Saturday, November 12, 2011


I'm originally from Christchurch. A lot of visitors to New Zealand fly in or out through Christchurch, and many have lingered for a day or so to admire buildings and gardens influenced by its nineteenth century English founders. In February this year, Christchurch was made momentarily famous by an earthquake which killed 181 people and levelled large tracts of the central city and eastern suburbs. I flew back for a few days in April, but with most of the inner city cordoned off, I found it hard to get a sense of the scale of destruction. What I could see was incredible. Roads buckled, bridges destroyed, houses falling into the streets. People were keeping calm and carrying on, but remained deeply shocked, and upset anew every time an aftershock rumbled beneath their feet.

Six months on, a cold and hard winter has given way to spring. The ground has quietened if not stilled, and most of the worst damaged buildings have been demolished. I don't want to give the impression that everything's back to normal. Thousands of people have permanently left, and thousands more are in limbo as the government and insurance companies argue over whether and how to repair houses. Entire suburbs built on unstable ground may be bulldozed and turned into parkland. Businesses have migrated to the western suburbs and the traffic is far worse than I remember it. But it felt as though the city was turning a corner.

The last weekend in October was notable because the first small section of the inner city was reopened. A new City Mall had been built from shipping containers, and locals flooded in to see. I was in town after finishing the Rail Trail, so went along as well.

The new City Mall. Most of the buildings lining this section collapsed during the February quake, killing and injuring scores of lunchtime shoppers and workers. It was fitting, then, that this was the first area of the "Red Zone" to be reopened. The containers may be temporary and symbolic, but it felt good to be there.

Lichfield St. Once upon a time, this vacant site housed Fazzaz - part classic car salesroom, part auto museum, part motoring model and magazine shop. And one of my favourite parts of Christchurch.

Clarendon Towers, one of the tallest remaining buildings, was badly damaged and may yet be demolished (or 'deconstructed', a word much in vogue these days).

The Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings, like many late nineteenth century buildings, were built in the Gothic Revival style. And although appearing to have been hewn from the earth itself and strong as the roots of mountains, they crumbled.

The Dux De Lux, a famous bar and restaurant, is part of the Arts Centre. It was famous for brewing its own beer, and brilliant live music. Generations of students have misbehaved here into the small hours (me too!) Hopefully it'll get rebuilt, but the structural damage is apparently far worse than it appears from the outside.

Untouched my a@$e!

The botanic gardens. As in the City Mall, spring has produced a riot of colour.


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