Visiting Christchurch Three Years After the Earthquake

Published: Saturday, 22 February 2014

Julie and Ian Robinson recently visited Julie’s home city of Christchurch. Here are Julie and Ian’s reflections three years after the earthquakes:

Cardboard Cathedral Inside

Quake City

We were in New Zealand over the summer and the last week of our visit we spent in Christchurch, the city of my birth. We had been there in April 2 years ago for our 70th birthday, celebrated on a day when it was earthquake free. The city has had 11,000 after-shocks from 2010 until now! Much of the inner city was fenced off then, but now there is access to all of the CBD.

Smile for ChristchurchSmile for Christchurch

We were impressed by the creative and inspiring installations in the many empty spaces cleared of rubble. It certainly helps to raise the spirits of the people.

One such effort was the map of New Zealand with 1000 photos of smiling ‘Kiwis’ from 19 towns and cities painted brightly on a wall. It is called: ‘SMILE FOR CHRISTCHURCH’.

Tony’s Story

Here is the story as shown on the wall. Tony is a backpacker from Taiwan. He arrived in Christchurch in March 2012, 13 months after the big earthquake. When he saw the devastation of the city, he decided to do something for the city. He travelled all over New Zealand and collected smiley pictures of people for Christchurch. He collected pictures by busking on the streets with his ukulele and camera. Over the year, he has collected over 1,000 smiley faces from over 19 cities. He hopes to use these pictures to bring something positive back to the city and also let people know everyone is still supporting Christchurch.

White chairsRemembrance Space

Another installation is the collection of 185 white chairs of all kinds that occupy a space near the new transitional Cathedral. The sign alongside says, “Thank you for visiting this Remembrance Space. You may sit in any chair—choose one that speaks to you of those who died as a result or the 22nd February [2011] earthquake. You are welcome to stay as long as you wish. You may leave a comment in the book.”

Heart Torn OutShattered cathedral in square

In the Square we were sad to see the ruins of the Cathedral. When it fell, it was as if the heart of the city was torn out. There were so many memories associated with it and the legacy of the founding fathers to have a place of faith for all people right in the centre of the city.

Cardboard Cathedral Stained glassCardboard Cathedral

A couple of blocks away is the new Transitional Cathedral, dubbed the Cardboard Cathedral, as it is built of cardboard tubes about 23.5 inches wide and as long as 75.5 feet along with internal laminated timber, steel and plastic.

The building soars to a height of six stories and has a beautiful Trinity window of colourful panes of glass high up above the entrance. We were surprised to see the beauty of the interior, although intrigued to find the walls supporting the choir stalls and pulpit are cylinders of cardboard.

We attended Evensong on Sunday 9th. It was good to worship there. The choir with its beautiful music combining with the worship of many people, felt to me like a beacon of light in the darkened city. The clergy and volunteers give a warm welcome to the many visitors coming inside each day.

Childhood HomeAvon River

The following day, we went to Huntsbury Hill to see the site of my childhood home built of bricks by my father in the early 1940’s. Sadly it was destroyed by the earthquake but in the cleared area I could visualise where my sandpit had been.

Along the Avon

Lastly we spent some time alongside the Avon River as it winds gently through the city and the Botanical gardens. It was a peaceful sight to see a canoe and its occupants being punted along. A gentleman watching nearby had punted often in Cambridge in England and regaled us with many anecdotes. It was a calm and beautiful end to our visit.