Christchurch’s arterial routes, and the air around them, are being transformed by the lockdown. David Williams takes a look

As the days shorten, the nightly commute comes ever closer to sunset.

That would normally mean thousands of cars lining up at busy Christchurch intersections, sending plumes of carbon monoxide into the fading light.

The national lockdown has changed all that, of course, leading to dramatic – well, desolate – scenes across the city during that usually hectic hour between 5pm and 6pm.

Drivers along one of Christchurch’s four avenues, Fitzgerald, experience rare rush-hour calm. Photo: David WIlliams

On any normal weekday at 5pm and you’d expect slow progress along Anzac Drive from the Avon-Heathcote Estuary towards Prestons, a subdivision of more than 2000 homes that sprung up after the city’s quakes.

But on day 15 of the lockdown – and the day before Good Friday, no less – the streets were relatively empty, the wait at lights short, and the air, as in other parts of the country, seemed relatively good to breathe.

An empty Anzac Avenue. Photo: David Williams

Near the old QEII Stadium, where the roads are surrounded by wetlands, including the Travis Wetland Nature Heritage park, there are more walkers, electric scooter-riders, and pūkeko than cars.

With Easter looming, the police presence is high. Officers patrolling in marked cars take a keen interest in pedestrians plying the wide paths.

Another group of drivers in high visibility are learners – as people in their bubble take to the roads, presumably for an essential task.

Travis Rd is lightly traversed in the lockdown. Photo: David Williams

Nearby is Bexley, one of the worst-hit areas in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.

The land underneath houses liquefied in the worst shakes, jettisoning huge amounts of silty sludge, leaving those houses uninhabitable and tilted at crazy angles.

Even before the pandemic, Bexley had its own deserted streets – whole neighbourhoods ruined by the quakes that were bought by the Crown and effectively turned into parkland. A family with small children bike through the grassed area, foraging for food.

Nature is reclaiming quake-hit Bexley. Photo: David Williams

Even late in the day, in Woolston, the city’s industrial inner-east, people queue at the New World along Ferry Rd – on a day of long lines outside supermarkets around the country.

People also stand, spaced to respect physical distances, outside the dairy next to the Woolston New World’s entrance.

Motorists – especially those carrying cameras – are eyed with distrust.

A long wait outside Woolston’s New World. Photo: David Williams

Across the road, a man drops two cassette tapes into a cardboard box, part of a large pile of discarded belongings, mainly clothes, sitting outside the Salvation Army family store.

A motorcyclist pulls up and rifles through the pile, eventually pulling out what looks like a blanket. He takes that back to his bike, secures it, then returns to look at the pile.

“I usually come here to help clean this up,” he says. “They could have taken it to the bin around the back.”

The Salvation Army family store is closed but still in business, seemingly. Photo: David Williams

The biggest congestion is found in the beachside suburb of Sumner.

Families, runners and dog-walkers clog the wide paths, and are dotted on the mainly deserted beach, which is littered with woody debris.

Sumner residents love to live beside the seaside. Photo: David Williams

Waves pound Sumner Bay which is devoid of surfers.

A sign-written surf school’s van sits alone along the beach-side carparks.

One container ship chugs into the distance, having left the port at Lyttelton, over the hill from Sumner. In the same way the ship fades from view, people seem cautiously optimistic the threat from coronavirus is also diminishing, given yesterday’s encouraging numbers.

A turbulent tide tests Sumner beach, looking towards Shag Rock. Photo: David Williams

David Williams is Newsroom's environment editor, South Island correspondent and investigative writer.

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