Christchurch Uncovered

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(Rewinding to April) Christchurch – once known as the most English and populous city of South Island – was my first taste of the other half of New Zealand. Unfortunately, it proved to be quite an emotional start to my vacation.

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I had heard many stories about how devastating the Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 were, but I didn’t know what to expect now (three years later).

The brief flight from Wellington to Christchurch was amazing – the aerial views were unreal. The Christchurch International Airport was also quite beautiful, with large, chrome DNA-like structures hanging before you descended down to the bag claim area which was decorated to look like a real forest.

And then I took the bus into the city center… and I realized how nothing was left. Mistake #1: Asking the bus driver where to get off for the main part of the city center. He looked at me cluelessly until another guest piped up, “Honey, nothing is left of the city center. I suggest you get off near the ReStart Mall, the “new” city center for now.”

My eyes weren’t deceiving me – there wasn’t just minor construction. There were cranes, neon cones, stones, broken bits of buildings… everywhere. Every corner, every street (if the street itself wasn’t blocked off or closed already). It was truly devastating to see all the wrecked buildings, broken windows, gravel scattered everywhere on streets, and the loud beeps of construction everywhere you turned. It reminded me of my haunting visit to Ground Zero in NYC in 2008. Others told me it reminded them of the Hurricane Katrina aftermath.

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The saddest part was realizing just how slow New Zealand has been in rebuilding and recovering from this natural disaster. It’s completely understandable that the funds may not have been in place a few years ago… but it was shocking mainly because America is so different when it comes to things like this. I understand now why so many prior Christchurch residents relocated, just because the majority of their beloved city was in shambles. To put it simply, Christchurch has now become an eerie ghost town.

The prior "city center" with the once-beautiful cathedral
The prior “city center” with the once-beautiful cathedral

I only walked around for about an hour before I started tearing up. I didn’t know why – nor could I prevent it. I was just so sad for everyone who had gone through these awful earthquakes.

The “185 Chairs” earthquake remembrance art installation was the hardest to visit. It basically was a tribute to the 185 victims (one from America) who lost their lives in the 2011 quakes. A baby rocker was in the front center – visibly the hardest chair to emotionally process.

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Most of the city was destroyed – the central bus station, malls, and even the beloved cathedrals. It was like a war zone – everything still, sadly, seemed as if it happened recently.

Yet, there was also hope amidst all the rubble and broken buildings. The ReStart Mall, made up of colorful bins and filled with hip, boho chic boutique/vintage stores and cute cafes/eateries was definitely the highlight of the city. It proved that the city is trying as much as it can to rebuild and get back to the glistening city it once was.

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Much to my excitement, I even found a good friend’s Easter egg she had painted: Pop-surrealist artist Meghan Geliza was one of many who decorated eggs for the Whitman’s Easter egg hunt. It was actually the Southern Hemisphere’s largest (and first time) Easter egg hunt – really neat to find all these large eggs scattered about in the main cities of New Zealand and Australia.

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There was also a lane filled with pastel-colored eateries that looked very Victorian and dainty. Definitely loved it, even if there were only about five people wandering it.

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The cable car was still running throughout key points of the city as well, and the central square area housed a few art installations that also proved that art is being used as the main therapeutic point.

And how admirable is this cardboard cathedral? The entire thing is made of cardboard.

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The Christchurch Botanic Gardens were also a highlight. I swear I could be a garden docent by now because I’ve grown to love gardens so much. It’s always so neat to explore each city’s gardens, since they’re all so different in their own ways. These gardens were very Victorian and English-like. I could very well picture these being modeled from British influences, especially with the cottages nearby and the ways in which the trees were lined the riverbank.

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At least we ended on a happier note – the CookieTime Factory. In all, Christchurch seems to have been a once-beautiful city – my heart goes out to everyone and anyone who either was affected by the quakes or still lives there.

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