New Zealand South: Christchurch and the KiwiExperience

NZ: Days 1 and 2

Airline troubles

We’ve been travelling for over a month now and its fair to say things have gone far better than possibly expected and without any real glitches.
However, we encountered a small hiccup when trying to depart Sydney for Christchurch;
Although we had already booked on to our KiwiE tour, we hadn’t yet figured out how long we would want to spend in New Zealand and thus hadn’t yet booked a departing flight out of the county- a big no, no- as you can’t enter the country without a departing flight.
We fortunately had arrived at the airport quite early so were able to go through things and book on to a flight out of New Zealand, but getting hold of a computer with good internet was a real problem and we rushed in to booking the flight without really considering if we had allowed enough time to do everything we had planned for- we figured 32 days should be enough. I still think its a bit naff, that when you’re backpacking and don’t really know how long you want to spend in a country that you have to have a departure date set; Should we run out of money, out of time or got stuck somewhere then everything would be screwed.

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Christchurch Troubles

More troubles ahead.
We arrived in to ChristChurch at about 2am- a really stupid hour. Therefore we, along with a couple of others, decided we would hang out in the airport until 8am when the hostel receptions opened up.
However the airport folk at ChristChurch- depsite the fact that the airport was empty-weren’t keen on us kipping there and when we nodded off often woke us up or forced us to move on. We were apparently a security hazard and were taking up the seats for the ‘visitors’- 2am!
In a series of musical chairs we probably managed to get 2 hours kip before sunrise; Feeling groggy we took the bus to a street that on a map occupied about 4 hostels. When we got there at 8.30am we went door to door to every hostel- each turning us away as they were fully booked. It was a shambles!! We didn’t really know what to do, so instead of hunting down some accommodation I watched the Chelsea v Man City match at one of the hostels while Jay kipped on the sofa- we were eventually chucked out.
It took us hours to find somewhere to stay- in the end we managed to haggle a motel to $100 a night for both of us- not really what we needed!!
Although it was double our accommodation budget, it was a pretty decent room.
We each finally got some sleep before dinner.
The hostel had provided us with a map and a brochure of eateries and points of interest for ChristChurch. We went through the list making a note of places that we would check out for dinner.
Map in hand we headed towards the city centre and to the rows of restaurants detailed in the brochure- All, but one had either been destroyed or forced to close down as a result of the monumental earthquake in 2010. We quickly realised that we were in the middle of a ghost town! There was hardly anybody around and the majority of buildings were dilapidated. Fortunately the one place that was still open, a mexican restaurant, was delicious!

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Ghost Town

The next day we headed in to the central CPD of ChristChurch. We were both aware of the earthquake in 2010, but had absolutely no idea how much it had effected the city- it had effectively destroyed the entire central district.
As we got closer to the centre, more and more of the buildings became ruins and rubble. Entire streets were shut off and everywhere cranes and building equipment stood abandoned. It was a really eerie and creepy feeling being in the centre.

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At the heart of the city, the Cathedral stood propped up by metalwork and scaffolding- one last stand against its impending doom.
80% of the centre itself was flattened, with most other building work focused on the demolition of further buildings amid safety concerns.
Memorials decorated the now exposed central spaces; paying tribute to the 185 people that were killed in the deadly quake.

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Seeing notable and branded shops like Footlocker, Starbucks and Subway completely abandoned put things in to perspective for me and it will remain, without doubt, as one of the weirdest and harrowing things I’ve come across. There were no normal people within the city centre- By this I mean business people, workers, commuters, locals- almost everybody who had once lived and worked in the city had fled to the suburbs. Instead the only people in the CPD were tourists, taking photos of the ghost town and the occasional builder- although most of the building work had seemingly come to a halt. Being there didn’t seem right.

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Re:Start

It also surprised me that, despite almost all of the buildings in the central districts being uninhabited, we didn’t come across any squatters, something that I’m sure would have happened in many other big cities.
There is still a hope that the city will recover and rebuild- However they predict it will take another 10 years to be anywhere near any form of recovery.
There are however some small signs of a resurgence, if not an emergency procedure.

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The Re:Start block, just outside the central CPD is the only true functional space within the centre.
Shipping crates are stacked upon each other to form a series of small shops and restaurants that provide the sole amenities for the centre of town. Its quite a cool and nifty looking project that at least serves some sort of a temporary purpose.

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Other small projects and relief efforts are scattered around the periphery of the city. A Banksy exhibtion is an attempt to draw in tourism and the Paper Church is a really inventive voluntary exhibition by Shigeru Ban.

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Still, I can’t quite see the city ever recovering- Its been an eye-opener to say the least, but I’m in a way happy that we were able to actually witness the true effects of a monumental natural disaster.

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Starting the KiwiExperience

We were only ever going to get round New Zealand in two ways: Option 1 was to hire a camper van, which would have been really cool and a great sense of freedom- it was slightly more expensive though as there were only 2 of us. The other option was the Kiwi Experience- a rowdy tour bus that takes in everything you want and need to see in New Zealand with a load of teens and young adults. Highly recommended by friends, we went for the second option and bought our passes about 3 months before we went travelling, purchasing the Super Funky pass for $800. This gave us travel unlimited travel across the entire country for up to a year. Passes on the website tend to be a hell lot more expensive than this, but they do tend to throw in ‘specials’ 50-60% off deals at certain periods in the year and we grabbed ours at 55% of its normal retail price of $1700. Obviously, its all marketing gimmicks, but for $800 it was well worth the money and is the experience of a lifetime.

Having already spent two nights in Christchurch and with little else to do in the city, we were itching to get on the road and start the tour. After a few calls to the KiwiE we were all booked in for the next day, bright and early, a 7am pickup to head up the East Coast to Kaikoura.

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