How do you rebuild a city that's had its heart torn out? It's the question facing Christchurch in the aftermath of two quakes that struck in September 2010 and then February 2011. Nobody expected an earthquake to hit Christchurch. It was always Wellington that was tipped to receive The Big One. In the two years since the second major quake struck, 1,000 buildings in the Christchurch city centre have been demolished. There are 300 more to go.
I was invited to be part of a media famil to visit Christchurch a couple of weeks ago, an opportunity for Australian journalists to see not only the damage to the area, but also the steps taken toward the rejuvenation of a city.
Emirates: Sydney to Christchurch
Emirates business class
Our contingent was flown across by Emirates and we were checked in with a surprise upgrade to Business class both ways. As someone who has flown on more budget airlines than my back cares to remember, the opulence of Business class starts as soon as you make that unfamiliar left hand turn when you board the plane.
Moët & Chandon champagne for take-off, inflight meals and massage function
At the front of the plane, the stewards greet you personally by name while you gawp at your surroundings, taking in the oversized seats and the yawning expanse of space between each row. At a modestly tall 5'8", it's a bewildering feeling to sit down in a plane seat, stretch your legs, and still not touch the seat in front. And then there's the glass of champagne that appears (Moët and Chandon, if you please) to be sipped at during takeout, while you fiddle with the screen beside you only to discover the massage function built into your seat. It's more of a humming vibration than a deep tissue massage but it provides at least thirty minutes of entertainment trying out all the settings, speeds and intensity levels. Oh yes.
Emirates external plane camera showing the approaching runway for landing
You can choose your mains and dessert from a menu, served with real cutlery and glassware on a flip-out table that's covered with a mini tablecloth. And when things get all too much you can always recline your seat for as much shut-eye as you can manage on the 2 hour 40 minute flight.
Emirates business class seat upright and fully reclined
(rose petals kindly sprinkled by a gallant steward)
Christchurch: The Earthquakes Noone Expected
Christchurch buildings in the process of demolition
The journey from the airport into the city is initially picture post-card perfect. Wide streets, cottage-style houses and lush avenues trees give no indication of what lies ahead. It's not until we reach the central business district, that we start to see some of the damage from the two major earthquakes that struck the city.
Clockwise from top left: Electrical tape mural of hope (Hapori means community in Maori); a solitary coffee shop on an otherwise empty block; buildings being demolished; and the oldest building in Christchurch - its future is unclear
On September 4, 2010 an earthquake with a magnitude of 7.1 struck residents at 4.35am. Its epicentre was 40km west of Christchurch, and the quake lasted about 40 seconds. Many buildings were damaged but there were no direct deaths from the quake, attributed to the fact that most people were asleep and off the streets. Power to about 75% of the city was disrupted but most of it was restored that evening.
The quake was a shock for everyone, locals said. It was completely unexpected and out of the blue. It was always thought that any big quake in New Zealand would strike Wellington, which regularly experiences tremors. Reeling from the devastation of their city, the community banded together to repair and rebuild. Little did they know there was more to come.
Christchurch Red Zone in the central business district - the taupe building is clearly leaning forward
On 22 February 2011 at 12.51pm on a busy Tuesday lunchtime, another quake struck. This one measured 6.3 on the Richter scale but its epicentre was much closer to the city, about 10 kilometres south west of Christchurch. It was also much closer to the surface, at a depth of only five metres. The city had experienced a series of aftershocks since the September quake, but this quake was devastating in its damage.
Where the September quake recorded sideways movement of up to four metres, the February quake involved both horizontal and vertical movement. The peak ground acceleration (PGA) in central Christchurch was more than 1.8g, or 1.8 times the acceleration of gravity. Buildings can more easily survive sideways movement, but being jolted up and down is much more dangerous. As a result of the quake, satellite images indicate that the land south of the fault has moved 50 cm westwards and upwards.
The quake lasted 12 seconds.
185 Empty Chairs
A total of 185 people lost their lives. 115 of the victims were in the Canterbury Television building which collapsed and broke out into fire. Only one wall remained standing by the time the fire was extinguished. The collapse claimed the lives of 16 Canterbury Television employees but the majority of victims were foreign students (70) studying at the King's Education ESL school on level four of the building.
185 Empty Chairs
185 Empty Chairs now sit opposite the Canterbury Television building, on the site where the Baptist Church once stood. The chairs vary in size, design and style. All have been painted white by artist Pete Majendie in remembrance of the lives that were lost.
