Everywhere looks beautiful in the spring sunshine, even a city that is essentially a construction site. Every few days my commute to and from work takes me on a different route as the road works continue to spread round the city like a parasite. A route that I could follow one day is blocked the next, and as the weeks pass, detours to the detours pop up, taking me down side-streets and residential roads in the midst of repair. In some places where the roads have returned to a flatness not seen for three years, locals have developed a sense of humour and put warning signs up to drivers not accustomed to driving without avoiding potholes. The street outside my flat has been restricted to 1 lane for as long as I can remember now. First it was dug up for the water pipes, then the sewage pipes, and now the storm water pipes. They dig it up, do the work, close it up, re-open the road, then 2 weeks later dig it all back up again for the next lot of pipes. At the time of writing, we have received notification of the roadworks outside our property continuing into 2014, as they have still to replace the lateral storm pipes to the individual properties. To me, the roadworks are like scars on the landscape, and I almost look forward to showing them off to visitors, as if to say ‘look what this city has gone through, and this is how we heal’.
As the cold and short days diminish into a memory, the cherry blossoms that line Hagley Park bloomed in a mass of pink glory before falling, and with the sunshine and warming days, the city has a spring buzz about it. The Botanical Gardens are blooming, and packed on the weekends, and the Avon river is busy with people punting, and paddling leisurely as it winds through the park. Ducklings and goslings join their parents on the banks of the river to the delight of those strolling through the gardens. The Port Hills have returned to a green colour after last summer’s drought, and the budding trees and bird song can’t fail to make me feel happy and hopeful for the summer ahead.
In the city there is continued progress. The first section of the Avon River Precinct has been completed and opened, and I look forward to this being extended along the banks of the river as it winds through the city. Buildings are popping up all over the place, and I’m excited at the buzz that is developing around Victoria Street where multiple rebuild projects are pushing ahead at once. This precinct will become a haven of bars and cafes, and the latest one to reopen is the Carlton Bar at the junction of Bealey Avenue and Papanui Road. More art work is covering the bare walls and empty spaces created as the last of the buildings come down in the city centre. Cathedral Square has re-opened to the public, and whilst the fate of the Cathedral itself is no further forward, the square itself is buzzing with people again, and colourful focal points of art line the fences around those buildings still closed to the public.
With the fate of the Christchurch Cathedral still in debate, a few months ago saw the official opening of the temporary and controversial replacement, the Transitional (Cardboard) Cathedral. Made out of large tubular pillars of reinforced cardboard amongst a steel structure, it has a life expectancy of 50 years. Designed by a renowned Japanese architect, it was and indeed is still a talking point with relation to the amount of money spent on it. I myself was initially a skeptic, but now that it is complete, I think that it is a pretty structure (well at least from the front it is!) and it has been exceedingly well used since its opening, proving a popular venue for talks and art exhibits aside from the regular church use, and there is always people around it and in it when I drive past it on my way home from work. Whilst not religious myself, I think it stands well as a religious meeting place but also gives the city a distinctive and unusual tourist attraction.
A few big changes in the city centre include the demolition of the Heritage hotel and BNZ buildings on Cathedral Square and the Copthorne hotel on Victoria Square. This latter demolition caused a bit of a news scandal when it partly collapsed during the process, resulting in a week’s halt whilst safety was evaluated to pull down the 2 walls which were left standing. The tramlines have been getting re-laid in sections and Cathedral Junction is not far away from re-opening. Within the complex, a new boutique hotel has opened as well as some apartments on the other side. It is still hoped to get the tram running on part of the network by the end of the year. Work has also started on ‘the Strip’, investor Antony Gough’s pet project to redevelop the social area between Cashel Street and Hereford Street. With work only advanced as far as digging down to lay foundations on one plot, it is going to be a long awaited opening.
In the surrounding blocks, it is a mixture of untouched buildings waiting decisions regarding their fate, empty plots of land awaiting consent or sale, and other buildings which are being demolished. There is little building work occurring in the immediate vicinity to Cathedral Square.
For a brief period between Peterborough Street and Kilmore Street was an art installation representing the earthquakes which encouraged people to write their feelings and thoughts on it for it then to be burned in a form of cathartic release. Whilst there are many people like myself that are full of hope for this city, it was clear judging by many of the comments, that there is still a lot of despair, helplessness and anger amongst the people of Christchurch. But with the impending summer comes the festivals and activities around the city, and especially centred around Hagley Park, where people can come together in the sunshine and relax for a few hours, and hopefully forget for a while all those other problems.
Outwith the city centre, the popular Bridle Path walk has reopened. Starting at the gondola centre next to the entrance to the Lyttelton tunnel, it snakes up to summit road, and down the other side to Lyttelton. It also meets the Crater Rim walk which connects to the upper gondola building and the walk itself is open in sections. Also reopened is the Godley Head walk, a fantastic coastal walk from Taylor’s Mistake round to the old World War II batteries that protected the entrance to Lyttelton Harbour. The views along the coast and over to the Banks Peninsula are amazing. Whilst several walking tracks in the Port Hills remain closed (and for some, may never reopen) there are many open and ready to be explored. I saw my first wild (live) possum whilst hiking through Kennedy Bush (they are a common sight squashed on the road), and this area is an amazing place to walk to be completely surrounded by birdsong. It isn’t far to go to find a view of Governor’s Bay from here either.
The more I explore this city, the more places I find to while away a few hours. Travis Wetlands sits north east of the city centre in the suburb of Burwood. It is surrounded on all sides by developments, but within the wetland boundary is a large lake with surrounding wetlands that is a haven for both aquatic birds but a host of wetland birds too. I have a soft spot for Pukekos and they are in abundance here. The wetlands also has a fantastic view south towards the Port Hills.
A few months ago, I went to Orana Park on the outskirts of Christchurch on a whim. I’m not a big fan of zoos and wildlife parks because a lot of them fall short with the standard of enclosures, but Orana is New Zealand’s only open-range zoo, and it was a nice day so I thought I’d give it the benefit of the doubt. It’s not huge by any means, but it was a nice size to walk round and I paid a little extra for a drive through the lion enclosure. Crammed into a large cage on the back of a truck, we trundled into the lion enclosure during feeding time, and I have to admit I was quite thrilled to have a fully grown lion jump on the roof and drool through the bars above our heads. It was the closest I had ever, and probably will ever, get to a lion and it was amazing to see their claws and teeth in such proximity as they snarled at each other over small bites of meat. I also fell in love with the meerkats and otters, both of which I could have just watched at play all day.
This city is constantly evolving, and it with a projected outlook of 10-20 years before a sense of ‘normality’ and completion is achieved, there’s going to be plenty of updates to report!