The cold summer air was blowing with gusto, but I’d never felt more warm. The summer sun shone on the cracked road and the derelict buildings, and I felt as if I was part of their history. The streets were devoid of civilization, and yet there was a sort of liveliness in the atmosphere. The city was new and foreign, but as I took it all in, I couldn’t have felt more at home. Christchurch on South Island, New Zealand, felt warm, fuzzy and inviting.
It was 5pm on a pleasant January evening in the “City That Rocks” – a nickname that stuck after two devastating earthquakes rocked Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. With all tourist places shut and just three hours in hand, we headed to Christchurch Central City, the heart of the city, which came recommended from our very enthusiastic Sri–Lankan–born–but–New–Zealand–loving receptionist. Christchurch Central City is like a phoenix rising from the ashes – where the aftermath of the earthquakes is very palpable, with major rebuilding efforts still going on. The air, on the other hand, is anything but that of despair, and the place throbs with a dignified energy of having picked up the pieces and moved on.
At the core of this transformation lies the giant, Tetris–like Re:START Container Mall, which is an innovative temporary outdoor retail space built using multicoloured shipping containers. Re:START is the ultimate symbol of Christchurch’s resilience and spirit – a vibrant maze that kick-started the healing process for the residents of the city. Even though the mall had shut for the day, the space looked inviting, as if beckoning the passers-by to share its happiness. As we rounded a corner, a majestic silhouette of a monument rose out of nowhere, with the national flag fluttering in the wind. For a minute, I stood transfixed, not able to tear my eyes away from the sight. The Bridge of Remembrance, which is one of the war memorials in the city, stood tall and resilient even in the face of destruction. In front of the cenotaph, assiduous restoration work of the structure was going on. Clearly, the Bridge of Remembrance is more than just a war memorial for the denizens of Christchurch.
I walked down the street across the road, overcome by what I’d seen. Flopping down on a bench on the banks of the Avon River behind a quaint little restaurant, I stared at nothing in particular. The river waters sparkled in the evening light, carrying with them the memories and the soul of the city. The white flowers on the banks of the Avon swayed ever–so–slightly, looking resplendent against the verdant grassy knoll. It was as if Christchurch had been reborn.
As twilight fell, the winds turned colder, but the warmth never left the atmosphere. It was a foreign place, the streets were empty, and I still didn’t feel like leaving. A strange feeling enveloped me as our bus rolled down the street – it was overwhelming kinship I felt with the city, as if it were my own, as if I’d lived and loved here. Tears almost glistened in my eyes as I realised I’d experienced and loved all that Christchurch is – endurance, benevolence, and beauty.
WORDS: MALAVIKA MADGULA
Caught the travel bug? Check out our guide to the “Venice of the North”, Gdańsk.