New Zealand: Christchurch After the Earthquakes

I started my second New Zealand trip in Christchurch after long flights from Sana’a via Dubai, Bangkok, and Sydney. I was absolutely exhausted when I collected my luggage but immediately felt refreshed when I began hearing that friendly and familiar Kiwi accent again. I withdrew money from an ATM in the arrivals terminal and found a free telephone board to call Ace Rental Cars, where I had arranged a car rental online in advance. The fellow who picked me up at the airport was very friendly and it was amazing to return to a country with such incredibly welcoming locals.

The rental car pick-up went smoothly and it was quite easy for me to re-adjust to driving a right hand drive car on the left side of the road. The first time I drove a right hand drive vehicle in New Zealand I found there was a bit of a learning curve, but this time it was no issue at all and I quickly adjusted to driving on the left side of the road again. The route to my hostel, Around the World Hostel, was very straightforward from the airport and I managed to find it without any difficulties.

Driving Our Rental “Big Red”

After a quick shower and organizing my things I joined a group of backpackers for a BBQ dinner put on by the hostel. The BBQ was not all that great for the $10 price tag, but it was nice to socialize with everyone and listen to wonderful live guitar music put on as part of the hostel’s weekly BBQ. After several beers and a few laughs I figured I had stayed up to a respectable enough hour and deserved to get some sleep and try to adjust to my new time zone.

Sign at Around the World Hostel

Kitchen Area at Around the World Hostel

The next morning I woke up very early to pick-up Sara who was flying in from Adelaide at the Christchurch airport, which was easy for me to find given I had basically driven from there the day before. The Christchurch airport only provides 10 minutes of free parking (after which it is $5) so I did my best to time her arrival perfectly. Traffic was light at 5:30 in the morning so everything worked out and I was able to save myself $5 for an expensive cup of coffee later on. Seeing Sara again was amazing as it had been over 13 weeks since our Ethiopian adventure and we had a lot to catch up on.

We were unable to check into our double room (dubbed the Love Shack) at the Around the World Hostel until the afternoon, so we walked into Christchurch where I had my first real exposure to the destruction caused by the February 2012 earthquake. My first trip to Christchurch had been after the first big earthquake and most of the buildings were already supported and under repair when I went sightseeing. This time, it was clear that many of the buildings damaged by the February quake had simply been torn down and the city was full of artistic ‘gap fillers’ to help provide beauty in the newly vacant lots. There were numerous construction projects underway for offices and apartments with beautiful modern designs and I expect that in a few years Christchurch will once again be a beautiful city, albeit one with beautiful modern steel and glass architecture rather than the city’s historic stone buildings. One of the benefits of the earthquake that the locals now joke about is all of the free parking created by the leveling of block after block of buildings, but I am sure that over time all of these vacant lots will be built upon for one purpose or another.

Gap Filler Artwork

Gap Filler Artwork

We sought out a coffee shop but were unable to find anything that opened until 7:30am, which was strange for me as a Canadian who used to sometimes pick-up a coffee at 5am on the way to the office. Uncaffeinated, we walked around the Cathedral, partially destroyed by the earthquake, as well as the Re-Start Mall which was built from shipping containers soon after the devastation. After walking around and taking in the greatly changed city center we had a coffee on New Regent street, a quaint pedestrian street filled with small shops, and then breakfast at Hummingbird Coffee, a café built in the Re-Start Mall.

Christchurch Cathedral Before the Earthquakes

Christchurch Cathedral After the Earthquakes

Re-Start Mall

New Regent Street

After checking into our room, we set out to the Westfield Mall to stock up on groceries at the Pak n’ Save and purchase a GPS for our car. The daily rental for a GPS was going to add up quickly over our 18 day rental, so it made far more sense to buy a TomTom for $200, which I can also use for future road trips. We also bought $500 in groceries, beer, and wine for the road trip. From my previous experience on the South Island, I expected it to be much cheaper to do our shopping in Christchurch than in the more remote towns along our journey which have to pay for the cost of transporting goods to their stores.

Road Trip Supplies

That evening, we went to Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn for dinner. Pomeroy’s has become one of my 10 favourite restaurants in the world, if not my absolute favourite. The atmosphere is that of an English pub and the menu was within the “Pomeroy’s Press”, a quarterly newspaper they publish that contains a list of their wines, seasonal menu, and regular tap beers. They also have a blackboard behind that board that shows all 31 beers they have on tap, including a number of specialty beers from local microbreweries.

