The drive from Hanmer Springs to Akaroa was supposed to take me around three hours; it ended up taking me nearly four. Surprisingly, this wasn’t because I stopped too many times to take pictures, but rather, because I missed the turnoff for the ring road around Christchurch and ended up driving right through the central city instead. This was something that I had hoped to be able to squeeze in at the end of my trip so I could see the city with my own eyes, and I was hoping to get out of the car and walk around a bit. Instead, I saw the city from behind the wheel.
The first thing that struck me about Christchurch were the number of cranes towering above the city centre. Whether they were there to tear down red-stickered buildings or to start rebuilding those buildings that were only partially damaged, I’m not sure. Alongside the road were empty lots, a few closed businesses, and one shell of what I’m sure used to be a beautiful church. You could tell that this was a city still very much trying to make its way out of what has been a disastrous few years. It was overwhelmingly sad to witness — and I wasn’t even near the fenced-off area yet.
But, at the same time, in many ways the city was completely normal. People were walking their dogs; traffic flowed freely but there were still plenty of cars around. Hagley Park, with the exception of traffic cones on the road around it, looked just as green and lush as it had prior to the earthquakes. It was very inviting and I would have loved to have wandered around — if only I hadn’t been due in Akaroa in less than an hour’s time!
Speaking of being completely normal, the airport shows no signs of the earthquake. As I mentioned in my first post, I actually enjoyed my time at the airport. Besides the fact that you can’t turn in any direction without seeing yet another beautiful shot of New Zealand scenery — which is great when you’re arriving, not so much when you’re already sad to be leaving — but everything seems so modern and open, which is a nice change from the cramped spaces found in many airports. It’s much better than most American airports I’ve been in, that’s for sure.
One place that I was truly sad to miss was the Re:Start village project on Cashel Street Mall. This innovative project brought shipping containers to Christchurch’s central city to be used as temporary housing for shops displaced after the earthquake. I’ve heard that it’s a great and vibrant place to visit; in fact, it’s been so successful that despite initial reports it would close after their six-month lease expired, it’s bigger than ever. It’s a great example of the spirit of the people of Christchurch and it has brought a buzz back to the city. I really hope I’m able to go back again and see it in person.
So, if you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, I think you should consider visiting Christchurch. There are certainly no issues with flying into the city, and I would have loved to have spent more time there, visiting Cashel Mall, strolling through Hagley Park, or even taking in a Crusaders game at AMI Stadium. Even if you just have a day at the beginning or end of your trip, I think it’s worth it. While Christchurch is still at the beginning of a long road to recovery, it’s still a great little city.