I arrived in Christchurch yesterday evening, following another beautiful drive from Kaikoura past more seal colonies and then on through mountains, the rolling Cheviot Hills and the vineyard flatlands of north Canterbury. Two things about the landscape struck me on this particular journey. Firstly, the South Island is just so empty. There are definitely more cows and horses than people, and just fields and fields of endless green. You occasionally see the odd person wandering along the side of the road and wonder where they could be going or coming from. Secondly, we passed over many vast, gravel-bottomed river beds, which were almost dry save for the braiding of narrow turquoise streams. I tried to imagine the raging torrents they must become when full and felt awed. They make our UK ‘giants’ like the Thames and Severn look like piddly little streams.
On the approach to Christchurch city centre, I began the inevitable voyeuristic craning of my neck, seeking out signs of damage from the quake. Even on the outskirts the clues were there in the form of toppled chimney pots, crumbling walls and partial roof collapse on some of the houses. The large amount of construction hoarding and restricted access tape was also rather sobering. As we approached the CBD, the full scale of the damage was obvious in its invisibility. A no-go ‘red zone’ has been placed across the entire CBD and access is prevented by high, metal fencing, barbed wire and frequent fierce signage. Through the fencing I could make out tall buildings with smashed windows and collapsed gables, plus many cranes, no doubt working hard to repair the damage.
Once out of the bus, the lumpy, uneven pavements offered clues as to the carnage, with weeds poking out of the tears in the road. I was also struck by the empty spaces where buildings had clearly once stood, now taken over by indomitable weeds and bright wildflowers. Scarlet poppies, purple pansies and deep blue scabious offered a sign of hope, and a reminder that when we’re all dead and keeping the dinosaurs company in rock strata, Earth will once again be covered with a blanket of verdant green, studded with colour – plants are the true power-house of the world. Although, to be fair, if the urban myths are true, there will also be cockroaches dashing through the roots.
As I wandered through the streets around the red zone it was like a ghost town. There was no traffic, it was eerily quiet, and people walked down the middle of the road like a scene from a zombie film.
Unfortunately it was getting dark by the time I arrived, so I didn’t have time to explore properly and investigate the more positive flip-side of the disaster, whereby the city and country rallied to rebuild what they could, and an ingenious new shopping area occupying old shipping crates has been erected near the old centre, as well as a bridge of remembrance. Hopefully I’ll have time to see this when I pass through again next week. I learnt from a passionate Christchurch resident today that the city’s student population in particular did a stirling job of helping out with emergency repairs and food distribution. The city overlies a waterlogged area, which unfortunately means that liquefaction (waterlogged silt rising up through the ground, sometimes up to a metre deep and apparently very smelly) was a severe after-effect of the quake. Apparently over 50% of this silt was cleared by hand by the student army. The Christchurch resident who told me this said that the quake really brought the community together, and people often came to know their neighbours for the first time. So even in the worst of adversity there is still something to celebrate. Humans really are amazing.
I am now in a lovely eco-lodge on the Banks Peninsula, south-east of Christchurch, and I intend to mellow out here for a couple of days, enjoying the sunshine, tranquility and some ridge walks around the vast volcanic crater that forms this whole area of land. If I’m lucky I may see some Hector’s dolphins – the world’s smallest and rarest dolphin, only found in this particular area. Better get The Sun Has Got His Hat On going again…
Anyway, I’ll leave you with yogacam from my last afternoon in Kaikoura yesterday, and a few photos of scarred Christchurch and a lovely view of Banks Peninsula.
I found a lovely memorial garden to do my yoga in the warm wind, with a glimpse of the sea in the background. The strange posts over the walkway behind are actually whale jawbones.
Christchurch’s deserted CBD.
Another warning – you can just see the weeds poking through the rips in the concrete behind the fence.
Plants assuming control – these fences hiding vacant lots were present on all of the streets that I walked along.
One of the many ravaged roads I saw (and tripped over).
Stunning Banks Peninsula – 6 million years ago this was a landscape of ice and fire. I am currently nestled somewhere into one of the hillsides in the distance.