I stop off in Christchurch for the night on my way down to Dunedin. It seems like as good a spot as any to watch the opening match of the 2011 Rugby World Cup in a pub full of Kiwis, and also to take in some of the sights of Christchurch. More than aware of the devastation that the city experienced, I am expecting to see a few abandoned buildings and large piles of rubble dotted around, as the city continues to attempt to rebuild. What I do not expect to find, however, is practically the entire city centre completely cordoned off and out of bounds to all but security and construction workers. When the second major earthquake struck here in February it left almost 200 people dead in its wake. Buildings that had become unstable after the September 2010 earthquake collapsed and buried those inside. To see an area comprising of eight city blocks by four, completely out of bounds to the outside world, is a rather unnerving experience. Flowers, poems and photos of those who tragically passed away are left tied to the security fences keeping us all out. Christchurch’s famous Cathedral Square is now nothing more than a macabre reminder of what happened here earlier this year. While those 250,000 who still remain here -80,000 having left- valiantly attempt to rebuild Christchurch, I get the sense that the job of reconstruction is almost too big, especially in the context of constant aftershocks still rattling the nerves of all those who reside here. My observation as somebody briefly passing through is that Christchurch will never quite be the same again. If it is to prosper again it will need months and years without significant earthquake activity. But if there are to be more major tremors, I think many of the 250,000 will also conclude that it is time to leave.
RWC daily September 9
September 5th, 2011
It is a 70-minute Jet Star flight from the north island to Christchurch with cloud-free truly spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains in the north of the south island.
Yesterday, it was exactly one year on from the Christchurch earthquake that killed nearly 200 people. Clearly the city is still struggling to recover with countless aftershocks still rattling the nerves of locals. On the airport bus in I see three churches that lie almost completely destroyed and dozens of cordoned off empty plots of land where buildings once stood. I am only in Christchurch briefly to take the Inter City coach service a couple of hours north to Kaikoura but even the former bus station is out of bounds; a small shack and a roadside stop now the place where the buses run from. Originally England’s opening matches were due to be played here but the city simply isn’t deemed safe enough to host the games and no longer has the basic infrastructure needed, so they have subsequently been moved 5 hours south to Dunedin. Rebuilding Christchurch is no simple task; many parts of the city are only just being considered safe to live in once more and many months if not years of reconstruction await. Meanwhile, the earthquakes continue with some fearing an even bigger tremor is on the cards. I am told 80,000 residents have left the city already fearing the worst.
It is truly pristine countryside on the journey up to Kaikoura although with the jet lag kicking in, 6pm feels more like 6am to me and I find myself nodding off to sleep and waking with a start on several occasions. Once we hit the ocean road around sunset the views are truly stunning: a wild surf crashes against the rock-strewn shoreline with cliffs soaring vertically into the heavens and a sea mist obscuring the distant horizon and road ahead.
We arrive in Kaikoura in darkness and I track down Dusky Lodge backpackers. It is always a relief to find that you are the only person in your dormitory. I hate staying in dorms but at 14 quid a night, you cannot complain. Especially if you have got the room all to yourself and the night sky looks as magical as it does here from the rooftop veranda.