As soon as Ashley and Diana arrived in Christchurch last night, I took them over to reSTART, a set of pop-up shops in the damaged centre of town where the earthquakes hit hard in February 2011.
There's probably only about 15-20 shops, so it didn't take us very long to get through. We ended up in a shop with American and British sweets and goodies and began to ask around on what else there is to do in town on a Thursday night. The shop owner seemed confused. Then, a customer (Sue) chimed in offering a few suggestions, but nothing that appealing. However, we started asking her questions about the earthquake and we could tell it was a subject near and dear to her. She recollected what it was like to live through it and explained how the roads literally started rolling up and down like a rollercoaster. The quake lasted 20 seconds only, but even two years later, the city is still in shambles.
From the looks on our faces, I think Sue could tell we were intrigued (and distraught). She offered to drive us around to see some of the more severely damaged areas of town. First, she drove us down the streets she told us about--and they were still terrible! But to be quite honest...Chicago's streets aren't much better and there's been no quakes there... The most disturbing part of the trip was when we saw the desolate streets and houses. Due to the impact of the quake, maybe people were forced to leave their homes. On a handful of houses, we could see the direct affect of the shakes by the pattern in the bricks on the house! It was very New Orleans/Hurricane Katrina-esque.
Then, we drove to New Brighton to see the beach (our first New Zealand beach, I might add!). We all dipped our toes in and it wasn't that chilly, surprisingly! All four of us took a photo together with the beach and pier in the background. New Brighton was hit by the quake as well, but the ocean has a strong tendency to distract from the perils with its own gracious beauty.
While driving around, we found out more about Sue. She is a 51-year-old counselor with the sweetest demeanor about her. She is a firm believer and follower of Christ, but in no way did she try to push her beliefs on us. To be completely honest, I could see her being exactly like us 20 years ago--spontaneous, always up for an adventure, and a genuine lover of life. In fact, when she was younger, she hopped on a ship and traveled the world with a Christian group. She spent many years in various parts of the world and especially loves North 'Merica. She said, "People in America were so helpful and loving to me that I had to pay it forward to you girls!" And you know what? I know Diana, Ashley, and I will pay it forward yet again when we get a chance.
After the beach, we headed toward Lyttleton and Charteris Bay. By this time, the sun was close to setting and the colors in the sky were absolutely gorgeous. One of my favorite types of sunsets are when hues of pink and orange permeate the summer sky and that's exactly the type of sunset that unfolded before us over the hills ahead. We drove under a long tunnel beneath the hills to the port town then wound our way through the hills on the opposite side, often stopping to take photos like the ones attached.
At this point of the night, it was 9:45 and STILL light out...amazing! Before Sue dropped us off at our hostel, we all popped into a grocery store for round two of dinner. As we parted ways, we wished Sue a Merry Christmas and thanked her for showing us her city.
When we set out to reSTART earlier that evening, we had no plans. In fact, we were trying to kill time before going back to the hostel to sleep. We thought, "If we can waste time til 9, we can just get a good night's sleep before we drive to Queenstown tomorrow..." Sue entered our lives at the perfect time and gave us the perfect tour of Christchurch. Had we not met her, we would not have clearly understood the impact of the quakes on this beautiful English-inspired city. I hope to come back here one day and see it prospering again like it did just years earlier.