Christchurch: The re-building of a City

Every time each of us presses the shutter button on our camera we create the potential opportunity to time travel. To go back and experience events and emotions…and to relive memories.

2004 ‘pre-quake’ Christchurch Cathedral

KODAK DX6490 ZOOM DIGITAL CAMERA @ 6.3mm, ISO 80, 1/500, f/4.0

I’ve been extremely fortunate to have visited New Zealand twice. The first time was in 2004 and most recently in the late fall of 2013. During my second visit one of my most poignant memories was walking through the city centre of Christchurch and remembering what it was like back in 2004.

Post-quake Christchurch Cathedral

NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 46mm, ISO 100, 1/160, f/8.0

This part of the city was severely damaged by earthquakes that hit on September 4th2010, and again on February 22nd 2011. The February quake was the second most deadly in New Zealand history, killing 185 people.

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 35mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/8.0

The estimated damage from the earthquakes has been pegged at $40 billion NZ, and some economists estimate it will take the New Zealand economy 50 to 100 years to fully recover.

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Visiting post-quake Christchurch was a surreal experience. Entire blocks were cordoned off and buildings abandoned.

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/400, f/8.0

Areas where we once saw throngs of people shopping, eating, and enjoying street entertainers, now have almost a ghost-like silence.

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But, the proof of the resilience and creativity of New Zealanders is everywhere.

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 28mm, ISO 800, 1/2500, f/8.0

The sounds of construction abound, forming a chorus of dogged determination.

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Steel shipping crates have been reworked and stacked to form retail shops and restaurants.

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 85mm, ISO 800, 1/1600, f/8.0

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 85mm, ISO 800, 1/200, f/8.0

Finished restorations, some reinforced with earthquake bolts, are celebrated.

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Massive steel beams are angled to provide support as buildings are restored or await their turn.

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 85mm, ISO 100, 1/250, f/8.0

And, it seems a never-ending stream of trucks and equipment work through the rubble with the promise of hope and a new beginning.

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There is something about the human experience that causes us to want to reach out and let others know that we were here.

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NIKON D800 + 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 @ 24mm, ISO 100, 1/160, f/8.0

We want them to know that we have shared at least a fleeting moment of their pain from the past…and that we are united in our hopes for a better tomorrow.

Article and all images are Copyright Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved, no use, reproduction or duplication including electronic is allowed without written consent.


    • 1.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm

      Hi Mike,

      You’re welcome…glad you enjoyed it!


  1. 2) Russ
    May 15, 2014 at 9:52 pm

    In spite of the pun, it’s stirring stuff, and as a Kiwi, brings a tear to the eye. Being a small country it affected us all, thanks for your article.

    • 2.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 16, 2014 at 4:24 am

      Hi Russ,

      Thanks for your comment. You live in one of the most remarkable countries in the world. It may be ‘small’ in terms of population…but it has the heart of a giant…full of creativity, compassion and determination.


  2. 3) Francois Kaplan
    May 15, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Thanks Tom,

    Nice photos but mostly nice words here. BTW, what camera did you use?


    • 3.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 16, 2014 at 4:28 am

      Hi Francois,

      All of the ‘re-building’ photos were taken with a Nikon D800 and a Nikkor 24-85 f/3.5-4.5 VR lens.


  3. 4) Hans
    May 16, 2014 at 1:20 am

    Great journalism Thomas, really enjoyed the article.
    It shows the love you have for NZ, something we share.
    And yes we are united in our hopes for their future.



    • 4.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 16, 2014 at 4:35 am

      Hello Hans,

      Thanks for your comment…much appreciated. I’m sure there are many others around the world that share both the love and hope that we mutually have for this amazing country.


  4. 5) Tony NZ
    May 16, 2014 at 3:23 am

    “and some economists estimate it will take the New Zealand economy 50 to 100 years to fully recover”

    Sorry, but I have to take exception tho this sort of mis-statement. Totally wrong. The NZ Government has just released the latest Budget and for the last 12 months NZ has shown a surplus, including budgeting for the Christchurch earthquakes (the writer has – conveniently – overlooked underwritten insurance, to add drama). Overseas reporting has the NZ economy as one of the few in the world that is chugging along with a smaller deficit than even Australia.

    No buildings have been abandoned. Those that are too dangerous to re-enter are certainly cordoned off, but are awaiting either assessment or demolition etc. but not abandoned.

    Nice pics tho.

  5. 6) Thomas Stirr
    May 16, 2014 at 4:13 am

    Hi Tony,

    Thanks very much for taking the time to comment.

    The government of New Zealand should be applauded for its fiscal responsibility and the intent of this article was not to diminish or comment upon that in any way.

    Whether the NZ government is running a budget surplus or not is a separate issue to the cost of the earthquakes and the number of years that it will take for the re-build….and which entity will ultimately pay for the rebuild.

    Here is a link that indicates that the damage estimate has been increased to $40 billion NZ:

    There has been a range of reporting on this issue and the length of time it will take for the rebuild. The link above indicates that the rebuild may take ‘a generation’. Others have indicated 50-100 years as I noted in the article.

