In February 2011, 185 people lost their lives in a major earthquake that left much of downtown Christchurch in ruins and wreaked havoc throughout the region. Approximately 80% of the buildings in the core of the city collapsed or were beyond saving. 10,000 homes had to be demolished, and many more were severely damaged.
Visiting Christchurch in late 2012, our son Philip described the scene:
Christchurch is pretty much a ghost town still, after the earthquake two years ago. The entire downtown is completely leveled, fenced off, and there is nobody there and nothing to do except wander around and look at the destruction.
And he sent along a photo to illustrate.
Our 5-day visit to Christchurch in February 2020 was near the nine-year anniversary of the big quake, and we had no idea what to expect. Short answer? We were amazed!
No doubt it’s been a long slog for residents, but as an outsider experiencing your city for the first time, two thumbs up for a job well done! Still a work in process, but what a marvelous example of resilience and thoughtful urban planning to re-invent and re-invigorate the city, as well as to forge a path for future growth and development.
Here are a few of the many structures that have been been repaired and restored . . . .
. . . . And examples of brand new spaces.
There is still much work to be done . . .
. . . including the construction of a new Roman Catholic cathedral in the heart of downtown that will incorporate treasured items from its defunct predecessor.
Speaking of cathedrals, I should mention the continuing saga of the Anglican ChristChurch Cathedral, which was heavily damaged by the 2011 earthquake and subsequent aftershocks.
After years of debate, uncertainty, and even litigation, church leaders announced just last year that the iconic cathedral will be restored, at an estimated cost of $100 million.
In the meantime, parishioners have been meeting at the Transitional Cathedral (shown below) since 2013.
Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and constructed at a cost of $6 million, the Transitional Cathedral opened in 2013. Also known as the Cardboard Cathedral because of its cardboard architectural elements, including the beams shown in the photo below, it’s a beautiful “must see” attraction for visitors.
Two memorials have been established in Christchurch to honor those who died in the 2011 earthquake. Created by local artist Peter Majendie as a temporary exhibit, 185 White Chairs appeared on the first anniversary of the quake and remains in place today with no end date in sight.
Completed in 2017, the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial consists of two peaceful areas on either side of the Avon River as it flows through downtown Christchurch – a park space on the north bank with trees, gardens and seating, and a sunny memorial wall on the south bank.
Christchurch Walking Tour
We’re big fans of guided walking tours. Especially if we have the guide all to ourselves, which was the case in Christchurch for our 3-hour tour with Craig.
Craig introduced us to numerous downtown landmarks and was a wealth of information about Christchurch. He patiently answered our many questions about post-earthquake redevelopment activities and shared interesting facts about planned initiatives over the next ten years.
The photo gallery below shows a few sights from the tour I haven’t talked about already.
Exploring On Our Own
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The opportunity to wander through 52 acres of nature – a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.
One historic building and two floors of exhibits tell the story of New Zealand’s history and development.
One exhibit was especially unique – Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House. Real people who collected real paua shells and adorned their real home in Bluff with over 1,000 of the colorful artifacts. They have passed on, but their colorful kiwiana collection lives on at the Canterbury Museum.
Christchurch Art Gallery
Although the art galley building looks new, it debuted in 2003 but closed for four years after the 2011 earthquake for repairs. I’ve included a few photos from the diverse exhibits, mostly focusing on pieces with a New Zealand connection.
With Steve and Marlene (our NZ travel companions), we embarked on a lovely day trip from Christchurch to the Banks Peninsula, including lunch and sight-seeing in the charming French-influenced community of Akaroa.
I should add that it was our first adventure driving on the left on narrow, winding, and hilly roads, and thankfully, we did fine. It was a beautiful drive.
That’s it for our six days in Christchurch. We had a wonderful time and would love to go back in a few years to see the next phase of redevelopment. But for now, it’s time to get out of the city and immerse ourselves in the countryside.