Our New Zealand trip ended in the remarkable city of Christchurch. A city that in February of 2011 was rocked by a devastating earthquake that left much of the city and its many historical buildings crippled in its wake. What we expected to see when we got to Christchurch was not at all what we saw. Although there has been a lot of progress, it hasn’t happened as fast as you would think. Unfortunately the insurance companies are not working at an acceptable speed, as we all know they’re not in the business of losing money. There are complete blocks fenced off and traffic re-routed, empty store fronts, and restaurants, some with the same condiments on the tables as the day the quake hit. We drove on bumpy roads through entire neighborhoods that were deemed uninhabitable, and listened to stories of people still waiting for answers about their property from their insurance companies almost three years later. Thousands of people left the city to start a new chapter in their lives and thousands came in search of work trying to do the same.
Many people outside of New Zealand have heard of the Cathedral that sits right in the heart of the city and was struck hard by the earthquake. This building, like almost every brick building in the city has been fenced off and nothing is happening with it. Many of the buildings are being supported by steel beams or shipping containers to preserve the facade in hopes that when there is a decision made about their fate, they can at least have the same face, just a different body. The new “cardboard cathedral” is just that, a church built mostly from cardboard and covered with a roof to ensure people could continue on with their prayers. We were disappointed to find out that it was closed for a private event, but at least we were able to see a little through the glass doors.
There was a lot of devastation, but within the people of Christchurch lied a sense of hope and determination to make the city the best that they could with what they were dealt. Many of the empty lots where buildings once stood now have works of art to take up the space and give the city some sort of light. These spaces are referred to as “gap fillers”, and along with paintings on buildings and the shopping mall made out of shipping containers called “Re- Start”, there is hope for this beautiful city to rise from the dead.
We ended our Christchurch stay on a very positive note by visiting with two of our newest friends, Dan and Lily who we met while in Fiji. They were on a dive with Jason and we kept in touch knowing that we would be in New Zealand at the same time. Dan and Lily are from England and are working a bit in Christchurch before touring parts of New Zealand. It was so nice to see someone we knew and we all enjoyed having dinner together and watching some fireworks from a hill outside of the city. The great thing is, that by the time we get to England, they’ll be home and we plan to meet up again. They’ve helped us out with tips on some our destinations in Southeast Asia, as they were there this past year before we met in Fiji. There have been many friendships already made in the short three months that we’ve been traveling and we’re certain there are many more to come.
Stay tuned for our wrap up of New Zealand, one of the nicest places on earth.