I was really interested to see Christchurch and how it was progressing 3 years on from the tragic earthquake in Feb 2011. I hadn’t been to Christchurch before so didn’t know what it looked like prior to the earthquake, but I still remember hearing all about the devastation when it hit. Its really hard to comprehend what a city might look like after such an event.
It first became apparent to me how much damage had occurred when I had difficulties finding a hotel in the heart of the city that was more than a small 2 story motel ( I really wanted a high floor to be able to look out over the city). We ended up staying at the Ibis, which is right downtown and one of the few hotels to have been rebuilt. This was good and bad. It was great for really seeing the impact of the earthquake, as we were pretty much staying in the epicenter, however this also meant it was basically a ghost town around us so finding restaurants was tricky (especially without a car).
You really cannot understand just how devastating the earthquake was until you see the city. At first it felt like we were staying in the ghetto part of town. Its very open ( lots of parking lots), kind of dirty, everywhere is still boarded up, there are funky little makeshift places, basically it just feels dodgy. It wasn’t until we had been there a day and wandered all around the city that we started to stop and look closer and realised where we were would have been the heart of the city, the trendy, up market area. You start noticing dusty signs to boarded up expensive restaurants like Wagamama, what would have been artsy extras like trendy benches, flowerbeds, rubbish bin covers, now all run down. This sounds naive but if you haven’t seen the city before as we hadn’t its hard to picture what it was like.
Three years on and the city of Christchurch is still a virtual ghost town with blocks of abandoned buildings or empty blocks where buildings have been torn down, old buildings propped up with scaffolding to try to keep them standing. Sure there is quite a bit of construction happening but considering the time frame it just doesn’t seem like much.
The poor people of Christchurch, what happened to them? Where did all the businesses go? There are so many large corporations who’s buildings are abandoned, what happened to the workers? It was sad to see the city in ruins, but it was also fascinating. They have done a great job at trying to maintain some of the vibe of the city. They have pop-up style marque covered clubs pumping at night and a creative shipping container mall which had some unique shops. There was even a bank in container with a built in ATM.
They also don’t have simple fencing around, most of it has colourful patterns which stops it from feeling too depressing or ghetto-like.
I was particularly impressed with the lack of graffiti and vandalism.
Christchurch in its current state shouldn’t be discounted, it was still a cool city with really beautiful botanical gardens that we spent an afternoon exploring, they are huge!
We also stumbled upon the most delicious Italian restaurant, just thinking about the amazing pasta and pizza we had makes me drool. It was super trendy style inside as well with exposed brick walls (seems to be the rage right now) and artsy pictures all over. It had a great vibe (and I’m all about the vibe).
Christchurch has a long way to go, but for now its pretty unique.