24 hours in the Garden City

It was a bit of a whirlwind trip, but last week, my mum and I spent just over 24 hours in the Garden City. I thought there might be delays to the flight due to the weather in Wellington, but we managed to miss the thunder storm and touched down in Christchurch around 9:30am.

We head straight to the city on the airport bus (a cheap and convenient way to get into town) and start making our way to the city tram. This is the one activity I really wanted to do last time we were here, but ran out of time for. So it’s the first thing on the agenda for today.

My sense of direction (or lack off) meant we were wandering around for quite some time trying to find the tram depot. We then stumble across the tram tracks so followed them for a while and eventually find what we were looking for.

The tram is beautiful. I think there were about 4 in circulation that day, but our one seemed to be the oldest. They have all been restored and it’s a unique way to see the city. The tram interior is all wooden with intricate detailing and big glass windows for viewing. The loop takes about 50 minutes and includes onboard commentary. Unfortunately there is quite a lot of talking going on between the other passengers, so at times it was quite hard to hear what the driver was saying. But it’s a great way to get your bearings, have a quick overview of some of the attractions around and get a feel for what you want to see. It’s a hop on hop off ticket, meaning it’s valid for the day and is a convenient way to get around.

After disembarking the tram, I know exactly where we are heading. New Regent Street. It’s a pedestrian only shopping street which was developed in the early 1930s in Spanish architectural style. The facades are in pretty pastel colours with lots of window detailing. What is also interesting is the buildings on each side of the street mirror each other exactly in both colour and design. There are some cute little shops and well worth a wander down.

I’ll confess, I am here for Rollickin which is a gelato company. It’s a funky place with tantalizing gelato, and some interesting names. I choose ‘Stacy’s Mum’ A blueberry cheesecake gelato with lemon curd and a sprinkling of vanilla crust crumbs. It was fantastic, the texture of the crumb in it was delightful and the curd added a bit of zing. All combined, it was a flavour sensation.

We then take a bit of a wander through the city, heading towards the Riverside Market where we intend to get some lunch. Along the way, we pass lots of street art on the side of buildings. It’s one of the things I love about Christchurch. There are some really interesting pieces that are very well done and they add so much colour to the place. There is one in particular that has me intrigued. It plays tricks on your eyes. It’s painted like some old market shop fronts and looks completely 3D but all done on a flat wall. As you walk towards it and then past it, it changes from looking like 3D shop fronts, to disappearing into a flat wall. It’s hard to explain, but’s it’s an incredible illusion. You will have to check it out for yourself. This crazy street art is on the back of the Riverside markets so we head inside to grab some lunch.

I had been hoping for a delicious leek, cheese and (I think) potato cornish pastie, from The Great Pastry Shop but they had just sold out. This forces me to try something different and I end up with a Vietnamese Tofu Sandwich. It was pretty yum and although I would have preferred the pastie, it was actually great to try something new. I can be a creature of habit! There are so many options here to try, you are really spoilt for choice.

After a little wander around the shops I find myself at Ben & Jerry’s, ready for another gelato. This time I get one called ‘Half Baked’. A chocolate ice cream with cookie dough and fudge. This was very sweet and the flavour felt less refined to ‘Stacy’s Mum’, but it was still excellent. I had this idea that I would go to as many gelato places as I could on this trip. I thought it would be a fun thing to blog about, but I will tell you now, it was such a cold day, that I only managed these 2 gelatos. I actually had several strangers comment as I was walking past them on the street about how I was a bit mad for eating ice cream on such a cold day. I think this is a challenge I will need to repeat in the Summer!

After heading to an appointment and having another look around the shops, it’s late afternoon. We decide it’s the perfect time to warm up with a cup of hot chocolate. And we know exactly where to go for that. She Chocolaterie. Another place we loved so much last time and just had to come back. You know when you have really good quality artisan chocolate you can taste the different flavours of the beans. Some are nutty, some are fruity, just like coffee beans. It’s the same with hot chocolate. You can taste the fruity notes coming through. This is another must try if you are in the Garden City.

Our last activity for the day is a movie at Lumiere Cinema It’s located in the Arts Center in such a beautiful old building. You can purchase cheese boards and wine to enjoy during the film and the seats are incredibly comfy. (Unfortunately I was way too full of gelato and hot chocolate to purchase anymore food.) I much prefer the more boutique cinemas to the large, mainstream ones. This was a relaxing way to finish off our evening.

We stay the night at Hotel Give which I highly recommend. Not only was it great value for money, it has been recently refurbished, has super comfy beds and is really big on sustainability. They also put all profits from your stay back into the programs and services that the YMCA offers vulnerable members of the community. How great is that? It is also across the road from Lumiere Cinema. Win win.

We have a beautiful day for our flight home that ends our 25 hours in Christchurch. There are some great views from the plane and for the first time I really notice how much of our land hasn’t been built on. There are so many forests and mountains and lakes to explore. Aotearoa is stunning and I am so grateful that I get to experience so much of it.

Punting on the Avon

It’s a cool, crisp morning as we head out across the road to an art memorial.

It’s known as 185 Empty Chairs.

185 different chairs, spread out across what used to be the floor of St. Luke’s Church. Now, all that remains is the bell tower and the installed empty white chairs. One chair for every person who lost their life in the 2011 Canterbury earthquake.

It’s early morning. The birds are waking. The air is still. This is a place of rest. A place for remembering.

As I stand there in the silence, looking around me, I notice a couple of tiny chairs. And it hits me. I knew young children and babies also lost their lives, but to see it displayed like this, it stopped me in my tracks. Each chair in fact tells it’s own story, of a person, of a life, one that ended too soon. It’s a very powerful memorial. I take a moment to be grateful for the life I have.

