Christchurch, New Zealand
25th April 2013 20:48
New Zealand and I didn't get off to the best of starts. I nearly didn't get into the country due to an extremely unfriendly security agent. Usually, I hand over my passport, they give me a suspicious stare, stamp it/ scan it and send me on my way. This guy wanted to see proof of my intention to leave the country. I had nothing on me, but I managed to find an old pdf itinerary from the travel agent on my phone and showed him that – but that made him even more suspicious as it had the wrong date on for my flight out of New Zealand – one that had already passed. This is because when I bought my round-the-world plane ticket, it was more than a year in advance of when I would actually be arriving – and the airlines don't release their flight information this far ahead. Therefore, they had to book the flights towards the end of my trip on arbitrary dates like the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th September for example.
He then began quizzing me relentlessly while I searched through my long list of old emails to try and find the one with the new itinerary from the travel agent when I'd changed the dates for the flights. "How long will you be staying in the country?", "Six weeks" I replied, "That's a long time isn't it? When did you last take drugs, marijuana etc?". Great, so now I'm a druggie or a dealer... I finally found the email I needed, and was waved through in order for him to begin preying on his next victim. It didn't end there though, I was waiting for my bag at the conveyor belt (the only flight I had to check my bag for – usually I could get it on as hand luggage) when a lady with a sniffer dog came up to me, sniffed me (the dog, not her) and proceeded to ask me all the same questions the last guy had (her, not the dog). I clearly look a lot more suspicious than I thought.
I finally made it out of the airport, and boarded the bus to take me into Christchurch town centre. The problem is, I think I got my priorities slightly wrong when I made my plans for Christchurch back in Australia. I'd searched for the nearest mobile phone shop where I could go and get my 3G sim card as I usually do in each place, which worked out perfectly. I had internet and could make all the calls I needed... the problem was, all the hostels I phoned had no spare beds! So I was well connected, just... homeless. Luck was on my side however, after phoning about five different places the next one I called had a space available and I thankfully made my way there using google maps with my new sim card! I'll mention at this point, that I have no idea how people managed before google maps. I honestly think I'd be hopelessly lost, sleeping in a gutter somewhere in Vietnam without it. I resolved to book my bed in advance for all of the places I was visiting in New Zealand, to avoid the same fate.
One of the first things I saw when I was walking to my hostel was a drunken man with a large bottle of wine in his hand, shouting loudly at a lad behind him on the phone to "f off". The young lad in a shop uniform ignored him, and continued following him down the road talking on his mobile. The whole situation was drawing quite a crowd, as they slowly followed even further behind, observing from a safe distance. I think what must have happened is the drunk guy stole the bottle from a liquor shop and proceeded to drink it as he was leaving the scene of the crime. It was certainly one of the most interesting arrivals I've had!
Christchurch is know as the garden city – but following a severe earthquake in 2011, which killed 185 people, it could now quite easily be called the rubble city. There is a 'red zone' in the city centre which is cordoned off from the public, due to the high risk presented by unstable buildings in the aftermath of the earthquake. What surprised me is just how little appears to have been (deliberately) demolished or even rebuilt in the time between then and now. There is still a very large zone in the city centre that is completely off limits to the public, and no sign that will change anytime in the near future. It actually is pretty creepy in a lot of places as plants are growing over the pavements and walls of the buildings, giving the appearance of some kind of ghosttown in those areas.
While I was staying at the hostel they showed a very good documentary called "When a City Falls", which was all filmed by one man, a Christchurch resident during and after the earthquakes. It focuses on the people of Christchurch and how they are all reacting to the disaster. Of course some people have moved on to live elsewhere, afraid of what may lie ahead in future for the inhabitants of the city, but the overwhelming majority have pulled together to clean up, rebuild, and get on with their lives as best they can. It's quite inspiring to see just how people can pull together like that in such a time of crisis. The scary thing is, since the first earthquake in 2010, there have been over 1600 tremors in total – a constant reminder of exactly how dangerous it is.
The sound of diggers fills your ears as you skirt the perimeter fence, as rubble is moved and walls are collapsed. But there really aren't many workers – I can see why there appears to be so little change. It's very sad to think what it could have been like and to see it now, but there are of course plans to rebuild and make the best out of such a tragic situation. There are posters up which outline the plans the council has to completely restructure the city and create new districts. I admire the resiliance of the people in Christchurch and I'd love to return at some point in the future just to see how things have changed since I was there last.
For all the rubble and destruction around the red zone, there are still very pleasant places to go outside of that area. With a river running through the city lined with trees and nice parks around you're never far from a perfect picnic lunch spot.
There has also been an innovative new high street built, with all the shops and food places built inside shipping containers. A very clever idea and I actually think it looks really good.
I guess someone had the idea when they saw how many were lying around the city being used as supports for buildings in the red zone...
Another idea born out of pure creativity – a welcome side effect of the disaster – is a community bookswap, found on a street corner where residents can go to drop off an old book and pick up a new one they fancy reading. Little touches like this just show the community spirit still evident in Christchurch and make me feel confident for the future of the place.
As I was leaving for my next destination on the coach, the driver pointed out a modern, fresh looking building to us, that was completely empty and had notices plastered all over the doors and walls outside. We were told that after the earthquake it had been completely renovated and made good, I'm sure at considerable expense – only for the foundations to have been inspected months ago and the structural engineers saying it must be demolished as it was unsafe. I can only imagine how heart breaking it must have been to receive that news. We left it far in the distance, as my thoughts turned to Lake Tekapo, my next destination.