Whenever I travel, I inadvertently find myself making connections to other places I’ve been. It’s not intentional; there just seem to be threads tying together the places in my life. You’ll think I’m crazy, but when I explored Christchurch, New Zealand (for admittedly, all too short a visit), it reminded me of Rochester.
Whaaaaaat? Rochester, NY? Home? In New Zealand?
Yes, really. Maybe it was the street art. Maybe it was the struggle to rebuild a damaged city. Maybe it was the creativity and the ingenuity I saw all around me as people strived to put their city back together again. But all of it resonated me a little bit when I drove and walked around Christchurch.
It was a pretty powerful moment for me to run into this Vexta mural in downtown Christchurch. I made my dad pull over so I could leap out of our rented minivan to take a photo. Fun fact: Vexta has a mural in little old Rochester, NY as part of the impeccable WALL\THERAPY project. Seeing another one of her murals thousands of miles away from the Roc mural reminded me of how interconnected we all are in this very big world. Art is everywhere and can bring us together, regardless of our location. Check out more of Vexta’s stunning art here.
In addition to the street art, there was a very moving art installation: 185 white chairs. The chairs are all empty and represent the 185 lives lost in the 2011 earthquake.
This art installation is located just a few blocks from the Cardboard Cathedral, opened in Christchurch in 2013. It gets its name from the fact that it’s constructed from nothing but cardboard, timber, and steel. Seriously, check out the cardboard tubes it’s comprised of. This cathedral was intended to be a temporary space to host concerts, civic events, and more. Sadly, the original cathedral, built between 1864 and 1904, is classified as “permanently closed,” since the prospects of rebuilding such an old, unstable structure after an earthquake are poor. Before and after photo here.
Luckily, there’s still plenty of life in Christchurch! Another factor that reminded me of Rochester was the wonderful coffee culture. One of my favorite things to do in Roc is frequent all of our awesome, unique coffee shops. I visited a spectacular one in Christchurch thanks to Yelp!
C1 Espresso is hands-down one of the coolest places I’ve ever ingested food. You can order sliders and curly fries to be delivered to your table via pneumatic tubes, they serve outstanding coffee, there’s a bookcase that leads to the bathrooms, and Harry Potter audiobooks are played while you pee. It was the coolest. The coffee I had there was unlike anything I’ve had before. Our server compared it to whiskey and encouraged me to drink it on the rocks. I drank it as instructed (much to my parents’ dismay- they go heavy on the creamer). It came in a snazzy bottle with an owl on it, with enough coffee to last the next two days. All our food was delicious. If this place was in Roc, I’d be a regular.
The other comparison that came to mind for me, which is perhaps all too obvious, is to one of my favorite U.S. cities, New Orleans. We always know that these huge natural disasters are devastating, but I think those of us who don’t actually live in those communities don’t have a real grasp on how long-lasting an impact that kind of event can have. Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005. I visited in March 2010 to help rebuild homes. People couldn’t believe what I was doing. “Isn’t everything fixed by now? It’s been 5 years.” No, it’s not fixed. There’s not enough money, enough people, enough resources to restore everything- there’s no going back to exactly the way it was Before.
The same can be said for Christchurch. The earthquake that hit Christchurch in February 2011 registered at 6.3 on the Richter scale. On my visit in March 2016, I was shocked by the damage that was still evident all over the city. Rebuilding and restoration are nowhere near complete. I shouldn’t have been shocked- I’d seen New Orleans along a very similar timeline- but it was still amazing to see how powerfully a natural disaster of that magnitude can impact a community.
While you can still see a lot of rubble and dilapidated buildings everywhere you go, there’s also some really interesting use of shipping containers, including a mall called ReStart made out of shipping containers!
If you’re visiting New Zealand, be sure to include Christchurch on your list! You’ll see plenty of sheep, lakes, and mountains on the rest of your trip through this scenic country, but Christchurch is an amazing urban spot that’s well worth checking out. It’s wonderful to see this community coming together to continually rebuild, innovate, and improve through art and creativity. Some people may focus on the destruction, rubble, and confusion that’s still evident, but I refuse not to see the good in this vibrant city.