Re:Starting the Heart of Christchurch

Today was the first day of Re:Start Christchurch’s retail operation following the February earthquake that devastated the city’s downtown. I felt lucky to still be in the area and knew I had to check it out. It’s a world-first, according to media accounts: a pop-up mall.

The southern half of Re:Start Christchurch's pop-up mall

Cashel Street, Christchurch’s pedestrian street in the heart of the central city, devoted to shops (my beloved Lush among them) and hotels, was hit particularly hard by the quake. The enterprising Cantabrians demolished most of the buildings, carted away the rubble and cleared a large area. They paved part of it to create temporary carparks and then moved temporary retail spaces made from shipping containers into the rest.

A view of the northern half of the pop-up mall. Note the crippled Grand Chancellor Hotel, soon to be demolished, at far right.

You’re probably thinking “oh… shipping containers. Lovely.” But they did an amazing job with the design and the colors. I particularly liked that instead of just sticking shipping containers on asphalt, they added little gravel borders with landscaping. It was, quite frankly, an improvement on the old CHC’s hodgepodge of utilitarian business blocks and ramshackle, slightly seedy brick and mortar buildings.

Another view of both the mall and the GC

Apparently someone in London came up with the idea and folks from Christchurch visited him and then “stole” the concept, so now there’s a lot of legal wrangling, but all I know is that it was lovely to see the streets, or at least one street, of downtown Christchurch full of people again.

The reality of what Christchurch faces as it rebuilds isn't far away: Red Zone devastation shot from over the fence bordering the pop-up mall.

The Red Zone, the forbidden area, borders Re:Start on three and a half sides, with just a narrow corridor to and from the carparks that’s open, and walking to the shops you pass blocks of rubble and yawning basement chasms, all that’s left of many buildings. But still. It’s a start, and a promising one at that.

No Portapotties here... this is an all-around class operation. Inside the shipping containers, plywood walls sectioned off individual toilet stalls.

I went shortly before they closed for the day and ended up buying a pair of merino wool hiking socks from Katmandu, New Zealand’s answer to REI, at 40% off. The place seemed lively and crowded and people were overwhelmingly in a good mood… a welcome change from all the angst and worry I’ve heard from locals during my two weeks in the area.

Meanwhile, In Other News: I Slept With A Kiwi And I Liked It!

Now that I have your attention… after rubbing shoulders, lovely, meaty, god-like shoulders–focus, focus!! Ahem. After rubbing shoulders with the All Blacks earlier in the week, I left Christchurch for Hanmer Springs, about a two hour drive northwest of the city. I love Hanmer because it feels like Bavaria or Switzerland, nestled amid pine-forested mountains. It’s a big tourist destination but it doesn’t feel that way, and prices are as reasonable as anywhere in New Zealand.

I spent three days out there, including a day at the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa, getting a much-needed facial and soaking in the hot water until I resembled an albino prune. Not a good look, granted, but it certainly felt wonderful. I got a bed in the dorm room of the lovely Le Gite hostel, and on two of the three nights had it to myself. Well, almost.

Upon my arrival, I was welcomed warmly by Julia, the German-born host, and by Janet, the Kiwi-born resident cat. Janet immediately identified me as a sucker for animals and also as a suitable surface to rub up against. When I got up in the middle of the night, she was waiting outside the door. As I settled back into bed, before I realized she’d slipped into the room, she was wiggling her way under the covers where she ended up spending the rest of the night, purring, with her paw resting on me as if to say “I own you, Two Leg.”

"Pull the covers back up, Longshanks. I have not finished snuggling with you." Janet in the morning.

When not serving as bedmate to a cat or getting the upper layers of my skin scrubbed and scraped off, I was making use of the free WiFi at the Hanmer Springs library, plotting my next adventure. I leave early tomorrow for Melbourne, and plan on spending a few days there in the cultural and food capital of Australia. Assuming I still fit into my hiking pants after that–everything I read about Melbourne mentions they take their food and their coffee and their food and their coffee and their food very, very seriously–I’ll be heading to Tasmania for a few weeks.

Until the next post, then, here are some more pix of Hanmer Springs:

Cool old tree outside the Soldier's Block of the now-vacant Queen Mary Hospital, adjacent to the thermal pools

The Chisholm Wing of Queen Mary Hospital, home in the early 20th century to women with "nervous conditions" and shell-shocked soldiers of both WWI and WWII. The weather was a bit gloomy but you can get a feel for the Bavaria-like surroundings

Outrageously delicious Pear and Hazelnut Friands at Powerhouse Cafe.

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