A sign encourages the public to sit in which seat they feel that speaks to them, but most people wander the perimeter in solemn silence. I pause at the sight of a baby capsule in the second row.
Christchurch scenes of contrast: the Avon River and a building semi-demolished
Already weakened by the September quake, the February earthquake -- with its closer epicentre and vertical movement -- wreaked extensive damage. Following the quake, the entire central business district was cordoned off from the public in what became known as the Red Zone. Every building has been structurally inspected. 1,000 buildings have already been demolished. There are 300 more to go.
In the suburbs of Christchurch, 145,000 homes were damaged. Many were affected by liquefaction, where the pressure of an earthquake forces saturated soil to flow like liquid, weakening foundations. 10,000 homes have been declared to be demolished.
In the aftermath of the quake, homes were without power. Mobile networks were jammed. Streets were flooded with liquefied silt. One Christchurch local said the community response was remarkable. Everyone selflessly helped each other, mucking out the silt, sharing meals and checking on neighbours. "I didn't know the names of my neighbours before. Now I do. And I make sure I pop in to see the little old lady down the road every now and then to make sure she's okay."
Punting on the Avon River in Christchurch
Rebirth of a city
Kids playing on the Red Zone temporary soccer pitch installed on a vacant lot
The Red Zone is slowly opening up but there are still metal gates restricting access in places. Passing buildings in an advanced state of demolishment feels like passing through a war zone. Cranes are a familiar sight.
But within the city are bright spots of hope. A temporary soccer pitch offers a welcome burst of colour among the grey, punctuated with whoops and fist pumps from a group of teens. The temporary shutdown of the city means there's no strip of bars, nightclubs or restaurants any more. For more than a year there wasn't even a cinema.
When we visited in November, there was only one hotel open in the CBD. We stayed there, at the Ibis Hotel, re-opened in September 2012.
On the site of the former Cashel Mall shopping centre, demolished after the quake, a series of converted shipping containers have been set up, many housing former tenants. It was a bold project at the time, with few people thinking it would work, but the concept has been a runaway success. The shipping containers are brightly coloured and fitted out with airconditioning and electricity, mixing up shops with food outlets, cafes and market stalls.
When we meet Bob Parker, the mayor of Christchurch, he says there has been pressure to rebuild quickly but he is adamant about taking the time to assess what the city needs before rushing into anything. "You never get this opportunity to rebuild a city. We owe it to our people to do the best job we can."
It's a washing machine, no it's a Dance-O-Mat!
Next door to the Re:START Mall we find the Dance-O-Mat, a washing machine converted into an outdoor sound system. Open the lid, plug in your iPhone and insert NZ$2 into the coin dispenser to enjoy one hour of music with all your friends!
Dance-O-Mat dance floor, speakers and disco ball
There's a dancefloor, four mounted speakers and even a disco ball to amp up the fun. Users are encouraged to include passersby in the revelry too.
Dance O Mat bookings managed by a simple blackboard
The Dance-O-Mat was set up allow groups, especially youths, to practice since many of the dance halls in the city have shut down or been inaccessible. Even Prince Charles and Camilla had a boogie during their recent visit.
Making use of vacant spaces with quirky community projects is the concept behind Gap Filler. As vacant land awaits development, the group asks the permission of the landowner to allow temporary public access for community projects. One of its most successful ideas to date was the cycle-powered cinema, a projector powered by the pedal power of ten bicycles showing cycle-related movies on the site of a former bike shop.
Coralie Winn, Gapfiller Co-Founder and Creative Director
We meet one of the co-founders of Gap Filler, Coralie Winn, when we volunteer at their latest project, the ambitious Summer Pallet Pavilion on the former site of the Crowne Plaza. We're here to re-pot plants and sand and spak fill wooden seating panels for the next four hours.
The Summer Pallet Pavilion is an initiative to create a public space for outdoor performances, especially live music, as many music venues have been lost. It's Gap Filler's biggest project to date, depending on the efforts of 230 volunteers and the support of 40 business partners. Only two full-time staff have been employed.
Pitching in to help with the Summer Pallet Pavilion and chatting with Bob Parker, mayor of Christchurch
The pavilion will be built from 2313 pallets borrowed from CHEP, stacked to create tiered seating for 200 people. Some pallets have been modified to house a secret vertical garden, but the overwhelming majority of pallets will be returned to CHEP for reuse at the end of the project.
