NZ-style Garden of Eden and whitewater rapids: dreaming big in Christchurch's red zone

About 80 ideas have been mooted for land use in the residential red zone.

About 80 ideas have been mooted for land use in the residential red zone.

You might say the Eden Project is overdoing it.

The best part of its creative team dispatched to the other side of the world to imagine a New Zealand version of the UK eco-tourism attraction based in Christchurch's residential red zone. Partnering with a local trust to help realise the project, loosely estimated to cost about $100 million. Concept drawings as specific as an underground forest and a lava room.

This when Regenerate Christchurch says it will do its own business cases for red zone land use proposals, to be submitted and considered over the next six months.

A lava room is among the ideas being considered for a New Zealand Eden Project in the residential red zone.

A lava room is among the ideas being considered for a New Zealand Eden Project in the residential red zone.

But a plan for an Eden Project in New Zealand requires a bit more background work than most ideas. The UK version, which opened in Cornwall in 2001, transformed a old china clay pit into a million-visitor-a-year tourist attraction using biomes to create plant environments from around the world and made a knight of its founder, Sir Tim Smit. Christchurch is one of a handful of possible expansion locations on its books. Executive director David Harland was in the city this week.

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"It's our belief that in order to understand the project that we're proposing and how it interacts with the city it is only right and proper that we do some proper thinking," he said.

An underground forest – one of the concepts for an Eden Project in Christchurch.

An underground forest – one of the concepts for an Eden Project in Christchurch.

"Some proper research and check first that we're excited ourselves and then see if we can excite others with a vision. The last thing we want to do is something that people don't want.

"We will be putting forward a pretty well-developed concept and a view as to how that might work in business terms, number of jobs created, the kind of stories that we want to tell, this is the type of visitor experience, education and science that will go on."

Members of its creative team have been working on concepts at Lincoln University design lab, working out how best to visualise the story of Christchurch and transform the red zone landscape as they did in Cornwall.

Biomes housing plant environments from around the world are a feature of the UK Eden Project in Cornwall.

Biomes housing plant environments from around the world are a feature of the UK Eden Project in Cornwall.

"I think with Christchurch there's a bit of a different story," Harland said.

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"When you look at not the obvious imagery of what happened with the earthquakes, but what's happened to the river courses, what's happened to the environment and the habitat round there, what we envisage is doing something very light touch, insofar as that's possible, and transforming not just the environment there, not just the river, but also the communities around it. We're trying to put together a whole vision for that area right down the corridor."

The end goal is a self-sufficient eco-tourism attraction, as in the UK, based on science, the environment and a few teaching moments.

Eden Project UK executive director David Harland.

Eden Project UK executive director David Harland.

"As a visitor to one of our attractions you're not coming in to be educated," Harland said.

"But as you go round we will pose a series of questions through the interpretation that we have and we refer to it as education by stealth."


Ian Fox is Christchurch through and through. His family has lived here for generations and he loves it. But he has one gripe.

"It's a bit boring if you're a young person.

Ian Fox, at one of the proposed sites for a whitewater rafting park and artificial surf beach in the red zone.

Ian Fox, at one of the proposed sites for a whitewater rafting park and artificial surf beach in the red zone.

"Until the mountain bike park we haven't had anything in Christchurch ever that's really cool outdoors and in town."

Fox plans on changing that. He is the driving force behind plans for a whitewater aquatic park in the red zone, with river channels for kayaking and rafting and an artificial beach for surfers.

The working title is Wai Huka o Waitaha (WHoW!!), loosely translated as foaming water of Canterbury. All going to plan, it will help transform Christchurch from adventure tourism gateway to destination. For locals and visitors.

"If you're doing anything adventure tourism . . . you've got to build it for the local people first," Fox said.

Parc Olimpic del Segre at La Seu d'Urgell - the whitewater kayaking park used for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A ...

Parc Olimpic del Segre at La Seu d'Urgell - the whitewater kayaking park used for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A similar, natural-looking park is being proposed for the Christchurch red zone.

"If the locals think it sucks, then everyone else will too because they're not going to front for it."

The plan is for a 12 to 15-hectare site in the red zone. North of the Gayhurst Rd bridge or near Burwood Park are the preferred locations. It would differ from the concrete-heavy Wero Whitewater Park in Auckland and Sydney Olympics venue in Penrith, Fox said.

"We want to make it look as though it should be there. That fits in with the idea of the red zone becoming a forest and wetland park."

The aquatic park would need a water supply of up to 30 cubic metres of water per second [about the same as the Avon River in flood] to operate. That would be supplied and then replenished with groundwater and held in header ponds and a holding lake.

Complexes that size typically cost about $50m, Fox said. Overseas, they tend to be financed and operated with a mix of public and private money.

"Best outcome [is] probably some sort of [council-controlled organisation] or [public-private partnership]," Fox said.

"I'd like the people of Christchurch to have a stake."

Thinking big, Fox sees one of the two river channels, the easier one, stretching as long as 750 metres, wending its way around the park perimeter.

"That would allow for multiple plantings," he said.

"It'd be like paddling through a forest on the West Coast. That's the dream."

 - Stuff


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