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Salute to Christchurch

NEW ZEALAND | Saturday, 18 May 2013 | Views [672]

It is alleged that I brought the rain with me when I arrived in Christchurch. In fact it is only drizzle and, genuinely, I do not need it to feel at home!

The striking thing about landing in Christchurch is noticing how completely flat the land is between the sea and the snow-capped mountains inland.

Perhaps I have had extraordinary good luck or perhaps hostels in New Zealand really are of a much higher standard. The Old Countryhouse Backpackers is another pleasant surprise. House II consists of a large kitchen, lounge, a number of bathrooms and several small dorm rooms. Everything looks clean and new and I am immediately struck that it could pass for a residence in a boarding school. Right outside is a bus stop and the ride into town is, despite consulting the map several times, deceptively short. So short in fact, that I totally missed the ‘bus station’ looking for something rather larger. I trudged back following the signs to the city centre, wondering when it was going to appear.

Everyone has heard about the earthquakes here back in September 2010, but, like me, most people probably didn’t really understand the true impact these had, either back then or now with the on-going repercussions some two and a half years later.  I pass abandoned buildings, fenced off pavements and gaps where the rubble of a building either still awaits or has now been cleared away. Few tall buildings remain and it is the cranes that dominate the skies. At first sight you could be forgiven for thinking they have a lot of parking areas here. The devastation must have been incredible. I cannot imagine what it must have been like to go home from work one evening only to find that overnight something has demolished large areas of your city, quite likely including your office!

The locals will tell you that they were fortunate that it was during the night and there were fewer people in the town centre. There is an air of resolve, to clear up and then rebuild their city and a determination that life should carry on around that in the best way possible. Although the tram tracks have been abandoned at this time, part of the main street has been salvaged with shops and cafes being created from huge storage containers. Known as Container City, it is brightly painted and festooned with plant and flower troughs. The strange mix of a few salvaged buildings and the modified containers are testimony to the fortitude with which people are rebuilding Christchurch. This on-going project is going to take a long, long time to complete. I found myself wishing that everyone could club together and, something like the DIY makeover TV programme, speed up the task.

It is very humbling to stand in the ruins of a city, whether caused by nature or war, and realise just how tentative our attempts to impose ourselves on nature actually are. Terry, a backpacker from Taiwan arrived in March 2012 and was so moved by the devastation of the city, he set out on a year-long quest as a busker & photographer to collect smiles for Christchurch. A wall with over 1,000 photographs of people smiling, and encouraging recovery through collective positive thought, stands just off the new look high street.

There is something here that no words can fully describe. Something that is the humility of a beautiful city brought to ruin being lovingly helped slowly back onto her feet with dignity by so many people determined to ease her fall.

That I was unable to find some of the things I had hoped to buy today seems somewhat insignificant. Tomorrow I set off on a whirlwind tour, predominantly of the South Island, but before I do, I felt compelled to share today’s experience with you.

Tags: backpacking, christchurch, community spirit, containers, earthquakes, new zealand, ruins, the old countryhouse

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