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Day 29 – Geraldine to Christchurch

November 13, 2012

So today was the final leg of our travels through NZ. We have had an amazing time and have really fallen in love with this wonderful country. I really think that had we come here when we were much younger there could have been a strong possibility we may have stayed – however we accept that this was not in God’s plan for us.

You may recall from yesterdays blog that we tried to have a cuppa in Verde Cafe Deli in Geraldine but had arrived as they were closing. So this morning we called in on our way out of Geraldine and got ourselves takeaway coffees and some scrummy cakes to eat later as it was only 9.15am and less than 1hr after our brekkie.

Our journey of around 130km would takes us along the Canterbury plains and very much reminded us of Lincolnshire or Cambridgeshire – very flat. After the previous 4 wks of mainly seeing and driving and weaving up and down passes and gorges it was very odd driving along flat straight roads. The journey was fine but also very strange travelling in a fair amount of traffic which was steadily increasing as we got closer to Christchurch.

Once we had got booked in to the holiday park we decided to get a bus into the centre of Christchurch. As we travelled what would only have been about 20mins on the bus we started to get glimpses of the damage the earthquake had caused. However, nothing could have prepared us for the devastation we would see not only in the centre of the city but also in many of the suburbs. It was strange how some buildings appeared untouched by the earthquake whilst others standing alongside had suffered significant damage.

The area where we alighted from the bus is a temporary central bus station and right next door to where the council has creatively used big containers to provide units for those businesses which had previously been in the centre of where the earthquake had struck. This area had a great feel to it and was really alive so we had our lunch in a Hummingbird Cafe which uses one of these containers with outdoor seating.

We decided to explore the city by bus, once we found out where it started from!! This was an old red London Route Master bus which bizarrely still had a map of the London Underground on the upper-deck!

The first hour of the tour took us as close as you can get to the epicentre of the earthquake in the city centre. It really did look like a war zone at times with piles rubble that had once been a building or twisted metal and buildings where most of the glass had been shattered/blown out by the force of the earthquake. It was remarkable that many more people had not last their lives though any loss is sad.

Street after street had been decimated where once stood maybe 4/5 storey buildings now they were either surface car parks or just plain nothing.

However, out of all this turmoil and tragedy is rising a new Christchurch one which possibly offer it’s residents and visitors a much better place to live and visit. We were told that there are still after shocks with the last one being just a couple of weeks ago at a magnitude of 4.2!!

It was a very humbling experience as we travelled through the city centre and listened to our guide explaining what it had been like since the first earthquake in Sept 2010. When we got into some districts he described what had previously stood there in others he genuinely couldn’t remember what had been there.We went past the Basilica which looks like it had been bombed. They are wanting to preserve as much of it as possible as down through the years a number of bishops have been buried within the boundary of the building.

The Anglican Cathedral was also badly damaged with it’s spire crashing down to the ground for the third time after a number of previous earthquakes. They are busy erecting a new Cathedral which is being described as a cardboard Cathedral due to the way it is being constructed. Apparently this is causing a great deal of angst amongst locals as it’s not even being constructed on the original site!

After this tour which lasted an hour we moved away from the centre to look at other places of interest. We went to the Cashmere district which is an affluent area south of the city and quite high up. We were able to have a panoramic view across the city and over to the coastal area of Akaroa. A splendid view until our guide explained that a number of key landmarks had disappeared because of the earthquake. People who lived in this area had also been affected by the earthquake as we viewed a number of properties that had suffered damage, in some instances it was terminal as it is too dangerous to reconstruct or repair the property.

In the picture opposite you might just be able to glimpse in the centre of the photo a large stadium. This is the famous Lancaster Park which had hosted a number of great sporting events down through the years. The stadium is currently out of action owing to the severe damage sustained during the February 2011 Christchurch earthquake and will remain closed indefinitely with the first of its stands, the Hadlee Stand being demolished . All the stands have sunk in places by up to 30cm (approx 12″). We visited this as part of the earlier tour and it looked in a real sorry state.

We moved on to Sumner which is on a bay of the Estuary of the Avon and Heathcote Rivers. Here we saw properties which had either been significantly damaged and others which had to be vacated because of the perilous state they were in on the edge of a precipice. It is a beautiful area and you could sense why people had moved there and why some properties had been built in the location they occupied because of the magnificent views they had of the surrounding area. However, the earthquake has altered the landscape permanently and some exclusive and expensive looking properties will have to be demolished.

We wended our way back into the city along roads where once again we saw individual properties that had suffered damage.

For us it was a salutary lesson that you can not take anything for granted and that tragedy can strike at any given time. New Zealanders know that they live in a land that is susceptible to earthquakes and even volcanoes. They knew they were due one but the general view was that it would likely be Wellington and not Christchurch.

Tomorrow we plan to walk as much as we can of the city centre but for now we are grateful to God that this great city is rising from the devastation of a deadly earthquake.

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