Two years ago, a series of massive earthquakes shook Christchurch, New Zealand, to its spine, folding its central business district into a cordoned-off red zone. But even as the historic gateway to the South Island readies for a years-long rebuild, a spirit of innovation is rising out of the rubble to shake things up for good.
“There’s nothing ghoulish about the central city anymore — it’s full of potential,” says Anthony Wright, director of the Canterbury Museum. Case in point is the gritty yet jubilant Re:START mall, a city-within-a-city of bright shipping containers outfitted as cafes, bookstores, and shops, with winding avenues, street performers, and gardens welcoming people back downtown.
All around town, in fact, new life is sprouting in vacant spaces. At the quirky Smash Palace on a busy corner, an old bus serves craft beer and “bodgie burgers” (with egg and beetroot) in a lot strung with multicolored lights and enclosed by scaffolds wrapped with white tarps (bartenders dole out hot-water bottles in winter).
More signs of rebirth: Actor Ian McKellen has rallied around the repair of the historic Isaac Theatre Royal, and September brought the reopening of the central Hotel Ibis, with its restaurant/bar Oopen overlooking Re:START. Nearby, construction crews work on resurgent Cathedral Square.
This article, written by Carrie Miller, appeared in the February/March issue of National Geographic Traveler. There’s a lot that’s not online: Subscribe today to get the print edition for just $10 a year.