‘Stay strong, Christchurch,’ is the message posted everywhere. People are nervous, of course. When a brief aftershock rattled the windows at 10pm, I tucked my mobile phone under the pillow, remembering those who’d been able to send text messages after being trapped. Of course I didn’t need it.
The centre of town is closed off, and likely to remain that way for months. Tourists, self included, wander vaguely around the perimeter. Just as when driving past a serious road accident, we don’t want to look, but we can’t stop looking. Witches’ hats, striped tape and soldiers bar the way on all streets leading into the CBD, though some residents are allowed through on a limited basis.
The collapsed cathedral and the television building where so many died are mercifully out of sight, and only pockets of damage are obvious on the outskirts. The Carlton Hotel across the road from where I was staying has lost its facade. The church on the corner opposite it will need to be demolished, but in the meantime provides a compelling backdrop for the television reporters still doing their thing.
My camera was drawn to the piles of rubble too, but the vast majority of streets and buildings appear perfectly normal.
The museum I would have visited is closed until further notice, so I took a stroll through the Botanic Gardens – one of ‘the garden city’s’ delights. The cafes were closed and fountains were dry, but the gardens themselves were as lovely as ever on a clear early autumn day.
The fear among those dependent on the tourist industry (and that’s a lot of people on the South Island) is that travellers will cancel or postpone their trips to New Zealand. ‘And we won’t be able to hold our Rugby World Cup games!’ someone moans. I can assure everyone that New Zealand, including Christchurch, is well and truly operational.
Air New Zealand is flying normal schedules into and out of Christchurch, and the access road to the airport is undamaged.
Air New Zealand flies from Australia to Christchurch daily from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. Passengers can fly across the Tasman and choose from Seat, Seat+Bag, The Works which includes a meal & drinks, checked-in baggage and full in-flight entertainment. Check out www.airnewzealand.com.au or www.facebook.com/airnewzealand.australia
There is plenty of accommodation available in and around Christchurch. Cafes and restaurants which had to close due to lack of water supply are starting to reopen. See www.newzealand.com.
Two bloggers have begun a campaign to get as many positive articles, posts and tweets about NZ travel as possible…see it here.
If you want to help, get over to New Zealand as soon as you can. I’m already taking bets that when September comes around Christchurch will stage its scheduled Rugby World Cup Games…and the All Blacks will win.
The writer was a guest of Tourism New Zealand and flew courtesy of Air New Zealand.