Newest Review: ... a while something could be seen stirring at the back of the room. We assumed that would pretty much be it, but over a few minutes the k... more
Christchurch (New Zealand)
Member Name: larsbaby
Christchurch (New Zealand)
Advantages: Pretty scenery, manageable city centre, lots to do
Disadvantages: Variable weather in the South Island
The final leg of our New Zealand trip took us to the one place we always had in mind to visit. Since an old friend emigrated and took up residence just outside the city, this was always going to be a must, with the rest of the trip in many ways a filler for our real purpose here of going to see my friend. We had been told that this would be the place that would remind us most of home so we were quite intrigued as to if this was indeed the case.
Located on South Island, Christchurch is known as the most British of New Zealand cities and we found this to be the case. I certainly saw less people of Maori or Asian heritage here, although the dining seemed just as cosmopolitan as everywhere else. With a population of 344,000 it's a medium sized city by European standards. The Church of England settlement was established in 1850 and was intended to be of the same class structure as in the UK, with rich, thieving inbred morons, erm I mean landed gentry getting their hands on the decent farming land. Luckily though, as time went on, other migrants arrived and the character slowly changed, though the place still has a slightly conservative feel as a result of its past. I have a feeling this is one of the reasons many Brits emigrate to this part of the country; its often been said that this part New Zealand is a bit like the UK in the 1950s; make of that what you will!
The city centre is relatively compact and can be easily negotiated on foot, which is what we did apart from the few occasions my friend carted us around in his car to see the outskirts. We were staying close to Cathedral Square, the main square with the quite striking 18 foot high Metal Chalice sculpture, created for the new millennium. Christ Church Cathedral was built in 1881 and has some impressive features. Close to this, with access from the i-SITE tourist information centre, the Southern Encounter Aquarium & Kiwi house is an impressive collection of marine life. I was particularly impressed by the various fish tanks with explanations regarding which were native, which were imported and their effect on the environment. The highlight though was the Kiwi enclosure. Before you enter you are briefed on the shy and nocturnal nature of the kiwi, and you have to turn your mobile phones off. Then you are led to the edge of a darkened glass enclosed enclosure which is a recreation of the birds' native environment. At first we couldn't see anything in the dark. After a while something could be seen stirring at the back of the room. We assumed that would pretty much be it, but over a few minutes the kiwi hopped around, eventually coming quite close! We got a really good view of this oddly impressive creature with its wings evolved into just stubs.
The shopping area is very pleasant, with High Street in particular having some interesting looking boutiques. It's nice strolling around the main centre, and the Botanical Gardens and their interesting greenhouses offer nice scenery. We had a good look round the various gardens and had a nice coffee & cake in the visitors centre café. Various family groups could be seen canoeing around the waters. Near to the Botanical Gardens is the compact but well thought out Canterbury Museum which had particularly interesting exhibits, with a big collection of categorised stuffed birds, and an Antarctic exploration section. Christchurch is used as the gateway to the Antarctic for surveys and here you can learn about past exploits of Antarctic adventurers.
Victoria Park offers some peace & quiet in the middle of the city and will really remind you of home. Trams were active for about 50 years from 1905, and a restored tramway goes in 2 mile loop around areas of interest. We didn't do this but it did look quite nice. I don't recall seeing any gondolas punting in the Avon River flowing through the city centre but this is also possible to do.
EATING AND DRINKING
There was certainly no lack of choice in Christchurch for coffee and beer. The cool C1 Espresso (150 High Street) gave us an insight into the hip locals hanging out during the day, as well as a huge choice of tea infusions explained by knowledgeable staff. Neighbouring shops mostly consisted of trendy clothes shops. Elsewhere I tried a Banoffee Latte which really was as nice as it sounds.
