This week, Lonely Planet produced an article proclaiming Christchurch as one of the best cities to visit in 2013. Their top ten included the likes of Amsterdam, San Francisco and Beijing along with some more unusual destinations like Hobart and Hyderabad. Lonely Planet’s reasons for including Christchurch were as follows:
“New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ is rising from the rubble created by devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 with a breathtaking mix of spirit, determination and flair. With a unique opportunity to rethink urban form, Christchurch is bouncing back with a new energy and inventiveness. Foodies will be surprised by the variety of what is on offer, from Burmese to Turkish to local specialities, live-music venues have popped up all over the place, and innovative artworks fill empty demolition sites. 2013 will be an intriguing year to join the rebirth.”
Now, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But…
I’m not entirely sure I agree with much of what they’re getting at here. I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet, don’t get me wrong. Most of my teenage years were spent reading guidebooks checked out from the local library, plotting grand backpacking escapes around Europe and South America. (Both of which I’m STILL planning!) But as a resident of Christchurch, on and off, for the past 18 years I was intrigued. Does Lonely Planet know something I don’t? What are they seeing that I am missing?
I am onboard with the notion that Christchurch is a fantastic place to eat and drink. There are great cafes and restaurants the likes of which you won’t find in the rest of the South Island. But you can find good food and drink in a lot of cities around the world, most a heck of a lot more appealing than Christchurch. Aside from food, I really don’t see what the city has to offer tourists.
I’m all for exploring home through the eyes of a tourist but, if I followed Lonely Planet’s advice and arrived in Christchurch expecting to find a cool city on the upswing, I’d be mighty disappointed.
I’m not one for conspiracy theories. Not at all. (Deep breath.) But I can’t help feel that there’s something going on here. I questioned it to myself when this article surfaced a few months back on Lonely Planet’s website about what to do in post-quake Christchurch. I know other residents were equally perplexed by the reference to the part of town dubbed “So-Mo”. Definitely not a term anyone around here has used or even heard of before, more like something out of a well-crafted marketing campaign.
Lonely Planet’s information on post-quake Christchurch restaurants and bars is good. In the aforementioned article and in their updated downloadable chapter on Christchurch, they’ve covered some of the best options. I’m glad they’re giving tourists a nudge in the right direction on where to eat and drink. However, most of the sights they list are still currently closed which begs the question, if the museums, galleries and churches you’re suggesting tourists see are all closed and cordoned off for the foreseeable future, what are you suggesting people do when they’re in Christchurch? Look at shops in shipping containers and imagine what the city will look like in ten years when rebuilding is complete?
Let me make it clear for everyone not on the ground here. While there is great potential for Christchurch to morph itself into an intriguing, energetic and inventive new city is a long way off. It may be very well be a fantastic, world-class city once the rebuild is complete but that’s 10 to 15 years down the track. Not in 2013.
My advice to tourists – visit Christchurch by all means. Use it as a jumping off point to explore the rest of the South Island. Stay for a day, maybe two. Check out the inner city’s damaged buildings. Explore the container mall and pop-up spaces for novelty purposes. Eat a good meal. Drink coffee. But don’t expect to be wowed. Christchurch is just like any other small city. Nothing exceptional. It’s beat up but it’s trying it’s best to make good out of a bad situation.
Have you been to post-quake Christchurch? What did you think?