Last full day in Christchurch. Better make it count. First stop is Cathedral Square, so I can join up with the Free Walking Tour that starts at 10.
Our guide is a man called Michael, who starts off by showing us the square. There are four trees at one end, each one with a plaque depicting the names of everyone who was on the four boats that first came to settle Christchurch. They’re partially hidden by an art installation, so I’d never noticed them last time I was here.
We then headed out and over to the Citizen’s War Memorial, an archway at the start of a bridge. Sadly, the earthquake damaged the original, but this was built in time for one of the more recent ANZAC days in it’s place. It’s the same story for a lot of Christchurch – even the Re: Start mall was built the way it was due to the lack of sturdy buildings (it was only meant to be temporary, but proved so popular that when they wanted to start building on its site, they just moved it across the road).
After a quick stop at the Botanic Gardens (built by settlers who missed English parks and is half the size of Central Park in New York), we then headed towards the museum and art centre. These are both Victorian style buildings that were designed the same was as the Cathedral. Unlike the cathedral and art centre though, the museum managed to survive the quake with little damage – as it went through quake-proofing not long beforehand. The art centre was not so lucky, but Christchurch is determined to rebuild it entirely as it was once a university, and a significant part of Christchurch’s history. They’ve only just reopened the courtyard after years to work, so we’re some of the first to see it in its new glory.
The second half of the tour starts in Cathedral Square, with the focus now on the damage caused by the earthquake. The Cathedral is the perfect place to start – although it managed to survive most previous quakes with minimal (or at the very least, repairable) damage, the 2011 quake destroyed its steeple and made the building a red zone. Its now in the middle of a heated fight between the Anglican Church and the city – the church want to tear it down and build a new one, the public want to repair it (understandable since it was the symbol of the city). The church did get approval (and knocked down part of the building) before an injuction was put in place to stop them. At this point, nobody’s really sure what’s going to happen to the building. Ironically, the scaffolding in the photo is utterly pointless – it was erected to stabilise a wall next to it that held a beautiful stained glass window that was still in pretty good shape…then an aftershock pushed the scaffolding IN to the wall, destroying said window.
We head slightly out of the central city, and Michael shows us the Forsyth Barr Building, where every staircase was destroyed and those trapped inside had to rappel down to the car park in order to get out. Astonishingly, the building has been declared safe despite this – although nobody wanted to go back in. It was eventually sold for $1 to a hotel – since it’s the second tallest building in Christchurch and new rules have stated nothing more than 6 storey’s is to be built in the city from now on (not due to the quake, but for aesthetic). He also takes us to New Regent Street, which miraculously survived the quake with little damage, and is one of the few places you can still find pre-2011 Christchurch in all its glory.
Since the Cathedral is not currently functioning, Christchurch also found space for new growth – with the Cardboard Cathedral. This was designed by a Japanese architect and uses giant cardboard tubes to create the roof. They also took what was left of the stained glass window I mentioned earlier, and printed out giant photographs of the shards in order to create the mosaic in front.
Sadly, the next stop on the route is the site of CTV Building, which collapsed 9/11 style. It was a 16 storey building hosting a television studio, English language school, shops and a hairdressers. Of the 185 people who died that day, 115 died here – only a few on the third and fourth floor (mostly foreign students) were pulled out alive. It’s now a memorial site, and across the road hosts the ‘185 empty chairs’ – an art installation that honours everyone who died.
Its kind of like walking back in time when you see this area. There are still shops that would have surrounded this building lying empty, the floor covered in cracks and old merchandise just lying around. It’s a veritable ghost town, one I didn’t expect to see.
The tour finishes just shy of the Re: Start Mall, and I’m happy to give Michael $20 for the 2 hours. I’ve done a few Free Walking Tour’s and this one was well worth it – highly recommend if you’ve only got a short time in Christchurch.
Once everyone’s dispersed, I retrace my steps and head back for the museum since it’s free entry. Along the way I spot a small Japanese restaurant called Zen Sushi, and when I realise they’re selling tuna nigiri (which is SO DAMN HARD to find in New Zealand), I give it a shot.
This is HANDS DOWN the nicest tuna I’ve had in New Zealand. I just wish I’d found the place earlier so I could have more rather than the last few pieces. The fish is so close to perfect I’m about ready to weep. They also do dumplings, so I suspect I’ll be back again later.
The museum consists of three floors and several different exhibits. The first floor focuses on the Maori and the animals that interacted with them such as the Moa (saw a giant moa skeleton for the first time, these things really were real life chocobos). There’s also a section regarding the Chatham Islands Moriori people, who have suffered terrible discrimination due to people not considering them Maori and assuming that they died out/interbred with Maori and no longer exist. Further up has floors on antiques, Antarctic expeditions and Christchurch history.
It’s not got anything on the Wellington museum, but it’s still a very impressive collection. I especially like the clothing section, with outfits from famous or distinguished historical locals. They’ve also got a great Christmas scavenger hunt going on – santa’s are hidden amongst the displays, and they’ve got check cards for kids to hunt them down – its kind of fun to try and spot them.
You really need a good three hours to enjoy it – sadly due to me not getting in till the late afternoon I’m rushed out at the end, so go wander around the botanic gardens a bit before heading back towards my hostel.
I really liked Christchurch – it’s a strange city but its got a lot of charm, even if it feels like it’s still fully inside a very long rebuild. It’ll be nice to come back in five years once the repairs are finished and see what it’s become in that time.