I'm a freelance writer from Auckland, currently travelling across the UK with my family. I'm here to share adventures for kids and adults who enjoy food, culture and a kiwi perspective on travelling around the British Isles. Visit rochellesewell.com
Published October 24th 2016
Hope. A weekend in Christchurch and hope is what I see. Admittedly I didn't see this city at its worst, that long year or more after the February 2011 quake when the CBD was a wasteland. But this Labour Weekend in 2016 we've had a great time seeing a new city centre emerge from the rubble.
The Christchurch Mini-Map, a freebie at our accommodation, lists the numerous pop up projects to visit, along with the surviving landmarks and attractions. The pop up projects are anything from an artwork in the Avon River, to the funky Re-Start city mall built out of shipping containers. As visitors to the city, we were drawn into the creative and innovative vibe that's starting to define the new Christchurch. A place where cleared sites house temporary performing spaces and festivals fill gaps between buildings. We enjoyed FESTA 2016.
As a flat city, dominated by street trees, river walks and the magnificent Hagley Park, Christchurch was always a great place to walk. This has not changed. The trams continue to run around the CBD (you can secure an adult pass for $25 for a day and children travel for free). The interface with the Avon River may have improved after the shake too. The river walkway, being slowly re-built piece by piece, now features colourful artworks, newly paved surfaces, and the all-important Remembrance Steps near Oxford Terrace.
New Regent Street was an unusual sight in the old Christchurch where its colourful line of Victorian era shops stood out amongst the traditional heritage buildings and dark masonry facades. Today it's the only remaining street of continuous heritage buildings in the Christchurch centre. It's a great place to enjoy good coffee over brunch, watch the trams rumble by, or simply wander.
Just north of New Regent Street is the new Margaret Mahy playground. This park has been a significant investment in the re-build of this city centre. Judging by the hordes of families enjoying it from first light, the investment is paying off. It's a great place to play and the sandwich board outside the coffee cart reads: "all caregivers should have a coffee in hand". Soon there will be swings and more play equipment to accompany the numerous slides, climbing frames, and the magical water park.
Cathedral Square is a difficult sight. The cathedral sits in a sad limbo for passers-by to see and reflect of what this city has lost. But despite the ruins, the oversized chess set and the buskers with their booming electronic guitars introduce a playful element to a space that Christchurch will one day restore.
If you have a car, the Canterbury region offers even more outside the city centre. The historic French settlement at Akaroa and walks around Banks Peninsula are no more than 1.5 hours away. If you prefer to stay closer to base, the Porthills provide commanding views over the city and out toward the sea. The coastline around Sumner and Taylors Mistake is a surfer's paradise – albeit a chilly one.
The new architecture of Christchurch is attractive, modern and functional. One by one, as the new buildings become occupied, Christchurch will regain a critical mass of people living and working in the centre. It's a great time to come and visit this emerging city.