Christchurch is the third largest city in New Zealand (population ~375K, behind Auckland [1.4 million] and Wellington [the capital, ~395K]) and the largest city in the South Island. She is known as the Garden City due to her many green spaces and beautiful gardens scattered throughout the city. The best word I can use to describe her is quaint.
I lived and worked in Christchurch from 2000 to 2002. I got “adopted” by a Kiwi family who I will always hold dear, experienced Sept 11th, and met (and later married) my husband there. Christchurch holds a special place in my heart, and always will.
Since we last visited, Christchurch has been rocked by earthquakes, the first on Sept 4, 2010 (magnitude 7.1) and the second and most damaging on Feb 22, 2011 (magnitude 6.5). Since the first earthquake, Christchurch has experienced over 13,000 aftershocks, several of which measured over 5 on the Richter scale. The city centre and several suburbs were affected greatly, while others were relatively unaffected. Approximately 70-80% of the buildings in the city centre have been (or will be) demolished as a result of the quakes.
While Jeff and I have followed the news and knew of the status of the centre city (as much of it is still cordoned off as a “red zone” that cannot be entered), it is an entirely different thing to see it. So that was one of the first things we set about doing. I think I needed to see it in order to grieve the city as I knew her, but also to try to understand in the tiniest way what our Kiwi friends and family had been through over the past 2 years.
My initial plan was for Jeff and I to see her alone. I envisioned there would be tears, and I wanted that time to ourselves, to reminisce. But as it turned out, we ended up seeing her with a friend. For in preparation of us visiting with him, he had gone out of his way to find our favorite souvlaki vendor, who had been displaced by the earthquakes. It was such a kind and thoughtful gesture, I couldn’t refuse. Looking back, it all happened as it was meant to.
For as we made our way into the city centre with our friend and his 3 boys, it was sobering to see how many buildings were damaged or gone, and how much rubble still remained after more than 2 years. I steeled myself for the inevitable feeling of loss that would ensue.
Our friend took us to the “container mall” to find our souvlaki vendor. This “mall” is built of colorful shipping containers in place of the once bustling pedestrian mall that had been destroyed by the quakes. As expected, it brought tears to my eyes. But what I didn’t expect was that these would be tears of relief…for I had somehow forgotten the very thing that I had extolled to you in my previous post. The people and their spirit. The container mall was alive with people amidst the colorful and creatively engineered containers. There were flowers blooming everywhere and lively murals on the walls. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of hope, rather than loss.
After enjoying our souvlaki and shopping the mall, we then set out to see more of the city centre. Signs of hope, and the TLC that the Christchurch citizens were showing her ailing centre, were everywhere. Beautiful flowers potted in old tires, a makeshift soccer field amidst the rubble. And when we finally viewed what remained of the iconic cathedral at the heart of the city centre, we had reached the point of acceptance. Acceptance at what had happened, and hope for the future city to come.
Christchurch will never be the same, but I look forward to seeing how she evolves and to meeting the new city she becomes.
This gallery features pictures of not only how Christchurch has changed over time, but also how she has remained the same. She is a beauty and will always be worth a visit.