The drive around the western countryside of Christchurch has to be one of the prettiest drives in the world.
We drove past miles of the greenest pastures all sectioned off with neatly trimmed Macrocarpa hedges that break down the force of the winds that sweep the Canterbury plains. Through the winter these winds that blow off the snow covered mountains become icy cold and the wind breaks give protection to stock and crops across the fertile plains.
I can’t remember a single untidy property in the whole Canterbury Plains area. It seems as if New Zealand farmers, small and large, take a great deal of pride not only in the production of their farms but of the appearance.
On our travels through Australia we often remark on the untidiness of many rural properties with overgrown neglected paddocks, run down fencing and old car bodies and machinery lying around rusting, untouched for years. We’ve often remarked to each other that many of these landowners don’t deserve the privilege of land ownership because of their mismanagement and neglect. This was noticeably absent from anywhere in the South Island. The vast majority of rural land is pristine, impeccably tidy and fastidiously managed.
This is also true of many towns. Some small rural towns in Aus, (by no means all), have the appearance of neglected, poverty stricken and dying places waiting for the last resident to leave before finally being eaten up by the bush. In contrast the small rural New Zealand towns are still tidy and still have an atmosphere of prosperity even though many must be struggling equally as much as some of the small Australian towns.
I wanted to show Kerrie through Hagley Park and the Botanical gardens. The park and gardens abound with magnificent old trees, many of them bought from England in the 1800s and early 1900s.
There are Elms, Oaks and Chestnut trees with sprawling solid, thick branches and countless varieties of New Zealand natives. The crystal clear waters of the Avon river runs through the whole area and punts and canoes make for a peaceful, relaxed feeing that makes you just want to sit on velvet grass amidst the thick daisies and buttercups.
We marvelled at the explosions of colour especially in the Rose gardens. Roses are in super abundance all over the South Island especially in Christchurch.
Walking into the Rose garden through arches cut in the surrounding hedges the scent from a million different roses from hundreds of varieties hits you. Combined with the dramatic visual display of colour the senses are overwhelmed with the beauty of this little pocket of the world.
We walked through the gardens towards the Museum stopping to admire a new art from that has started in Christchurch since the earthquake. One of the most common sights when moving around Christchurch is the hundreds of thousands of orange cones on almost every street.
Residents have used these to shape into art forms as if to turn a huge negative into fun and displaying the depth of imagination that abounds in this city.
We then walked through the museum which always held a fascination for me as a kid. I used to love the Canterbury museum especially the mock ups of early Christchurch shops and ships cabins that always looked so real and the bird displays that make you feel like you are standing on seaside cliffs or mountain ledges looking at nests.
Most of those fascinating displays are still there. I remembered them from at least 50 years ago and they were around long before then and yet they still look the same and it still enthralled me to wander amongst them.
We had heard on the news that the Christchurch Square, the centre of Christchurch City was being opened this weekend for the first time since the earthquake.
We headed into the city to find it packed.
We parked the car and walked down Colombo Street, once the city’s bustling main street of the city, past devastated buildings and shops. Whole buildings were leaning over others had crumbled or had been demolished because they were about fall. Every building that remained standing has substantial damage and widows are broken everywhere. Many of the office blocks have furniture, whiteboards and computers still untouched but now exposed to the weather by broken or non existent windows. Every street has piles of rubble, destroyed footpaths leaning lampposts and broken glass.
The main business centre of the city is still closed except for occasional pockets and it will remain closed for a long time.
They were allowing only 300 people at a time into the Square and we were warned that this was a danger zone and we were entering of our own accord. Identification had to be held on our body not in handbags and as we walked into the Square and stood in front of the ruins of the Cathedral it was chilling to imagine what it must have been like for the many thousands
of people occupying these buildings at the time of the quake.
It is truly a miracle that the death toll was not enormous.
Familiar buildings like the old Post Office, the Tax building where Jennies Dad used to work, and the BNZ bank all were heavily damaged. Even residents of the city find it difficult to remember what the building was that used to occupy the now empty spaces where demolition had been prioritised.
To see the Cathedral was for many, myself included, the most heartbreaking sight. It is completely destroyed.
This once grand and glorious landmark, the central focus of the city for every past and present Christchurch resident symbolises more than any other single thing the extent of the damage in this badly broken city. The challenges to find any sort of normality are huge.
Some of the onlookers shed tears and many more just looked at the buildings in a sort of numb silence.
The obstacles to rebuilding are enormous yet our next stop was so exciting and so encouraging it put beyond any doubt the question of wether the city will ever be rebuilt.
Around the corner from the Square is a whole shopping mall that has been built from shipping containers.
Businesses from all over the city have relocated and are carrying on as normal as possible and many of the inner city retail shops have opened up in this container community.
It was really amazing and encouraging to these multi coloured containers stacked on top of each other, made into shop fronts and filled with product. The innovation and imagination was overwhelming as we looked at shop after shop, each one with its own individual touch. What was even more encouraging was that without exception they were all full. The whole place was busy, packed with people buying and spending as if the devastation outside of the makeshift mall didn’t exist.
We were simply astounded and personally motivated at the innovation and the tenacity of the people.
It showed us yet again that great hardship can be overcome with the right attitude and in ruins and hardship opportunity can be found if you care to look away from self pity and toward the future.
We walked down past the damaged Bridge of Remembrance and past buskers and throngs of people back to the car feeling greatly encouraged.
We drove up to the Cashmere Hills and ended up high in the Port Hills at the sign of the Bellbird rest stop from where we were able to see Lyttleton Harbour far below and the city surrounded by the Canterbury Plains that we had fallen in love with stretching to the magnificent Southern Alps and it was very fitting place to look back over the last ten days with
great fondness for the South Island.
We made our way back to the city and to a lovely motel on Bealy Ave and from there to the Richmond Working Men’s Club where we had dinner and a long talk with lovely lady who owned the restaurant there. She lives in Sandown Crescent which adjoins Yarmouth Street in Aranui where I spent my youth.
As we got into bed we couldn’t help but feel sad we were leaving the next morning even though we were looking forward to home. It has been the most wonderful ten days. We will never forget it.