Christchurch rebuilds, a tourists reflection... by Isla Simmons

A devastating earthquake hit Christchurch, New Zealand on 22nd February 2011 (21st Feb our time). The tragic aftermath made headlines around the world. Now 4 years later Isla, a 4th year geology student at the University of Edinburgh and BGS volunteer, invites you to see the city through her eyes when she visited back in 2013...

Me, walking over the volcanic landscapes of the
Tongariro National Park – Mt Tongariro is one of
3 volcanoes in the park and last erupted in Nov 2012
In July 2013 I was lucky enough to head out to New Zealand to study on exchange at Auckland University for a year. After two years of studying the ancient rocks in tectonically inactive Scotland, this was a fantastic chance to see a totally different type of geology – I visited steaming geothermal sites that stank of rotten eggs, one field trip found me standing astride the Alpine Fault and I climbed to the summit of an active volcano.  In November 2013 we arrived in Christchurch for a couple of days, almost three years after the devastating MW6.3 earthquake of 21st February 2011 which killed 185 people. And I was shocked at the state that the city was in.

A collection of signs I spotted in Christchurch

It felt as though much of the city had been abandoned for the past 3 years. Doors were still spray-painted with the signs from the rescue teams indicating who had searched the building and whether or not they had found anyone inside. Although there had been a lot of work demolishing damaged buildings and some new construction for rebuilding, those buildings that were deemed unsafe but had not yet been pulled down still existed as they had on that fateful day. Most eerily of all were the shops where dummies dressed in the summer fashions of  2011 still stood in the window, now gathering dust as they stared vacantly out through the cracked glass.

Typical sights in Christchurch: empty building
plots, cranes, boarded up offices and piles of rubble
Yet, to those who had witnessed the whole sequence of events, a lot had been achieved since the earthquake. One of the issues facing the city is that although very few buildings were completely destroyed in the earthquake, they were damaged enough that they were declared unsafe. And so before the rebuilding effort can begin, these damaged buildings must first be demolished. As tourists, we may not have recognised it while walking along the deserted streets, but progress is being made.

Depite the sense of abandonment, there were signs of hope. In the very centre of the city, in the middle of the worst of the damage and surrounded by piles of rubble and the first skeletons of new constructions, was an incredible sight – the Re:START centre.

The Re:START centre – shops and cafes made from brightly coloured shipping containers
This collection of shops and cafes felt like a ray of hope among all the desolation.
Someone had had the idea to restart business in the ruined city centre, but without any buildings to set up in they had come up with a brilliant temporary alternative – shipping containers.

The Re:START centre consists of a whole load of brightly painted containers that have been fitted out to form shops, and it’s a fantastic place with such a positive atmosphere compared to the surrounding ruins. Sitting outside a bright green container cafe eating our lunch in the sunshine gave the feeling that the earthquake wasn’t the end of everything. There is still so much work to be done, and it will take a long time, but Christchurch will be rebuilt.