Special New Zealand feature
Tricia Welsh spends a day in the New Zealand city that’s more English than England.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s oldest city and is more English than many villages in England. Established in 1850 by European pilgrims who docked in nearby Lyttleton harbour, the city is on the poplar-lined banks of the Avon River where punting is one of the ‘must-do’ attractions for visitors.
Perched on the middle of the east coast of the South Island, the city of some 400,000 is protected from harsh elements sweeping from the Pacific Ocean by the Banks Peninsula to the east and by the snow-capped southern alps to the west. Hence it enjoys a more moderate climate than many parts of the country – enabling locals and visitors to pursue a raft of outdoor activities as well as cultural and culinary concerns when it’s time to snuggle up and hunker down – making it one of New Zealand’s most liveable cities.
Kickstart the day with excellent coffee and a hearty breakfast at the very Italian Caffé Roma overlooking the Avon, watching hypnotically as punts go by. Tuck into home-baked bagels, corn fritters with bacon, avocado and eggs, bruschetta topped with bacon and portobello mushrooms or divine Manuka-roasted salmon served on hash browns and topped with lemon hollandaise.
Caffe Roma, 176 Oxford Tce, open daily 7am-4pm, www.caffe-roma.co.nz.
Take a punt along the willow-trailed river by the banks of the Botanic Gardens – with oarsman in jacket and boater. Then head for Cathedral Square and the centre of town, a few blocks away - crowned by the imposing Christ Church Cathedral. For a bird’s-eye view over the city, climb half-way up the Gothic cathedral’s 63-m spire (NZ$5 per adult, a camera will cost a few dollars more) or take a free guided tour inside and admire the beautiful rose window and the wooden-ribbed ceiling. There’s a plethora of street vendors here selling everything from paua-shell souvenirs to greenstone Maori tikis. Foodies can discover local treats on a four-hour Gourmet Bike Tour. Meet a local cheesemonger, coffee roaster, visit a fudge factory and sample addictive maracoons, Anzac biscuits and pavlova. Tour includes a three-course lunch in the Botanic Gardens.
Punting on the Avon, Antigua Boatsheds, 2 Cambridge Tce, $NZ20 adult, NZ$10 child, children under 5 free for 30-minute trip, 9am-6pm summer, 10am-4pm winter, www.punting.co.nz; Gourmet Bike Tour, starts 9am Cathedral Square, NZ$150, www.chchbiketours.co.nz.
Jump on a Christchurch Tramway and do a 2.5km inner-city loop to orientate yourself. The route passes by several local attractions and shopping precincts and through impressive glass atrium at Cathedral Junction. Tickets are valid for 48 hours and are puchased on board. Wander across the river from Cathedral Square to indulge in a little culture at the Arts Centre where you can buy quality handcrafts in the fabulous metal and glass-fronted Christchurch Art Galley. Visit the Canterbury Museum with its rich collection of Maori cultural pieces and artifacts.
Christchurch Tramway, $NZ15 adult, NZ$5 child, 9am-9pm summer, 9am-6pm winter, www.tram.co.nz; Christchurch Art galley, cnr Worcester & Montreal Sts, admission free, 10am-5pm Thu-Tue, till 9m Wed. www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz ; Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Ave, NZ$2 donation, 9am-5pm winter, till 5.30pm Summer, www.canterburymuseum.com.
If it’s just a sandwich on the go, head for the New York Deli for the best fillings between bread in town. Try The Manhattan (NZ$8.90) - a tall stack of thinly-sliced pastrami served with home-made tomato sauce and mayo or perhaps the Obama BLT (NZ$9.90) with heaps of streaky bacon, lettuce and tomato with mustard and extra mayo. Or if you’re up to something a little more interesting, but still light, pull up a chair at Nobanno for Bengali food with a Bangladeshi twist. Fresh herbs and aromatic spices are added to traditional dishes such as badam lamb, chicken, beef or vegetables in a creamy cashew nut sauce, goat curry or lean New Zealand lamb zhol in a spiced vegetable gravy. There’s plenty of chilli for those who like it hot.
