“It’s like something you’d get in a zombie film.”
“Christchurch,” swiftly followed by a deep guffaw, “We spent two days there and left.”
“The weather is going to be shit this weekend. You’re not going to enjoy it.”
With everything I had heard about Christchurch, my expectations were low. However, during my one day of exploring I ended up pleasantly surprised by the place. Though I suppose that’s not saying much: hey, it wasn’t that bad.
I felt very lucky to see the city on a sunny day, as it literally put it in a better light, which tends to be the way when exploring most new places.
With such glorious weather I could hardly resist going to the Botanical Gardens. Apparently growing up in a town which prides itself in taking part in Britain in Bloom, I have developed a fondness for a bloody good garden.
Dappled green, crisp yellow and glowing red – the classic autumnal palette – having lived in the Southern Hemisphere for a decent chunk of time, I didn’t find it too unusual in May. I spent a glorious couple of hours by the river, taking simple pleasure in watching the ducks. Did I feel like an OAP? Yes. Did I care? Not in the slightest.
Outside of that pleasant garden stroll, and walking through Christchurch CBD, its desolation became immediately clear. Shops were shut, tears in the pavement, gaping holes in the landscape and the never-ending fleets of construction. The cathedral especially looked like something out of a modern day Blitz, as if the earthquake happened a couple of weeks ago, rather than five years ago.
There was colour in Cathedral square – in fact, not just the square but throughout the CBD, so much graffiti trying to breathe some life back to the city. I caught glimpses of the potential it has and the kind of place it used to be – but in the now the colour fell flat. Having lived in Wellington a while, I knew what a thriving city felt like – where the vibrancy is not just on the walls but thriving in the community.
I walked to the 185 white chairs. There was no certainly no colour to be found there. It was there to mark the 185 people that lost their lives in the Christchurch earthquake on February 22nd 2011. Each and every chair was different: a toddler car seat, a wheelchair, a padding living room armchair and office chair. I reeled, unable to stop imagining each one filled and what kind of person would fit in each seat. 185 was no longer just a number.
Christchurch was a city still healing and piecing itself together. Despite all its art and colour, it still felt like a blank canvas. You can use your imagination and once you catch a glimpse of the bigger picture, you desperately hope it will become a reality.