I had heard things about Christchurch before I went there but all I knew was that it had been hit by an earthquake a few years ago and had not quite recovered. This was supposed to be one of the safer locations in New Zealand because of where it was located and in February 2011, the city of Christchurch shook and seems to still be in a recovery mode. My friends had told me a bit about this little town but I don’t think I was really quite prepared for what we saw five years later as we parked in the city and began walking around. The image of the run down city was exponentially amplified by the fact that it was Boxing Day and so the city seemed more desolate and abandoned than it does any other day of the year. We parked our car near the church in the center of the city and started walking around. We began our journey toward the Transitional Church located on the outside of the main city center and stopped to admire the artwork and murals that cover the various buildings. It is an interesting city to walk, especially when it is quiet because so many of the buildings are still abandoned and look like they were just hit by the impact of the earth shaking while there are other ones that have been repaired and patched up next door. The ruins of many buildings in empty lots still sit in a pile along the street, buildings filled with cracks, windows covered by boards sit among the new buildings and the patched up buildings. We stopped in front of the transitional church and stood in front of “185 White Chairs” which is an art installation across the street. It is made up of 185 white chairs of all shapes, sizes, and uses to represent each life that was lost in the earthquake five years ago.
I’m not sure how long this installation will sit there but it was overwhelming. You can walk along the rows of chairs and take it all in. I stood there overwhelmed with emotions as I stared at the various empty chairs and realizing that this was the city’s tribute to all the people they lost. People of all ages, all walks of life and people whose lives ended so suddenly in a way they never expected. After a few minutes, we walked into the city center and explored what is left of Christchurch. There is a small shopping area in the city center called “Re:Start” which is a temporary shopping center made out of shipping containers of all different colors and stacked on top of each other. There are stores and restaurants that you can peruse through and even sit along the outside of it at some tables and enjoy a drink or food.
I’ve always been a fan of repurposing things and this is a great use of shipping containers. From there we walked along where the tram goes and ended up on the prettiest shopping street in Christchurch. It looks almost like a version of New Orleans landed in Christchurch. There are two story pastel buildings with retail shops on the bottom and faux living quarters on the second floor. We didn’t do too much in that area since everything was closed. After that we wandered over to the only open restaurant we could find and ended up having Chinese food for dinner that night. It was actually a great experience because we ended up meeting a mom and daughter pair that had traveled almost the exact same journey as we did just the day after us. They had flown from Vancouver, CA to Wellington and then took the ferry over and were in Christchurch for the night. They were heading to Queenstown by bus the next day and would stay there for the remainder of the week.
After dinner, we wandered the city, stopped by the old church and took in the various sights of the city then headed back to sleep for the night.
I really enjoyed our short time in the city of Christchurch and would have liked to see more of it. I’ve heard that there are amazing beaches and outdoor activities around that area. Even though it’s been hit by the earthquake, there’s still plenty to do and see in that area. I will definitely want to go back and see more of the city next time I am in New Zealand. I’d also really love to see it when there are people around. It was a very interesting experience being in the city with no one around and seeing it in such an abandoned fashion.
Is there anything you have done in Christchurch that you think people should make sure to hit up?