Being just six-hours flying time from Antarctica, Christchurch is also one of the major departure ports for Antarctic expeditions. To get an idea of this extraordinary remote icy continentent, take a free shuttle ride on the Penguin Express that departs hourly from Cathedral Square for the International Antarctic Centre, adjacent to the airport. Enjoy the indoor Snow and Ice experience then take a 15-minute Hagglund Ride in an all-terrain vehicle over an outdoor adventure course.
International Arntarctic Centre, 38 Orchard Rd, 9am-7pm in summer, 9am-5.30pm in winter, $NZ55 adult, $NZ36 child, under 5 free, unlimited Hagglund Rides NZ$20, www.iceberg.co.nz or www.zoomin.co.nz.
Back in town, take advantage of the easy walking streets and quality shops that abound. New Zealand is noted for its quality local fashion labels that are innovative, well made and well priced. Look for class labels and antique stores around Victoria Street. Check out the hip galleries and funky boutiques around High Street and the entertainment and retail outlets in Poplar and Ash Lanes. In need of a caffeine fix? Seek out Mitchelli’s hidden away in little Ash Lane off Poplar Lane or C1Espresso on High Street. Once the city’s main warehouse and factory area, this exciting new precinct is now known as Lichfield Lanes. Wander along Colombo Street to appreciate its historic streetscape and interesting façades.
Mitchelli’s, Ash Lane, closed Sun-Mon; C1 Espresso, 150 High St.
For a cleansing ale, try the local brews at The Twisted Hop, a micro-brewery that makes a range of beers such as English-style Golding Bitter and a dark malty Twisted Ankle as well as having other NZ brews on tap and a huge list of international beers. Alternatively, sip on a crisp New Zealand sauv blanc at Alchemy located in the Christchurch Art Gallery, sink into a leather lounge and listen to live jazz at Le Plonk or enjoy your favorite cocktail at 205 Cocktail Bar and Wine Cellar.
The Twisted Hop, 6 Poplar St; Alchemy, Christchurch Art Gallery, cnr Worcester & Montreal Sts; Le Plonk, 211 Manchester St; 205 Cocktail Bar and Wine Cellar, 205 Manchester St.
For dinner, The Bicycle Thief named after the 1948 Italian film Ladri di Biciclette which translates as ‘Bicycle Thieves’ overlooking Latimer Square is well loved among locals for its gourmet pizzas – think slow-roasted lamb, rocket pesto, aubergine, rosemary and feta or hot smoked salmon, red onions, capers, lemon juice, almonds and basil. They do plenty of other yummy dishes as well – perhaps butterflied battered fresh anchovies, free-range Murellen pork or crisp-skinned fish of the day - plus the service is wonderful. For something a little spicy, try the delicious authentic and contemporary Thai food at Keo Thai in Merivale - perhaps the pad kaprao beef with Thai holy basil and chillies, the terrific pad thai goong (noodles with prawns) or curry chicken gaang massaman.
The Bicycle Thief, 21 Latimer Sq, breakfast, lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat; Keo Thai Restaurant, 4 Papanui Road, Merivale, Mon – Sun 5pm – late, Lic and BYO.
For great nightlife and live music, head for SOL – “South of Lichfield” Square. The hip precinct is abuzz with restaurants, wine bars and live music venues. Look for Fat Eddie’s, The Fish & Chip Shop, The Yellow Cross and Ishimoto among others. Elsewhere the Christchurch Casino pumps around the clock. The Diamond Bar with its 3200 crystals is always a fun place to start the evening with a cocktail or finish with a nightcap.
Fat Eddie’s, 15 SOL Square, www.fateddies.co.nz; Fish & Chip Shop, 179 Tuam St, SOL Square, www.thefishnchipshop.co.nz; The Yellow Cross, SOL Square; Ishimoto, 96 Lichfield St.
This series of articles has been sponsored by Tourism New Zealand.