Our job here is done, soldiers say
At 3pm today the occupation is over. The last remaining members of the New Zealand Defence Force in central Christchurch will leave.
Their job has ranged from security, to gatekeepers, to tourism advisers, sometimes even consolation for distraught residents.
Yesterday, Warrant Officer Class 1 Wayne Manu directed visitors to the cardboard cathedral. One of the women, an ex-Christchurch resident, did not realise she was on the edge of Cathedral Square until Manu helped her with her bearings.
"You feel for them, they were local here and it's quite hard," he said.
"You console them as much as you can."
Manu was here in September 2010 and spent a week helping co-ordinate the Student Volunteer Army.
He has been in charge of the cordon guard since June 2011 and though he is pleased to see the cordon lifted, he wishes there had been more progress.
"One thing I would really liked to have seen before we left was more rebuild," he said.
Private Brady Gillbanks, 21, of New Plymouth, has helped man the cordon for the past few months. He heads home on Monday. This was his first time in the South Island and he would like to come back to see the city "once it all gets fixed up".
Corporal Pete Seddon has been second in command for the past month and thinks people will be shocked when they finally have access to that part of the city.
"I can understand the emotional attachment to coming into the Square, but there's not a lot to see," he said.
Seddon said he had noticed people becoming more annoyed with the Defence Force presence, but he thinks it is a good sign.
"After the earthquake a lot of people were glad to see us because we were security. The fact people are now angry "means they don't need that security any more".
The NZDF efforts will be recognised at a parade on Sunday, when it is expected the cordon will be officially lifted.