So stop #1 on my ten-day travelling stint in New Zealand was the now globally recognized city of Christchurch on the South Island. The reason why people all over know of CHCH now (even ethnocentric Americans!) is because of the earthquakes which occurred here. Being sheltered in Auckland from the immediate impact of the effects of these unfortunate natural disasters, I felt really disconnected from the tragedies New Zealanders faced here. However, being in CHCH has allowed me to get up close and personal with it. I’ve seen so much on TV about the quakes, but it never really hit home for me.
After meeting my couchsurfing host for the next few nights, I trekked in the direction of Cathedral Square, the center of the city. On my way, I stopped to by some hokey pokey chocolate from girls with a school fundraising stand outside their home. After striking up conversation with their father and making a brief comment on their beautiful home, true Kiwi hospitality and friendliness showed its face and I was invited on a tour. Apparently the home had been featured in a famous New Zealand home and garden magazine. There was some stunning mosaic work in their patio, and I was told that the mosaic pieces were all made from broken items during the quake. I was awestruck.
Exploring the city, I was overwhelmed and taken aback by the dreary, grey, and lifeless desert of rubble in which I found myself. This scenery, matched with the weather, instantly humbled and touched me.
I was lucky enough to be in CHCH on one of the only two days that the Red Zone would be open to the public to see the once iconic (and now home to pigeons and their droppings) Cathedral building.
En route to see the building, we passed various store fronts which have long been deserted by shopkeepers and customers alike. It was incredible to see places like Starbucks, Burger King, and McDonald’s empty and lifeless. In one of the windows to the McDonald’s, you could still see a half eaten meal left behind by a fleeing victim of the quake.
The area next to the Red Zone has acquired an entirely different vibe to it. The city has undergone an amazing project in converting storage containers into temporary stores, cafes, banks, and post offices. This little pocket of color, joy, and hope couldn’t have been any more contrasting to the surrounding areas. Colorful flower pots and street performers with even more colorful personalities overwhelmed my senses.
I was so touched and even inspired by their determination to not let the earthquakes steal their liveliness. CHCH is a city that will rebuild itself and overcome the devastating, but not disheartening, effects of the tragic earthquakes that shook their lives.