Sixteen days is a very short time to fully appreciate the legendary beauty of the South Island but that was all we could squeeze out of our budget so it will have to do. Every day we were mindful that we may never get here again and we tried to burn the breathtaking images into our memories. As we stumbled exhausted into Christchurch for our last day we were in full-on, end-of-vacation mode, which is to power through and promise ourselves a long sleep when we get home.
Christchurch is an odd place to end after so much natural beauty. The city was hit with a devastating earthquake in 2011 and they’re still trying to recover and rebuild. One hundred eighty-five people died in the quake, memorialized in a temporary art installation of white chairs. I found the variety evocative, from office chairs, to dining, lounge, beanbags, garden, bar stools, even a baby carrier. You’re invited to sit in any chair that beckons you. We stayed for a while, meditating on the lives lost and the capriciousness of nature.
The damage is still very much in evidence, especially at the Anglican Cathedral, which is fenced off and shored up for safely, reminding us of the Kaiser Wilhelm Gedächtniskirche in Berlin, left unrebuilt as a reminder of the pointlessness of war. I don’t know what the parish plans to do with this building, but in the meantime it’s a powerful demonstration of what happens to our feeble attempts at posterity when the ground beneath us shifts.
To accommodate the religious communities they’ve built a temporary “Cardboard Cathedral,” the soaring roof supported by giant paper towel tubes resting on shipping containers.
Much of the Central Business District was destroyed or endangered, sending a lot of the population to seek homes elsewhere and threatening the livelihood of many who stayed. The business leaders wisely came up with an ambitious plan to reopen within sixty days by clearing the rubble and importing and outfitting shipping containers to create temporary storefronts, cafes and other businesses to serve shoppers, tourists and downtown workers. As each area is rebuilt the containers are removed, but you can see there are still quite a few remaining, and they’ve become an attraction in themselves. Smart move!
Between seeing the cyclone destruction in Fiji and the earthquake damage here in New Zealand, we’ve come to appreciate the efforts of relief organizations of all kinds, from foreign governments to NGOs to volunteers. We especially admire the design and construction of temporary buildings that get people back to some kind of normal as quickly as possible. By contrast, we’re watching Treme, a short-lived HBO drama about the aftermath and slow recovery of New Orleans after Katrina and we’re saddened at how little was done for so long, how much people suffered just trying to live in a place they call home that was rendered unrecognizable and uninhabitable, in America, one of the richest countries on earth. The trauma and ongoing stress of losing everything is unimaginable for most of us and my heart goes out to those who suffer the loss and those who pitch in to help.
Eventually the cold got to us and we took refuge at the International Antarctic Center, which turned out to be a ridiculously overpriced waste of time, with barely a mention of the great Antarctic explorers and science displays rooted in the 1950s. The only saving graces were a short film of aerial shots of the continent and a penguin habitat similar to what we saw in the North Island last year. We could only justify the entrance fee by consoling ourselves that at least they are rescuing and caring for injured penguins.
We took the free Penguin Bus back to town and hit a Falafel stand for takeout. Our flight is the dreaded 6am, which means a pickup at the hotel at 3:15am. We’re definitely looking forward to a long sleep back home.