My first impression of Christchurchs CBD was: Ugly. Boring. Broken. We were on our way to Kaikoura when we first visited the city. But as we were only driving through and stopping at a supermarket, we didn’t see the „real“ CBD. At the end of our holidays, two days before our flight to Australia, we stayed in Chrch. And that is where we met the real Citys spirit.
THE LAST DAYS
But before that we stayed the last two nights we had with Hector Constantin in Lyttleton–a small suburb from Chrch parted from the main City by a hill and only reachable via a tunnel (Ok, you could also reach it via a road from the coast, but thats a long way from Chrch). Lyttleton’s town center was almost completely destroyed during the earthquake in 2011. But some cafes and bars have already returned and the cute little main street is alive and filled with locals and tourists. We had a drink on the deck of a restaurant with live music and chatted with a local who joined us at our table. Moments like these are what I love about traveling.
After these two days in Lyttleton we had to return our camper-van to the rental company. Saying goodbye to Hector Constatin was weird. Especially because we had to hurry: A member of the rental company expected other people to return their car and wanted to drive us to our airbnb location first. So we had only a few minutes to grab our things (with running back because I had forgotten my hat) and say goodbye. A last photo of the kilometers we drove and then we left. (from north to south we drove about 6000km across NZ)
It’s true: The whole CBD got destroyed in the big earthquake in February 2011. And most of it is still destroyed. Investors are coming slowly. People were moving away from Chrch after the quake and are not returning. It’s sad. The man we had talked to in Lyttleton told us there were a hundred Breweries in town before the quake and they didn’t come back so far.
We had one day in Chrch and started walking through the CBD–or what was left of it. Even 6 years after the earthquake there were only a few houses standing. A lot of worksites were around and many empty areas, where now were carparks. Some buildings were still damaged, empty and behind fences. We strolled pass these buildings and came to the cathedral and could only look at it through fences. Some artists had built a small information center in front of it with walls made of plants. A few meters opposite of it was another artwork: hundreds of colored flags on lines. We walked on and found something we never had expected: A food and shopping center made of containers. „It’s only temporary“, our host Ravi told us later the day. „But the owner of the place wants it gone to build a real shopping mall.“ We were disappointed. This was a place that was alive. And even more: The people who didn’t leave Chrch showed that they can rebuild their city and bring it back to life–even if there’s not much money and works progress is slow. After this we found some more places where Chrch seemed to rise like a phoenix from the ashes. These places were little cafés or bars but also a lot of art: sculptures, graffities, city gardens. Though Chrch isn’t as vibrant as Wellington, or close to the ocean like Auckland, it has a special attitude and you can feel its awakening. Slowly but steady. And the people living there hold on to their city and try to make it a place worth living. We were happy to see this and Chrch has place in our hearts. Maybe we’ll come back in ten years to see what has happened so far. Because one thing is clear: this is an opportunity for the city to reorganize the CBDs traffic and infrastructure, rebuild the houses in a modern and safe way and give the city a forward-looking center.
Besides that we had a fantastic breakfast, a delicious Thai-dinner and some good drinks in a small bar. Though there’s not the variety like in other cities, what they’ve got is amazing 😉