Sunday, 7 August 2016

A City Rebuilding - Christchurch; Part 1


We've visited Christchurch numerous times since we've been on the road, staying at the NZMCA Park at Weedons which is about 20kms from the central city. We've driven through and around the city many times, along broken roads dodging oodles of orange cones, past crumbled buildings and vacant lots, down deserted overgrown suburban streets, and as the city slowly rebuilds, visited the many new shopping centres and commercial buildings in the suburbs. But I've never taken a dedicated walk through Christchurch's devastated central city. 

Until this recent visit, I always felt like I would be intruding, being ghoulish in visiting the scene of so much heartache. But now, over five years on from the devastating February 22nd, 2011, Christchurch Earthquake, it was time to take that walk and explore a city rebuilding. 

Of course the first stop had to be at one of the most recognisable symbols of the earthquake, the remains of the iconic Christchurch Cathedral in Cathedral Square. Once the heart and soul of the city, the Cathedral and the Square are shadows of their former selves. (Remember to click on the photos to enlarge)

The support structure at the front of the church was put in place after the earthquake to protect the magnificent stained-glass 'Rose Window'. Unfortunately it acted like a battering ram in the June 2011 earthquake which was then followed by a more powerful aftershock. The Cathedral is one of the many buildings in the city that are in limbo; awaiting insurance &/or court outcomes as various groups fight for the right to rebuild, or demolish and move on.  

I decided to take a tour on the tram first, to get an overall picture of the city and, more importantly, try to get my bearings. I was having a little trouble recognising many of the remaining buildings.

We once had a factory (rotational moulding water tanks) in Riccarton which we visited two or three times a year, often staying in the central city at the Heritage Hotel.  I was happy to see that the Old Government Building where the Heritage is located, was up and running again after having its quake damage repaired. Unfortunately the Heritage's main tower building which was beside the OGB didn't survive the quake. 

I was lucky enough to share my tram ride with a very well-known and much loved Christchurch character; the Wizard, a real, live, walking, talking tourist attraction...

...whose familiar doubled ended Volkswagen, I found parked in its official council carpark... the top end of New Regent Street with its Spanish Mission revival style. New Regent Street was the only remaining heritage streetscape left in Christchurch after the February quake. Owners & tenants worked together to restore the buildings which have a Historic Place Category 1 Status.

I was a little sad to see how much progress had been made on "The Piano- Centre for Music & Arts" building, in the new performing arts precinct, and beside New Regent Street. Purely selfish reasons of course...

The Piano has covered up a beautiful piece of street art; 'The Ballerina', by my favourite street artist OD (Owen Dippie) who has in the past painted many beautiful murals around Tauranga & the Mount (his home town). I was lucky enough to shoot the ballerina just as work started on the Centre for Music & Arts last June. It's the only subject I have photographed inside the central city, because, as is the norm with street art, I knew it would be gone before long. You can see more of OD's work on one of my earlier blog posts by clicking this link.

Take a bow Christchurch
I did a circuit on the tram but didn't use the hop-on, hop-off option at any of the 17 stops, I decided it would be easier to walk some of the circuit afterwards taking photographs- through glass and around people moving about is just about impossible. I got off at New Regent Street...

...and followed the tram through Cathedral Junction...

...out the otherside and back around Cathedral Square...

...past the Cathedral once again, where there was still a steady stream of visitors viewing and photographing the ruins...

Past a couple of soapbox preachers and the local 'boys' playing chess...

...up over the Avon and along Worcester Street, past the shored-up 'Our City- O Tautahi', a Grade 1 historic building awaiting restoration. Originally the first council chambers, the Queen Anne style building was built in 1887. That's the old Rydges Hotel in the background, awaiting repair after a long standing insurance dispute.

A little further on down Worcester Street is the Christchurch Art Gallery- Te Puna O Waiwhetu with Martin Creed's 46 metre neon artwork and very poignant message "Everything is Going to be Alright" blazoned along one side of the building (it lights up brightly at night). 

This magnificent building came through the quake virtually unscathed (the concourse had to have it's floor re-leveled ) but was only re-opened to the public last December, nearly five years after the event. It was used by Civil Defence, SARs and the NZ Defence Force and became the co-ordination centre for the official quake response. 

The building's intact & distinctive glass facade was beamed around the world as media gathered on the forecourt for press conferences and live updates.

The large 1.7 tonne 'bronze bull atop a grand piano' once stood for 30 days as an art installation on an empty site in Madras Street. It became a symbol of hope in an earthquake-ravaged city and was eventually purchased for the gallery through a public fundraising campaign.

I wanted to check out a recent addition to the art gallery's 'Outer Spaces' art works- the rather creepy 'Quasi'  hand and face sculpture by Ronnie van Hout (and yes, it's named after the quasimodo character from 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'). The 5m tall giant hand with a slightly grim face peers down on the city from a rooftop corner- you can see it on the far left in the photo two above.

I left the art gallery behind (I'll visit inside another day) and headed back up Worcester Street, back over the Avon and turned right down Oxford Terrace past the old Public Trust Office; another building battling for its life within the courts.

And past buildings that are just beginning their life. Oxford Terrace's The Strip will once again be the hub for the city's hospitality, with two levels of bars, restaurants and outside courtyards looking out over the Avon. 

Here's an artist's impression of what it'll look like once completed; a far cry from the original and sometimes infamous Strip, with it's tightly packed restaurants, bars and nightclubs in and amongst the many historic old buildings which mostly collapsed in the quake or were demolished soon afterwards. 

And looking back down Oxford Terrace...

The terraced seating beside the Avon River would be a lovely place to rest and watch the world go by....although, as my mother used to say, 'sitting on concrete will give you piles'. I think they need cedar wooden slats to make it more comfortable. I have a sneaky suspicion the ducks think it's rather nice too.

I carry on until I reach the Bridge of Remembrance which had been off-limits since the quake while a three-year strengthening and repair project was completed. It reopened on ANZAC day this year.

Across from The Bridge of Remembrance is the Cashel Street Mall, and like the buildings of Oxford Terrace, many of the malls's historic buildings collapsed during or were demolished after the quake. It's here on the corner of Oxford & Cashel that I feel a little melancholy and a sad sense of loss for the city, it's hard to reconcile this part of the old city with the city I see in front of me today. 

To be continued.... Part 2


  1. Impressive report of Chch's road to recovery.....I lived their for 10 years in the 70s......the emotional fallout will continue for some time.
    Your blog shows allot of optimism and hope.
    I look forward to your next posts on Chch.

    1. Thanks Jimu, glad you enjoyed it, hopefully Part 2 will fill in a few more gaps.

  2. Did you visit he Margaret Mahy playground? I was down there visiting grandkids a couple of weekends ago and we took the kids there. I still haven't had a look at the cardboard cathedral yet. There are so many blank spaces downtown, aren't there, where buildings have been demolished.

    1. No, the playground & Botanic Gardens (amongst others) were on my 'to visit' list but I ran out of time. I'll have to head back for another tour next time we're in the city. And yes, It's amazing how many building are missing especially when you compare before and after maps with a recent one.

  3. Have they FINALLY resolved the dispute with the owner of the five remaining shops in New Regent St.? I couldn't see any of the ugly hoardings .... such a delight to see it looking so good again. Thank you!

    1. You're welcome. I'm not too sure that the dispute is totally resolved Nancy, but while researching I came across an article saying they had, although there were still a couple of shops boarded up. It certainly was a busy part of town and the tables and chairs outside added to the atmosphere.


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