Thursday, 1 May 2014


Before we rode the Otago Central Rail Trail, we had to get ourselves from Wellington to Clyde by car. We took five days, and along the way we rode our bikes in every place we stayed in: Christchurch, Tekapo and Lake Ohau.

Christchurch – 29 March 2014

We lived just north of Christchurch for three years, about 40 years ago. We had been back for brief visits a few times, but the last time was a year before the Christchurch earthquakes. Obviously the central city is very much changed since then. I never did get to know the Christchurch city centre very well, but now, the few places I did know, are quite unrecognisable. So when we biked into town through Hagley Park, from Riccarton, where we were staying, we just pedalled at random through the quiet city streets.

The many sealed paths in Hagley Park are lovely for cycling (photo by John)

Of course, we have seen the after-effects of the earthquakes in the media – the “munted” buildings, the rubble, the fences around damaged edifices and deconstruction sites, the now empty spaces, and so on. But it is quite sobering to see the real thing.

There were cranes everywhere (photo by John)

The autumn leaves add to the disconsolate look of this abandoned building

And yet there’s a certain beauty in the skeleton of what was here once

Rubble clearing is still ongoing, more than three years after the quakes

Jumbled metal building skeletons (photo by John)

But we were blown away by the amazing art that is cropping up everywhere. Huge paintings cover walls that have been exposed by the building next door having been pulled down. Fences around deconstruction sites are festooned with decorations. Empty spaces are occupied by quirky temporary installations.

The sweetness of this painting belies the destruction that went before it (photo by John)

This appears to be a work in progress still …

… and so is this one, I think (photo by John)

A painting of the Cathedral – the text at the top reads “Forever in our memories” (photo by John)

This painting is several stories high (photo by John)

What a sublime use of a plain brick wall

Plastic toy blocks are used to decorate a fence around a “munted” building

Contrasting rubble, art and nature (photo by John)

On a corner where St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church once stood, was an installation of 185 white chairs. They represent the 185 people who were killed by the 22 February 2011 earthquake. The chairs are all different, just as the people who died were all individuals. I found it a very moving statement, especially the baby’s carseat.

There was a woman, who was quietly sitting in one of the chairs, and John thought she shouldn’t have been there. He felt it was disrespectful. But in fact, a sign nearby actually invited people to do just that.

185 empty white chairs for Remembrance

The artist, Pete Majendie, states “This installation is temporary – as is life”

Across the road from this Remembrance Space was the “Cardboard Cathedral”, or more correctly, the Christchurch Transitional Cathedral. “Transitional” because the original Christchurch Cathedral was severely damaged in the earthquakes, and debate still rages as to whether it could and should be repaired or rebuilt, or whether it should be pulled down and replaced by a new cathedral.

In the meantime, whatever the eventual outcome, the Transitional Cathedral was commissioned and built. It has been controversial, and derided by certain quarters, but it has also earned the designer and architect, Shigeru Ban, the prestigious 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize, which is widely regarded as the highest honour in world architecture.

It is a simply stunning building. Simple lines, inventive and original, light and airy, and just absolutely beautiful.

The interior of the Transitional Cathedral

The designs in the stained glass are taken from the original cathedral’s rose window

Shipping containers support the large “cardboard” tubes and are used for offices and storage spaces

The cardboard tubes are strengthened with laminated wood cores. Two-inch gaps have been left between them to allow light to filter through the polycarbonate roof

A temporary exhibition of 14 paintings representing the Stations of the Cross,
by Geraldine artist John Badcock 

The chairs are beautifully designed – simple, elegant, and comfortable

A side chapel can be enclosed or opened up by moving a wall of cardboard tubes on rollers
The cardboard tube theme is carried through to the choir (and pulpit)

Contrasting old an new

We finally made it to Cathedral Square, which has now been opened up to the public again, after having been a no-go zone for over two years. It is back to being a busy, vibrant place again, with people, art, coffee and food stands, and displays of photos of how things were before the quakes. Dominating the square, of course, are the incredibly sad remains of the original Cathedral, which was so symbolic of the City of Christchurch. Brightly decorated fences surround the ruined church, with gaps through which visitors can view the extent of the devastation.

Brightly decorated fences surround the Cathedral …

… but this is the reality – heartbreaking damage to a once-magnificent building

The cathedral precinct is now a fenced-in wilderness

Much of Cashel Street – a major shopping area – was destroyed in the February 2011 quake, but by October of that year, the Re:START Mall was opened. It was necessary to encourage shoppers back into the city as quickly as possible, and so a new, temporary mall was constructed from shipping containers. It is a very lively and colourful place indeed.

