Witter from Where the Earth Moves

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Having moved from Scotland to Australia in 2005 to find out if she had fallen in love with the country as well as her husband a decade ago, she decided that the answer was ‘yes’ and intended to stay.

However life has always had a marvellous way of changing her best-laid plans. And it happened again. An unexpected work opportunity presented itself in mid-2008: one too good to miss.

As a result the Witter from Down Under is now coming from the land of the long white cloud - New Zealand.

Please join us and read Frenchbean’s commentary on a new country, a new city, a new job and new friends.

Where the Earth Moves

Hello Everybody smiley - smiley

One of my complaints about town and city centres is that they are increasingly homogeneous. You can discern the country by the brand of the banks, the colour of the post boxes and the names of the big clothes retailers. But it’s progressively more difficult to distinguish one city from another within each nation.

There is a commercial argument that people want to know the shops in which they’re going to spend their money. And that we, the consumer, need to be reassured that Boots the Chemist is just as reliable in Dumfries as it is in Bristol, and that The Body Shop looks the same in New Plymouth as in Dunedin and London.

Well, the new Christchurch is bucking the trend. And it’s gaining support from all quarters.

I have briefly Wittered on the subject of RE:start – or the ‘pop-up mall’ - which has been created on what was the pedestrianised thoroughfare of Cashel Street. It opened at the end of October to great fanfare.

I was one of the doubters about its success, but now admit to being proved completely wrong, both on a commercial level and a personal one. I love it.

It is constructed entirely from shipping containers and it seems that not only locals but visitors are enjoying the unique atmosphere of this ‘temporary’ shopping and entertainment street. I wonder how temporary it will be, given its extraordinary charm and attraction.

It is distinctly Chchch, unique to the city.

The shipping containers have been deconstructed to provide doors and windows into shops, which occupy one or two containers each; some on top of each other to provide surprising café venues. Each container is painted a different bright colour. They occupy ‘lanes’ either side of the former pedestrianised street, occupying sites that once were brick shop buildings.

In amongst the container shops are spaces for street entertainers; musicians and performance artists. There are benches full of shoppers and eaters. There are tubs of flowers and a few trees which have survived the upheaval of shakes and subsequent demolitions.

And at the city-centre end of the street is an impenetrable wooden fence with Perspex-filled windows, through which the view is one of grey dust, rubble, cranes, cordon fencing, the odd worker in a hiviz vest and hard hat.

Turn back and there’s a colourful, people-filled buzz.

Turn back and it’s desolation.

One movement. One blink. A different world.

It makes Chchch unique.

This has been recognised by The Lonely Planet, which this week published a guide article stating the Chchch is an

‘exciting city’

This is, of course, music to the ears to local tourism bodies and operators. But it’s also a recognition to all of us that Chchch is still breathing and even thriving.

Our Mayor was so pleased that he has suggested people should come here to experience a small aftershock to take home as a travellers’ tale. I’m not so sure about the marketing potential of that idea!

There are a surprising number of visitors about Chchch. Cruise ships make up a sizeable proportion of the tourists, as well as heaps of backpackers.

Their photographs of cordons, rubble, dust, demolition cranes and partly deconstructed high-rise buildings are sure to be ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at when they get home. And hopefully they’ll also leave with good-news stories about the revival of the city, like the RE:start mall.

The aforementioned cruise ships would mostly have berthed at the Port of Lyttelton in pre-earthquake times; a mere 30 minutes coach-trip to the CBD. But the wharfs at Lyttelton are munted (our special word for buggered, broken or screwed) and the ships are stopping at Akaroa on Banks Peninsula instead.

This entails an hour and a half coach journey on steep and windy roads to reach Chchch, but many visitors are prepared to put up with the inconvenience if the numbers of coaches we encounter on our Peninsula trips are a guide to the continued popularity of the city.

Once in Chchch they have time to be punted along the River Avon by boys in boater hats, or to wander round the Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum, or shop in the pop-up mall and find a place to eat. They seem to be lapping it up.

Akaroa will host 80 cruise ships diverted from Lyttelton this season, carrying up to 2.600 passengers each; with as many as six arriving on a single day. And the passengers are predicted to inject $30m into the local economy.

Inevitably this brings huge benefits to the town which has a resident population of 500, because many of the visitors opt to stay on beautiful Banks Peninsula, rather than go on a day trip in a coach.

But for some locals – and some not-quite-so-locals like us – it makes Akaroa something like hell. The town is not built to deal with such crowds, who spill onto the roads, into cafes and shops, fill the harbour-side benches and generally clog the place up so as to make it virtually impassable.

But it is a temporary influx. Once the Port of Lyttelton wharfs are fixed many, if not most, of the cruise companies will revert to that destination and Akaroa will return to a sleepier beat.

I admit to pure self-interest: I want Banks Peninsula returned to me please.

Stay safe...

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