We visited Christchurch in 2022 for a family birthday event and we took the opportunity to also return to the centre of Christchurch and see how the city had recovered in the 11 years since the devastating earthquake of 2011. It was a sunny day in Autumn and we found that the locals were very happy to be out and about, enjoying the markets, the galleries, the museum and of course the beautiful parklands that border the Otakaro/Avon River as it meanders gently through the city. Like in 2012, we found ourselves a carpark not far from Cathedral Square but chose to start our walk through the Parklands along the Avon, beginning at North Frame Bridge.
From the North Frame Bridge we headed along the bike path to Victoria Square which is a significant park in Christchurch’s history. It was originally a market square in the 19th century but was redeveloped as a park in 1896-7. There is a large number of buildings, structures and statues linked to this park that are registered as heritage items, some of which were damaged in the 2011 earthquake. The first major statue we encountered was that of Captain Cook, a statue that we were familiar with from Australia as well as encountering a similar one in the capital of British Columbia, also named after the long-lived Queen of England, Victoria. The plaque on this statue reads, “James Cook, Captain Royal Navy, Circumnavigator, who first hoisted the British Flag in New Zealand and explored her seas and coasts. 1769, 1773-4, 1777”. Gayle can be seen in the image below enjoying the Autumn colours of the park’s trees as she approaches the Captain Cook statue.
On the right in the image above is a Maori ‘Pou Pou’ monument (Pou Whenua) that was erected as a commemoration of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1994. The carving illustrated the food resources of the area as well as acknowledging Maori ancestors of the region. It was carved by Riki Manuel whose creation was the subject of arson attacks in its first year after completion. He resisted calls for security fencing explaining that the carving was made to be touched. Also in the background of the image above is the Victoria Bridge (Hamish Hay Bridge) across the Avon. It was built in 1864 and is heritage listed as it is the country’s oldest cast iron and stone bridge. Crossing this bridge leads to the Christchurch Town Hall which is considered by many to be New Zealand’s premier performing arts centre.
Near the statue of Queen Victoria in this beautiful park is another Maori Carving entitled Mana Motuhake that was installed in 2019. Its placement was designed to “complement the existing statue of Queen Victoria and emphasise the enduring relationship between the Treaty of Waitangi signatories” (Christchurch City Council.)
We exited the very interesting Victoria Square and continued along the pathway that followed the Avon River. On the opposite side of Oxford Terrace there is a beautiful new building that is the Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre opened in September 2020. This was originally the site of the previous city convention centre that opened in 1997 and only lasted 14 years when it suffered extensive damage in the 2011 earthquake and again in an aftershock a few months later. The image to the left is of the demolition of the previous Convention Centre on the site.
Following the path along the Avon past the Convention Centre, we had significant views of the Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings on the other side of the river from where the Canterbury Region was administered from 1853 when it was first given self-government from the British parliament. These beautiful old stone buildings suffered significantly during the 2010/2011 earthquakes as can be seen in the image on the left below. The building on the right is called Bellamy’s Wing and it survived the seismic shaking much better than the other stone buildings on the site due to steel reinforcement and other seismic strengthening carried out in the 1990’s.
Just along this section of the Avon River is a human form sculpture made by Antony Gormley standing in the river contemplating the flow of water past his feet. Gormley completed two sculptures of this form, the other is placed in the Christchurch Arts centre which is nearby in Worcester Street. Gromley wrote the following in regard to his sculptures. “Christchurch is a well-ordered city based on a 19th century urban plan which suddenly became chaotic through planetary forces rupturing human design…. Post-quake, this city is a human habitat forced by nature to reformulate. The attitude of the work I have made for it carries a sense of reflection or ‘taking stock’.”
Not long past Gromley’s reflective sculpture, we turned right at Worcester Street and headed down this busy, beautiful street that is central Christchurch. There is a lot to see along this street, particularly as the Christchurch Arts Centre is immediately on the right with a reassuring huge sign in lights across its facade informing the passer by that “Everything is going to be alright”. Out the front of the Arts Center is another Pouwhenua. “This pouwhenua is named Te Pou Herenga Waka which means a post that brings all peoples together.” (Waymarking.com).
There were also markets open in the front of other buildings associated with the Arts Centre but our destination for this stage of the trip was the Canterbury Museum which was at the end of this street near the entrance to the Botanic Gardens.
Like any major city’s central museum, there is a lot to see in the Christchurch Museum. In order to complete our walk around the centre of this city in reasonable time, we had to set a time limit on our stroll around the exhibits of this museum. I spent most of my time examining the archaeological exhibits on pre-European Maori settlement in New Zealand, particularly interested in the impact of their arrival on the Moa. Estimates of the numbers of the nine species of this flightless birds vary widely but the largest terrestrial animal in New Zealand only lasted another 100 years due to overhunting after 1300 when the Maori arrived. I was interested to see on the noticeboard outside Bellamy’s Wing, a building that we passed earlier in the morning, a photograph of skeletons of the Giant Moas that this building had exhibited in the late 19th century.
The Museum had gone to a lot of trouble to present dioramas of what the life-style of the Maori people might have looked like before the arrival of English settlers in the early 19th century. One of the other issues that was presented was the curious story of the Moriori people whose position in the timeline of human settlement in New Zealand has been a controversial topic in the NZ education system for many years.
The map to the right gives a clearer version of our continuing walk through the centre of Christchurch. From the Museum we headed into the Botanic Gardens and basically followed the loop of the Avon River as it meandered through this beautifully developed landscape.
