Due to continued icy roads (see prior post), we headed to Christchurch the longer way, partially backtracking. We had no problems in this direction and saw some more farm life and small town New Zealand. About an hour outside Christchurch things started getting much more developed and filled with plazas of stores, etc.
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island, with something around 400,000 people in its metro area. Once known as the most English city in NZ, it looks a lot different after a truly devastating earthquake in 2011. While I vaguely remembered this being on the news since 185 people died, what I don’t think I ever knew was that something like 80% of the buildings downtown (and support infrastructure) were completely removed after the quake due to collapse or being completely unstable. 100,000 homes were damaged, many completely destroyed. A short video of some of the images is here: Video. Large sections of the city were zoned off as permanently unbuildable. Even in the bustling downtown there are still empty lots, and unused 10 story buildings waiting to be torn down or structurally renovated. The cathedral is still a ruin, after ages of discussion of whether to rebuild, or not. It is now under construction, finally.
During the early days of our stay in Christchurch, New Zealand moved to “level 1”, after many many days of no new cases of COVID-19. This meant no more signing in to restaurants or capacity limits on anything. The following weekend professional rugby, with FANS started. We calculated about 1% of the population attended one of the 2 games! On the first Saturday of level 1 we dined at a genuine Argentinian parrilla. This was the first weekend since lockdown in March that the restaurant could open for dining. The tiny dining room was packed, and the staff were thrilled to be so busy. The hostess said the last few months were rough, but the brisk business gave her hope. The food was sublime, and we hope they do well.
Some highlights of our time in Christchurch were celebrating Jack’s birthday! He’s officially a teenager now.
We also visited the International Antarctic Centre, a museum near the airport. Why here you ask? Well this is the gateway to Antarctic research stations. The food, supplies and staff all depart from here. There is even a large (US) National Science Foundation building! The museum was quite interactive including watching a husky get groomed, and entering an “Antarctic storm” room with the temperature of 17f. For locals this was beyond understanding cold- haha. The docent was amused I skipped it as “it’s normal where we live”.
The real highlight of this museum was unexpected. Entrance to the museum included a short ride on a “Hägglund”, one of those crazy off-road trucks for arctic areas. I had assumed we’d just go around the block but it turns out it was a true (short) off-road adventure climbing steep inclines, over log bridges, and over crevasses! It was great bumpy fun!
We also took the tourist tram, which left from our apartment complex, and spent time walking around town exploring the parks, botanical gardens, and shopping areas. Lots of downtime, sleep and homework too! The boys even went kayaking on the Avon.