Christchurch: Trees, river, bricks, pallets, cafes, sketches

We’re leaving Christchurch today, after a truly interesting four-night stay. Actually we should have been on the road already, but Erik had to finish something, and maybe it’s for the best that we’re delayed — as I write this it’s pouring rain, flecks of hail skittering across the roof outside, swift-moving sheets of water lightening the dark grey surface in dramatic patterns. We’re hoping it will clear up by the time we’re ready to go!

Transitional Christchurch is a fascinating blend of urban decay and regeneration amidst seemingly timeless natural beauty — especially right now, when the trees are changing color and revealing their architecture. On a simple walk from our place to a craft fair, the street passed over the Avon river, and the sight rendered me awestruck.

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It was all the more stunning because just on the other side of the street, the river was cordoned off with chain-link fence (more earthquake damage).

There are many benches along the river, and yesterday I sat on one and made sketches. I have a new purse that’s much smaller than my previous one, so I’ve been experimenting with a single brush pen and a more compact sketchbook.

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The river runs through Hagley Park, founded 1855 to be “reserved forever… for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.” The botanic gardens are within the park, along with a museum, at least two lakes, a golf course, and innumerable gracious old trees. Since the park is centrally located, it’s also a convenient artery for getting from points A to B. We walked it twice during our short stay.

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On our first visit we also took in the botanic garden. It felt like an extension of the park. Along with the flora, we also spotted many parents with young children, a younger man pushing an older woman in a wheelchair, and an entire family eating ice creams.

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Héctor Zamora, Muegano:

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That same day, we acted on a recommendation from our friendly hosts and visited a vintage fair at the Pallet Pavilion, a temporary event space built from wooden pallets and lots and lots of volunteer labor. It’s one of the projects originated by Gap Filler, the homegrown “urban regeneration initiative” formed as a response to the recent earthquakes. We had a really nice time at the fair, eating takoyaki and karaage from a food truck, investigating retro clothing, talking to the vendors — one of them waxed enthusiastic about the new creative opportunities springing up in the wake of the quakes.

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Gap Filler is also responsible for a number of murals around the city, a book exchange we spotted one night while walking to dinner, and a citywide mini-golf course — among other creative and inviting installations.

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There is so much street art all over Christchurch, and I’m not sure how much of it is Gap Filler’s direct work and how much is inspired by them, or independent, but it all comes together into an impression of a hopeful city in the midst of reinvention.

 

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Interior of Shop Eight, a cool café sharing a space with a group making furniture from reclaimed materials.

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Anyway, the hope and the reinvention are badly needed, because the damage is still evident (and often heartbreaking).
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At the Re:START shipping-container mall in the CBD, there’s a mini-museum dedicated to the earthquakes. We visited yesterday and I left a bit teary, not just for Christchurch but for the similar destruction I am sure we will someday see in the Bay Area. Take a look at this quake footage captured by a security camera.

If it weren’t for the color and energy of Gap Filler and similar projects, the resilience of the community (almost a cliché after natural disasters, but truly and eternally inspiring, all the same), and the area’s natural beauty, we might have found our visit to the city terribly bleak. As it is, though, I’d like to come back to Christchurch — I want to see what happens; I think there are lessons here for everyone.

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(Also, I really wish I had the recipe to this incredible creamy mushroom toast I had at Under the Red Verandah.)

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Here’s our second visit to Hagley Park.

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We had walked through the park to get to Riccarton House and Bush. The “bush” is ecologically and culturally significant, and we were charmed by its sculptural trees and the birds’ songs. Unfortunately, the mosquitoes were charmed by us — my arms are still itchy.

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The rain has cleared. Time to get on the road to Oamaru.

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