From shipping-container shopping to 'red-zone' remembrance, much of Christchurch is open, writes Craig Platt.
New Zealand desperately needed good news. The country has been hit in recent times by two devastating earthquakes, an oil spill causing its worst ever maritime environmental disaster and, this week, a gas crisis that saw restaurants close and no hot water available in parts of the North Island. In this context, victory for the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup was a welcome boost in a tough year for our neighbours.
But for Christchurch the victory was bitter-sweet. While the rest of the nation revelled in the World Cup, Christchurch residents were left on the sidelines, with games originally scheduled for the city, including two quarter-finals, relocated due to damage from the earthquakes that hit in February and June.
It was a cruel blow for a rugby-obsessed city, which was home to New Zealand's first rugby team and had spent $NZ60 million upgrading its stadium before the first quake.
Eight months after the February devastation, which killed 181 people and saw hundreds of buildings damaged beyond repair, the central business district remains closed to the public. But the so-called "red zone" of exclusion, centred on the city's Cathedral Square, is becoming smaller week by week.
It's important people get to say goodbye to the buildings and places that have meant something to them.
The chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, Tim Hunter, is keen to broadcast the message that the city is open for business - and visitors.
"People think the entire city is in ruins but it's not the case," Hunter says.
Many Christchurch hotels were damaged and remain closed or scheduled for demolition, reducing the number of available beds in the city from 15,000 to 8500. "Not that we're filling those at present," Hunter says.
While the danger of buildings collapsing has passed, the red zone is now occupied by 70 demolition crews who have already demolished 590 buildings - with another 500 to go, including some of the city's largest.
This week, the city began taking bookings for tours of the red zone, although they are aimed at Christchurch residents, not visitors. The tours begin today and will run on weekends until mid-December. "It's important people get to say goodbye to the buildings and places that have meant something to them," Hunter says.
Likely to be the top of that list is the city's landmark ChristChurch Cathedral. After months of conjecture about the church's fate, Anglican Bishop Victoria Matthews announced this week the building would be deconsecrated and partially demolished, although a final decision on whether the church will be rebuilt is yet to be made.
Last weekend a new-look Cashel Mall opened. It's a temporary collection of 27 shops and cafes housed in shipping containers.
The mayor of Christchurch, Bob Parker, said the project would boost morale. "This marks the beginning of our city making the most extraordinary comeback," he said.
Craig Platt travelled to Christchurch courtesy of Tourism New Zealand