the day. This seemed like a good deal, but considering it was already the late afternoon and the trams stop running at 5pm, we almost gave it a miss. Luckily we didn’t! The restored, turn of the century vehicles are really endearing, and the staff on them were very nice. The commentary about the different sites we went by was informative and interesting. In a way it was a bit sad, as you can see how far the city still has to go to rebuild after the tragedy. It has made great progress though, and has many encouraging symbols of hope. Not only the Cardboard Cathedral and the Re:START Mall, but new hotels, homes, and shops in various states of construction.
We disembarked the tram near the Re:START Mall and headed back to the food truck circle. There was a live band playing now, and the atmosphere was really vibrant. A smattering of snacks from a few different trucks made up a light meal that we enjoyed. We settled ourselves on a bench in the middle of the circle surrounded by families and groups of friends. It was a perfect little stop before we began the long-ish walk back through the city center and Hagley Park to our hotel, Towers on the Park. We had a large studio room here, with a kitchenette and lots of space to spread out. After a little while packing up our bags for our train ride out tomorrow, we walked to a proper dinner at Trevino’s, an Italian eatery just around the block. The walk was through a pretty residential area and the restaurant served up delicious food. It was a great end to our one busy day in Christchurch!