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Dublin: 8 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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The Happy Camper: 'It's like a deserted city scene from 28 Days Later'

The lads roll into Christchurch, a city still very much recovering from their devastating earthquake.

THE CURRENT LOCATION icon on my smartphone says “Christchurch Cathedral” but it is nowhere to be seen, we can’t even get close.

The road into the South Island’s largest city is like the route to any other, except that it seems busier than any urban approach we have seen since leaving Auckland.

The DIY chain stores, the fast food outlets and car dealerships would fit right in on the Long Mile Road, only the frequent appearances of large farm machinery on sale gives any clue to where you are.

It is business as usual all over Canterbury until you follow directions for the city centre to their conclusion.

Suddenly you are met by high construction fencing with signs that scold you for even thinking about going any further. This is the harsh reality of Christchurch in 2011.

The red zone has cordoned off what was once the city’s thriving hub, the Cathedral Square where the quake shook the steeple from its rightful place.

We had been warned: “Did you go to Christchurch yet? Don’t!” It sounds like a building site at 7am, but I’m still glad we’re here.

In today’s Canterbury newspaper, The Press, Islay McLeod recounts her tour inside the fenced off portion of the area: “It is so quiet. Not even a bird’s song. Your eyes are seeing but your ‘now’ mind is not registering what you’re looking at.”

Eerie

It is like a deserted city scene from I am Legend or 28 Days Later. Tourists like us are cast as the zombies, wandering aimlessly around the perimeter with gormless looks on our faces not knowing quite what to think of it.

Wreaths of flowers lay at the fence in front of the Bridge of Remembrance, a World War II memorial, now commandeered. Across the street from the no-go area a row of businesses lay abandoned, all have the word “Clear” painted on the window panes and were dated within three days of the disaster by search-and-rescue teams.

Paper cups lay on the floors of cafés, ceramic mugs on office tables; you wonder naively if the snapshot changed much since 22 February. Probably, they were hit with a second quake in June and are left experiencing tremors on a daily basis.

You wonder too, if it can be restored to its former glory: since we arrived, the World Cup and Christchurch have been staples of every news bulletin.

No insurer will cover businesses in the area and so they are left in limbo, unable to reopen to the public. Some Kiwis are even of the feeling that it might be best to abandon the place altogether, rather than plunging $3 billion of public money onto a fault line of the earth’s crust. But New Zealand’s second largest city greets incoming traffic by beckoning residents to ‘stay strong’.

It won’t go anywhere without a fight.

The AMI Stadium here was supposed to host seven games (including two quarter finals) but due to structural damage it was denied even a Super XV fixture. This weekend, Christchurch will get a moment in the World Cup spotlight, but it will come in the shape of the North Hagley Park fan zone.

On Sunday, 40,000 people are expected to turn out and watch the All Blacks win against Argentina. The scene will be relayed to the live television feed and no doubt the men with silver ferns on their chest will be asked to take inspiration from the images.

They will, they have to.

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