10.43pm, Sunday 15th July, The George Hotel, Park Terrace, Christchurch, New Zealand
Evening, folks, I’m about to try and give you some sort of idea of what it’s like for the people here in Christchurch – jewel in the Canterbury region’s crown. It’s been about 18 months since the first of three massive earthquakes belted this town, and to be honest – even after having the 24/7 coverage in Australia of the tragic aftermath of this natural disaster – nothing prepares you for the breadth of devastation in, out and around the city. The normally vibrant downtown city area pretty much centered around the Canterbury Cathedral is a virtual ghost town. It’s eerie when you’ve seen the restaurant strips jumping on a normal Sunday evening – and now – not only is it dark along ‘restaurant row’ with no street lighting – but whole establishments just aren’t there any more.
So, just to get the facts straight, here’s how the three quake blows fell:
1. September 4th 2010 – the ‘Greendale fault’ goes off, at 4am on a Saturday morning, and the major damage is in the outer suburbs of Christchurch, but with most folks at home asleep – not nearly as bad as it could have been.
2.February 22nd 2011 – the big shake at 10 to 1 – lunch time on a weekday with devastating effect in the city centre. Tragic loss of life and the cityscape is changed forever.
3. June 13th 2011 – just as folks are starting to deal with what’s happened downtown, another massive shake hits the coastal outer suburbs – centered around Sumner by the beach, underneath the built up cliffs of Richmond Hill.
This is Christchurch today.
I was picked up at the Christchurch airport this afternoon by our long-time Cantabrian resident on-premise sales gal Ju Mannering, and she was tremendous. I’d asked for a bit of a tour, to get the “lie of the land” before starting our two-day “Yalumba Goodwill By Wine Visit” tomorrow, and this photo tour that follows is pretty much how we tracked across the city.
We began our day across town in Sumner, with Kath and the fabulous team at The Cornershop Bistro. They put a late lunch ploughmans platter and bowl of pumpkin and coriander soup together for us and filled me in on how the area was without power, sewerage and water supply for months, and how they’ve had their building surveyed, repaired and re-opened. They sit right at the main intersection in Sumner, underneath the cliffs. These cracked, shifted and broke during the third shake. Literally miles of shipping containers stacked on top of each other have been laid at the foot of the cliffs to ‘catch’ any falling debris in the future, allowing the roads – which have lifted and split and settled like rollercoaster tracks – to remain open.
There’s whole streets of houses up on those cliffs that are now designated “red zones” (I’ll explain that for you in a minute) and have been abandoned by their owners. Many of them are literally only ‘hanging’ on the edge of the cliff now, with their front yards having just ‘dropped away’ to ground level below.
Now, we went up to the top of Richmond Hill, and these places have been shaken apart, the tiles popped off the roofs, and the buildings are condemned.
This last house was where Ju lived for years. The whole place has moved downhill off its foundations by a couple of feet. It’s just unbelievable to see it as it still is … off the nightly news now outside the city itself but very much what everyone here lives with as an uphill battle every day.
This is Sumner from up there on the hill – looks like the beautiful bayside village that it is … but it’s deceptive when you see it from the ground up!
OK. From Richmond Hill we went back toward the city centre itself. But just before we get to that, let me explain the “red zone” for houses. If the buildings are inspected by the engineers and are found to be unsound, or the liquefaction underneath makes the dwelling unsound, then the houses, or streets of them, are designated “red zone”. This means that you have to move out, the government buys them, and they’re earmarked for demolition. And it’s not quite clear what will happen to those areas down the track. Suffice to say that a lot of folks were in tents immediately after those shakes and have shifted several times chasing accommodation. And I’m not even going to get into the situation that a lot of folks find themselves in with their houses in a “green zone” where they might be damaged and the debate is with the insurance companies between patching up and repairing, or demolishing and starting again!
It’s definitely safe to say that demolition teams are working around the clock and have more jobs than days to do them!
So we came into town and two of the first things we struck were Jade Stadium – legendary home of the local rugby giants the Canterbury Crusaders – led by the All Black captain Richie McCaw. The stadium had a beautiful decorative stone frontage … more or less gone. The whole thing is dangerously unstable and the playing surface is ruined. A temporary home pitch accommodating 10,000 spectators has been put up across town – and they might get a stack of use out of that in the near future, as they’ve just scored a spot in the Super 14 international rugby competition with a win over the Western Force (based in Perth, Western Australia) yesterday.
Around the corner from Jade Stadium is the Catholic Cathedral, not much more than half the building it used to be. They’ve put a pre-earthquake photo of the church next to the remains – whole sections of the thing just collapsed away.
Then we got into the downtown area, and this is where it all just landed horribly as to how much of the cityscape just isn’t there any more. It’s a very sobering experience to walk around the area around the Cathedral Square – or as close as you can now get to it – knowing what happened here on an hour to hour basis at the time. It’s pretty much a ghost town where the only things moving are the heavy machinery. This part of town is where we did a magic event a couple of years ago at Bar 205 – a ‘degustation lunch’ on yakitori skewers to be exact – each gourmet skewer designed to pair with one of our wines. Ju organized that event. Now the building is gone. The sign is still there, but that’s it.
Ju lost about 50 on-premise accounts overnight. With the major hotels mostly being located around Cathedral Square, the Copthorne Hotel, The Crown Plaza Hotel and The Grand Chancellor Hotel are all flattened. The Millenium, The Novotel and The Heritage are all designated “red” and have an uncertain future – and Ju had great working commercial relationships with all of them. So you can’t begin to imagine the grief that Ju has had to deal with.
This is the commercial centre of town. Hopefully this gives you a bit of an idea of just how big the rebuild job in this town really is … and is going to be for a long time to come.
This is near the Town Hall area.
This is our mate Roo’s place, the Coyote Cafe, over on ‘restaurant row’.
And finally, a 360 degree view near the Cathedral Square
Now. Let me start telling you the good bits! And there are stacks! Our long-term supporters Yommi and Lisa from the iconic Saggio Di Vino restaurant re-opened four weeks ago in the building right next door to their original location. This place has been hopping since the doors opened, and when you see the place tomorrow, you’ll know why. You could pick it up and put it anywhere in downtown Manhattan or London’s Soho – and it would fit right in! Especially the ‘banquette back room’!
**I promise photos tomorrow!
Meanwhile, one of the new wave of ‘pop up’ restaurants – demonstrating the incredibly useful things you can do with a shipping container, an old bus, and a small caravan – has moved into the vacant corner block where Saggio Di Vino used to be. Welcome to “Smash Palace”.
There’s also a whole shopping street that has been rebuilt using shipping containers for storefronts, and this is “Restart” lane. We’ll go over there tomorrow and you can see how these hardy Christchurch folk are going about getting the town back on its feet. We’ll also drop in at The Monday Room – which is the new version of Bar 205. It’s apparently a bit of a treasure hunt at times to find where a restaurant, shop, bar, garage or hairdresser has shifted to in Christchurch, but it’s worth tracking these folk down and supporting them as best we can.
So, that’s it for me for now, and I’ll see you next when its Day 1 of the “Yalumba Goodwill Tour”. We’ll be starting mid morning at The George Hotel showing wine journo Yvonne Lorkin what’s new in the bottle, then around the corner at Saggio Di Vino with the local trade, then off to check out the “Restart” shops and The Monday Room. And more. See you then.
PS did I mention two of the best things about being in New Zealand today? Their absolutely sensational local chocolate bars ‘Perky Nana’ (banana flavored chewy nougat covered in chocolate) and ‘Chocky Fish’ (choc covered raspberry marshmallow) Just one of each I think … for now!