- Picturesque Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand
- It was badly damaged by an earthquake in 2011 which destroyed its cathedral
- After a slow process of rebuilding, the city is rebounding – though scars remain
Now, six years after the earthquake that left 186 dead and destroyed huge swathes of this most British of New Zealand cities, the pain is still there but so, too, is a new optimism.
Rebuilding has meant rebranding.
Before: Christchurch’s Anglican cathedral was all but destroyed by the 2011 earthquake
The quaint tram still wiggles its way past Cranmer and Latimer Squares and along the Avon River, with the hatted driver making references to the ‘mother country’, but everywhere you look new initiatives flourish.
We visit a community garden project where in return for fresh vegetables, homeless people are tasked with weeding the beds; walls and sides of damaged buildings are canvases for artists and spray-painters; temporary bars and shops operate out of metal containers and the origami ‘cardboard cathedral’ looks like it will become a permanent structure.
Christchurch is quietly reinventing itself — but with a great deal of soul-searching.
The plight of George Gilbert Scott’s Gothic revival Anglican cathedral is a case in point. There it stands, amid a pile of rubble, its spire a stump, its back-end open to the elements.
Should it be demolished? Or restored at vast expense? No one can agree, so it’s fenced off with dire warnings about its safety. Nearby, on the plot once occupied by the Canterbury TV building, where 115 perished, the same number of white chairs have been placed as a poignant memorial.
A new city emerges: The Re:Start shopping mall is made of shipping containers
Thankfully, New Regent Street (built in Spanish Mission style in 1932) survived the horror and thrives. Ice cream of the highest calibre can be found here.
Then there’s C1 Espresso, another symbol of the new Christchurch. Housed in the old Post Office, recycled materials fill the interior and food arrives through pneumatic tubes with your name on it as if receiving a parcel through the post.
A gimmick? Yes, but here in Christchurch it’s strangely moving, a reminder that the gift of life is the best parcel of all.