1YoT: Christchurch

So far, our New Zealand southern island adventures have been spectacular, and we were excited to continue that trend at the island’s biggest city, Christchurch. Unfortunately, Christchurch turned out to be very different than expected.

Christchurch is actually a pretty fun city. It is very artsy, they have an amazing museum and a beautiful pier and they even have New Zealand’s version of Featherdale, complete with a kiwi. However, what Christchurch doesn’t have, or rather didn’t have, is building codes. That’s right, despite being on an island whose entire existence is due to earthquakes, Christchurch (and the rest of New Zealand for that matter) is shockingly ill equipped for them.

Inna and I got a glimpse of New Zealand’s poor earthquake preparedness in Wellington, where an earthquake 100 miles away shut down the city, damaging four downtown office buildings enough to have them condemned. But this was nothing compared to Christchurch, where in 2011 a magnitude 6.3 earthquake destroyed/condemned 80% of the city and also killed 185 people. You read right, 80% destroyed, 185 dead. Those are third world numbers, that is not how a developed country like New Zealand should be. But that’s how it was and they are currently rebuilding Christchurch (with much better building codes this time) and I am told that when an earthquake centers under Wellington, it will flatten that city as well.

Fun times!

Damage from the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. Pictured right is the Christchurch Cathedral, Christchurch’s former grandest church, and bottom left is what most of the city looked like on our visit.


Much of Christchurch was under post-earthquake reconstruction. One of the more creative constructions was this outdoor shopping mall made out of shipping containers.


Christchurch now has an earthquake museum. I hope they’ve taken what’s in here and incorporated it into their building codes, because the old codes were just plain bad.


Not all of Christchurch was condemned post-earthquake, and many of the surviving buildings were the city’s grandest architectural gems. Like this building: the Christchurch Arts Center, former home of the University of Canterbury, where Ernest Rutherford (the father of nuclear physics) studied.


Also surviving was the Canterbury Museum, the most impressive non-famous museum Inna and I have ever visited. This museum doesn’t have any “all-star” pieces (well, maybe one), but we were so impressed with this place; it was like a mini Smithsonian and we spent hours here.

In fact, this museum was so impressive I’m giving it its own post, to keep it from dominating this one.

Christchurch’s main square contained the grand building pictured left, and also the sculpture pictured right. It also contained the destroyed church pictured at the top of this post. The square didn’t contain much else.


Christchurch’s City Council building seemed to survive the earthquake pretty well. Maybe they should build all their buildings like this one.


This is the Cardboard Cathedral, one of the most unique buildings in Christchurch. Designed by Shigeru Ban and opened in 2013, this church was built as a response to the earthquake: with the Christchurch Cathedral condemned, the city needed a new place of worship, and they needed one quick. The city also needed a new civic event center and concert venue, and so this building was designed to solve all these needs, then constructed and opened less than three years after the earthquake hit. 


Across from the Cardboard Cathedral was this temporary memorial to those who died in the earthquake. There are 185 chairs in this memorial, one for each victim. This was a powerful memorial and I hope the city makes it permanent; the people it memorializes deserve it.

Some of the chairs in the memorial. Heartbreaking.

Continuing on, remember back in Sydney, when I mentioned how much Australia and New Zealand love war memorials? Well Christchurch loves them so much it has two of them.


Of the two war memorials, one was located downtown and the other was along the coast, near the pier pictured above. Christchurch’s coast was beautiful, and while it wasn’t as spectacular as some of the other coasts we’ve visited, it was very romantic, especially with its colorful-yet-subtly lit fishing pier.


Hey! Look! It’s one of my WOWies! Who would’ve thought I’d meet up with a WOWie here?

For those who don’t know, I attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, the college with the largest volunteer freshman orientation program in the US. The program is called WOW (it stands for Week of Welcome) and I volunteered every year I was there. Participating in WOW was one of my favorite college experiences; not only was it super fun and rewarding, I also met a ton of awesome people. Like this guy, one of the freshman I helped introduce to Cal Poly. Cal Poly incoming freshman are known as WOWies (volunteers are known as WOW leaders), hence he was my WOWie. Great to see you bud!

This marks the end of our Christchurch visit, kind of. Not realizing how destroyed the city was, Inna and I gave ourselves two full days here. However, we managed to do all of the above on our first day, so for our second day, we went to Akaroa, a neighboring harbor town. It was after Akaroa that we finally left Christchurch, where we spent the next couple days on a dairy farm. To read about these adventures (Akaroa, the dairy farm, and the drive between the two), head over to our next post (coming soon)! And don’t forget to check out our Canterbury Museum post as well!


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