The most interesting yet sad, beautiful but devastated city I have ever visited. I could find 100 and 1 ways to describe Christchurch. Almost 6 years have passed since the 6.3 earthquake destroyed Christchurch and it’s surrounding areas taking 185 lives with it. Before coming to New Zealand I knew little about the earthquake in 2011, in fact, I was shamefully oblivious to the amount of destruction that had taken place in the beautiful city. In my ignorance I expected the city to have been rebuilt, to show little sign of the number of earthquakes that took place so long ago. I now feel foolish for being so ignorant. Between 70-80% of the buildings in the CBD were destroyed by the Canterbury quakes themselves or demolished after being deemed unsafe. Of course the city had not recovered.
On the 4th of September 2010 at 4.35 am the people of Christchurch, and many surrounding areas, lives changed forever. A 7.1 magnitude earthquake shook the Canterbury region, and much of New Zealand leading to building damage and a state of emergency in Christchurch. There were no deaths. It was then on February the 22nd at 12.51pm that a 6.3 magnitude quake shook the city leading to 185 people tragically losing their lives.
How would I describe Christchurch when we visited in December 2016? Christchurch is the largest building site I have ever seen. With every street you explore you discover a half torn down building, empty space where a building used to be or orange cones flagging the fact that the roads need repaired. The devastation in Christchurch hit Carolyn and I hard. Maybe because a month earlier we had felt first hand how terribly powerful and frightening an earthquake can be, that was definitely part of the reason. However, I think with growing up and having the opportunity to travel you no longer see these sorts of disasters as a sad statistic. 185 people died each with families and friends, careers and prospects. I can’t just look at this number and feel bad for a brief moment of time, it has affected me forever. This may come across as pretty dramatic but this was beautifully summed up to me at the White Chair Memorial close to the CBD (see video above). 185 white painted chairs stood empty where a building used to be. No two chairs were the same. No-one can look at that memorial or in fact the damage around Christchurch and not be affected. At least in my opinion anyway.
Now, I hope this post doesn’t put people off visiting the city. Christchurch has suffered and is still suffering but with every bit of devastation you can see bits of genius that are inspiring. There is a mall made out of shipping containers allowing businesses to sell their products, ping pong tables line the streets giving you the opportunity for a friendly (or in some cases fiercely competitive) game. In addition to the city centre, areas such as Lyttelton and Sumner both were damaged by the quakes but are well worth a trip. Christchurch has not recovered, it is a place that is still grieving but it’s people are fighting and their courage is an inspiration to those who visit this incredible city.
For a day’s guide to Christchurch take a look at our ‘Ultimate South Island Road Trip’.