We had planned to spend a couple of days in Christchurch before heading to the North Island. We returned the car on Saturday at 5:00 and were booked a flight on Monday at about the same time. So two full days to see Christchurch. We knew there had been an earthquake there, but the extent of our concern was to say an extra prayer that there wouldn't be another one while we were there.
I'd booked a backpackers room right near the old part of the center city and when we got in on Friday night, the room and the place were great! Then we started to look for dinner options close by and we learned this:
All of that red shaded area is off limits. The red star on the top right is our hotel. And lots of what we wanted to see--the old Cathedral, boating on the river, the art gallery, most if not all recommended restaurants, and just the old city in general--is inside that red zone.
In case, like us, you heard of "the earthquake" and have put it out of your mind. Here's a summary:
The biggest one was September 4, 2010: 7.1 magnitude (Haiti's was 7.0 for comparison). That day there were 97 aftershocks, several in the 5.6-5.0 magnitude range. Since then (16 months) there have been 41 more earthquakes with a magnitude over 5.0 in greater Christchurch. If you're interested in a really well done interactive map of the seismic activity, you can check that out here.
Not to say that outside of the red zone things are all good to go. At the i-Site we were told that a lot of the walks and green spaces outside of the city are closed because of damage to trails or concerns over rock or landslides. We heard (and read in the local paper) stories of families having been without plumbing for close to two years; of insurance payments still stalled because policies have a 90 day (or so) waiting period that resets every time there's another quake; of infighting and name calling in the city legislature. And we saw countless closed businesses, restaurants, churches, and homes as we skirted the red zone, many of the beautiful old stone buildings being held together with plywood and wrappings with chunks of pediment, finials, and even whole walls missing.
To be honest, we didn't take a lot of pictures because it was just too sad. I didn't really want to be gawking at the decay and destruction while the city's people were walking around us trying to go on with their lives.
It wasn't a bad visit. We did visit the Canterbury Museum and wander a bit in the Botanic Gardens (east of the red zone). The International Buskers Festival was being held in the gardens that week and we caught a few street performers on Sunday. And on Saturday as we walked to dinner the weather was warm and breezy and we actually got to break away from our New Zealand uniform of jeans and jackets. Kyle even took advantage of the sun and the wind to capture a Hamish-sighting on the way to dinner.
We only had two days, so we're certainly not in any position to make educated judgements. But we did not get the impression of a city down for the count; we did get the impression of a sad city that's still struggling.