Our visit to Christchurch was overshadowed by the tragic attack on two of the city’s mosques. The locals were clearly devastated that such an attack had happened here in New Zealand, and especially in Christchurch given how much the city has already been through since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes
We visited the Botanic Gardens several days after the attack, where a memorial to the victims had been created. It was emotional to watch as hundreds of people paid their respects laying flowers and other tributes.
Despite seeming trivial in comparison, we still tried our best to make the most of our time in the city.
As we arrived into the centre of Christchurch, the earthquake damage was still very apparent. Even after more than eight years of rebuilding, entire blocks of the city remain completely empty with buildings having collapsed or been demolished.
We walked to Cathedral Square, where the desolate shell of Christchurch Cathedral remains cordoned off. The future of the iconic building was debated for several years until it was finally agreed that it should be restored to its former glory.
The complex Restoration work began in late 2018, and is expected to be completed within a decade at a cost upwards of $100m.
After the Cathedral was damaged, a new temporary cathedral was built just a short walk away. Known as the Cardboard Cathedral, due to the large cardboard tubes that were used in its construction, the church was opened in August 2013 and has been in use ever since, while also becoming a popular tourist attraction.
Just a short walk from the Cathedral is the 185 Empty Chairs memorial, another poignant reminder of the damage caused by the earthquakes. The memorial contains an empty white chair for each of the 185 people that lost their lives in the 2011 earthquake.
To learn more about the tragic events, we visited Quake City. The engaging museum tells the story of the earthquakes through various exhibits and the sometimes harrowing stories of the city’s residents. It also focuses on the rebuilding process and the city’s ambitious plans for the future.
The creatives of Christchurch have found opportunities amongst the damage, coming up with innovative ways to make use of all of the empty spaces once filled by buildings.
There are a number temporary instillations dotted across the city, including food trucks, bars and other community areas, with many of these created by the Gap Filler project. As we wandered around the city we also found a collection of street art and murals to rival Melbourne.
The Avon River winds its way through the city, and we took a relaxing stroll along the water, where we were excited to find punting trips being offered. Much to our disappointment the weather took a turn for the worse and we had to cancel our plans for a trip down the river.
We continued into the impressive Botanic Gardens, taking time to admire the stunning Central Rose Garden before becoming lost in the New Zealand Gardens.
The gardens form part of the vast 165 hectares Hagley Park, which has been designated as public space since 1855 and is part of the reason Christchurch is known as the Garden City.
Given we still had the van for one day after arriving in Christchurch, we also managed to explore some of the city’s surroundings.
We took a day trip to the Banks Peninsula, which is situated around an hours drive to the southeast of the city. The unusually shaped outcrop was formed by several volcanic eruptions, and has an extensive coastline including two harbours and many secluded coves.
We drove along the steep and winding road to Akaroa, which is the largest settlement on the peninsula. The town was originally a French settlement, before the British claimed sovereignty over the entirety of the South Island.
There was lots of French influence still evident as we walked along the historic Rue Lavaud high street, with bistros and patisseries amongst the many small shops.
Akaroa is understandably a popular stop on New Zealand cruise itineraries, and our arrival coincided with one of these visits. The town was packed with cruise passengers, with a steady flow of water taxis taking them to and from the huge ship docked some way out in the harbour.
To escape the dawdling cruise passengers, we walked out of the town, following the waterfront to the Akaroa Lighthouse. The historic lighthouse was saved from demolition in 1980, before being moved to its current place in the harbour.
Returning to the van, we decided to take the scenic route back to the city. We followed the coastline around to Governors Bay before taking the scenic Dyers Pass over the Port Hills. This provided stunning views over both Lyttelton Harbour and Christchurch, before descending back into the city.
It was great to fit in one final scenic drive before handing the van back to complete our six week road trip. As we looked at our map it was amazing to see how far we had travelled in such a short amount of time.
New Zealand has managed to amaze us every day of our trip, and we are already thinking about what we would like to do on our next visit.
However with the Kiwi summer having come to an end, it was time for us to begin our journey to the far warmer climes of Southeast Asia, starting with a few days in Bangkok.