    There was no conscious attempt on my part to ‘add drama’. Having witnessed both the original beauty of Christchurch and some of its rebuilding first hand, I wanted to give readers some context of the extent of the damage that the city incurred as well as the impressive efforts to rebuild it. I had to rely on various reporting done on this issue and information available on the internet.

    I’m sorry if you took offence to my use of the word ‘abandoned’.


    • 6.1) Tony NZ
      May 17, 2014 at 12:05 am

      Thanks for your reply Tom and I apologise if I came over a bit hypercritical.
      There is a lot of misreporting on the internet about Christchurch, and with NZ going in to an Election soon, even from NZ. The National Business Review, I have to admit, is not one of the most ‘balanced’ publications we have. (IMO)

      Anyway, re the cleanup. Already large tracts of the city have been reopened and while there are still some no-go areas, the City area has many shop and cafés etc doing business. The main pain to residents is the resultant blocked drains that are now causing flooding of homes with Winter coming on.
      Optimistically, the damaged parts of Christchurch will be rebuilt better than it was, hopefully within our lifetime. By the bye, of the estimated $40 billion repair bill, the NZ taxpayer exposure is less than $16 billion. In the meantime it’s giving a big boost to the NZ economy by way of jobs.

      Should you visit our shores again, do feel free to make contact.

      • 6.1.1) Thomas Stirr
        May 17, 2014 at 4:19 am

        Hi Tony,

        I’ve been blessed far more than most with amount of traveling that I have been able to do. Even though I’ve visited New Zealand twice I would love to make it a ‘triple play’ someday if circumstances allowed! Who knows….if I ever do get the chance to visit again I can buy you a coffee….I may even have learned how to do that properly by then… :-) You folks have soooo many choices!


  6. 7) Allan Wood
    May 16, 2014 at 4:05 pm

    Thanks for your work, and helping me see the rebirth. I am originally from Auckland and have family in Christchuch. My niece was injured during the February quake, and again in an aftershock. She was unaccounted for a day or so and her college dorm was destroyed. A classmate or two of her’s were killed in the quake. I am glad to see the Kiwi spirit is working through this, and Christchuch will change in unknown ways, hopefully for the better. My niece and other family there intend to stay and rebuild.

    • 7.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 16, 2014 at 4:16 pm

      Hi Allan,

      Thank you for your posting. It helps to remind us all that natural disasters are not abstract things that we see on the evening news…they are real events that touch the lives of people in serious ways.


  7. 8) Allan Wood
    May 16, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    Thanks. Living in the US there was no practical help I could give. Then, following the horror in Japan,I marveled at the rescue crews moving from New Zealand to Japan, and likely again working side by side.

  8. 9) Jay
    May 16, 2014 at 9:59 pm

    Is this a good time to visit NZ? Are the crowds staying away due to the damage? May be a good time for travel while the hoards of people are staying away?

    • 9.1) Tony NZ
      May 17, 2014 at 12:15 am

      Can be a great time to visit but not because the crowds are staying away. Christchurch is a very small area of NZ’s South Island, and while all NZers are sympathetic to the situation, the majority are unaffected.
      If you enjoy a Winter wonderland, come now. Skiing and winter sports are just about to start. Christchurch will have about 2 degrees (Celsius) overnight tonight and maybe 12-15 during the day tomorrow. North Island is warmer.
      It’s the low season for accommodation rates if that’s a plus. Locals stay home and kids all back at school for the winter term.
      Autumn leaves are still around in the north. Very photogenic.
      Hope that helps.

      • 9.1.1) Thomas Stirr
        May 17, 2014 at 4:26 am

        Building on Tony’s comment….I wholeheartedly recommend New Zealand as a travel destination. You will not only be treated to some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, but you’ll also have the pleasure of meeting some of the most accommodating people anywhere.

        My images do not do this amazing country justice, but for those of you interested this link will take you to an article here on Photography Life:


  9. 10) Pritam Singh
    May 20, 2014 at 11:42 am

    Thank you for your article and photographs, Thomas.

    I haven’t lived in Christchurch since before the earthquakes but have visited twice after ; one of the visits coinciding with a memorial day that was observed at Hagley Park. People from all walks of life were there and the feeling shared as a humanity, by just being there, was overwhelming.

    Sure, I took many photographs ..

    I love Christchurch.


    • 10.1) Thomas Stirr
      May 20, 2014 at 12:02 pm

      Hi Pritam Singh,

      Thank you for your posting. I can only imagine what it must have been like to be in Christchurch on a memorial day.

      My wife and I also love Christchurch…one of our fondest memories of our first visit was Punting on the Avon…the beauty and serenity were amazing.


  10. 11) Brian
    May 23, 2014 at 3:48 pm

    Hi Thomas,

    Another great article. NZ is one of the places I’d most like to visit.

    What is the building in the 4th photo? It looks like a greenhouse/conservatory.


  11. 12) Thomas Stirr
    May 23, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    Hi Brian,

    Glad you enjoyed the article. The building is the Christchurch Botanical Gardens Greenhouse.


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