Demonstrating how the trimmed pallets will be loaded with plants and inserted into the pavilion wall
Gap Filler, Coralie explains, was started by three people after the September 2010 quake. Back then, she says, the gaps were few but depressing. Gap Filler was about creating temporary activity in these spaces. The worry was that the gaps would be filled too quickly with hasty construction work. Gap Fillers were a way to buy time, experiment and learn. "It's a way to connect everyday people with the rebuild," she says.
Coralie is adamant that projects are always temporary and never replicate previous ideas. There have been numerous calls to resurrect the cycle cinema but she isn't interested. Gap Fillers are a unique and powerful way to experiment and lead by example, she explains. "We must always try new things." The information on how to convert a bike into a power generator has been deliberately open-sourced to allow others to implement the concept if they choose.
She admits that being an innovator goes against everything we are ever taught, that striking out in new unchartered territory is often seen as foolhardy. Her passion and vision is inspiring.
The Gap Filler projects have provided a useful test for what the community wants and needs. It's also allowed residents to see the possibilities for Christchurch, Coralie says. "We want to create social change."
Sanding in the sun
Astroturf on the Fiddlesticks dining room wall
And what of the food? We visit a whirlwind of Christchurch eateries starting with Fiddlesticks, opening in mid-October 2012. Former owners of the fine-dining restaurant Clarendon, lost in the February quake, Fiddlesticks is one of the first new restaurants to open in the city centre.
Wine on tap at the bar
It's a hip and modern bistro with banquette seating, funky light fixtures, an astro-turfed wall feature and a separate bar area that's already a hit with locals. Wine on tap is also an intriguing inclusion at the bar, designed to reduce the need for bottling and thereby reducing its environmental impact.
Akaroa salmon wings with saffron mayonnaise NZ$10
There's beef cheek, confit pork belly and pea risotto on the menu, but I'm drawn to the intriguing dishes on the tasting menu. Akaroa salmon wings are an instant hit, plump and fatty and smoked for good measure too, although they're too rich for some.
Weetbix crumbed manchego with quince paste and rosemary NZ$11.50
Using Weetbix as a crumb for deep-fried manchego is a brilliant idea too, but you can't really tell it's Weetbix after it's been through the deep fryer.
FFC Fiddlesticks Fried Chicken NZ$11
The FFC Fiddlesticks Fried Chicken is sadly served sans-bone despite our waiter's assurance. The fillet pieces are a touch dry but I'm less of a fan of the accompanying chutney which overwhelms the chicken with its vinegary fruitiness.
Pan seared hake served with truffle polenta chips, peperonata and salsa verde
Velvet pillows NZ$16.80
Strawberry Fare, we're told, has long been a favourite late night hang-out for dessert fiends after the movies, the theatre or a night out on the town. Once located in the hub of the city, it has now reopened on the outskirts of the CBD.
They serve breakfasts and savouries here but it's dessert that they're famous for - rich, sweet and generously portioned. My pecan pie is a respectable rendition but I'm also quite taken with the velvet pillows, fluffy rounds of sponge sandwiched with banana, strawberry, cream and lashings of caramel sauce.
Sticky date pudding; devils dream and pecan pie NZ$16.80 each
C1 Espresso sugar sachets with instructions
It's staggering to try and grasp just how much of Christchurch will need to be rebuilt. At C1 Espresso, owner Sam Crofskey remembers the day his minimum order of 750,000 sugar packets - designed to look like Crayola crayons - came in. That was the day of the Feburary quake. They lost them all.
The arrival of the second order is bittersweet and he smiles wryly as he picks one up and plays with it absentmindedly. C1 Espresso used to be on Poplar Street, now it's a mix of ruins. They've moved across the road to the old post office and have used the opportunity to implement a range of nifty ideas. On the roof is an organic bee hive and they've transplanted several grape vines from Black Estate in the Waipara Valley in the hope they'll have their own mini vineyard too.
After enduring the power blackouts following the quake, they've taken matters into their own hands, installing their own power generators and water supply which can kick in if required. Sustainability is a big issue too - solar panels have been installed to generate electricity, grey water is used to flush toilets and waste heat from the air-conditioning is now reticulated back into the floor for heating.
Sewing machine converted to a water dispenser; double shot ristretto; the capsule system that will be used to send dockets from the counter to the kitchen
Perhaps most impressive, the owners source their coffee from Samoan farmers, a long-term partnership where vulnerable family groups are trained how to plant, process and then package coffee beans. The farmers also grow ginger, vanilla and maintain beehives. Mango, banana and guava trees are planted alongside the coffee trees to help provide shade. These are all harvested and used to produce their range of OK! juices, stocked in cafes throughout Christchurch.
