The trams are back! Anyone who ever visited Christchurch before the destructive powers of the earthquakes hit, knows that the tram system that snaked through the central city was an iconic part of the city. They ceased service following the Feb 22nd earthquake in 2011, but 1000 days later, after the trams themselves received an overhaul, and the tracks got repaired and partly replaced, the trams returned to (an albeit limited) service in November 2013. The route is short and concise, starting at New Regent Street, passing through the newly renovated Cathedral Junction, turning into Cathedral Square, past the remnants of the city’s other big icon, the now battered Cathedral, and along Worcester Street past the Art Gallery and stopping just shy of the Canterbury Museum. It then returns along the exact same route. There are 3 trams in service: the red cars numbers 11 and 178, and an old Invercargill brown tram, number 15. As an annual pass holder for the Christchurch Gondola, riding the trams is free, so happening to have a day off work the first day the trams were running, I took great enjoyment in going for a spin. There seemed to be some teething problems, and the return route took an hour, considering I could have walked the route in a quarter of that time, but things seem to be going a bit more smoothly now, and the trams appear to be proving quite popular with the visiting tourists. With so much ongoing construction and deconstruction continuing within the CBD, it is refreshing to see a sense of ‘normality’ return to the place.
Cathedral Square is now a hive of constant activity. Whilst the Cathedral itself remains untouched still, the square is a regular site for markets and social events. When it first reopened to the public, it felt sombre to wander through, and the people walked around with an air of sadness, and in sparse numbers. Now, there are crowds of locals and tourists using the space, and the mood is much more upbeat. A few more buildings have gone down in the general vicinity, and still more are to go. Notably, on the square itself, the BNZ building has been abandoned at half the height due to running out of money with the demolition, and the Government Life building with the clock on the roof is still undergoing asbestos removal at the time of writing. This large building will leave another noticeable hole in the cityscape when it is eventually lost.
Cashel Re:Start Mall is buzzing. It hosts a regular market, and has buskers performing in the centre every weekend. It has proven so popular that it will be relocated to remain in the newly designed city. Already, there is a building frame up to replace a section of the containers at the northern edge. At its end, Antony Gough’s project, the Terrace, is getting well under way with the first stage due to be open by the end of this year. It is a retail and hospitality project that will bring night life back to the central city and overlook the Avon river which is also continuing to be upgraded in sections. In the streets around here, the Central Library has gone, and work starts on the Justice Precinct here, the area where the emergency services headquarters will reside. Along Tuam Street, the old City Council building is under wraps literally, being demolished slowly from the inside out. In the proposed green belt of the East Frame, grass has been seeded to create an increase in parkland in the empty plots around Latimer Square.
One of the more noticeable buildings to progress is the Isaacs Theatre Royal on Gloucester Street. It has spent a large portion of post-earthquake time spent with the facade attached to a wall of shipping containers. Behind it, the building was split in two, brought down and rebuilt. Just a few weeks ago, the shipping containers were finally removed as the facade has now been reattached for the most part to the new structure behind it, and a new roof is now clearly visible. This is due for completion by the end of this year. Also making good progress is Victoria Street, which promises to be a great social area, and already has multiple bars and restaurants, including the relatively new Mexicana and Tequila Mockingbird.
Art is continuing to spring up around the city. Murals adorn multiple walls at every turn in an effort to bring colour back to a city that is at times overshadowed by greyness and dust. Temporary sculptures appear both in the city and in the suburbs. Sydenham has a series of sculptures depicting people in various poses, and in Latimer Square, a new piece of sculpture art has been erected to depict the lost spire of the original Cathedral. There is unfortunately a lot of graffiti adorning some of the abandoned buildings, but I love the painted artwork that many artists have shared with the people of Christchurch.
I continue to make use of walking tracks around the area, and have this year discovered the Rapaki Track. At the turn off from Centaurus Road, the track heads up the Port Hills on a well trodden gravel road through Mount Vernon Park to Summit Road. It is an exceedingly popular track with cyclists and walkers, and takes less than an hour to reach the top. From Summit Road, you can see the beautiful turquoise water of Lyttelton Harbour and on the way back down the hill, Pegasus Bay is visible as well as the city of Christchurch itself. It is my favourite ‘short’ hike to do in the area. A couple of moderate grade walks near Christchurch that I have done this summer are Mt Herbert and Mt Richardson.
One of the many things I love about New Zealand in general is the importance of outdoor living, especially throughout the summer months. The past few months I have attended a variety of events in and around the city. In November 2013, I got to dress up as a zombie for the inaugural Zombie Run, a 5km run where runners have to evade a zombie invasion. It took place in Orton Bradley Park on Banks Peninsula, and I had great fun getting a make-over to look like the undead. A few weeks later was the Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park, an annual outdoor concert which is held in Hagley Park. Hundreds of people take picnics and head to the park with friends and family to enjoy a few hours of live music, both festive and pop, and wait for Santa to appear. In December, there was a fantastic craft market in Cathedral Square which was perfect timing for some pre-Christmas shopping. It was fantastic to see the Square so buzzing. Another highlight of December was visiting a rather famous house to the west of the city. Not normally a fan of over-the-top festivities, I loved visiting this famous property with all its lights, and displays and festive music. It was immensely popular, with the state highway running past it becoming a temporary car park. We spent an hour or so just wandering round gawping at it all. I still struggle to feel festive in the summer time, but this helped just a little bit.
In February, Classical Sparks in the Park was another outdoor event in Hagley Park. This time, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra played famous songs whilst we enjoyed another picnic with some friends. A hot air balloon flew very low over the concert, and when the sun set, an amazing fireworks display took place to the theme of Star Wars. It was incredible. The Chinese Lantern Festival followed a few weeks later. Unfortunately, I missed the best night for weather and it was cancelled on the second night, but I still got to have a wander round Hagley Park and see most of the lanterns in situ. It was unfortunate to miss out on them being lit up in all their glory, but it was still possible to see how amazing they all were. The end of February saw the 5km Color Run come to the city. A charity run or walk where you get absolutely covered in paint dust whilst completing the course. It was torrential rain whilst the run was going ahead but then the sun broke through for the paint party at the end which was immense fun. Again in Hagley Park, at the start of March, was the Ellerslie Flower Show. I remembered a similar event in Glasgow when I was a child, but had never really been fussed about going to this event in Christchurch before. However on the last evening, we headed down to take a look. There were some impressive gardens and structures on display, and a few times a day there was a floral fashion show which was amazing. Lots of models dressed up as different flowers and insects didn’t immediately jump out at me as being of interest, but it was actually immensely clever, and really well done, and I was glad that I had gotten to see it.
Hagley Park continues to be the centre of outdoor fun in the city, but the summer events are starting to wind down as autumn takes its grip. Regardless of the time of year though, there will always be changes happening in the Garden City.