Landing into the largest city of the South Island I was not sure what to expect. A ruthless dragon in the form of an earthquake unleashed its wrath not once but twice in recent years.
In some parts of the city there are now more parking lots than buildings, so many buildings were destroyed and many of those not destroyed in the quakes were razed to the ground for safety reasons. There are gaping hole and burnt shells of buildings, the destruction is heartbreaking, the dragon gave no mercy and yet..
As is the case in many dragon stories, the people have risen up and fought back! A shopping “mall” made out of shipping containers is just one of the creative ideas that have been put in place.
Elsewhere more shipping containers have been used to protect the facades of some of the more cherished buildings and to protect passers by from failing debris. Much of the CBD, or Central Business District is still cordoned off as part of the Red Zone. For the curious there is a bus tour that is permitted to journey inside the Red Zone. Outside the red zone it is very industrious and creative, the Gap Filler Community have created dance floors, book exchanges, fun fairs and cinemas in the gaps where once buildings stood. The Cardboard Cathedral whose real name is the Transitional Cathedral is further testimony to the creativity that courses through Christchurch. Built as a temporary solution it has quickly become a top visit on the tourist trail, despite being incomplete.
There are huge plans for regeneration and the excitement is almost tangible. New Regent Street opened a day or two after I left and is definitely the place to be.
For all the destruction, parts of Christchurch remained untouched, the George Hotel for one. With views over Hagley Park, not far from the Botanic Gardens and the Cashell Mall it is often voted as New Zealand’s top city hotel and is the only one with a staff to guest ratio of one to one. The rooms are spacious, modern and comfortable with clean lines and all mod cons, the service is impeccable and the food at Pescatore is divine. I opt for the smaller of the degustation menus despite not being hungry, why? Because Pescatore was one of the finalists in the New Zealand Restaurant of the Year, so it would be a shame to miss it.
Retiring to my room after dinner I find George sitting on my bed. George is a bear who I learn from his label, has been happily residing on property and living the life a bear born with a silver spoon in his mouth. It seems he is now ready to discover other parts of the world and I am actively encouraged to take him with me. Next morning I learn of what lies beyond the city itself and like so many places on this trip, I am sad that I do not have more time to explore.
As we (George and I) depart we are waved off with smiles from the people I have just met, they are a strong and valiant lot, they have much to be proud of and so much to look forward to.
It seems that both George and Christchurch are ready for a new chapter…I can’t wait to see how it unfolds.
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