Christchurch post earthquake

It was one of New Zealand's darkest days.

On February 22, 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch. 

The quake claimed a number of lives and caused extensive damage to homes, businesses and infrastructure. 

It came just 5 months after a separate 7.1 magnitude earthquake rocked the country's South Island, causing widespread damage and power outages. 

But there are now clear signs that recovery is progressing.

Just last Saturday, a walkway through Cathedral Square in Christchurch opened to allow people into the heart of the city. 

Melissa Tan speaks with Tim Hunter, Chief Executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism. 

She starts off by asking him just where Christchurch stands now in terms of recovery. 

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" We've made a huge amount of progress in the last eight months. The area of the city that had been cordoned off after the earthquake has been reduced down to 25 percent of what it was at that time. All the infrastructure in the rest of Christchurch has been repaired, and we've seen alot of new businesses opening up. We've opened a sort of pop up retail mall in the city mall of Christchurch. So we're feeling like we're finally making some progress."

Just how hard did the earthquake hit New Zealand's tourism? 

"Yeah I think it's been very localised. New Zealand is two large islands, North Island and South Island. Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island and our tourism in the last six months has been down around 20 percent below levels of last year. So in dollar terms it's probably quite significant, we've probably lost about $500 million in that time."

Sounds like tourism is crucial to the New Zealand economy. 

"It's huge. It's our second largest foreign exchange behind the dairy industry. So it's a very big industry for New Zealand, it employs about 15 percent of our workforce."

So how are you going to reassure potential visitors that Christchurch is safe? 

" I think we've had a year that has had a number of earthquakes and aftershocks in that time. The seismic activity has settled down considerably the last few months and scientists have been saying that things will definitely get better and improve, any unstable buildings have been demolished or shored up. The area of the central city that has been off limits for safety reasons, well the demolishing is going on and we're all feeling alot safer. We think it's time that people should come back."

Tell us more about the rebuilding of Christchurch. What are some key features? 

"It's to build a more compact central city, one that is more people friendly, in terms of lots of public green spaces, low rise buildings will be encouraged, there will be incentives for building owners to build to incredibly high building standards. Clearly after an event like this, there are new requirements to meet a new earthquake code, so it will be a very safe city. Alot of emphasis on walking and biking, and opening up the Avon river that flows through Christchurch so that we get alot more public entertainment and enjoyment along the river. And really make sure we don't turn our back on the fantastic heritage buildings we have in Christchurch and the ones that are very important to us, ensure that they are rebuilt."

There are some buildings like the Christchurch Cathedral that have a long history. How are you preserving these monuments in the rebuild? 

"Well there are a couple of sites that are really important to us, one is the old university which 30 years ago, they shifted the old university because it was growing too much and used those old gothic buildings as an art centre for performing arts, which has also become a tourist area in terms of craft markets, restaurants, cafes, outdoor entertainment. And it's really important that it's a part of Christchurch and there's a plan afoot to rebuild it completely. It's still standing it's just parts of it will be rebuild, the first phases have already started which is great. And Christchurch cathedral, part of it was damaged beyond repair. So part of it will be demolished, strengthened and then a new design for a building a mix of the old and the new."

How will the Christchurch experience changed after the new plans? 

"I think it's really a chance to build a world class city, and real emphasis that it's not just a great place for business and tourists, but a great place to live. I think it's very exciting and we are known as the garden city. New Zealand is known for it's English heritage. If we can keep those attributes, it would be absolutely fantistic."

We've talked about Christchurch, but tell us more about the larger South Island. What are some other attractions? 

"Well the South Island is the place in New Zealand with fantastic rivers, lakes and mountains, and alot of great outdoor activities. What we're doing this summer is we want to keep it strong, a place where visitors would want to come to, and we've divided the South Island up into six fantastic road trips. We're going to work with the travel industry here in Singapore to really promote it quite hard. There are really easy ways to travel as a couple or as a family, and get the best out of the south island."

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