In 2011, Christchurch was hit by a massive earthquake which followed with seemingly endless aftershocks. According to news reports, about 80 percent of the city’s CBD was destroyed including old heritage buildings such as the 19th century neo-Gothic Anglican Christ Church, the city’s landmark in Cathedral Square. The flattened church is a reminder of Christchurch’s rich history as it is New Zealand’s oldest city. The quake was one of the biggest disasters to hit this relatively quiet and peaceful city.
Since the quake, Christchurch have bolstered up strength and started the rebuilding process. When I visited the city in January 2014, I witnessed the slow, gruelling restoration process. Cranes, barricades, scaffoldings, trucks, sound of drills and steel pounding and the dust that lingered in the air was a sure sign that work was in progress. After talking to some locals, I learned that the rebuilding process is further slowed down by the sluggish processing of insurance claims and indecision on whether to restore or build completely new structures in place of the ruined ones including the Anglican Church.
But even with many storefronts shuttered and abandoned homes lying desolate amid overgrown gardens, Christchurch, once one of New Zealand’s most popular tourist destinations, has retained much of its charm – and it has a great deal to do with her people.
Right next the flattened Cathedral Square is a cordoned-off area dubbed the Red Zone. Instead of making it a no-entry zone, the Red Zone is now a commercial area fashioned out of shipping containers, called Re:Start Mall. The artists’ painted containers are stacked two-storeys high and houses chic cafes, boutiques, souvenir shops, clothing stores and food joints. A popular hangout within the city, the area brims with tourists and locals and street buskers keep shoppers entertained throughout the day.
The city has much to offer despite the shaking in 2011. Much of her character is retained by the friendliness, resilience and hospitality of her people.