Many of you have heard of New Zealand, some of you know a little more about it, like the fact that the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed there, or maybe that parts of Avatar were filmed there.  Even fewer of you know about New Zealand because of their love of rugby. That all changed a year ago today (or yesterday if you’re in New Zealand and Australia), when the New Zealand city of Christchurch was devasted by a shallow earthquake of 6.3 on the Richter scale.  Christchurch had been hit by quakes before, in fact New Zealand is on the Pacific Ring of Fire, the country gets hundreds of small quakes a month.  A few months prior, a larger quake hit Christchurch, but the city appeared to make it through.  This quake was different, while a lower rating on the Richter scale, it was shallow and was basically in the perfect spot.  At the end of it, 185 people had been killed, the Christchurch Cathedral had been all but destroyed along with most of the city centre.  The suburbs fared as bad if not worse. Throughout Christchurch and its suburbs the ground liquified flooding homes and streets, boulders fell from nearby mountains, there were landslides that blocked roads and tunnels.

You might be wondering why am I talking about this?  I don’t live there.  It’s simple, I’ve been there.  about a year earlier, we visited in May of 2010 for our honeymoon.  Not really sure why, one reason is that the wife is a closet Lord of the Rings geek (I am proud of my geekness and don’t hide it) the second reason was that my wife had a friend from there, Henry.  They met in college, they were both studying abroad in Europe (or something like that) and had kept in touch.  I met Henry when we went to London the second time back in 2008.  He was leaving the day we were arriving, so we met at a Fullers pub in a train station.  He was a great guy, little bit of a redneck, but great guy and we had lots in common.  I asked him about New Zealand and where he lived.  He told me that he lived about an hour south west of Christchurch.  He told me that we should come visit and if we do, that we had to go to Queenstown.  So in May of 2010 we did, the wife took care of planning the flight to Auckland and I took care of the rest.  In Auckland we stayed in what was then the Hyatt Regency Auckland, we had a nice harbor view.  We then flew to Christchurch where we rented a car (I only made a wrong turn once.  They drive on the opposite side by the way.)

We hadn’t heard of Christchurch before, but there was a Lord of the Rings tour from there, so we stood there for I think 3 days.  While on that tour we met a now very good friend of ours, Sarah, from Brighton UK.  In Christchurch we had stayed at the Hotel Grand Chancellor, the tallest building in Christchurch, we had a nice view over some of the city.  We decided to check out the city our first day.  We left the hotel and made a right which took us to Manchester St, which after a block or two, it seemed a bit shady, oddly though, we did see barefoot guy with a Chicago White Sox t-shirt on.  Especially since were from Chicago and are Cubs fans.  It didn’t look like there was much to see so we went the other way.  We traveled west on Cashel St to High St and made a right onto it.  We found a very nice pleasant shopping area, very similar to State street in Chicago.  Smaller and no skyscrapers but nice.  we then turned right on Columbo St.  We walked about about a block and found the Christchurch Cathedral.  It was a beautiful church and the entire square around it was very nice, I think they were having a market that was just getting ready to close because it was early evening, but it was very nice.  There was also a traditional Maori performance going on in front of the steps of the church.  We stopped on the way back to eat then went to bed.  The second day we had the Lord of the Rings tour.

As we were driving out of Christchurch from our hotel for the tour we saw that the city was much bigger and more diverse then we thought.  We also found out that they supposedly had some beautiful gardens, parks and zoo’s.  Unfortunately, we only had one more day there after the tour.  So when we awoke on the third day, we checked out the city center some more, we walked down Cashel west all the way to the Bridge of Remembrance.  At the Bridge of Remembrance we walked down the river bank a bit and was very pretty, there was a little mill with a water wheel and nice flower beds.  There were plenty of ducks and other little animals around.  Along the river walk everyone was very nice and said hi when we passed.  It was a very nice walk.  Cashel itself, was similar to High St with stores, both unique to New Zealand and familiar ones.  In fact it was on Cashel that I bought some CD’s, Midnight Youth, ShapeShifter, Tahuna Breaks, Dane Rumble and Liam Flynn.  All CD’s I still listen to.  We went back to the hotel and dropped off our spoils of war and went to dinner.  Let me back up a bit and talk about the room.  It was nice and big.  Although it was a bit dated, probably remodeled in the late 70’s early 80’s but it was nice enough.  The staff seemed nice and friendly and even told me how to get around paying to leave the car in the parking garage.  So back to the story, we ventured back out down Cashel to Oxford Terrace and made a right, at this point we were looking for a decent dining spot.  We walked about a half block and looked at the restaurant Liquidity, it looked nice but not quite our style.  We back tracked a bit and found The Tap Room.  It had a nice outside patio, and even though it was a bit chilly we grabbed an outside table, the center of the tables had heaters in them so it wasn’t bad.  After we sat down it started getting a bit busy and there were three people waiting for a seat, so we told the waitress that they could sit with us.  We always like to meet new people and they were pretty nice.  we chatted a bit, there were two women and a man, I wish I could remember there names.  It was the first place that I ever had a burger with a fried egg and it was the first time I had grass fed angus beef.  It was awesome! It was also the first time I hand Montieths Ale (which I now buy at one of the Binnys in the area).  It was a nice night then we turned in.

the next morning before we left for Henry’s place in Temuka, we took another quick walk down Cashel and picked up a few things, we then checked out and headed out of Christchurch in our rented Toyota Camry listening to Tahuna Breaks.  We felt kind of bad that we didn’t spend much time there, but we usually revisit places we like, so we said next time we spend a couple of extra days exploring what we missed…..

Then came 2-22-2011, and the pictures and videos….The cathedral spire had collapsed from the quake, the Hotel Grand Chancellor leaning to one side and High St and Cashel St in shambles with rubble everywhere.  The first thoughts I had was about the people we had met, I got in touch with Henry and he said he was fine, he was far enough away that there was no damage by him.  Then I thought about the nice guy that gave us the Lord of the Rings tour, and his son.  I never did find out what happened to him, even Sarah in Brighton told me she tried to find out, but never did.  I also thought of the three that we had met at The Tap House.  Two of them were kinda on their first date with the mutual friend who introduced them.  The receptionist at the hotel, a very nice sweet pretty girl.  The waitresses we had at the two places we ate, both were great and very friendly and were glad to tell us about there home cities and what we should try to see.  The girls we talked to at the Christchurch Lush store, we wanted to buy from them, but they closed before we got there (my sister worked at Lush in our area, so we wanted to bring back something unique)  All we really could do was hope that they were all alright.  I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure.  Then I thought about the beautiful river front, was the little water wheel and mill there? was there any damage to the Bridge of Remembrance.  More things that I still haven’t found out.  Then, a few weeks later, they announced that the Cathedral may never be repaired, numerous other buildings were condemned and would need to come down, including the hotel we stayed at, The Grand Chancellor.  To find that out really makes you think, you know?  I mean, if we ever do make it back, how much of what we saw or wanted to see will still be there? No one really knows yet.  A year later and the most of the city centre of Christchurch is still closed off, I haven’t really seen anything new.  I try to keep up with the news there reading the New Zealand Herald on line once or twice a week along with listening to some radio stations from there, but I still don’t know much about whats left.  I know for months there were aftershocks, then about a month later Japan got hit with an earthquake and Tsunami, so most news outlets turned there.   All I can say is that after meeting the people we did, I know Christchurch will rebuild and be stronger than ever, my thoughts will still be with you and sometime in the future, I still hope to go back and see it.

as usual thanks for reading.

John

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