Christchurch, a small city of around 375,000 people, is situated about half way up the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Small by world standards, it is the 3rd largest city in New Zealand and the largest city in the South Island. Known as the Garden City, Christchurch is proud of both its British and Maori history.
I’m originally a Scot, but I’ve had the pleasure of living and working in New Zealand for the past 10 years. Until now I’ve lived mainly in Auckland (on the North Island), but I recently took up a new job which offered me the opportunity to move to this beautiful part of the country. I have loved the challenge and taken every opportunity to explore everything this amazing little city has to offer.
About 8 years ago, Christchurch experienced a series of devastating earthquakes. Many lives were lost and others were changed forever. The city was literally torn apart, and the city centre almost wiped out. Industry was lost as many people moved to other parts of the country to get away from the constant bouts of shaking that continue to rock the city, even now, on a regular basis. However, over the years, the city has slowly begun to rebuild and reinvent itself and is becoming one of the coolest cities in New Zealand. As I’ve begun to explore this phoenix of a city, I have quickly fallen in love with this place. I want to share a few of its highlights.
Wherever you are in the city centre, you can’t fail to notice the street art. From murals to sculptures, you will see cars driving down walls and giant lego sheep. Created by local New Zealand artists, these pieces fill in many of the spaces and gaps where buildings have fallen or have been knocked down post-quake, decorating what otherwise would be a very gloomy site. They have also proven to be great landmarks as I wander around my new home. Whenever I get lost, it doesn’t take me too long to find a familiar piece and then I’m back on track again.
Despite being a city, Christchurch offers plenty of space to get some fresh, clean Kiwi air. Not only do we have the stunning Port Hills with their amazing views, a mountain bike adventure park, and walking tracks all accessible by a gondola, but also the stunning east coast beaches and Hagley Park.
Hagley Park, gifted to the people of Christchurch in 1850, has been a central hub of outdoor activity ever since. Almost half the size of the city centre, the 1.6 square kilometer park is a delight to explore. I walk there daily and always spot something new: black swans on the lake or roses in the botanical gardens. You can even go punting along the Avon, which is a classic throw back to its colonial English roots (Note from Catherine for us Americans: this is apparently when you take out a gondola/row boat hybrid and maneuver it like a gondola).
After the earthquakes, many business were unable to operate due to property damage. Rather than give up, traders set up pop up stalls, many in shipping containers. The Container Mall, which stood in the city for more than 5 years, has only recently been closed down in order to rebuild more permanent structures. The city is full of pop up container restaurants, food stalls, and coffee shops. Art galleries, shoe shops and gyms have even gotten in on the act and used what was a necessity in an awful situation and turned it into a really cool vibe across the city.
The container shops are just one example of the amazing innovation which has happened in this city over recent years. Around the corner from my home is the community book exchange. Many of the city’s libraries were damaged and shut down after the quakes.
Members of the community started to set up their own libraries. Old fridges popped up all over the city, filled with books where people could come, meet together, connect, and swap a book. A simple concept that brought comfort to many people in those exhausting times.
Community gardens have also appeared in many of the spaces where buildings have been demolished and not yet rebuilt. Instead of abandoned plots, these spaces are providing fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, as well as a place to connect and build community.
Christchurch – a city that experienced major trauma and change in the last 8 years – has shown amazing resilience and fortitude. Residents are creating a new, exciting, and unique city full of innovations, novelties and quirks. The people continue to live with the ongoing quakes and the memories of those days 8 years ago that changed the city forever — but they don’t give up. Their strength and spirit is amazing to watch, and I feel extremely blessed to not only be allowed to witness this but to be able to call Christchurch my home.