Labour Day weekend, we decided to go on a road trip up the east coast, the furthest north we had previously been was Oamaru. Our aim was to get to Christchurch, where Mark has some English friends that he hadn’t visited since we arrived. What I saw, left me totally shocked and stunned beyond words.
Christchurch sustained a severe earthquake on 22 Feb 2011: 12;51pm, the busiest time of day in a city. This wasn’t the first quake, this was an aftershock of a stronger quake a few months earlier further out to the north west of the city. It was in the news for ages, globally, the photos were truly horrific. But what the public don’t see, is what happens after it all goes out of the media spotlight and people have to continue to live their lives.
If you look at the surface, there are heaps of new buildings being built, a brand new bus station, it all looks awesome. Then look again. I just didn’t expect to see so many vast empty spaces in the central city after 5 years, so many wrecked and ruined buildings still shored up with shipping containers. I was speechless. The thing that really upset me the most, to the point of tears, was the temporary memorial: 185 chairs.
One chair for each victim that was killed in the quake, their names all listed on a board at the front of the memorial.
Close by, stands the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral or ‘cardboard Cathedral’: the original Cathedral having been de-consecrated and now stands in ruins amidst a legal battle between the diocese, who want to tear it down, and the people of Christchurch, who want it to be restored.
I went into the building, not sure what to expect. I didn’t seem right to take photos inside, although lots of foreign tourists were. The roof structure was cardboard tubes, the roof plastic sheeting. A true statement from the people that they are not going to let this disaster stop them. the book of souls was open, All souls day coming up on 2 November: a day on the Christian calendar set aside to commemorate the faithfully departed. So I wrote my mums name, Margaret Magowan, in their book, to be read out at their All Souls day service.
Amongst the mayhem, the people of Christchurch are fighting back though. The city was pretty much deserted, however we found all the people at the ReStart Mall, a mall built out of shipping containers after the quake, an attempt to restore some normality in an otherwise totally devastated city.
We also found heaps of street art and sculptures all around the city. I only got photos of a fraction of it.
The river Avon runs through the centre of the city, its like a wee oasis in the midst of mayhem, plus there are still some historic features that survived. The trams still run, although only on a fraction of the tracks at the moment.
We actually stayed in a place called New Brighton, (a must, since the other one is so close to Mark’s home city!) and he decided that this New Brighton was rather similar to that New Brighton!
Christchurch’s busses are awesome, they run like the London underground with military precision, it has been years since I was on a bus, Invercargill’s busses are not worth getting on unless you want a ticky tour of the city as they only run circular routes!
Since we were there, it seemed rude not to go to the Rugby semi finals, but again, another shock. The real AMI stadium stands abandoned, following the earthquake. we passed it on the bus and its really big and grand, like you would expect. the current one is tucked in beside the arena and is very temporary looking and quite small. still, when needs must I guess.
Mark’s friends live out towards the Banks Peninsula. Their house in 2011 was totally destroyed, and the road to their new house fell down the cliff, taking three years to rebuild. I just can’t quite get my head round it all. in February this year Christchurch had another quake which further damaged the already crumbling Cathedral, and some of the cliffs on the Banks peninsula fell into the sea. All along the peninsula there are houses perched atop the cliffs, many look like they didn’t used to be quite that close to the edge before.
The people of Christchurch must have amazing resilience. I’m not sure I would have coped with it as well as they seem to have.
One of my biggest fears living on this beautiful island is a quake. I am hoping that down in sleepy Invercargill I manage to avoid that, but mother nature has her own plan, so who knows.
My deepest sympathies go out to all the families and friends of people who lost their lives on 22 February 2011. May all those lost souls eternally rest in peace.