We layover for about 36 hours in Christchurch, New Zealand on our way to Antarctica where we listen to our first orientation and receiver our cold weather gear. This takes the morning, leaving the afternoon and evening free for us to explore the city. Christchurch is impossible to describe without first knowing about the 2011 earthquake. A magnitude 6.3 earthquake centered near Christchurch effectively leveled the downtown. And three and half years later, the effects remain inescapable.
New Zealand is noted for its lamb, and there’s an award winning place across from our hotel. Pedro’s House of Lamb used to be a restaurant, but the earthquake destroyed their building. The cost to rebuild was too high, so they open a small takeaway shack instead. They serve one dish, a roasted lamb shoulder with scalloped potatoes with rosemary and garlic. It is fantastic.
Pedros is not unique in its loss of its storefront, so the city has come up with some ingenious ways of reopening quickly. Perhaps the most elegant is the Re:START shopping center. It is a mall made entirely of shipping containers that have been beautifully painted. It is now filled with boutique shops, cafes, pizza shops, and the emblem of bougie lifestyle, Lululemon.
The recovery is still happening. It seems like half the buildings in downtown are still torn down or in the process of being torn down. Cranes litter the skyline, and jackhammers intermittently halt conversations. Many roads and buildings are fenced off for construction and repairs. But even these temporary fences have provided locals with a canvas for creation.
Despite all the destruction, Christchurch is gorgeous and fun. The botanical gardens (cover photo) is a beautiful public space. This is the last bit of green we’ll see before we head off to the cold Antarctic tundra. There are fantastic bars. Smash Palace is a burger bar. But unlike any burger bar you’ve been to, the restaurant is made entirely of refurbished public busses and trailers. The Institution is a new bar that serves specialty cocktails and New Zealand beers. When I asked why he opened this bar, he said “because I love beer.” Good enough for me.
Christchurch is a city that is clearly still rediscovering itself. Destruction is everywhere. Reconstruction is everywhere. And beauty is everywhere. It’ll be exciting to come back in several years and see the changes in Christchurch.