Tuesday 3rd December
My accommodation in Christchurch was the old jail house – part of the old jail that had been preserved and was now used as a hostel. The owners had made an effort to keep to the theme but walking up the stairs to the second level and opening the big heavy cell door I was relieved to see the beds were at least more than a mattress on the floor. I also discovered I was in a dorm of 6 sharing with Sina and Ashleigh so at least there were some familiar faces.
After our meal the night before our taxi driver had provided a bit of personal insight about the events of 22nd February 2011. We had noticed there were still a lot of road works taking place and the driver said it was because water and sewage pipes had been cracked so every road had to be dug up and relaid. He didn’t think the roads would be sorted for 10-15 years which was staggering. Worse still was the human impact in the poorest neighbourhood in the East of the city where we were told 10,000 houses had to be demolished due to liquidification. This equated to approximately 30,000 people who had been forced to leave the city, more than the entire population of Berkhamsted if it needs a context.
I had booked a flight for late in the afternoon because I had wanted to see how the city was rebuilding. Whilst I felt guilty for wanting to do this I also felt the that if I and other tourists returned and spent our money on the local businesses it would help the city to recover. Out in the suburbs where we had been staying the impact wasn’t quite so immediately noticeable. I’m not sure for example whether the jail house had suffered any structural damage. As we got closer to the city centre however the impact became obvious.
It was only 4 months ago that the main central area affected including Cathedral Square had finally reopened. I was walking in with Hayley and Karen and on the approach to the Bridge of Remembrance it was painfully evident the re-opening didn’t mean everything had been rebuilt or replaced. The Bridge of Remembrance had once been the main entrance to the cities historical heart however it was still closed and under restoration.
The second bridge we tried to use to cross over the Avon river was also closed and after walking past the punting office we finally found a open crossing. Walking along the main street and heading along in the rough direction of Cathedral Square we saw gaps where buildings had once been. Then we came to an open area where there was an isolated old looking wooden building that from the approach looked like it had been relatively unscathed but from the back had been completely ripped open.
We could see well known shops in the distance including Subway and Kathmandu and naively I thought these big chains had reopened already. They hadn’t, the buildings were empty but adverts and opening hours remained in place. The streets were mostly empty which made us feel like we were in one of those end of the world film scenes only this was very much real life. We could now see the top of the Cathedral so headed in to the square.
The damage the Cathedral suffered had been one of the most iconic photographs during the disaster(s) because the building had been the focal point of the cities heritage. From one side I was surprised at how intact it was and then I saw the damage sustained to the other side. The remains of the famous bell tower had been partly removed, but the front of the building had been demolished and near where the visitor entrance/ticket office was located there was a gaping hole in the ceiling. The area was also becoming over grown which I assume is a result of the legal battle over ownership between the church (who want to demolish it) and the heritage group (that want to preserve it).
There was some sign of life in the square as the tram had recently reopened and was shuttling up and down the street towards the Canterbury museum. We headed in the opposite direction towards the new shopping centre which has been built inside ship containers. It was a very unique idea and it looked quite good but a bit hard to comprehend that these approximately 10 containers were the cities main shopping district.
Karen and I continued on our way to the Cardboard Cathedral. I think I had half expected to see a cardboard cut out Gothic style building (like one of those 3D puzzles) but in reality it looked more like a plastic style greenhouse. Opposite was another fenced off area with a gap with nothing in it except for a small pile of stones in the centre. There were also some flowers and a poem tied to the fence and we became painfully aware this must have been the site where 115 people lost their lives.
We followed the tram tracks (though they were not running along this section) and we eventually came to New Regent Street which had been restored and the shops reopened. Trams were running from here on a short section to the Canterbury Museum via Cathedral Square and we decided to have a short ride. The driver gave a brief summary of some of some of the cities old landmarks and how the rebuild and restoration process was slowly taking place.
After about 15 minutes we arrived at the Canterbury Museum and after a brief walk around a few of the displays decided to look around the botanical gardens. On our way back to the hostel we bumped in to Sina and Summer and the 4 of us went searching for food eventually settling on a place that was recommended to us.
Sina, Summer and I had similar time flights so had opted to share the shuttle to the airport. There had been a mix up and another party had been forgotten and were luckily able to share with us. The driver was rather eccentric but a good laugh and we got to the airport in plenty of time. I checked in and waited at the gate before hearing an announcement that the flight would effectively be delayed until 30 minutes after it should have arrived in Auckland.
There were no further dramas and I arrived in Auckland over 1 hour and 30 minutes late and after taking the bus from the airport to the hostel went in search of Hell’s Pizza knowing this really was the last chance.
It didn’t look far on the map, a 20 minute walk but it was approaching 9.45, dark and starting to rain. I wasn’t sure if it would be open or live up to my memories and with a heavy heart decided to abort the mission.
I’d been attempting to contact Mitch as he was staying at the same hostel but without success and knowing I had an early start grabbed a takeaway and returned home. It was only 10.30pm and already everyone in my room was asleep which meant I had to creep around in the dark whilst I sorted my bag for the next day.