From here we head to Hagley Park for a walk along the river. I love how the Avon River runs right through the city. The park is full of deciduous trees. The last of the Autumn leaves are scattered on the ground, leaving the tall elegant, leafless trees to creating silhouettes against a bright blue sky. There is something very magical about Winter, when the day is dry and clear, the air is cool and there isn’t a Wellington gale force wind blowing.

The water in the Avon is surprisingly clear. I am so used to seeing dirty polluted streams. I hope this becomes a more common sight. The ducks are enjoying the water too and from a bridge, I watch a couple of piwakawaka (fantail) darting about, skimming the water, presumably trying to catch their breakfast.

We reach the Botanical Gardens and come across a hot house which we take a stroll through. The warmth is a welcomed change. Inside is a lush oasis of green. There are several rooms and each seems to get a little warmer. There is one with cacti, another with orchids. The last room is the most impressive though. It has a high ceiling and is filled with plants. There is the sound of running water and climbing plants growing right up to the top. I feel like I am in a jungle.

And I don’t want to leave.

Partly because I am enjoying all the plants, but if I am honest, it’s mostly because I know how cold it will feel outside. But we can’t stay here forever and we have 1 more stop to make.

We brave the outdoors and follow the river down to the Antigua Boat Sheds. I don’t want to leave Christchurch without going for a punt on the Avon River. It’s just the 2 of us on the boat with our guide. We are given a blanket and hot water bottle to keep us cosy and warm before we set off. Our guide shares the local history of the area and all about punting, as we glide ever so gracefully down the river. The boat moves so smoothly through the water. We had just walked the this way alongside the river, but seeing it from this level gives another perspective.

After half an hour of soothing punting it’s time for us to leave the warmth of the hot water bottle and blanket behind. What a great way to experience The Garden City.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Christchurch. It’s an exciting, re-emerging city that is colourful and vibrant, filled with an amazing selection of cafes, restaurants and bars. It has done an incredible job of moving forward and looking to the future, without forgetting it’s past. Christchurch has seen some pretty dark days but it has risen up and is claiming it’s place on the tourist map once again.

The Garden City

The engine begins whirring and the propellors spring into life. It’s a rather noisy plane, we are on a little ATR 72-600 on our way to Christchurch.

It’s a morning departure, 8am. It’s a beautiful time to fly. The colours in the sky are soft and peachy, the clouds have golden highlights. It was a dreary, grey, Wellington day, but above the clouds it is always sunny.

I take a look through the inflight magazine, Kia Ora. A picture of Aitutaki, Cook Islands, is on the cover. It looks so inviting with it’s turquoise blue waters. Its white sandy beach is so alluring. However, the majority of the content in this edition is about Aotearoa. It takes me on a photo journey of food festivals, dark sky reserves and glacier hiking. I am quickly reminded again just how extraordinary New Zealand is. There is so much to see and do here. So much beauty to behold. I think I could happily spend a lifetime discovering my homeland.

We touch down in Christchurch. ‘The Garden City’ has put on a stunning winter’s day for us. A bright blue sky and a windless day.

After leading my mum in the wrong direction for about 10 minutes, she takes over map reading and we finally arrive at our Airbnb to drop off our bags. (Never trust me with maps or directions!) We are staying in a modern town house on the edge of the city. A perfect location for exploring.

The last time I was in Christchurch was about 18 months after a 6.3 magnitude earthquake. A lot of the city was damaged and 185 lives were lost. Even 18 months later I remember experiencing aftershocks. The place was in ruins, buildings destroyed, homes destroyed and rubble around the place. So much of the city would need to be replaced.

10 years on the city is flourishing. It is funky and vibrant. There are enticing restaurants and bars, pop up shops, parks and lots of trees. There is a really interesting juxtaposition of old and new buildings. All around the city is vibrant, quirky, colourful street art painted on the sides of buildings. Even the last remaining ruined buildings have a certain beauty to them. There is no lack of things to see here. The heart of the city has started beating again.

Our first stop is Riverside Market. The lane way into the market is filled with boutique shops. We walk past a Chocolaterie claiming to make the best hot chocolates. I tuck that one away in the back of my mind to try later. Inside the market is an exciting range of eateries, international foods, sweets, pastries and more. I spot a truffle stand and spend some time talking to one of the staff. I haven’t had fresh truffles since Italy, (where I may have over indulged.) They are so decadent and delicious. I love talking to local food artisans and produce suppliers, they are always so passionate about what they do. I walk away from the stall with a business card – The Sassy Salt Lady can forage for truffles for you and send them anywhere in the country. This could get expensive!

Inside, the market is fun, funky and bustling. It’s midday and this seems to be the place to grab lunch. So that’s what we do. It does take us a couple of trips around the market looking at everything before we can decide what to order. There are so many scrumptious looking things. We settle on a Cornish pastie from The Great Pastry Shop and head outside to eat in the sun. The pastry is creamy, buttery and oh so good. Sparrows start appearing in numbers, patiently waiting for the crumbs to drop. They rustle about in the leaves and flitter through the nearby trees. They don’t have to wait long though, I am sure Mum must have fed them half her pastry!

With our tummies full, we take a short walk to the Wall of Remembrance. The names of the 185 people who lost their lives in the earthquake are etched into the stone. Friends and family have left photos, poems and flowers at the base of the wall. There is stillness here. A place to stop and reflect. To remember. May they rest in peace.

We wander back home through the city, taking time to look in shops and soak in the atmosphere. And yes, we head back to try the ‘Best Hot Chocolate’ from She Chocolaterie. We enter the shop and are greeted by the warm, rich smell of chocolate. Decadent, but not overly sweet. We get offered a sample and then we are hooked. It’s so good, we have to get one. We stay in the shop for some time, people watching, resting out feet and enjoying the rich warm chocolaty goodness of our drinks.