Christchurch was hit with a very devastating earthquake in 2011 and is still in a state of destruction and repair. This earthquake damaged a huge amount of infrastructure in the city but they carry on rebuilding and even have beautiful art works around the city in remembrance and to liven up the place. Unfortunately the mass amounts of graffiti, construction and destruction at night make it look and feel like something straight out of an apocalypse film.
The first night we arrived we walked to get groceries and the wind eerily blew around the curtains that dangled out of the broken windows of the abandoned, graffiti covered buildings. Not a soul could be seen and construction equipment littered the streets and skies. The rain muted any sounds around us which makes you feel like around every corner there is someone hiding ready to mug you, or you’re in a zombie movie and you’re waiting for the crazy blood thirsty creatures that are hiding in the dark buildings to attack.
Our first impression wasn’t so great and we wanted nothing more than to find a van and get the hell out. We would be here two days tops, find a van, get the hell out and retreat back to a mountain town. Unfortunately we couldn’t find a van in that time frame that was as great mechanically as it was on the inside.
We ended up staying a month.
We managed to get spots volunteering at a hostel in central city, reluctantly (at first) we signed the one month long contract and then to our dismay found a van two days later. In that month however we did so much that if we were to write it all down we would have ourselves a novel. We attempted a windy hike on a deadly road, we ate sliders from pneumatic tubes, we sprinted to a central city apartment building as a friend attempted to base jump off it (he never got too unfortunately), we saw helpless drunk karaoke, saw endless pick-up attempts by our roommate, met Jamie Oliver’s right hand mans right hand man (apparently), visited a car collectors paradise, and the list goes on and on.
Our new home (really just a room) wasn’t so bad, it was in the back of the hostel property in a small room with a bunk and a single bed, beside our room was two others where some other volunteers lived.
Our roommate was Michael, The Californian who never had a bad day in his life and could be heard singing from down the hallways. He also had a mean snore that could be heard through ear plugs. The other volunteers were: Josh, the hilariously sarcastic Englishman; Jill, the sweet Canadian who’s smile lit up the room, they were dating and somehow lived in a station wagon for four months while travelling; Matthais, the German who ate more pasta and bread than is humanly possible; Jack, the English man who was a great artist and cheap as hell. One of the employees who worked at reception had just moved out of the dorms before we arrived but was usually hanging around the hostel with us: Scott from Scotland, the vegetarian Scottish man with a not so Scottish sounding accent. We also had a resident cat named Ziggy.
Had we not worked with these awesome travellers Christchurch would have been miserable for us.
We discovered that the city has so many restaurants, buildings and stores that you think are closed or run down but are in fact thriving. They utilize the damage from the earthquake and turn it into something so hipster the most hipster person in the world would even classify it as hipster.
Take C1 espresso for example, the restaurant where we ate pneumatic tube burgers. This place sends your food to your table via plastic tubes running along the roof.
Totally hipster, but cool none the less. Who doesn’t want to get their food via a futuristic roof tube? The sliders arrive to your table in a metal capsule while ringing a small bell to inform you of your foods arrival.
A SLIDING BOOKSHELF.
We should probably also discuss our deathly drive. Depending on which one of us you ask you might get a pretty different depiction on what happened. One will be a terrifying white knuckle story and one will be one full of excitement and thrill.
Taylor’s Mistake is a hike about 30 minutes drive from the city to the beginning at the parking lot at Godley Head.
Rain in the area had just ceased but the misty clouds remained on the top of the hillsides. Lucky for us, we were about to drive to Godley Head via Summit Road (aka death road) straight up to the top of one of these giant misty hills (closer to mountains than anything but not quite mountain status).
This road is so narrow only one car fits on it at a time, and yet it is not one way. So when a car comes ripping around the corner you better hope there is enough space for one of you to move over. In order to move over you are either a foot away from falling down the cliff side or a foot away from scrapping the side of your vehicle on the rock face. The asphalt that makes the road is covered in green moss and the mist from the rain meant we could barely see what was in front of us.
After risking our lives we discovered that the top was so windy we would get blown away if we even tried to hike the entire trail. So instead we took a brisk look around at the old army relics just five minutes down the trail. The view from the parking lot and the short walk to the old buildings is still spectacular, the orange and green of the plants and grass contrast the deep blue of the ocean perfectly.
“WHAT? YOU’RE TALKING INTO THE WIND. CAN’T HEAR A THING.”
When we got back to the hostel we marveled at how there weren’t any cars that had fallen off the edge of inevitable doom. The next evening we were informed that the fog had just been so thick we didn’t see the three cars that indeed had fallen. In retrospect it was for the best we didn’t see them.
Overall, we survived Christchurch, from the food to the people to the highways, and learned that first impressions aren’t everything and it really is a city that can grow on you quickly (even the apocalyptic looking parts).