Standing in front of the Christchurch Cathedral, 30 years on from when I was last here, I can’t help but feel sad. It’s cordoned off from the public but the damage is visible, the walls and windows are shattered, the tower is gone. Its only congregation now is a family of pigeons, crowded together on the exposed beams.
When I visited Christchurch as a child, the ChristChurch Cathedral was always a must-see attraction for our family. In the middle of the square, with The Wizard of New Zealand speaking to passers by from a ladder, it was a fascinating place. But when a 6.2 magnitude earthquake hit in 2011, the cathedral was severely damaged and the wizard lost his home. It was almost demolished and replaced, however some were opposed to that and eight years later, work to rebuild it has begun.
There are similar scenes as I make my way around town, more casualties from what was a cruel attack by mother nature. Remnants from buildings that were torn down following the earthquake seem to litter the city, with vast empty lots at every turn. But among the ruins, new shoots are starting to emerge. The garden city is growing.
Across the road from the cathedral, the brand new central library Tūranga (often translated as 'a place to stand'), gleams in its golden glory. Opened in 2018, Architect Carsten Auer said “This is a building that invites people in. We want people to feel like they belong here.” I read that Tūrangawaewae are places where we feel especially empowered and connected, and that’s exactly how I feel as I enter through the revolving door.
Tūranga is spacious and light, with many thoughtful touches. The green space - a small, circular seating area surrounded by plants is perfect for flicking through your favourite magazine and connecting with nature. The staircase, which isn’t just for getting up and down, is scattered with cushions on one side so you can sit and read, or watch the bustling library activity.
There are also 3D printers and laser cutters, hundreds of computers, water stations on each floor, an interactive play area for children, a cafe and two rooftop gardens. At nearly 10,000 square metres, Tūranga is the largest public library in the South Island and is well worth a visit, even if it is just to see the contrast of the old, broken cathedral next to the brand new, state of the art library.
Around the corner and breathing more life into the city, is Riverside. Home to an indoor market, boutique shops and two floors of eateries, Riverside offers fresh, organic, locally grown food. The concept is similar to that of a traditional food court - there are a number of options to choose from, all under one roof. But this is the most glamorous food court I’ve ever seen and with 10,000 people coming through the doors every day, it’s also the most popular.
The ground floor is a maze of independent food outlets and market stalls offering everything from ramen, sushi, milk and cookies, to doughnuts, baked goods, juice, kombucha and gelato. The upper level, a mezzanine floor, has a larger seating area and more restaurants, some with balconies that overlook the Avon River. Good luck trying to decide what to have!
On my way out, I notice a vending machine for fresh milk - fresh whole farm milk in all its glory, straight from the cow. You can bring your own glass bottle or buy one from the machine. It’s an innovative concept - simple, delicious and in a world where sustainability is a hot topic, great for those Instagram photos. In fact the whole place is insta-worthy.
The shopping in this part of the city is first class too, a mix of high end and high street fashion. Amid the glamour of The Crossing’s international brands and the buzz of the BNZ Centre’s one of a kind shops, the iconic Ballantynes department store in Cashel Street remains - a survivor of both the earthquake and a tragic fire. They have the most magical Christmas window displays, drawing crowds of young and old. There’s audio playing too, a woman reading a Christmas story. Children gather to listen and watch as the displays come to life.
As my day comes to a close, I no longer carry the sadness I felt when standing in front of the ChristChurch Cathedral. I’m buzzing - I’ve seen things I’ve never seen before, I’ve enjoyed exploring the new features this city has to offer and I’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ve chatted with locals who love hearing that I’m visiting. They’re enjoying showing Christchurch off, they’re proud and they should be.
Despite everything this city has been through, it’s managed to keep its old school charm and beauty, while growing a new reputation for innovation and design. The Wizard may be gone, but Christchurch definitely hasn’t lost its magic.
Staying there - Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square is located by the library, Tūranga. Rates range from $230 to $350 a night. Budget conscious travellers should check out Garden City Motel for reasonable rates and exceptional service.
Touring there - Christchurch Attractions offers a unique sightseeing tour of the city by tram. $25 per adult and you can take up to three children for free.
Spend the Day - at Hanmer Springs in the famous hot pools, relaxing among native gardens and alpine scenery. The kids will love the waterpark too with its hydroslides, raft rides and play pools. Spa treatments are also available. Location: 1 hour 45 minutes drive north of Christchurch. Price: $35 (includes waterslides). Visit Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa.
Catch the Views - of Christchurch city, the Canterbury Plains, Southern Alps and the hills of Banks Peninsula in a gondola. The summit has plenty to see too with a Time Tunnel ride, cafe, shop and of course, 360 degree views. Location: Heathcote Valley, Christchurch. Price: $30. Visit Christchurch Attractions.
Feel the Cold - at the International Antarctic Centre. You’ll meet penguins and huskies, spend time in an Antarctic storm room, take a spin in an all-terrain vehicle and learn about life on Scott Base. Location: Christchurch Airport. Price Guide: $59. Visit iceberg.co.nz.
Smell the Roses - at the Botanic Gardens. With seven seasons reflecting the different stages of flowering throughout the year, the gardens are a top attraction whenever you’re visiting. Location: there are multiple entry points throughout the city and along the river. Price: Free. Visit Christchurch City Council for seasonal highlights and to download a map.
Punting on the Avon - take a tour of the garden city on a flat bottomed boat, guided by an iconic Avon River punter. Choose from a trip through the Botanic Gardens or through the city’s Avon River precinct (home of Riverside). Location: Antigua Boat Sheds or Worcester Bridge, both in Central Christchurch. Price: $30. Visit Christchurch Attractions.