5 years after quake, tourists flock back to Christchurch

CNN  — 

On February 22, 2011, the city of Christchurch on the South Island of New Zealand, had a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. This was the most destructive in a series of earthquakes that began on September 4, 2010.

The shallow depth of the earthquake caused tremendous damage to downtown Christchurch and the surrounding area. Since the earthquake, Christchurch (population 436,056), the largest city in the Canterbury region, has sprung back to life as a travel destination.

The city’s rebirth has been fueled by the US$26.5 billion Christchurch Rebuild movement, which the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority calls the largest economic undertaking in New Zealand’s history.

From a horrific event, an incredible movement of another kind emerged. Even before the rubble was cleaned and new buildings built, public art and other displays began springing up everywhere.

From sculptures and murals to gardens and giant games, the central city is more beautiful than ever. According to the Christchurch and Canterbury government, the region’s economy has grown 31% in the past five years.

Tourism booming

The world has taken notice.

Passenger arrivals at Christchurch Airport were up 16% in summer 2015, with growth predicted to top 20% in February 2016. International visits were up 6% for 2015.

“The airport will service close to 6.4 million passengers [in 2015], up from 5.9 million [in 2014], the most passengers the airport has ever handled in a single year,” according to a government website.

“There are more than 800 cafes and restaurants in the city, nearly as many as there were pre-quake. New businesses continue to open every month.”

The gallery above illustrates just part of the incredible art-fueled movement that’s driving all the renewed interest in Christchurch and Canterbury.

Ben Adkison is a freelance photographer and mountain guide based in Missoula, Montana. His photos from remote corners of the world can be found on Facebook and his website.