Christchurch: The Redemption

While the weather didn’t redeem itself on my recent trip to Christchurch, the city itself did once night turned to day.

I first revisited the heavily damaged Christchurch Cathedral to take a closer look, which only created an even more eerie feeling once the level of destruction was more prominent. This motivated me to take in as much of the city as I could, and find the ‘stuff’ that wasn’t damaged.

Christchurch Cathedral DSCN5265

I strolled a short walk to the Re-Start Project – stores housed in brightly colored shipping containers, from local handmade craft wares to mega brand Katmandu. It was enough browsing to keep me busy for an hour or so. Amongst the ‘shopping containers’ and continuous construction are food trucks and coffee shops, making it the closest option to a mini market square. I heard a rumor they may even keep it that way once the city gets back on its feet.

It’s here you’ll also find Quake City, inappropriately deemed Christchurch’s Earthquake Attraction to demonstrate to tourists the reality of the 2011 earthquake. More heartfelt was Taiwanese backpacker Terry’s Smile for Christchurch campaign, a collection of smiles from around the world taken to brighten the city of Christchurch. 

Smile for Christchurch

It’s only a short walk to the Avon River, then to the greens of Hagley Park and the Botanical Gardens, which apparently are even a sight in this desperate winter. For the true tourists, you can even punt along the Avon, pole to the river floor.

Avon River

I followed the city east and discovered a few more Scape Public Art exhibits; refreshing attempts to get the locals involved and rejuvenate the city culturally. The murals covering the side of massive brick buildings are a revitalizing contrast against vacant lots, concrete rumble and abandoned Caterpillars.

And finally and with much gratitude I found Cassell & Sons CBD Bar. I was told you could get a sampler of either 4 or 6 of the Christchurch brew. I opted for the four, I was on working hours after all, but what I received was not the same thing as the tasting paddles I’m used to. Instead what I got was basically 4 pot sized (small beer) of the milk stout, dunkel, lager and IPA. While listening to the funky tunes being played in the background I nonchalantly tried to pretend that the massive ‘personal’ pizza and 4 beers were being shared with someone and that my table for one was a façade.


After polishing off the milk stout and dunkel – the best of the four, I rushed out of there to make my flight to Queenstown via Christchurch airport . So this is the most interesting part. In Australia, I’m used to by now not having to show any identification for domestic flights. New Zealand, takes it up one more notch – no security screening for domestic flights. Speechless. 

Haunting Christchurch

I’m so naive. I’m sat here in Christchurch, New Zealand and despite all I’ve read and heard anecdotally, I’m still utterly speechless. Christchurch was devastated by a massive earthquake in February 2011 and nearly 3.5 years later is still on the brink of recovery.

I didn’t want to believe it though. My trust-worthy companion, the Qantas in-flight magazine The Australian Way, amongst other travel oriented articles and blogs, have been boasting about Christchurch’s rise from the ashes as of the last few months. In fact, everything from shipping container boutiques to local art installations and pop up coffee shops has spun the ramshackle into riches.

This is what got me most excited. I dismissed all the backlash comments of after quake scares and desolation and imagined a hipster’s paradise – street art, craft beer disguised in old vacant warehouses and fashion labels hidden behind street lamps.

The best part is these things do exist. It’s just what makes it all the more creepy when you’re a tourist for less than 24 hours and you’re the only person on the street trying to uncover all the amazing ‘hidden gems’, honestly inspired to ‘give back’ and help the community but frankly, you’re scared to death of a zombie gang about to bust out of a half standing ex-office building.

Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers by Julia Morison; Scape Public Art

Tree Houses for Swamp Dwellers by Julia Morison; Scape Public Art

It also didn’t help that John, my nearly 80 year old taxi driver told me point blank just how scary it all was. “You can’t predict these things,” John said. “One minute you feel a shake, and you have no idea how bad it’s actually going to get. You don’t know what to do with yourself. You want to just run away, but they tell you to stay inside, hide under the table or something. One of the safest places is under a doorway because it’s more stable.” John’s lived in in Christchurch his whole life, and fortunately didn’t suffer any personal damage to his family or his home.

Downtown didn’t actually re-open until last November. It’s a ghost town. Literally, the feeling is haunting. There are only five hotels in Christchurch at the moment, and I’m pleasantly impressed with the Novotel, which sits in Cathedral Square, just opposite quiet tram lines and the old Christchurch Cathedral, with part of its side bitten out from the quake.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral

It’s only 6:30 pm, 8 degree Celsius (46 F) and pissing down rain. From all the recent articles I’ve read about Christchurch, I had a few places in mind such as CBD Bar who are an off shoot of Cassels and Sons local brewery and Pomeroy’s, a Christchurch historic institution who brew their own beer. After about 2 minutes out on the cold dark streets I stopped on a quiet corner. That was the thing. All of the corners were quiet. I decided to second guess my adventure for local beer due to the fact that I felt alone, and unsafe. As much as I want to help support the local businesses, doing it alone didn’t seem smart. I turned back to have a quiet dinner and local Pinot Noir back at the Novotel, and vow tomorrow to revisit the quick glimpses of street art that I caught earlier today, and maybe even sneak in a cheeky pint too before my flight down to Queenstown. 

In the clouds:  snow-capped mountains on the South Island of New Zealand

In the clouds: snow-capped mountains on the South Island of New Zealand