The first one came on September 4th, 2010, damaging many of the city’s older buildings and leaving residents without power or clean water for days. There were no fatalities, however, (unless you count the one person that suffered a heart attack during the quake,) and it was with a sense of relief and optimism that the repairing and rebuilding began.
My parents visited Christchurch the following January, observing the fenced off areas with interest before moving on. There had been a few aftershocks in the intervening period, including a particularly strong one on Boxing Day, which had hampered the city’s recovery by bringing down more buildings, but Mum and Dad were impressed with Christchurch’s attitude.
Then came the February 2011 earthquake. Over half the buildings in the central business district were damaged beyond repair, thousands of people were left homeless and 185 people died.
Since then there have been numerous aftershocks – none fatal – and the rebuilding efforts continue to this day, though not at a pace people are happy with. Again and again plans are frustrated, but last month (July 2013) there came a happy breakthrough: Christchurch’s iconic Cathedral Square was reopened to the public. The Chalice still stands; the cathedral doesn’t.
Christchurch Cathedral’s demise was a tragedy. The city’s main attraction for over a hundred years, it survived the first quake with only superficial damage, but then the February 2011 earthquake collapsed its grand spire and further aftershocks wrecked its rose window. The decision was made to demolish the whole thing.
I have not been to Christchurch since the quakes: I have only my memories of how it used to be. It was nearly ten years ago when my family flew there from Auckland. I think the first thing we did after picking up our campervan was head to Cathedral Square.
I remember having a wonderful bagel at a café on the periphery and posing in front of the Chalice, which really is a beautiful sculpture. I’m glad it didn’t get destroyed. I remember thinking that the cathedral itself was not that impressive, but only because I had been spoilt in my childhood by the cathedrals of Chester, Lincoln and York. It was still wonderful climbing up the steps of the tower.
I also remember an enchanting tram ride. A cathedral, a tram – it was like I was back in old England! Unfortunately, due to the quakes, the tram is no longer running.
We loved Christchurch. In fact, before the quakes, I would have said that it was the New Zealand city I would have most liked to live in, primarily because it was the most English-feeling of New Zealand’s cities. I remember a little, stone pub with a garden and being taken down the River Avon in a punt – just like Cambridge! (That’s the proper Cambridge in England, of course, not the place in New Zealand near Hamilton.)
Speaking of the River Avon, next to it are the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, which, thankfully, weathered the quakes relatively well. They were my family’s favourite bit of Christchurch and, by all accounts, are still magnificent to walk around. Incidentally, they celebrated their 150th anniversary this year.
I want to go back to Christchurch one day, especially to the gardens, but also to retrace the steps of our South Island campervan holiday. From Christchurch, we drove up the peninsula to Akaroa, which I was possibly not old enough to appreciate and dearly want to see again.
Article by Abigail Simpson, author of POMS AWAY! A British Immigrant’s View of New Zealand