To celebrate my 30th birthday, I ordered the $34 aged rib eye steak with duck fat potatoes, caramelized onions, and café de Paris butter. Just reading that description makes my mouth water and the dish was well worth the price. The meal went very well with my Three Boys Oyster Stout and for dessert I ordered a Panhead Supercharger, one of the best ‘hoppy’ beers I have ever enjoyed. Sara enjoyed a free range chicken salad with fresh local seasonal vegetables and a Invercargill Pitch Black Stout which was both flavourful and satiating. After a long day, incredible meal, and fantastic beers, it was time to go to bed but I vowed to dine at Pomeroy’s again when we returned to Christchurch at the end of our trip.

Delicious Steak at Pomeroy’s

The next morning, before heading to Lake Tekapo, I had a bit more shopping to do. Our first stop was the Kathmandu Outlet Store, close to the Westfield Shopping Mall. I needed hiking pants and a rain jacket for the trip but also ended up buying a merino wool hoodie, zip up quick dry hoodie, laptop case, mobile phone case, and luggage bags. I usually find Kathmandu equipment very much overpriced for its quality, but with the Outlet store discounts of 50-75% off retail price, I thought my purchases were great value. The next stop was Aqua Vitae, a brewing supply store where I picked up brewing equipment to take back to Yemen. The woman who ran the store was very helpful and friendly and I was quickly on my way with everything I needed to brew my own beer in Yemen.

Fully stocked and supplied, we drove on to Lake Tekapo. Read more about our New Zealand road trip HERE.

At the end of our incredible road trip, we returned to Christchurch for our final nights in New Zealand. I was really looking forward to exploring more of the city and having another dinner at Pomeroy’s and was happy to see that it was not raining when we arrived. Since it was our last couple of nights of the trip I did not want to stay in a hostel and splurged on a hotel. Unfortunately, because of the earthquakes hotel room availability is still quite low in the city and their rates certainly reflect the lack of supply. I found a deal through the Rendezvous Hotel for US$ 110 per night, which was reasonable given the hotel was central, new, and clean.

The view from our room was good and just went to show how much empty space and free parking there still was in central Christchurch over two years after the earthquakes.

View from Rendezvous Hotel

Although it was already mid-day and cloudy, it was not raining, so Sara and I set out to try and see some of the sites that we were unable to enjoy when we first arrived in Christchurch.

We discovered more open spaces with “gap-fillers” and artwork.

 We saw Christchurch’s modern City Hall, complete with a beautiful Maori ornamental statue in front of it.

 We walked along the river and briefly saw the Botanical Gardens.

River through Chrischurch

Botanical Gardens

We also explored the wonderful Canterbury Museum. The museum is free and is filled with artifacts from the area along with explanations of Maori culture. It is well worth a visit, even if just for an hour.

Maori Carvings in Canterbury Museum

As it was nearing dinner time we walked back to our hotel to get ready for our final dinner at Pomeroy’s (I had been looking forward to returning to Pomeroy’s ever since our first visit). While walking back to our hotel we passed the Cardboard Cathedral, a transitional cathedral built after Christchurch’s main cathedral was damaged by the earthquakes. It is a beautiful and unique design and I was happy we were able to see it.

Cardboard Cathedral

When we arrived at Pomeroy’s it was Jazz night and they had a live band playing. Sara and I shared a delicious squid as a starter and for a main I enjoyed the pork belly smoked in malts. The main reason I love Pomeroy’s so much is because of the amazing beers available. I took full advantage and enjoyed a Harrington’s Pig & Whistle, Spec’s Cardamen Porter, and Beer Baroness Lady Danger. Sara had her favourite beer from our first visit, the Three Boy’s Oyster Stout. It was the perfect end to our amazing New Zealand road trip.

I love New Zealand’s South Island for a lot of reasons, including the scenery, outdoor activities, people, and delicious local produce and beer. Visiting in the Fall was much different from my Spring experience and both seasons provide positives and negative. I must admit the scenery was somewhat nicer in the Spring given the mountains were still snow-covered, but this same snow coverage limited my access to Milford Sound and a number of the hiking trails. The Fall was wonderful as we had access to a number of amazing trekking and walking trails as well as the Milford Sound. Although Christchurch was severely damaged by the earthquakes, there is still a positive energy in the city and I suspect it will soon be an incredible modernized city once again. I look forward to visiting Christchurch again in a few years and seeing how the city looks after many of the new buildings are constructed and things have returned further towards normalcy.

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