My final port of call in New Zealand, Christchurch. The garden city or as my friend more affectionately calls it, the City of Construction Bollards which are found on almost every street and corner. The month flew and somehow I found myself in Christchurch at the end of my New Zealand adventure having saidgoodbye to my Stray family again and waiting outside the Museum for my friend Shay to pick me up.
From Christchurch, Shay was living in the city at the time of the earthquake and as we strolled through the city on that first evening he pointed out where things used to be, shared stories of the buildings that are still standing and what it was like being there during the disaster. The city was without electricity for three weeks and had no toilets or running water for two. Everyone was given 15min in the grocery store to get water and food so that people didn’t stock pile. It is oddly eerie going by a brand new building and turning a corner to find the next boarded up, windows broken and curtains blowing in the wind. There was the building where the stairs collapsed all the way down so people used curtains tied together to climb out of windows. The hotel across the city where a homeless man hid himself when they evacuated spending the following six months living on the top floors in style listening to customer iPods, drinking from mini bars and wearing plush bathrobes and slippers. Shay’s friend who was working as an electrician on a job in the centre walked out of the building only to find that the awning of the building across the way had squashed his van moments before. Coming from a city where in my life time, the closest thing to anything like that was Juan, the xx scale hurricane that left Halifax in uprooted and without power for a week or so, it is hard to comprehend and imagine a natural disaster to the scale in which Christchurch got hit.
A lot of people that I met during my trip called Christchurch the Broken City and with a quick scan of the city I can see why one would say that. There is a lot of rubble, abandoned and destroyed buildings, empty lots in the city centre but the more you wander around and look past the destruction caused by the 2010 earthquake you see an incredibly vibrant and innovative city putting itself back together. The government brought in world class street artists to decorate building facades, the city centre mall, Re:Start is made out of brightly coloured construction containers and they built a temporary cathedral out of cardboard and that’s just the beginning.
However over the two and a bit days that I spent there I fell in love with the city. I loved the old buildings that had survived the quake, the bandaged ones which didn’t quite make it, the river that runs through the town, the Botanical Gardens – the largest in Australiasia and has an incredibly beautiful rose garden. I was expecting the Queen of Hearts or her knights to peer around a hedge at any moment. And of course the container mall! It was the most Christmassy thing I had seen my whole trip, had some great quirky shops, a really yummy pizza shop and arguably according to Shay, a Greek Slovaki van called Dimitris, which makes the best Slovaki’s in the world. I must admit they were pretty tasty and the queue in front of them would suggest the rest of Christchurch agrees. I adored colourful New Regent that made me feel like I had just walked onto a television set and introduced me to Mrs Higgins Oven Fresh Cookies. Try their peanut butter and chocolate chip ones. So delicious! The quirky little bars and cafes popping up all over the city. I was recommended C1 Espresso by a couple of people so as I love cafes and am now always looking for a good coffee I sussed it out on my day of wandering and getting lost. To find it, just look for the statue of the guy who is waving to the world on top of a building. It is a large wooden and brass room filled with clear tubes criss crossing over the ceiling. The purpose of these are to shoot sliders and chips to various tables around the restaurant. I watched a four year old boy receive his air compressed packet of food at the table next to me and the look of on his face was pure joy. If you don’t go for the chips and slider option they have an incredible selection of teas and very yummy muffins. Or try Strangers Lane, a bar where I met Shay for some delicious cocktails later that day that is a laneway converted bar. Oh and then there is the Cantebury Museum. They were showing an exhibition on Divinci and by the end of it I think I walked away with a small crush. There were models of his inventions or thoughts such as his boat shoes which make an appearance in the movie “Ever After” where Divinci plays a sort of fairy god mother to Cinderella. But mostly I loved the reinventing of the city, the people I met and their take on the city and what they are making from the ruins.
On my last day in Christchurch I visited the outlying suburb of Lyttelton where the first settlement of Christchurch began but when they realised it was too small of an area of the people took their belongings and crossed over and down the hill range and built Christchurch. It is a charming port town with a high street that looks slightly western and a great short coastal walk that goes past Cass Bay ending on Pony Point. Funnily enough there were two horses kept at the top of the point, although I highly doubt that they are there solely for the name.
I manoeuvred my way back to Shays between public transport and walking and met him at his local for a pint or two of a local Pilsner before we headed back home to create my last meal in New Zealand. He made a scrumptious Moroccan Dish and I made an equally yummy, if I do say so myself, apple crumble with walnut and maple ice cream on the side. Of course, this was all done over a lovely bottle of wine, great chats and away the evening flew until I looked at the clock and suddenly realised I would really turn into a pumpkin if I didn’t at least have two hours of sleep. It was a short shut eye before my alarm sounded at quarter to three. Bleary eyed, bags packed, and airport shuttle (not quite a golden carriage) waiting I headed to the airport, saying a silent goodbye to the broken city that I admired so much and the country which was medicine for my soul and imagination. I was off to the second last chapter of my adventures in the South West of Australia before I headed back up over the Equator and East to Nova Scotia.