Apart from the gardens themselves, the first beautiful structure inside the Botanic Gardens we examined was the curious Peacock Fountain. It was built and installed in the gardens in 1911 and was paid for by a local businessman, J.T. Peacock. Its placement in the gardens was always controversial, particularly among the art officianados of the city. One letter to the press claimed that “it exhibited no more taste than the gaudy decoration used by travelling showmen to embellish their merry go-rounds.” It spent 40 years dismantled in a shed and many of its parts went missing. It was refurbished and recommissioned in these gardens in 1996.
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are huge and deserve a day’s outing just to themselves. However in our ‘small excerpts’ approach to the different features of Christchurch we turned left at the peace Bell installation (see left) and crossed the Avon River at the Woodland Bridge. The garden path then took us along beside both the waterway and the Woodland Gardens where we exited the gardens beside the Curator’s Cottage.
Our exit from the Botanic Gardens took us on to Sheldon Street which led us up to one of the major landmarks in Christchurch, the Bridge of Remembrance, that leads back across the Avon to the City Mall. It is a memorial for those involved in the two World Wars of the twentieth century. Like the rest of the centre of Christchurch, this bridge was damaged by the 2011 earthquake and needed significant repair and strengthening over the next five years. It was officially reopened and rededicated on Anzac Day 2016.
As we were now close to the Mall, we realised it was time to have a late meal break among the large numbers of locals who were dining out in this area for their Sunday lunch.
It was a short walk from the Parkside Mall down to the edge of the Otakaro/Avon River where the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial (Oi Manawa) has been built along a purpose-built concrete promenade between the two road bridges crossing the river at this point. It is New Zealand’s official memorial to all those killed or seriously injured in the 22nd February 2011 earthquake. It was opened on the 22nd February 2017. It is a very moving place of remembrance for all those who were suddenly lost to their families and friends in the overwhelming events that destroyed so much in the city of Christchurch and outlying areas. The white marble tiles along the wall record the names of all those who did not survive the day that brought Christchurch to its knees.
From the earthquake memorial we walked up Lichfield Street and turned left down Colombo Street, heading back towards Cathedral Square. Below is a cheerful mural from a building just inside the Square.
So many of the earthquake damaged buildings from 2011 in the city have either been demolished and replaced or restored and refurbished, ready to withstand future shocks. It is clear that the citizens of this city have refused to accept the demolition of their cathedral so it was evident from our tour of the square that there was still a long way to go before this stone Cathedral could be used again for public purposes. The Cathedral work zone was completely fenced off and the hoardings used to provide information on the restoration process. The poignant image on the left I copied from one of the hoardings showing the forlorn state of the Cathedral in the weeks after the earthquake. The fallen chess pieces in the square in the forefront of the photo seem to have been left behind as another symbol of loss.
The above photo of the Cathedral on the day of our visit in March 2022 shows that the Cathedral’s tower and spire have been removed; the spire can be seen waiting patiently just over the hoardings in front of the Cathedral. I wouldn’t have been surprised to discover that the Cathedral’s tower, given its long history of being the first part of the cathedral to fall during earthquakes, would not be replaced. However in the concept design of the restored cathedral published in October 2020, the tower and its spire have been restored. The council has clearly tried to also ensure that Cathedral Square remains a relevant part of the city centre into the future.
“Under the design plans, the historic Cathedral will sit at the heart of the Cathedral Quarter. It will be supported by modern buildings that both contrast and complement it in terms of aesthetics and function. To the north of the Cathedral will be the new Cathedral Visitors’ Centre. On the ground level will be a café, with terraced steps leading down to a lowered, landscaped courtyard and museum and retail.” (https://newsline.ccc.govt.nz/)
Below is the concept image of what the new Cathedral will look like in the context of the other proposed new buildings around it.
The proposal for the future of Cathedral Square in Christchurch is important news for a city that has lost so much due to the ravages of earthquakes over its history. We enjoyed our walk around the centre of Christchurch, very impressed at its recovery and its clear plans for a future city that is preparing its defences for the inevitable earthquakes still to come. We are very much looking forward to returning in the years ahead to examine again the progress that is made by this wonderful city.
APPENDIX 1: On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer
One of the first places we will visit on our next trip to Christchurch is the startling sculpture in a small park at the back of the City’s Art centre (322 Montreal Street Christchurch). The image of a very angry black bull pawing defiantly on top of a grand piano (a symbol of beauty and humanity’s high culture) is not something that one expects to see in such a peaceful, casual setting. To add to the thoughtful provocation of the sculpture is the signpost pointing in the direction of other great artistic masterpieces of the world, even to Sotherby’s where you can sometimes buy them.
If the sculpture wasn’t provocatively puzzling enough, the visitor also has to cope with the entirely unexpected name of the piece, ‘On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer’! The title is a very obscure reference to a poem by John Keats (1795-1821), the young Romantic poet who died of Tuberculosis in Rome at an age when most poets are still working on the draft of their first manuscript. Only those of us whose school curriculum featured the English Romantic poets (mid 20th century!) would have a chance at recognising the poem that the sculptor, Michael Parekowhai, is alluding to. The poem itself refers to a 1611 translation of the work of the ancient Greek writer, Homer.
All I can say to someone visiting this wonderful sculpture is to enjoy your time in this park and then enjoy the musing on what Michael Parekowhai was attempting to convey with his image of the raging bull, apparently affronted by humanity’s high culture.
Living in Brisbane, I will now return to an equally small park beside the Brisbane River and look more closely at the huge Parekowhai sculpture there…The World Turns – a life-sized bronze elephant tipped on its head and eye-to-eye with a Kuril (water-rat), commissioned by the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art.