Day 1 & 2
Christchurch; A city known throughout the world, yet most famously for its devastation following the 2010-2014 earthquakes. I have to admit, when we arrived at the hotel I was a little thrown off by the construction sites that surrounded us. It was only after speaking with the concierge you realise just how much damage these earthquakes caused.
Our hotel Breakfree on Cashel, is situated right in the Central Business District (CBD) which makes it a very convenient base of operations. It also means there aren’t many pretty views outside, due to the majority of the CBD being under construction – but don’t let that put you off.
The concierge gave us some pointers on places to visit for the few days we were here, and a brief history explaining the reason for the various building sites around the city. As it turns out, the reason for so many construction sites, is because a lot of buildings still waiting for a decision to be made as to their fate. Some are to ve repaired, some to be rebuilt and some to ve destroyed completely.
Side note – watch out for trams!
After the earthquake in 2011, St John the Baptist Cathedral suffered severe damage, so a Japanese “disaster architect” Shigeru Ban was brought in to rebuild it.
The name of this cathedral is somewhat misleading: The foundation is a concrete slab, the walls of the Cathedral are made of shipping containers and the roof is polycarbon with timber and cardboard beams running up to the apex, which frames a large stained glass window at the front.
I had mixed feelings about the building’s design. Impressive as it was, particularly the giant stained glass window, the building structure seemed very basic. I guess sometimes “going back to basics” is a logical step, but who’d have thought cardboard would be a great choice for a Cathedral.
After checking out the interior however, I was pleasantly surprised.
The beams allowed plenty of light to filter through so the interior seemed twice its size. It was really bright and airy so the beams seemed to stretch on for ages. The shipping containers walls blended well with the surrounding building so if anything you wouldn’t necessarily notice that the side rooms were in fact containers.
185 empty chairs
This was probably one of the most humbling experiences I’ve faced while travelling. The 185 Empty Chairs are a temporary art installation located behind the cardboard cathedral on the corner of Cashel Street and Madras Street. Each chair was donated by a family member of the 2012 earthquake victims and represents the empty chairs they now have at their tables.
The Cathedral was also damaged during the earthquakes and as a result the spire was destroyed. There are still debates on weather or not to demolish the church, but as it’s a listed building the public are voting to keep the church and rebuild the damaged parts of the church itself.
What I did find interesting were the cairns (pile of rocksor stones) that had been erected in front of the Cathedral.
Typically, Cairns are erected on hiking trails and other areas to show the route when trekking through barren land, or land without many landmarks. They guide hikers in the correct direction and are also used to mark points of interest or potential dangers nearby. Hikers will often add a stone to the cairn to maintain and counteract erosion that they may be subject to.
Standing firm on unsteady ground.
I liked that the cairns seemed to represent the coming together in troubled times and marking the potential dangers of a city divided. Quite humbling to know that despite the destruction the city has faced over the years, it won’t be defeated easily.
It was said a few times during our stay that the people of Christchurch look at the chaos around them and see an opportunity to come back better.
Other Points of Interest
After about a 10 minute walk we arrived at the Canterbury museum. As with any museum, there are plenty of exhibitions and artefacts depicting local history and an insight to the past and this was no exception.
There were also plenty of art exhibits including street art and sculptures if history’s not your thing.
Christchurch Botanical Gardens & Parks
Christchurch Botanical Gardens are located right next to the museum, so not far at all. In fact everything was within a 25 minute walk so taking a walk around the city was ideal.
Now I know most cities will have plenty of street art, but following the earthquakes it seems to be everywhere. I have noticed that most of it doesn’t appear to be works of vandalism, but rather more decorative pieces. It’s like they’ve been painted to “brighten up” the place.
I LOVED the pop-up markets! OK… so they’re pretty much the same as any other market (pop-up or otherwise) but these stalls or shops have been very cleverly constructed from shipping containers placed next to and on top of each other. Plenty of shops/stores/stalls here and there, up and down which is great if you’re after retail therapy.
After a full day exploring, Lee finally arrived and the three of us went out to dinner at Bootleg BBQ before returning to our hotel to crash.
While Christchurch might not be pretty to look at now, it does have a chance to modernise and reinvent itself. And I for one, look forward to seeing where that takes us.