They now work with 100 growers in Samoa, and every year they fly over several farmers to New Zealand so they can come look at the cafe and see their finished product.
Sam says that after the February quake they had two hours to salvage everything they could from their former premises. They saved the pinball machine and a hobby horse, both of which hold pride of place on the new dining room floor. There's a sense of fun about the place - from the sewing machine converted to a water dispenser to the supermarket-style money capsule system that will be used to send dockets from the counter to the kitchen. They've even hidden the bathrooms behind a moving bookcase. Awesome.
Prawn twisters $12 and homemade sausage rolls $12
Is there a cycling phenomenon specific to Christchurch? We arrive at The Pedal Pusher to find bicycle-related finishes everywhere. The bike seat stool at the bar is a firm favourite, but the wheel spoke light fittings are a close second.
Popcorn chicken with lemon mayonnaise $12; bicycle seats at the bar
The food is hearty gastro pub fare sprinkled with more unusual dishes like the venison spare ribs. It's not as gamey as you'd expect, and the meat slides right off the bone.
Venison spare ribs $25; 300g rib eye steak $34; market fish and chips $23
Cashew ginger bars, the dining room and coffee roaster
Are you breaking out into a bit of Spiderbait right now? I am. Established by local boy Hamish Evans, Black Betty is pumping early on a Sunday morning. They roast and blend their own coffee beans here, through SWITCH Espresso.
Breakfast is a triple shot espresso known as a Bongo here, and a chocolate afghan cookie - a Kiwi legend!
Afghan cookies $3.50
Black Estate Vineyard
Penelope Naish at Black Estate
The Waipara Valley is only a 40 minute drive north of Christchurch, a peaceful vision of rolling hills and lush greenery that is home to about 80 vineyards. We stop for brunch at Black Estate, one of the newer vineyards in the area and the same one that donated grape vines for the rooftop vineyard at C1 Espresso.
Fruit platter and the dining room
Their family-run estate grows pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. They have only recently opened their dining room to the public, starting with excellent locally sourced organic cold foods but hoping to move to hot dishes soon. They're also fans of coffee, offering Chemex brews of single origin beans - today it's Ethiopian or Mexican on the menu.
Black Estate vineyards and brunch of bircher muesli and fresh juices
Hot smoked salmon
Pegasus Bay Winery
Pegasus Bay grounds, tasting room and cellar
Pegasus Bay winery was established in the mid 1980s by Christchurch wine judge Ivan Donaldson and his wife Christine. There's a lot of charm to the estate with its quaint English hedges, private garden and a moody tasting room in the cellar.
The wines here include sauvignon/semillon, riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir and merlot/cabernets but it's the reserve wines that are the most interesting, all named with an operatic theme - a long-time passion for Christine.
Waipara wine valley
Night life in Christchurch? Although much of the city centre is closed, there are pockets of nocturnal activity. Smash Palace is one of the most popular spots around town, two former buses converted into an open bar and stationary seating. From the street you wouldn't guess that it was there - hidden behind sheets of tarp, but when we visited everyone was there, including perhaps a few too many hens parties!
Dimitri's Greek Souvlaki and Yeeros
If there's one Christchurch institution you cannot miss it's a souvlaki from Dimitri. Locals recommended it with glazed eyes and a sense of urgency, as though this souvlaki could change your life.
Dimitri's souvlaki van and meats cooking on the grill
The souvlaki van sits in the food section of the Re:START Mall and there's always a massive queue no matter what time of day. Started by two brothers, Dimitri and Nick, the family-run business has been feeding Christchurch for more than twenty years.
It's not just the fact they cook your lamb, beef or chicken souvlaki fresh on the grill, creating a smoky char to the meat. It's the fluffy soft-as-a-pillow bread, the squeaky fresh salad, the dollop of yoghurt and then the way they wrap it into a cone shape and give you a fork to eat it all.
A standard souvlaki costs NZ$10 but you can double the meat for NZ$12.50 or go triple for NZ$15. One souvlaki and a can of the Kiwi classic L&P (lemon and Paerora) and I found my favourite meal of the entire trip.
Lamb souvlaki $10 and L&P
International Antarctic Centre
Did you know that Christchurch is the official gateway to Antarctica? The International Antarctic Centre in Christchurch is the departure point for the majority of expeditions, supplies and personnel. Antarctic research offices for New Zealand, the United States and Italy are all based here. More than 75% of international scientists flying to Antarctica will depart from Christchurch.