One place we really liked (and made up for my Queenstown birthday nightmare) was the bar area of Poplar Street, with many bars opening onto the street competing for custom. One night we settled on the Twisted Hop and tried its many microbrewery varieties while we watched the world go by in the adjacent bars. It was a really buzzing area and I enjoyed drinking there a lot. I was intrigued by a Russian Vodka bar across the road but sadly didn't venture in. We did try the Macs Brewery Bar branch, next to the Twisted Hop, which compared favourably with the Wellington branch, though not as big. We were more than satisfied with the seafood platter we ate there. As if to remind us of our Auckland drinking experience, there also was another Belgian Beer Café (88 Armagh Street) near to Victoria Park and we couldn't resist having a Duvel there. I can vouch for its authenticity having spent some time in The Netherlands and Belgium, and this place could have been transplanted lock stock and barrel, down to the slogans written behind the bar in Flemish. I bet the moules were great if they used the huge green local mussels.
Oxford Terrace is another popular drinking area, although this looked a bit fancy to us and we didn't try any of the bars there.
As for dining, a decent, well priced lunch could be had at The High to Hereford Food Hall (266 High Street). We chose dim sum but could easily have had Greek, Japanese, Malaysian or Singaporean. Mum's 24 (728 Colombo St) offered Korean cuisine at a decent cost, evident by the many Korean students dining there, which made it exactly the kind of ethnic authentic experience I enjoy. There was a good choice of other cuisines dotted around, including Mexican, Turkish, Thai, the local fish & chips and a recommended Burmese which sadly we didn't have time to try. Intriguingly, there was another branch of Wagamama here, to go with the ones we'd seen in Auckland and Wellington. Personally I hadn't gone all that way to try what I could a mere 20 minute walk from my home, but I gather it's pretty OK.
In their home, my friend and his wife introduced us to local delights such as hokey pokey (basically Crunchie chunks) and pavlova, which the kiwis seem to be inordinately proud of, as if they had invented it (which they clearly seem to think). My tip is to not get carried away with it; my hosts warned me it seems very light until you go for seconds then you realise you're full! It is very nice though.
We stayed at the magnificent Heritage Christchurch hotel, which is the restored Old Government Building, which was excellent and there is a good choice of places to stay to suit all budgets, from campsites, hostels and guesthouses to high end hotels, many of which are walking distance to Cathedral Square. The city is apparently a bit more expensive than regional New Zealand to stay in, though.
We were actually staying some way out in the Kaiapoi area. We even managed to take part in the street BBQ where my friend lived, which gave us another insight into the friendly locals, many of whom made a special effort to come over to welcome us and tell us of their experiences in the UK, where many people seemed compelled to visit as their country of origin. We visited the close by Rangiora to go food shopping, which is apparently packed with UK expats. Nothing special there really, as it was more or less a couple of rows of shops, though special mention must go to Rangiora Bakery (http://www.rangiorabakery.com) , of which there is also a branch in Christchurch city centre, for it's delicious butter chicken pies. There are plenty of places in Canterbury worth visiting, but alas many of them require a car. Akaroa, the oldest town in Canterbury, is about a 2 hour drive away and is the site of the first French settlements. From this coastal town you can go on cruises to see dolphins, kayaking or just walk around the place. Closer to the city the International Antarctic Centre close to the airport offers information about the conditions and activities performed in the freezing conditions.
My friend took us through Lyttleton, the landing place of the Canterbury pilgrims, which looked quite pretty although we didn't stop as we were headed to the Port Hills where we got a great view over the Lyttleton Harbour and the many freight boats chugging in and out. While there was also visited Christchurch Gondola, which had a terminal in the Heathcote Valley and took us to the rim of an extinct volcano at the top of Port Hills. This gave us an all round view of the city and had a nice little coffee shop to enjoy this from in comfort.
We were also taken us to a place well known to locals, The Brew Moon Cafe and Brewery (150 Ashworths Road, Amberley, North Canterbury) which offered an excellent selection of microbrewery beers and tasty food. The beer platter was a good choice there to sample the various ales. We also managed to visit a nearby beach area which gave us a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean.
There was something fundamentally likeable about Christchurch. Perhaps it was the manageable size of the city, the proliferation of greenery or the wealth of dining and drinking options. It certainly was related to the fact that we had insider knowledge to call upon the whole time. Seeing a locals' experience always make a trip more interesting and we were lucky to have that. Whatever it was, it's somewhere I'd really like to revisit. I would certainly consider it a must in any New Zealand itinerary.
Here are a couple of useful tourism links:
Summary: The nearest you'll find to the UK down under