Christchurch: Past to future

By Pamela Wade

Pamela Wade finds different ways to explore the quake-hit city as it once was, as it is... and as it will be.

The ReStart village project and the city's parks are on the route of guided tours around Christchurch. Photo / Supplied
The ReStart village project and the city's parks are on the route of guided tours around Christchurch. Photo / Supplied

Seeing the sights has taken on a new meaning in Christchurch since the earthquakes, and guided tours offer a choice of both medium and message.

Past: Red Bus Red Zone Tours

This 40-minute tour is the only one entering the Red Zone, through checkpoints guarded by soldiers. After a safety video, a waiver and emergency guidelines finishing with the phrase "You might not survive", we follow a route around the outside of the CBD, passing the Victoria Jubilee Clock with its hands stopped at 12.51.

Anthony, our Canterbury Museum guide, provides scientific details about the earthquakes and their effects - the Port Hills are now 40cm higher than they were - as well as a commentary on what we're seeing.

A slide show of "before" views of the buildings we pass is showing, but it's hard to drag our eyes away from the "afters". On all sides drunken skyscrapers are being disassembled by cranes and diggers, small mountains of rubble, and empty spaces swirling with dust.

We pause at the CTV site, where posies of flowers tied to the wire fence wilt in the sun, and skirt Latimer Square, empty now, so different from that Tuesday afternoon.

Entering the Red Zone, we pass Manchester St and High St, facades propped up with shipping containers. Doors are marked with spray-painted codes and the corners curl on year-old posters. In the Square, the bus stops in front of the Cathedral as Anthony describes how the steel girder brace, set up after the February 22 quake to protect the stained-glass Rose Window, instead acted as a battering ram in the June shake and destroyed it.

Victoria Square is scabby with liquefaction, the Queen and James Cook looking forlorn, the fountain broken. Finally we pass the Provincial Council Chambers, now stumps swathed in tarpaulins.

Back at the Museum, the exhibit there completes the story of the earthquakes.

Present: Christchurch Bike Tours

This is cycling for softies: my bike has fat tyres, a wide, comfy seat and high handlebars, all the better for sightseeing. I stow my camera in the basket on front and we glide off along the shared footpath, past the manicured Botanical Gardens and the stately Museum. In Hagley Park, we follow the river behind Christ's College: we could be in Oxford.

In this flat city, we skim effortlessly along under the trees. Guide Jackie offers a commentary, but it's enough just to be enjoying this sunny morning. At the Saturday market at Dean's Bush, two smiling girls offer us free brownies and gingerbread at the entrance.

Inside, stalls are clustered around historic Riccarton House, crowded with people hovering over the crusty breads, fruit and vegetables, preserves, cheeses and ethnic foods. It's colourful, it smells great, and it tastes even better. There's no rush: this two-hour tour often ends up more like three. Beyond the house is the Bush: a 6ha remnant of untouched kahikatea forest dating back 600 years, perfect for a peaceful stroll.

A short pedal away is the formal loveliness of Mona Vale, and we glide along the river past some of the city's most expensive and beautiful homes to reach the rose garden, fernery and bath house. The damaged heritage building is closed, but the garden is a pleasure to visit.

Back across the park, we visit the Re:Start Mall. Bright and modern, it's an inviting collection of shops and cafes with a buzz and a relaxed feel. Who knew shipping containers could be so attractive? And then we're finished: time to unload the morning's goodies from the basket and reflect on a thoroughly enjoyable - and totally undemanding - bike ride around Christchurch's timeless delights.

Future: Christchurch Segway Tours

Though Graeme offers a historical tour covering similar ground to the Bike Tour - "and some people just want to have fun on the Segways" - it seems more appropriate on this futuristic vehicle to use it to follow the route of the Frame, what will be the green border around the planned new central city.

Rather than what he calls "Segway rubble-necking", on our two-hour cruise around the CBD, we're concentrating on what will be filling the spaces.

The self-balancing two-wheeler is easy to ride, copes well with the bumpy pavements and narrow gaps, and is excellent fun. It also attracts attention from those people slogging around the same route on foot: "That's smart," says one enviously.

I follow Graeme, who rides casually one-handed like a cowboy, as we hum through the Re:Start Mall, on and off the pavement, nipping around corners and stopping by the fencing, high enough to see over it.

Graeme uses the official recovery plan to show me where we are and what each space will be used for; and as we navigate what could be a depressing cityscape of rubble and dust, instead I get an exciting glimpse of the new Christchurch, fitted into the present street grid and the Avon's curves.

We pass the new Press building, then glide over the site of the newspaper's former home; opposite are the elegant, classical Government Buildings, not only still standing, but now seen in their full glory in the sunshine, no longer overshadowed. Beyond, Cathedral Square seems bigger, similarly released from its wall of skyscrapers.

From the platform of my Segway, the future of Christchurch looks full of promise.

CHECKLIST

Where to stay: Chateau on the Park is quiet and comfortable.

The Hotel Ibis is newly opened right in the centre.

What to do: Red Bus Red Zone tours, Christchurch Bike Tours, Christchurch Segway Tours.

Further information: See christchurchnz.com.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 18 Sep 2014 10:28:00 Processing Time: 1647ms