We flew into Christchurch this afternoon and we are intending to catch the Tranzalpine train across the Southern Alps to Greymouth first thing tomorrow, so we have just a few hours in this earthquake-devastated city. We are staying in very ordinary hotel on one of the four boulevards which bound the city centre and we decided to walk into the centre just to see what it was like. We had already been a bit shocked by the extent of earthquake damage far from the centre.
We walked along Colombo St, which once led direct to Cathedral Square, but soon had to turn right because the road was closed. Most of the buildings were visibly damaged. We were repeatedly forced further right (west), but eventually reached the Canterbury Museum and Botanic Gardens, which were unscathed.
Opposite the Museum, the Arts Centre marked the limit of the zone of the central zone of destruction. This wonderful group of Gothic Revival buildings, once part of the University, all suffered some damage and the whole complex is closed for remedial works.
We walked through the Botanic Gardens and crossed a small bridge over the River Avon. Christchurch is always said to be the most English of New Zealand's cities and it was easy to see why.
A little further along the riverbank, the punting centre was just about to close. Ok, they are not proper Cambridge punts, but this was a remarkably English image - and also of course an extraordinary image of normality in the shattered city.
We followed the river as far as we could, just to see if we could better approach Cathedral Square from the south side. We were told that residents were recently given access in effect to say goodby to the Cathedral which is shortly to be fully de-constructed, pending rebuilding at some future date.
It was not possible of course, but we did see the war memorial arch, which has survived intact, and is clearly acting as a focal point for grief and remembrance.
A detour to find a supermarket brought us past the wooden church of St Michael's and All Angels. It dates from 1872 and was the first church to be built in Christchurch and according to the church website is "one of the largest timber churches of its style in the world and possesses a warmer atmosphere than one you would find in a stone building". The small separate belltower is a charming feature.
Conditions: a beautiful sunny afternoon.
Distance: about four miles.
It was good to get some sense of what Christchurch was once like and important to gain some first hand sense of the impact of the earthquake. It was deeply melancholy to walk along the largely deserted streets with empty and fenced-off buildings on all sides.