What a Welcome to New Zealand
On arrival in New Zealand, passing through another customs checkpoint, the staff worked pleasantly through their flow chart to identify those people, who could enter or those whom they wished to question further. Thankfully, we had our exit flight booked so no problems for us! One poor guy was struggling to understand the questions, stating he was going to the city. “What city” exclaimed the official, “there is no city” we both looked at each other and I said to Craig, “Remind me why we chose to start our New Zealand adventure in Christchurch again?”
We arrived in Christchurch at around 5.45am. We flew Qantas from Adelaide with a 3 hour stopover in Melbourne, from where our Australian journey started 33 days ago. We we’re knackered as we’d taken the flight directly after our 24hr train journey, the joys of travel eh?
After hanging around the airport with loads of other travelers, we grabbed some breakfast, and waited for the bus services to start. We watched the sunrise in the jaw-dropping morning sky, listening to the birds begin their morning song – one of life’s small pleasures but it never fails to impress me.
On the bus en route to our 2 night accommodation in Christchurch, I noticed how like England on a bright summers day this place looked, except for the higher proportion of bungalows.
Due to distinct lack of accommodation options (post earthquake 2011), we’d decided to stay at the YMCA, as it was excellently located and very cheap. However, I wasn’t looking forward to the prospect, as recently I’d attracted the attention of some rude arrogant backpackers. We’ve met some great people on our journey, but now and again you meet a real idiot and it’s not that easy to get away if you’re in a confined space for any length of time. I foolishly thought the YMCA was going to be crammed with a higher than average proportion of arrogant prima donnas. Thankfully I was so wrong. *rant over*
Christchurch has too much to offer than me boring you with my minor altercations, maybe I need yoga, or I’m just finally turning into a grumpy old man! Anyhow, I’ve not gotten to the exciting bit yet!
It’s Fun To Stay at the YMCA
The YMCA is great, we went for a private room and shared bathroom as we’re trying to recoup some of our overspend in Australia before we hit Japan. The place is spotless with a real mix of people, from what I’d expected with a smattering of families and people even older than us, now that’s a first! You can eat really cheaply here, there is a gym, and has all the facilities you need and then some, plus the ambiance is very chillax’d (a phrase I picked up in Oz, hope it doesn’t sound too pretentious – I wouldn’t say it in real life).
Our First Earthquake (and yes it was moving)
I was struggling to sleep, it was about 2.45am and the group of lads staying in the room next door had just returned from a night out. The lads were from different countries around Europe, and as English was the common language, it was quite entertaining to listen to them talk about their evening exploits. After they’d pee’d and farted they quickly slumbered off. I was just about to join them in la-la land when the quake shook.
I don’t think I’m an overly dramatic person, but this was something else, and something I didn’t much like. It started with my bed violently hitting the walls of both corners, it appeared like the room started swaying from side to side, it was like someone had spiked me some really bad acid. I assumed a dog like position on all fours (don’t ask me why!) grasping onto the side of the bed still bewildered by the movement of angles around the room as my bed bounced up and down and side to side. My stomach hit the roof of my mouth. I was scared. A feeling that I’d never experienced overwhelmed me, was this doom?
Craig was now awake prostrate in his bed, although I hadn’t uttered a breath. He looked like a rabbit in a car’s headlights, trying to grasp the bedroom floor. The 5+ earthquake ended after about 30 seconds, as our room was pretty high up, and the quake was located near to the surface, it felt pretty damn bad to us. We didn’t get much sleep after that due to a couple of aftershocks and planning our exit strategy.
The morning after, it was the hot topic of conversation. One local said to us, “I don’t even register anything unless it’s above a 5 now, you got lucky, that was a good one.”
Charismatic Christchurch Courageously Continues
The entire CBD district was severely affected by a massive earthquake on 22 February 2011. Hundreds of buildings are now closed and demolition work still continues, putting right the destruction that occurred. Much work is taking place to rebuild the buildings and communities that have suffered the effects of Mother Nature’s wrath. The majority of the city is still cordoned off, so there is a distinct lack of facilities compared to what used to be here.
However, businesses, gyms, bars and restaurants are opening as and when permitted. There is evidence that some of the local community aren’t entirely happy with the progress being made, from posters you see around. However, from a naive outsiders perspective things seem to be progressing well. Although it is estimated that it will take about 10 years until all the buildings work is complete.
We walked the perimeter of the no-go zone and the destruction that has occurred here is hard to believe and on a massive scale. 181 lost their lives, in the quake of 2011, we stopped at an area in the fencing where people had left messages, floral tributes and gifts in memoriam for those that had lost their lives. I don’t know whether it was my nerves or the adrenaline that had been pumping through my veins since our own quake experience but I focused on a floral arrangement of the freshest white roses and I uncontrollably burst in tears, I managed to quickly compose myself, thankfully nobody was around.
Whilst I was living in Liverpool in 1989, the Hillsborough Football disaster occurred and 96 lost their lives. I was reminded of the long lasting effect that such a disaster has on a community, which is still felt in Liverpool today, and how everybody in Christchurch will have been affected in a deep way by this tragedy.
It’s Business As Usual in Christchurch (Well sort of)
I don’t want to be negative so I’ve not included loads of sombre pictures of the destruction, as Christchurch still has lots to offer and I guess needs support from visitors. As I said earlier I’m really impressed by what Christchurch has achieved in such a short time.
I’m not going to do a travelogue about everything you can do here as the experts at Lonely Planet have just sent a team of writers here to assess the impact and will obviously do a much better job than I can. Check it out here
We have to leave tomorrow, but personally I would like to stay a bit longer, but continued success to all those involved in the ‘no quakes going to stop us’ in building a stronger Christchurch.
We’ve had a great day sipping coffee in container city and sinking a few beers. Christchurch is hosting its annual World Buskers Festival, which looks immense with talent from around the world, descending here to perform from 19– 29 January 2012 . We’ve watched several early performances today at various locations, so if you can get down show your support and enjoy what will be a superb event.
We finished off the day listening to live music in the beautiful botanic gardens, chatting to the famously polite people of Christchurch, whilst strolling up the river watching picnickers and boaters. That surely merits a visit doesn’t it?
We pick up our campervan tomorrow, happy days…. and fingers crossed for an undisturbed sleep. Christchurch you Rock, but no more shake rattle and roll please!