School children joined John Key in a pre-dawn ceremony today, in what the Prime Minister believes was the first step to Christchurch being pieced back together.
A tree planting ceremony was held in the city's earthquake-hit red zone to symbolise the start of the rebuild.
After last night's glitzy launch of the rebuild blueprint, which includes a covered sports stadium and leafy compact city centre utilising the Avon River, Mr Key said this morning marked the start of a new dawn.
Pupils from Discovery 1 school and Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti joined the Prime Minister, as well as Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee, Ngai Tahu representatives, deputy mayor Ngaire Button and Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (Cera) chief executive Roger Sutton, in high-vis vests and hard hats to plant native trees in Victoria Square after an escort through the tight red zone security.
In gloomy, persistent rain and in the shadow of the earthquake-damaged old Town Hall and half-demolished PwC building, trees were put into the ground which still shows the effects of liquefaction.
Mr Key said: "It's an important step. Yesterday was the unveiling of the plan. Today Cantabrians will wake up and have a chance to assess it.
"The planting of the trees are the first of many steps that will be needed to be taken to put the city back together again.
"The trees will be here forever, they're a sign of life, and that the city is going to come back alive again."
After the February 22, 2011 quake, which claimed 185 lives, Discovery 1 school was forced to relocate from the city centre to temporary premises in Halswell.
Karen Wylaars, chair of the special character school's Board of Trustees, said the signs of a rebuild fills the school with hope.
"It symbolises a new beginning and an exciting future for Christchurch's central city, and Discovery 1 desperately wants to return and be a part of it," she said.
Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu Kaiwhakahaere Mark Solomon said this morning's ceremony was symbolic for the students, who represent the generation that will inherit the decisions being made over the city's future.
"In time, these trees will grow tall and strong - and you will one day bring your children here, tell them how you helped the Prime Minister of New Zealand plant this tree."
After the ceremony, Key also backed the decision to bring a 35,000 capacity covered sports stadium to Christchurch, despite the "bigger price tag".
"The reality is Christchurch weather is sometimes wet and often cold and a covered facility presents lots of opportunities.
"This is such a massive rebuild, I would have thought that is the right step to take.
"If you are in the process of doing what's required in Christchurch where you're spending the better part of $30 billion and taking a 100-year view on the future of the city, then in my mind, a covered stadium is the right way to go."
He added that Christchurch was a great place for sport, and even if the Crusaders weren't as strong as they have been, then he believed another sporting franchise would continue to attract people.
"If Christchurch can't support it, then you'd pretty much make the case that, other than Auckland, no one could support it. They've got a big enough population here."
- APNZBy Kurt Bayer @KurtBayerAPNZ Email Kurt