We stopped to have lunch in one of the many cafés. The Hummingbird was made of four shipping containers and it was literally humming with activity. It had the tiniest open-to-view kitchen you could imagine, in which six or eight people – cooks and serving staff – were constantly trying to wriggle around each other as they worked. And nobody lost their temper. Amazing!

This café was made of four shipping containers …

… and made the most of its outdoor area

A general view of the Re:START Mall (photo by John)

Many of the containers are brightly decorated (photo by John)

I love the way this woman’s boots and hair echo the colours of the shade sails

Shipping containers are put to many uses (photo by John)

We rode through recently re-opened New Regent Street, which is on the historic tram circuit. It was not yet fully back into the swing of things, by the look of it, as only a few shops were open. But at the end of the street we saw Christchurch personality The Wizard and his bright red VW Beetle. Then, as he was parked on the tram line, and a tram was due, he got into his Wizardmobile and drove off – giving us a surprise. It was a push-me/pull-you car, with a front at both ends!

The historic Christchurch Tram is back (photo by John)

The Wizard prepares to get out of the way of the tram … (photo by John)

… and drives away, giving us a bit of a surprise! (He’s actually going towards the right) (photo by John)

On the site of the former Crowne Plaza Hotel, which had to be demolished, we discovered two Gap Filler projects: The Arcades Project, and the Pallet Pavillion.

The Pallet Pavillion, a ‘transitional architecture’ project, was constructed from over 3000 wooden pallets. It enclosed a community space with a café, which was used as a venue for public events. We were lucky to see it, as it was taken down only a week or so after we were there. It was only ever intended to last for one summer, but due to public demand, its duration was extended by a year.

The interior of the Pallet Pavillion

The Arcades Project consists of a series of beautiful timber arches, which look reasonably permanent, but which have been designed to be relocatable to any empty space, as the city rebuilds. The modules can be reconfigured into different shapes, depending on the requirements of a project.  For now, they are reminiscent of a church nave, as they line up on the diagonal axis of this currently empty site on the corner of Durham and Kilmore Streets.

The Arcades Project (“Van je erk, erk, erk, rijdt de koning door de kerk ...” –
Dutch children’s song about the king riding through the church)

On the way back to our motel, we rode past Lake Victoria in Hagley Park, where model yachting enthusiasts were preparing for a race. Of course we had to stop and watch this. We sat on the edge of the little deck, until a steward suggested we might want to move away, because “soon all these men will come rushing along here”. He did not exaggerate. Once the race started, it got quite heated. We heard an official announcing that so-and-so had made an illegal manoeuvre within five meters of another yacht!

Members of the Christchurch Model Yacht Club prepare for a race

Number 131 is launched (photo by John)

This is deadly serious stuff! (photo by John)

Such a pretty sight (photo by John)

Later in the day, we went for a drive to Sumner, and Lyttelton, and New Brighton. In Sumner, cliffs collapsed during the earthquakes, taking with them million-dollar houses. Along the bottom of the cliffs, the road is protected from further falling debris by a row of stacked shipping containers. Here too, the scene has been “cheered up” with paintings on enormous canvasses fixed to the containers.

Huge canvasses decorate the shipping containers at the base of the Sumner cliffs

Beauty and horror

I crossed the road to take this picture through the wire netting fence behind the containers

Not all the containers had been beautified (photo by John)

All that’s left of Shag Rock, the once-prominent, 11 m high, landmark by the road to Sumner 

In Lyttelton, many of the buildings in the main street had been demolished and a few repaired. The charming museum that we so enjoyed visiting in 2010, was now a sadly abandoned site.

The front half of the Lyttelton Museum has been demolished, and the site abandoned (photo by John)

The fence around this deconstruction site has been festooned with art by local primary school children (photo by John)

We finished the day with a walk on the New Brighton Pier. It is quite an impressive structure, standing seven metres above high tide and jutting out 300 metres into the sea. We watched as fishermen hauled up crayfish pots, and as surfers were waiting to catch a wave.

The New Brighton Pier seems to stretch out forever … (photo by John)

Repeated friction from crayfish pots being hauled up has made grooves in the railing (photo by John)

I love the play of light on this wave

A long ramp leads down from the pier

Seen through one of the ramp supports


  1. love that 3rd to last photo! In fact all 3last ones

  2. Thanks. And yes, that one of the wave is my favourite too, in fact I'm now using that as my desktop.