Christchurch was always a city that made an impact. When I first visited, more than a decade ago, it was one of a town stuck in time, breathtaking in its colonial prettiness, though a little staid and conservative.
Now, almost seven years after the series of earthquakes that left the town devastated, the impact this resilient city makes today is very different indeed.
While some of the old colonial architecture, its hectares of pretty British-style public gardens and landscaped river banks remain, reflecting its English origins, 2011’s devastating earthquake forced Christchurch into the 21st century.
The city is reinventing itself as an utterly modern and creative force to be reckoned with, rising from the ashes with renewed youth and vigor.
Of course, there is no camouflaging the devastation and destruction, with damage still visible in every direction. Two years of high intensity aftershocks, soil liquefaction and economic challenges have made rebuilding a slow process.
But construction is well under way and with the city’s reemergence comes a sense of great possibility and optimism, and a strength and ingenuity that is inspiring. The scars left by crumbled buildings have become an extraordinary, ever-evolving gallery of street art.
Improvised infrastructure saw The Container Mall pop up in central Christchurch, with dozens of boutique stores and a cafe, made entirely of shipping containers, while funky street food pop ups and food truck parks grew organically in quiet corners of the city.
Chess players congregate in the streets to play on custom build outdoor boards and there is the Dance–O–Mat, a coin operated public dance floor, should the need to boogie arise. There’s also the incredible Cardboard Cathedral. Built to replace the ruined stone cathedral, it is an epic construction of industrial-strength cardboard and corrugated plastic.
As more and more permanent buildings pop up across the city, a fantastic dining scene is emerging and ridiculously cool bars are opening across the city. A new complex, known as the Terraces, and inspired by the alleyways of Melbourne, will see 20 more bars and restaurants open to the public over the coming months.
The Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square is the place to stay. Ideally located in the centre of the city, just minutes from a vibrant new shopping district, incredible museums, including the awesome Christchurch Arts Centre and innovative Canterbury Museum.
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens, the stunning green heart of the city, and the Avon River are also mere minutes away.
Rooms are spacious and beautifully appointed with comfy king beds, lounge area and study desk and views over the rebounding city, including some offering surreal views over the ruins of the Cathedral.
The modern hotel offers incredible service and a commendable in-house restaurant and bar, The Square. But surrounded as it is by all those strips of new eateries and bars, guest are spoiled for choice.
While there’s still a lot to rebuild, it’s a city with a future that is extremely bright, and it has left this traveller even more smitten the second time around.
Fly direct to Christchurch from Sydney and Melbourne on Emirates A380 service. emirates.com
Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism: christchurchnz.com