Christchurch broke our hearts. 4 years after the 2011 6.3 magnitude earthquake, there are still families affected by the violent tectonic shaking and insurance companies running out of budget to get them back on their feet. Everywhere you walk through the quiet city there are reminders of the devastation – a half standing Cathedral surrounded by fallen masonry, orange construction cones barring entry and staircases leading to nowhere.
On the flip side, the ‘number-8’ wire sensibility – the particularity Kiwi knack for making do and succeeding with whatever
is to hand (and if you’re a farmer it’s usually 8-gauge fencing wire) – is everywhere. Take the surprisingly beautiful Cardboard Cathedral, the stunning murals painted on the exposed walls of buildings, wire fences set with colourful patterning and the ReStart mall made from shipping containers.
Most tourists use Christchurch as a journey point to the rest of the South Island – somewhere to collect a rental car, as a relaxing day in-between rushing from mud geysers in the North to glaciers in the South and a place to stock up on supplies for extended roadtrips down the wild, winding West Coast.
As non-car drivers – ok, ok, that’s a lie as I can drive but are too chicken, so we decided that it wasn’t worth risking over-planning and relying on unconnected public transport to shepherd us around on a tight schedule along the country to Queenstown. Instead, we thought we’d spend a few days getting to know Christchurch a little better. Slow travel I believe is the buzz phrase. We travelled a little slower than planned, but hey, sometimes that’s the joy of life.
With 3 days to spend in this small city, known as the English Garden of New Zealand, we planned for one day to explore, one for catching the Transalpine Express to Greymouth and back, and one whale watching in Kaikoura, before an early morning flight took us to family hugs in Tauranga.
Our plans became slightly awry due to after effects of a strong storm battering New Zealand, so we discovered a little more of Christchurch than we had planned (thanks also to a tour operator forgetting to tell us of a tour cancellation) but it meant we really discovered New Zealand’s second largest cities. When you go though, make sure you’re searching Christchurch, New Zealand – google kept recommending hotels in England which could have made life a little complicated…
1. Take a romantic picnic and get a bit lost in the Botanic Gardens.
We didn’t mean to get lost, but it was lovely to wander amidst the carefully selected rose garden, groves of trees and slightly wild sections of New Zealand flora and fauna.
2. Meander through the fascinating collections of Canterbury Museum.
Completely free, the Canterbury Museum was a lovely hour or so that we learned about New Zealand history, Antarctic expeditions (as kids at Primary School we would have conference calls with scientists living in the sub-arctic continent as New Zealand is the closest country) and were really surprised at the variety of exhibitions.
3. Discover the quiet gems of the city on the picture perfect tram route.
We were charmed by the friendly drivers, the immaculately kept historic trams and the fact that they’re so low tech that at one particular junction you have to flip the back of your seat over to turn the other way around.
4. Try the most delicious bacon sandwich you’ll ever find in a shipping container.
Go to the ReStart mall, flag down a table at Hummingbird Coffee and order their bacon & egg sandwich. A perfect brunch pick me up.
5. Spot a green sheep and go on an art hunt.
Not content with letting a stereotype die (my home country had a 12 sheep to 1 human ratio at one stage), the vehicle bollards in Christchurch are beautifully funky Sheep.
Beautiful murals have started to line bare walls.
Even the construction barriers have been made beautiful.
…and some of the art is intriguingly surreal.
6. Drink Wizard approved coffee.
Christchurch has a bevy of coffee shops coming back to life phoenix-like; some as temporary pop-ups, some on their original premises and a few in brand new re-incarnations.
7. Admire the temporary ingenuity of the Cardboard Cathedral.
Designed by architect Shigeru Ban and seating around 700 people…
…the transitional Anglican Cathedral was set up in 2013 to act as a (controversial) civic and concert venue.
8. Take in a spot of Theatre or watch buildings as they are re-constructed before your very eyes.
9. Perhaps take a punt along the river.
10. And last of all, remember.
…and these are all before we get to the jaw-dropping scenery!
Have you been to Christchurch (UK or NZ)?
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