We didn’t really have much interest in going to Christchurch, but we got an award flight to Sydney from here, so we booked it, and then when Elisse & Scott had family coming in on the 20th, we decided to have two nights here instead of one.
Given all that, it was something of a surprise to find how fascinating and haunting and weird and creative Christchurch is. About 80% of the buildings in the city centre have or are due to be demolished, so pretty much everything you see is crumbling buildings, empty lots full of rubble, or apocalyptic mashups of shipping containers and scavenged materials, punctuated by brilliant new modern architecture. (Often also incorporating shipping containers, which have been embraced and seem to now be part of the design ethos here.) Is this what Rotterdam was like immediately following World War II? We had a late-ish dinner on our first night here and ended up walking a great deal of the city in the twilight, looking at the murals and pop-up art and seeing how the city is recreating itself.
We kept up the walking the next day, starting at the Re:Start shipping container outdoor mall for breakfast and coffee at Hummingbird Cafe which is itself a two level shipping container structure. From there we looked through a lot of the mall and meandered up Victoria St. until we found Whisky Galore, which had one of the best whisky selections we’ve ever seen. They even had some High West! There’s not a lot of New Zealand whiskey floating around but they had some and we of course left with a bottle. We decided to have another coffee break at Food Container, which was like a food cart pod in Portland but made out of three shipping containers. It was getting pretty hot so we decided to spend our afternoon at the Christchurch Art Gallery, which had just reopened for the first time since the 2010 earthquake a couple of days before. Each re-opening is a pretty big deal to the people of Christchurch and it was nice to be able to take part in one too.
From signage and talking to people, it sounds like Christchurch is really embracing this opportunity to build more strategically and compactly, with better walkability than before. Before the earthquake only 8,000 people lived in the city center, with Christchurch sprawling out over the plains, and now they are planning to have 20,000 people in the city center – what a difference! It must be hard to see your city changing and shifting around you, with the old landmarks disappearing and never knowing if the shop you liked is still there or has moved or simply closed, but at the same time it seems like such a wonderfully vibrant time to live in Christchurch!