It had been a while since we had jumped across the Tasman Sea and visited the awesome New Zealand. On Previous trips we had visited North Island and spent time around Auckland. Then we had ventured down to Queenstown and spent a week there.
Looking at the map it left us a huge block in the centre to explore so we devised a plan to begin in Christchurch, hit the road and take in a few places before flying to Wellington (and visit Weta World) for the last few days.
We landed in Christchurch early in the morning and had a full day and night before picking up our hire car. Checking into our hotel (a great choice over an AirBnB – more on that later) we dropped the bags and got out and about to explore this city.
Establshed as a city in 1856 by Royal Charter it is the oldest city in New Zealand. The Canterbury Association, the group tasked with the creation of a colony in this part of the world named the city after Christ Church in Oxford. Agriculture became the main industy here as well as playing host to a blossoming academic and scientific community. It is one of the 5 Gateway cities to the Antarctic.
Grabbing a quick breakfast with a modified coffee order given we were in New Zealand. (Australia = Skim Flat White ; New Zealad = Trim Flat White) we took our map and planned a walking route.
We made our way to Cathedral Square, the center of the city and we were quite shocked at what we found. We had heard of the Earthquake in 2011 but had assumed that a lot of the damage had been restored. We did not expect to find the shell of the Cathedral still standing. On later research it seems that politics and local objections to plans had gotten in the way and funding was an issue. (this stood is stark contrast to the rolling event related to the Notre Dame Cathedral Fire and the amount of money that was being thrown into that Cathedrals restoration).
This was all a shame. The Gothic design of the Cathedral had been commissioned from George Gilbert Scott ( see also St Pancra Railway Station in London and St Mary’s Cathedral in Edinburgh). It had survived and been rebuilt 5 other times due to earthquakes but this 6th impact was too much.
Other occupants of the square seemed to be a little less worse for wear – including the OGB – Old Government Building. A heritage listed building that is now home to a hotel and fancy cocktail bar.
Tradition meets Transition
A question then formed in our brains. If this is the main Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch and it has been out of action for almost 10 years – where does everyone (Anglican) go to worship?
We found our answer a couple of blocks due east and across the road from Latimer Square. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, a mastermind of build relief housing and buildings in other grief stricken places such as Kobe (1995 Earthquake) and Rwanda. Shigeru’s method is to use recycled cardboard tubes and paper to create efficient and quick relief.
The Cardboard Cathedral is quite a unique building with 8 shipping containers creating the main side walls, triangular glass replacing the traditional rose window and 96 cardboard and wood columns hositing a polycarbon triangular roof. It looks very modern and not out of place in Scandinavia.
The Cathedral was opened on 6th August 2013 and represented the first significant building to be rebuilt since the earthquake struck and 7 years on it is still hosting service, events and concerts.
Wounds old and new
We made our way back into the city, keeping to our general westerly direction and went down Cashel Street – one of the main shopping promenades in the city before hitting the Avon River and the Bridge of Remembrance – an stone archway dedicated to the fallen of World War 1 and every conflict involving New Zealanders since.
The entire riverbank of the Avon River forms an inner city parkland with a number of other memorials and dedications lining it – further south is the National Memorial to the Canterbury Earthquarke in 2011. Further north towards Wocester Street is a statue to Robert Falcon Scott.- the famous Antarctic Explorer and Royal Navy officer.
We continued past the riverbank, towards the Botanic Gardens stopping briefly at the Arts Centre (Te Matatiki Toi Ora) – a great modern day arts focussed re-use of the once Canterbury College. Of the 23 buildings on this site – 21 are Heritage Listed. There is even a plague celebrating the most famous of previous tenants – Lord Ernst Rutherford – the father of Nuclear Physics – who studied here between 1890 and 1895. These days the wonders of science, food science to be correct, can be witnessed (and tasted) at the Fudge Cottage located in the building.
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens were founded in 1863 when a single English Oak tree was planted to commemorate the marraige of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra (of Denmark). Since then they have sprawled across 21 hectares and include all manor or gardens, alcoves and plants. The Central Rose Garden was our favourite with over 250 different varieties of that most singular of flowers.
Near the entrance to the Gardens was a stark reminder that tragedy and misery are not consigned to history, museums or memorials. Hundreds of flowers and messages lined the park’s gates.
A couple of weeks before we landed in Christchurch a lone gunman (white supremacist) launched attacks on two mosques and murdered 51 people and wounded 40 more. The attacks began at the other side of the Botanic Gardens at the Al Noor mosque. A sad chapter indeed.
Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice. – Will Durant
As alluded to already in this post, Christchurch has suffered multiple earthquakes and a devastating one in August 2011. The best place to find out more about that and the countless stories surrounding the event and the days and weeks afterwards is in Quake City – a museum dedicated to this event and its impact on the area and city.
It was a great exhibition with videos, interactive stations and treasures saved from the rubble. There are fragments of the destroyed Rose Window from the Christchurch Cathedral. One of the best exhibits was the one detailing the story of the Cycle-powered cinema. A project by GapFiller – that aimed to bring two of the citizens loves – cinema and cycling together to help the city rebuild. (All the cinemas were destroyed in the Earthquake)
Art and About
As we made our way about the city we got to take in all the Street Art. Christchurch is literally a city contained in an open air Art Gallery.
So much raw talent on display by artists such as Jacob Yikes, Owen Dippie, Wongi Freak Wilson and many more.
The pick of the litter for us was the homage to David Kidwell (by arist Mr G) in honour of the Rugby League player and coach of the national team (the 2017 edition was held partly held in Christchurch).
Not so Good Friday
As we mentioned at the beginning – it was Good Friday – so a lot of bars and restaurants were closed. We managed to blag a table at a Mexican restaurant – Chiwahwah – on Oxford Terrace, overlooking the river. Heavily sylish – playing on the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) tradition and heavy on Nacho Chips. We made the mistake of over ordering.
After washing down our dinner with a couple of Pacifico Beers we went in search for a night cap in one of the few bars that were open nearby.
It was a big mistake leaving the restaurant. This was the following scenario for the next 3 venues along the Terrace.
“You have to have food if you want to be served alchohol”.
“Ok sure (tummies rumbling from the Mexican food) – you have bar snacks or crisps?” came our reply.
“Sorry. I wasn’t clear – you have to have a full meal – your dinner to be served!”
We can do second breakfast if we must but not second dinner. Deflated that we couldn’t toast the day off at the end we meandered our way back to the hotel.
As luck would have it – our hotel had a small bar and we, being residents, were able to secure a final glass of vino before bed and have a little victory over the extremely harsh liquor laws of New Zealand. (Not so lucky for some random European couple that tried to blag “Resident Status” and had to leave without touching the drinks they paid for when there indiscretion was noticed by the staff.
That was 1 day in Christchurch – lots to do and is definately worth a visit when you are in South Island. As a city rising from the flames like a phoenix it will continue to change and evolve and I reckon a return trip would look rather different.