I remember hearing about the Christchurch quake in 2011. I saw some of the pictures, remember reading about the 185 victims and moved on quickly afterwards. It’s just human. New Zealand is far away, Christchurch was just a name. 6.3 didn’t sound like that much, something one can encounter in Los Angeles every day.

When I was planning our trip through New Zealand, I met a fellow traveler who just returned and she mentioned that there’s no reason to go to Christchurch because “everything was destroyed”. Ah, the hyperbole, I thought and booked a night in Christchurch. We arrive late in the afternoon, dropped off our bags at the airport hotel because of an 6am flight and drove to the city.

The cab driver warmed up after a while and drove us around, explaining the multiple earthquakes that destroyed the town center. The further we drove, the only answer from me was “Oh, my God.” and “Wow, that’s crazy.” Not very literate but exactly how I felt.


This is the Cathedral, with the adjacent Cathedral Square. The heart of Christchurch. Almost 5 years later, it’s still in complete disrepair. Most of the building that surrounded the square are gone or abandoned.


It felt like we were walking around the movie set of “Walking Dead”. Almost no people on the street, more abandoned buildings than active stores. We had problems locating a restaurant, almost everything is just gone.



Humans are very resistant. Because there’s so much red tape to start rebuilding the town center, the restart mall was made up of imported shipping containers that have been colorfully decorated and fitted out as banks, cafes and retail shops.  It is a great way of getting people back into the city.


The temporary replacement of the cathedral, called the Cardboard Cathedral.

The building rises 21 metres (69 ft) above the altar. Materials used include 60-centimetre (24 in)-diameter cardboard tubes, timber and steel. 


Buildings are missing from the city centre, hundreds of them, tumbled and crumbled by wreckers’ balls and jackhammers. But art has appeared – murals, graffiti art, paintings on walls and sculpture. Lots of it. Much of the sculpture is new. Some has been there for a while, but is more obvious now, with fewer high-rise buildings around.


A chair is not just a chair. Each of the 185 chairs, (Peter Majendie, 2012) is different to all the others, just as the 185 people who lost their lives in the February 2011 earthquake were unique individuals. The chairs are painted white so there is uniformity in their differences. I imagine an elderly man in the plastic garden chair, an office worker on the computer chair, a bohemian woman on the bentwood and the baby in the car seat. This empty-chair art installation is a heart-wrenching tribute to lost loved ones and the idea of eternal absence.




The 6.3 quake in February 2010 was so devastating because it was preceded by a 7.1 quake in 2010 that loosened the ground, contributed to liquefaction and caused the devastation.


This is just one image I found on the Web, taken a few days after the 6.3 quake. Walking around the ghost town, I started to wonder what will happen in California when the big ones hit? What kind of damage will it cause, how many lives will be lost? Will a rebuilding effort take as long?

Economists believe it will take Christchurch up to 100 years to recover from the events. We talked to a waitress in the only restaurant we could find. She just moved from Auckland down to Christchurch. She was astonished about the destruction in the beginning but believes “this is such an exciting time to be in Christchurch.” She hopes for a city filled with art and hopes. I share her dream.