Christchuch – The Quake City

After spending the first two weeks of Eija’s visit around Melbourne we moved on to New Zealand. We departed Melbourne on the 18th July and landed on the South Island around midnight.

Our journey started in Christchurch, the main air travel hub on the South Island. Christchurch was hit by a series of massive earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and the damage was still visible almost everywhere.  Despite the valiant rebuilding efforts damaged buildings and streets were a very common sight. The historic buildings around the city center were hit particularly hard. Perhaps the worst example is the famous Christchurch Cathedral which suffered serious structural damage and will have to be demolished.

During our first day in Christchurch we did quite a bit of exploring in the city itself. Sadly many of the shops and other buildings are still closed down after the earthquakes and for a city of this size there was precious little stuff to do. “Quake tourism” does have some novelty value but gets old quite quickly. We even had trouble finding a place to buy breakfast, so quite quickly we decided to head out of the city center itself.

Luckily the Botanic Gardens and the Canterbury Museum suffered only minor damage and were up and running. After getting some quick breakfast in the cafe we checked out the museum. Main highlight for me was definitely the section on polar exploration. Back in the day New Zealand used to be one of the main bases for Antarctic exploration. The Gardens were pretty nice too, even if Winter is not really the best time to visit. During the colder winter months only a few flowers were blooming and the colors were rather subdued.

Afterwards we spent some more time in the city, including a visit to the city center and the cathedral. The cathedral itself is very badly damaged and is currently fenced off so a closer look was not possible. We also visited the Re:Start Mall, a temporary mall built in shipping containers. Apart from that there really wasn’t much else to do in the city center so it was time to head back to our hostel for some rest and sleep.

On our second day we picked up a rental car and had more chances to explore the outskirts of the city. We started in Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, a nice wildlife zoo within the city. The reserve is heavily focused on native NZ animals, but there are also other critters there too. Here we also saw our only live kiwis of the trip. Sadly the birds are nocturnal and during daylight hours they are kept indoors in almost complete darkness. This doesn’t work too well for photography since flash is obviously not allowed.

After visiting the reserve we headed down to the coast.  We briefly visited the New Brighton Pier and then headed to Sumner, a seaside suburb in Christchurch. The main attraction here is the Cave Rock, a large rock full of caves right next to the ocean. Sadly large parts of the rock collapsed in the earthquakes and the caves themselves are now off limits.

We got back to our hostel and then I headed down to the city by myself. The Botanic Gardens was running a special night event called Light Up the Leafy Nights. While majority of the program was aimed at kids the various light shows made for some nice photos. Particularly impressive was the “burning flower” accompanied by a live band.

On the third day it was time to head out of Christchurch itself. But first we stopped at the Christchurch Gondola that took us high up to the hills bordering the city. After a few cloudy days weather had finally turned sunny and we had an excellent view over the city, including our first proper look of the mountains further inland.

Before the Gondola we also had a quick stop at the nearby suburb of Lyttelton. This is the location of the main port of Christchurch, well illustrated by the massive piles of timber waiting to be shipped out. Sadly the area suffered heavy damage in the earthquakes and there wasn’t much to do there.

Near Lyttelton we also dipped in for our first swim of the trip. The ocean was definitely refreshing (read cold) but at least the day was sunny and warm so we warmed up quickly. And apart from few passers-bys we had the whole beach to ourselves. 🙂

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