Christchurch is one of the closest cities to Antarctica. We're told that supply planes will often fly to Antarctica and unload mid-air, restricting the amount of time spent above the ice to minimise melting. The planes will then fly straight back to Christchurch, a total flight time of around 10 hours.
The Hagglund ride
Visiting the tourist attraction isn't cheap. It'll cost you $35 to view the exhibitions and the Little Blue penguins but if you're going to visit you may as well fork out the full $65 just to experience the Hagglund ride.
The Hagglund is an all-terrain vehicle that is used for Antarctic research expeditions, designed to cope with all kinds of treacherous conditions. Passengers sit in the rear trailer as your friendly driver chugs the vehicle round to the back. We had seat belts on but had no idea what to expect. It's a heart-thumping, hair-raising off-road adventure that involves jolts, massive inclines and three feet of water. Wild fun.
Penguins hanging out
Inside the main building you can enter the polar room to experience a wind chill factor of -18C, watch a 4D movie (that's a 3D movie with water sprays), check out photos, videos and information panels or just hang out with the penguins.
Christchurch Farmers Market
Cakes and slices
And it's not a Grab Your Fork holiday unless farmers markets have been involved. The Christchurch Farmers Market is set on the picturesque grounds of Riccarton House, tranquil with greenery and cool overhanging trees.
Everyone is out here on a Saturday morning for both a shop and a chat. There's a lot of love in all of the produce here, from the carefully arranged cakes to the brightest shiniest red onions I've ever seen.
Red onions, stalls, spring carrots and vegetables
I spy cake
Boterkoek walnut and honey cake and ginger crunch
Whitebait fritters on the grill; fennel; organic spinach and radishes
Olives from the Volcano Lava Bar
Organic asparagus; donuts; fresh flowers and black doris plum and almond tarts
Organic free range eggs with a smile
Harvest cake with custard and rhubarb, lemon meringue cake and chocolate beetroot cake at Cakes by Anna
Watching a city rebuild is a fascinating insight into not only the culture of a country, but the strength of its people too. The city is far from complete but there's a raw beauty in the state its in now, where new shoots of hope are pushing up alongside the rubble. There's a peaceful resilience here that reminds me of Berlin and even Hiroshima, pained but poignant and looking to a brighter future.
And that's how I spent 48 hours in Christchurch. It's cooler than you'd think. Sweet as, bro.
Grab Your Fork travelled to Christchurch as a guest of Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism, Accor and Emirates.
48 Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel : +64 (03) 365 0533
Monday to Friday 9am til late
Saturday and Sunday 9am til late
19 Bealey Avenue, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel : +64 (03) 365 4897
Monday to Friday 7am - late
Saturday to Sunday 8.30am - late
185 High Street (corner of Tuam Street), Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (0)21 380 686
Monday to Sunday 7am - 10pm
The Pedal Pusher
284 – 286 Lincoln Road, Addington, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 335 0095
Monday to Friday 10am - late
Saturday and Sunday 9am - late
165 Madras Street, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 354 8522
Monday 7.30am - 4pm
Tuesday to Friday 7.30am - late
Saturday 8am - late
Sunday 8am - 4pm
Black Estate Vineyard
614 Omihi Road, Amberley, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 314 6085
Pegasus Bay Winery
Stockgrove Road, Waipara, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 314 6869
Monday to Sunday 10am - 5pm
(Restaurant open 12pm-4pm 7 days)
Dimitri's Greek Souvlaki and Yeeros
Re:Start Cashel Mall, 79 Cashel Street, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 377 7110
Monday to Sunday 11am - 4pm
The Smash Palace
Corner of Victoria Street and Beasley Avenue, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (0)21 353 759
Monday to Wednesday 3pm - 11pm
Thursday 3pm - 1am
Friday and Saturday 12pm - 1am
Sunday 12 - 11pm
International Antarctic Centre
38 Orchard Road, Christchurch Airport, Christchurch, New Zealand
Tel: +64 (03) 353 7798
Monday to Sunday 9am - 5.30pm
Christchurch Farmers Market
Tel: +64 (03) 348 6190
Every Saturday 9am-12pm (til 1pm in summer)
Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Wellington, New Zealand 2007
Wellington on a Plate 2009 and 2010
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12/03/2012 12:34:00 a.m.