new zealand · oceania

Christchurch: A City Rebuilding Itself

After an incredible journey from Wellington, the ferry to Picton taking us through some stunning scenery and the bus traipsing steadily between the mountains and the wild coast, we didn’t expect a lot from Christchurch.

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After all, this is a city still rebuilding itself from tragic earthquakes, and we weren’t sure what to expect at all.

Couchsurfing had also not been our friend thanks to everyone being away for the public holiday (you know, the one that celebrates the Queen’s birthday but ISN’T a holiday in the UK) and we were stuck without anywhere to stay.

Christchurch also seems to have very limited wifi too – being one of the few cities in the world to not have a McDonald’s in the centre (I know, I know, there was an earthquake and everything, but I thought McDonald’s would be the first to rebuild given that it’s been five years), and only approximately three pubs in its CBD, none of which we found that night, so we couldn’t even explore our options when we got there.

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Eventually Ash got on a bank’s wifi and we found one hostel for $22 a night which we settled for, only to walk in the wrong direction and miss the reception hours.

Our options, then, were paying the extortionate $34 EACH for a bed in YHA, or to skip a bed altogether and find somewhere to sleep outside. We eventually resorted to the latter option, before realising, you know, it’s winter. And the likelihood of literally freezing to death was actually quite high.

So the YHA it was, blowing almost our entire accommodation budget for New Zealand in one night.

Needless to say, we HATED Christchurch that night.

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We spent the following day exploring what there is of the city. Because there’s not really a lot. I don’t mean this wholly in a bad way, because there is evidently a lot of rebuilding work going on and despite its drawbacks, I actually started to quite like the city.

But there are streets of empty buildings that don’t seem to have work going on in them, so surely they could be put to use. From talking to people around the city, locals seem to feel the same way. The only shops we could really find in the CBD were luxury brands that have reinvented themselves in the Re:Start mall.

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Now I have to admit – Re:start, also known as the container mall, is a really cool idea. All the shops are built in shipping containers, and it’s a perfect representation of what’s happening. But in a city where thousands of people lost their homes just five years ago, who wants to be buying Adidas when there isn’t even a Cotton On?

But here’s the thing. Every minute we spent in Christchurch, I warmed to the city more. The unrelenting energy of people, the otherwise sleepy feel of the streets, the tranquil parks and streams and cute trams, the beautiful architecture that is still there, the positive Cathedral Square even with the harrowing reminder of the destruction that hit the cathedral itself.

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As time went on, I could tell that this probably used to be a great city to be in.

But there is nothing in the centre. No supermarkets, no corner shops, no regular high street shops, barely even a bar or a restaurant. This struck us particularly on that first night when we were actively looking for something, ANYTHING, to be open in the middle of one of New Zealand’s biggest cities.

And so, although I feel bad for the city that so many people dismiss it straight away, I understand completely why. And as someone pointed out, it doesn’t even have reasonably priced accommodation to compensate for it.

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It became particularly apparent on the nightlife front when I joined a friend on a Saturday night, and we went to a small pub a twenty minute walk from the centre. And the place shut at 11pm. On a Saturday night. In a city. On a SATURDAY NIGHT.

We walked to Victoria Street, seemingly the only nightlife hub of the city, to find about three places open, and one of those was restricted for a private function.

So we ended up in The Bog, not a toilet but in fact an Irish bar. You could tell it was one of the only places open because every single person in Christchurch was in there. Everyone had chosen to go there despite the fact two drinks cost an absolutely outrageous $21.

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One cool upside of the city, though? There’s a lot of awesome street art dotted about. And as you’ve probably guessed by now (if you’ve read myΒ Penang and Melbourne posts), I’m quite a big fan of street art.

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Looks like someone’s starting to paint over that one…

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The art was definitely a redeeming feature, and one of the few real things to explore in the CBD other than parks.

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But that’s it. The cathedral has barely been touched, though we wonder if it’s being left as a tribute to what happened. But not much else has risen from the shaky city either, even after five years. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out the other side of all the construction, because in my opinion? It’s going to be a really, really nice city again one day, and I hope that day comes soon.

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