On 22nd February 2011, at 12:51pm, an earthquake of magnitude of 6.3 on the Richter scale hit New Zealand’s South Island. Centred 10km from the centre of Christchurch, it caused massive amounts of damage to the city and 163 people died as a result of it. Following that, another quake in June (also a magnitude of 6.3) caused further damage to an already weakened city. These are the raw facts of the situation, and I am fairly certain that people reading this will be aware of what happened to Christchurch, however it is hard to really understand the scale of the devastation until you visit the city. In November 2012, the city is still recovering.
Coming into Christchurch, you’d be hard pressed to think that there was anything out of the ordinary. The outskirts are like any typical city – suburban housing, car showrooms, retail units – nothing strange, although you do notice a preponderance of houses with scaffolding surrounding them. It is only once you come closer to the CBD (central business district) that the impact of the earthquake becomes clear, as large empty squares come into view, the cleared remains of demolished buildings. The ‘Red Zone’ in the centre of the city is cordoned off to public access, but parking on the edge and walking around allows you to see what’s left of the centre of the city. Some buildings have been totally demolished, some are still being pulled down, while others (presumably deemed safe) stand alone as isolated survivors.

The cathedral is probably the most striking of the damaged buildings – and also one of the most controversial regarding demolition/repair. Many people want to retain what’s left as a symbol of what happened, while others believe it should be replaced entirely. The picture on the left below is from Wikipedia, while the right is the one I took – unfortunately I couldn’t find a ‘before’ picture from the same angle.

The city isn’t all gloom though – the river is a beautiful patch of greenery beside the dust, and a mall has been opened next to the Red Zone built entirely out of shipping containers. The Re:Start mall, though small, is a definite sign of life returning to the CBD, though it’s clear that it will never quite be the place it once was. The surrounding areas remain (with the exception of a few small areas) unaffected. East of Christchurch is the Banks Peninsula – a lovely area of winding roads, secluded bays, and quaint villages. Arakoa in particular was gorgeous, with a very French influenced style to it. A day driving round here was a joy, particularly a 20km stretch of single lane gravel road with the ‘low petrol’ on 🙂 I’d like to say something nice about New Brighton, a seaside resort that I stayed at for a few days while the city’s hostels/hotels were all booked out for a racing weekend. Unfortunately I can’t. Ok, the beach is alright, and I watched the partial solar eclipse from it, but the rest of the town could disappear and the world would be a better place for it.

A final place I visited in the area was the International Antarctic Centre, next to the airport. I didn’t realise before but Christchurch Airport is the departure point for flights to the McMurdo Sound, the largest populated area on Antarctica, and is home to the supply bases for the major research programs. This place reconfirmed my desire to go to Antarctica at some point, despite the challenges (and costs) that it would involve. The isolation, wildlife, and natural beauty would make it the trip of a lifetime – maybe I’ll be writing a blog post from there in the next couple of years 🙂

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