13 July 2016


In September 2010, Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island, experienced an earthquake of magnitude 7.1 that miraculously didn't kill anyone, but unfortunately it was just a preliminary event.  Six months later, a smaller earthquake struck right in the city's core, with a magnitude of 6.3, but killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands, and caused widespread devastation that the city is still trying to fully recover from.

Rather than do a tour, I thought I'd just drive around and explore on my own today.  It was quite cloudy all day, and the winds definitely picked up, but despite the lack of sun, it was the warmest day I've had, climbing into the mid-60s, even though I'm pretty far south in the country at this point.  There were a lot of weather warnings on the radio, but luckily the heavy rain and high winds waited until just after I got back to the hotel tonight to commence.

My first stop today was the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral, an emergency building constructed fairly quickly, opening about 2 years after the major quake, and primarily constructed of giant cardboard tubes that serve as the trusses/rafters for the structure that seats 700.  It will serve as a church after its current need is expired, but is designed to last for 50 years, and will serve as a parish church in the future.

The temporary cathedral was designed by a Japanese architect who specializes is "emergency architecture", and did the design pro bono as a gift to the city.  He had designed a smaller building after the Kobe earthquakes some years ago, and a local remembered reading about that structure and reached out to the architect, who agreed to design the structure for free.

I was able to get near the old cathedral, which has been stuck in limbo, partially destroyed.  The tower and front of the church collapsed, and unfortunately, it's mostly been left to the elements since then as lawsuits and decisions work their way through various processes.  The church wants to destroy and build anew, but the city and its people would like to save the historic building, built over 100 years ago.  Just this week, the final decision was delayed again, and they released some footage taken via drone from inside the cathedral showing the damage in its current state.

The city is full of empty blocks of gravel, evidence of building rubble long since removed, and there is scaffolding surrounding at least 10% of the buildings downtown, where renovation and new construction projects are scattered around the city's core.  There are still a few piles of debris fenced off here and there, with signs elaborating just who owns the plot of land that hasn't yet been cleaned up.

I then visited Re:START mall, a clever outdoor shopping arcade, built primarily out of shipping containers stacked together and painted brightly, with temporary shops, banks, a post office, and many different eateries.  The mall was quite busy with people going on with their normal lives, and after 5 years of constant road deviations, building erection, and temporaryness at every corner, I'm sure the citizens of this town are getting a bit tired of not having their city back just yet. 

I also took a walk through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, but being so far out of growing season, there wasn't too much to see outside of the greenhouses, and then took a drive to Lyttelton Harbour, using the tunnel to get there, but driving up and over the mountains on the way back, with expansive views of both the harbour and the city from opposite sides of the mountain ridge.

Tomorrow is another train day, a half day foray across the width of the island, over the Southern Alps.  Tonight's storm is forecast to drop 10 to 20 cm of snow (4 to 8 inches) at the summit, so I'm guessing the train can handle that.  I'll take the return train back for the second half of the day, hopefully getting to see the scenery from the other side of the train.