Christchurch…On The Mend
Not only is the city of Christchurch on the mend, the rebuild is in full flight and will see this gem of the south completely revamped and revived.
It was with some trepidation that I made plans to visit Christchurch. My last visit was just a few days before the big quake that demolished much of the outstanding architecture, demoralised the locals and devastated families, friends and colleagues with its death toll. The Christchurch I’d last visited was a vibrant and colourful city, filled to the brim with interesting characters. I was, in some ways, dreading this trip. I recalled my last night there, staying at the Novotel on Cathedral Square, overlooking the then only slightly damaged turret. I recall thinking to myself that I wouldn’t want to be up there taking photos if another shake occurred! Since then, I’d only seen media coverage of the quake and the damage.
As I drove from the airport back to Cathedral Square, it wasn’t hard to be impressed by the amount of construction work being undertaken. Cranes dotted the skyline at regular intervals and hard hats were in plain view no matter which road you followed. The rebuild had definitely commenced.
I spent my first afternoon just walking, covering over six kilometres. It was a sobering experience, confronted as I was by vacant blocks of land where architectural gems had once stood, seeing the numerous hoardings that shielded sites still being cleared, noticing the shift of pedestrian traffic from once bustling streets to new areas. The creative talents that have always called Christchurch home have placed artworks where none stood before and there’s now an art trail that is worth checking out.
One of the most moving was near the Cardboard Cathedral, simply entitled “185 chairs”. Favourite chairs, gathered from family members, paid homage to the lives lost in the big one. From a solitary beanbag to office chairs and recliners, they’ve all been painted stark white. It was heartbreaking to see, especially the baby’s car seat and a tiny feeding chair.
Over the next few days I spoke with many business owners, shoppers and diners.
There is a distinct air of optimism that pervades. There’s an excitement about what this new city will offer its residents… and it will be new and it will be exciting. Officialdom have taken the wise road of completely rethinking the layout and design of Christchurch city centre; architects are being urged to get creative and inventive; lessons have been learned regards what construction best suits the topography. It was an expensive lesson, but a lesson well heeded.
The Novotel on Cathedral Square thankfully only suffered minor damage. Nothing much seemed changed on this recent visit, although there were a few small changes behind the scenes. The location is extremely central, and will be in demand once the planned convention centre is completed. The rooms are spacious and the staff were friendly and knowledgeable. Due to my hectic schedule, the only meal I partook was breakfast, and that was of a fabulous standard. Enjoying good occupancy, I wasn’t able to upgrade to or even view an executive room or suite. I loved that the hotel was so handy to New Regent Street where eating establishments abound.
I enjoyed two nights in a suite at the Doubletree by Hilton Chateau on the Park. This iconic property nestles in award-winning gardens
opposite Hagley Park. While much of the character of the Tudor styling has been retained, there’s a definite Doubletree edge now.
The Novotel Christchurch Airport is due to be up and running by December 2017. Located within metres of the terminal, it will offer 4-star comfort that includes full-length soundproof windows, tons of natural light and meal services that will be timed to match flight times. The artist impressions of the 200 rooms and exterior look exciting.
Still in the airport vicinity, Jucy have just opened Jucy Snooze. More famous for their car and van hire, this accommodation model is both new and exciting, in true Jucy fashion. The snooze pods offer exceptionally stylish accommodation for backpackers or those who don’t want to spend money on a hotel. Dressed in great quality linens, the pods are equipped with charging units for your phones and other electronics, a personal light and a fan. There’s an internal locker as well as a larger storage locker. If you’re not into small spaces or shared bathroom facilities, there are also hotel style rooms (twin, queen, family), complete with ensuite bathrooms and televisions. The common area has an enormous kitchen, comfy seating and hammocks to chill out in. There’s free Wi-Fi, 24-hour reception, snack and drink vending machines on site, and there are shops and restaurants in the nearby Spitfire Precinct.
I popped in to see the new Rydges Latimer Christchurch and fell in love with their Penthouse Suite, the contemporary Kiwi décor and the fact that every room has a balcony. Positioned opposite Latimer Square and a short walk to the Cardboard Cathedral, this 4.5 star property underwent a complete rebuild.
All I can stay to Wellington and Auckland is…watch out, Christchurch’s eating establishments are set to give you a good run for your money!
The Tram Restaurant experience is something every visitor should enjoy. The colonial trams are beautifully maintained and hark back to an era of stately elegance. The staff were professional, had great wine knowledge and offered exceptional service. As for the meal…WOW… fine dining at its best! What’s truly exceptional is that the tram’s galley is about the size of a linen cupboard, yet Chef Flo was able to churn out upwards of 20 three-course meals on time, perfectly presented and perfectly prepared!
King of Snake in Victoria Street provided a casual yet sophisticated setting, tucked back off the road, for a very contemporary blend of Asian and New Zealand dishes. Wanting to taste as much as I could, I ordered a mix of hot entrée platters instead of one large main. Fried rice balls, crispy pork belly in a plum sauce, Marlborough salmon with white miso, and sticky beef wontons. Service was friendly and prompt, the food was fantastic and the prices very reasonable given the standard of fare. I had no capacity for dessert given the decent portion sizes, but I am told the chocolate fondant with roasted rhubarb and a passionfruit gel is a winner!
