The illuminated EVERYTHING IS GOING TO BE ALRIGHT Martin Creed artwork spanning an exterior wall of Christchurch's main gallery is still a poignant message of hope and encouragement or sarcasm and irony to the city it overlooks. Soil liquefaction, economic challenges and indecision have rendered recovery from the February 2011 earthquake a slow and frustrating process. Accessing the city centre has, until very recently, been such a palaver that only cafes, bars and restaurants well worth the trip have thrived and survived. Locals would like you to join them in these much-loved spaces – it helps them feel normal again.
Peter Majendie's 185 empty white chairs installation on the corner of Cashel and Madras streets and the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial on the Otakaro/Avon riverbank near Montreal Street Bridge.
Twenty Seven Steps on New Regent Street serves fish of the day and char-grilled Canterbury beef and harissa roasted aubergine and seasonally inspired desserts (twentysevensteps.co.nz). For something more casual collect your fries and sliders from repurposed pneumatic bank tubes at C1 Espresso – established 1996, destroyed 2011, re-opened 2012 in a different building as the first permanent cafe in the red zone (c1espresso.co.nz). At South American style bar and cafe Casa Publica they make the guacamole at your table (casapublica.co.nz). Family-owned-and-operated motorcycle-friendly community-minded live-music-providing Smash Palace has their bar in a bus and the self-proclaimed best burgers in New Zealand (thesmashpalace.co.nz).
See a show at the rescued and restored Edwardian style Isaac Theatre Royal just around the corner from New Regent Street (isaactheatreroyal.co.nz). Invitations for opening night – an emotional evening – were extended to the project's construction workers who were reportedly mesmerised by the performance of Russian ballet company Kostroma.
Get to know the evolving street art and best cafes on a cycle tour with Vintage Peddler Bike Co (vintagepeddler.co.nz). Shake it to your own music for 30 minutes on the Dance-O-Mat or play the latest giant-screened Super Street Arcade game or interact with whatever pop-up installation you happen to stumble across (gapfiller.org.nz). Buy local products at the Re:Start container mall before it's dismantled (containermall.kiwi). Take a punt on the Otakaro/Avon River as a break from road blocks and vacant lots (welcomeaboard.co.nz). View little blue penguins and stand in a polar storm at the International Antarctic Centre on the city's outskirts (iceberg.co.nz).
Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square is centrally located with views of the Southern Alps from executive rooms (accorhotels.com). Beside Hagley Park and just a few blocks from the city centre is the great-aunt of Christchurch boutique hotels: The George. Despite her impossibly outdated facade, the lobby is tastefully retro, the parquet floors have been re-laid and the service remains you're-one-of-the-family friendly (thegeorge.com).
Skip ChristChurch Cathedral and its wretched demolition and restoration delays – and head to Latimer Square for the transitional Cardboard Cathedral, designed and donated by architect Shigeru Ban.
Elspeth Callender travelled as a guest of Scenic (scenic.com.au) and Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism (christchurchnz.com).