Of all the places we went to in New Zealand, the one I am perhaps most hesitant to write about is Christchurch – because it is changing so much. I can’t imagine all of the changes since we were there a little over a year ago. Rebuilding after the 2011 earthquake, especially in the central business district, started slowly, but I understand it is now picking up speed. Things we saw could be different now, and there will be new things to see that weren’t there when we were. With that caution, let me tell you about the things we enjoyed most in Christchurch.
For us, the best things in Christchurch were the Botanic Gardens and the Cardboard Cathedral. Neither should be missed. Walking through the Botanic Gardens was great. Even better, though, was “Punting on the Avon.” The ride was very peaceful and beautiful. Plus we had a wonderful “punter” (I think that is what you call them). He was very friendly. We talked about his favorites movies (“Blues Brothers” – being from Chicago and Joliet, we were able to tell him about the real sites in the movie) and U.S. sitcoms (he sang us the entire theme song from “WKRP in Cincinnati”). You can also, as you can see in the picture, rent kayaks, if you want to do it yourself.
Second, the Cardboard Cathedral, a/k/a Transitional Cathedral. I am a big fan of churches and church architecture. This is one of the best ever. The ChristChurch Cathedral was severely damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, as were many other churches in Christchurch. There has been considerable controversy on what to do with the damaged building. But, in the meantime, they needed a place to worship.
Shigeru Ban, a Japanese architect and winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, designed the Transitional Cathedral. As he has done elsewhere, he used large cardboard tubes (hence, the name) for the structure of the building. It makes for a beautiful space, especially with the stained glass on the one end.
In both Berlin and Coventry, England, we have seen new churches built after the original churches were destroyed (in those cases, by bombing). While Cardboard Cathedral was built because of a natural disaster, instead of a man-made one, the feeling is much the same. It is wonderful. We were lucky enough to be in Christchurch on a Sunday so we could go to a service. Once again, the welcoming and friendliness that we felt in all the churches we went to in New Zealand was there. The Dean of the Cathedral even came over to personally welcome us before the service.
The Re:START mall was also very interesting. Many of the stores, etc., are in shipping containers. I would assume that, as they rebuild the CBD, it will go away, but if it is still there, you should go. It’s fun.
We didn’t eat in any restaurants for dinner in Christchurch. One night we ate our leftovers from Fleur’s place, and the other night we went to a rugby match (more on that later). We did eat at Himalayas’ location at the Re:START mall. It was fantastic. It was the best Indian food we had in New Zealand. If the regular restaurant is as good (and from everything I have read, it is probably even better), I strongly recommend it. (I don’t know if Himalayas still has a location at the Re:START mall. I couldn’t find it on the Re:START website.)