Twenty Seven Steps in New Regent Street was bustling and, while tables were regularly turned around, it never felt as though you were being rushed. I totally adored their unique way of serving the soup of the day as an entrée…the perfect size, served in a quaint teacup. As busy as it was, the chef was quite happy to accommodate my request for smaller than usual portions, given that I was determined to work my way through the courses. There was an astounding array of dishes that were gluten free, dairy free or vegan. I sampled the pork belly, risotto and finished with a delicious apple and cinnamon crème brûlée.
The Monday Room on Moorhouse Avenue isn’t that easy to find, but it is worth looking for. Even early on a Monday night, there were a good
number of diners.
Voted this year’s best restaurant at the Christchurch Hospitality Awards, the emphasis is on social dining. My companion and I opted for the Trust the Chef menu – two courses of the chef’s favourites. The goats’ cheese churros with truffle honey were my favourite!
Make sure you pop into C1 Espresso for a truly unique experience – your sliders are delivered through pneumatic tubes at 100kph! But, while that’s a fun experience, it’s not all they do – there’s great coffee and a fab deli menu and their all day breakfast is legendary.
See & Do:
One of the best ways to get a handle on the “new” Christchurch is to hop on a Hassle Free Discover Christchurch Tour. The red London double-decker bus (open top in summer) tour was informative and entertaining. The drivers are passionate about their city and impart a wide range of facts you’d otherwise be hard pressed to find out. The one-hour tour takes in the CBD area and all the major attractions. There are two daily departures in winter, and hourly trips in summer. I took the 3-hour trip that includes all of the CBD highlights, as well as heading out to the Port Hills and the seaside village of Sumner.
An exciting new development for the region is the Christchurch Adventure Park. The first stage is due for completion at the end of this year. Once completed, it is slated to be the largest mountain bike park in the Southern Hemisphere! Featuring over 120km of bike tracks, graded for difficulty from beginner to very experienced, the park will also boast the first high-speed chair lift custom built to carry bikes. Plans also include a mountain coaster, zipline, bike rental, instructors and, in due course, lodging. The lodges and cabins will eventually accommodate over 500 people, making this a go-to destination for mountain bikers from around the world. The zipline will be a highlight, too – in four stages, two around a kilometre in length, speeds of around 100kph will be reached!
The Tannery is well worth a visit for an afternoon of shopping, dining and entertainment. Situated on the banks of the Heathcote River in Woolston, this once industrial complex has been given a new lease on life with speciality shops you won’t find elsewhere and, as their own website states, not a chain store in sight! From fashion and jewellery to florists and homewares, it’s hard not to hand over the credit card due to the unique offerings.
When you’re in Christchurch, you simply can’t miss the opportunity to go punting on the Avon River – it’s the best way to spend a lazy afternoon, gliding along the river taking in the Botanic Gardens and city buildings from a completely different angle. The punts hold up to ten people, but private tours are offered. Don’t get put off by damp or chilly weather – they provide blankets and umbrellas and even hot water bottles, if necessary.
Heard of Ernest, Lord Rutherford? It’s thanks to him and his peers that we can today watch television, listen to the radio and make telephone calls! Rutherford’s Den and The Great Hall at the Arts Centre are open to the public already, with a steady stream of areas being opened over the next couple of years.
Parks & Walks:
Two obvious inclusions are Hagley Park and The Botanic Gardens, and I personally loved walking through Mona Vale. Edmonds Factory Garden, Millbrook Reserve and Abberley Park were others I enjoyed strolling through. Families will enjoy Bottle Lake Forest Park with its recreational facilities or Spencer Park with its animal park and playground.
Ride the gondola for exceptional views, visit the International Antarctic Centre, see the Big Five at the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, see NZ’s only gorillas at Orana Wildlife Park, take the TransAlpine train to Greymouth and see the West Coast, enjoy one of the many guided walking or bike tours of Christchurch city, or head to the casino for a few thrills.
One thing’s for sure, Christchurch should once again be put on your travel radar. It’s back, it’s exciting and it’s growing fast! This was confirmed to me after chatting to the team at Christchurch International Airport.
A record number (over 6 million) of passengers travelled through the airport in 2016, with long-haul passenger numbers growing by a whopping 18%. Singapore Airlines have just celebrated their 20th year of flying into Christchurch, Emirates have added the A380 to it’s Christchurch-Sydney-Dubai route, Qantas have increased their trans-Tasman capacity, Asiana Airlines have added a weekly charter flight to and from Seoul and there are three direct weekly flights to Nadi with Fiji Airlines. Other airlines seeing the value in Christchurch flights are Virgin Australia, Jetstar, China Southern and China Airlines, and of course our very own Air New Zealand.
A very exciting initiative by the airport is the Navya trial that begins early in 2017. The 15-person shuttle is fully autonomous, has no steering wheel and is electrically powered. This trial is a first for New Zealand, proving yet again that Christchurch is leading the way!
Punting on The Avon
The Christchurch Tram Restaurant
New Regent St
Inside Cardboard Cathedral
Navya vehicle for Christchurch trials