Christchurch in a Day
Christchurch has an international reputation for being a vibrant, fun community with a lot of English flair. It has also traditionally served as the gateway to many other tourist destinations on the South Island including the gorgeous West Coast. The earthquakes which took place in this city did a lot more than rattle buildings, it rattled the people who love to visit and those who call it home. In spite of the tragedy, there’s still plenty to do in this amazing city. Here are my suggestions for experiencing Christchurch in a day.
Much more than just a science museum, this is a fun, interactive way to learn more about the Antarctic and man’s exploration of the chilly continent than you ever thought possible. I can honestly say it’s fun for families, couples or even solo travelers. I was there by myself but people from all backgrounds were there with me having a great time. The exhibits themselves take the visitor through the history of the Antarctic missions, why the work is important and what it’s like to actually live there. Kids will love the blizzard room and make sure you are there in time for the daily penguin feeding. For additional fees guests can enjoy a 4D movie experience about Antarctica or participate in a unique, behind the scenes tour of the penguin rescue facility. This fun tour led by a penguin keeper is a must for any animal lover and includes special access to these cute little birds. Finish up your day at the Centre with a ride in the rough and tumble Hagglund vehicle, a specially designed Antarctic rover that can withstand just about any terrain.
The Centre is located adjacent to the Christchurch airport and is open 365 days of the year.
I told you that they channeled their inner Brit in Christchurch, which perhaps best seen in this fun way to see more of the city. My one and only punting adventure, for that’s really the best way to describe my feeble attempt, was in Cambridge, England. I was alone, it was raining and it was a total disaster. That’s why I need a place where I can punt, but not do any work. The lazy Avon meanders through Christchurch and punting is an iconic activity here – necessary for any visitor to try at least once. Unlike my tumultuous experience in Cambridge, here you can sit back, relax and allow the punter (punt driver?) take you down river gondola style as you soak in the bucolic surroundings.
Exemplifying the Kiwi flair for understatement, Adrenalin Forest is a fun way to live on the edge and conquer your fear of heights. The Forest is actually a multi-level aerial obstacle course and they feature courses appropriate for most ages and experience levels. Essentially a ropes course on steroids, you can choose from a low key path or a heart-pumping, physically challenging course. The choice is yours, but this unusual activity is a great way to get outside and have fun while enjoying New Zealand’s beautiful outdoors.
I think it’s important that visitors to the city walk around the areas hardest hit by the earthquakes. Not as a form of dark or morbid tourism, but to see first hand what happened and how the city is rebuilding. Through the fences and police tape, there are people cleaning up and trying to start over. A walk around the Central Business District and nearby neighborhoods is a great way to see the heart of the city and the great people who live there.
Around town there’s no shortage of great restaurants, cafes and bars but here are a few that I particularly enjoyed.
Untouched World is a sustainable fashion and sportswear brand based on the New Zealand lifestyle. The clothes are stylish, comfortable and all focused on sustainability. In their Christchurch store they have a small café which was a great culinary find. Just like their clothing line, the Untouched World Café uses locally produced, organic foods from suppliers focused on sustainability. I’m a huge organic food skeptic and usually equate it with mediocre food, but I was definitely surprised at the Café. A breakfast and lunch establishment, they offer all-day breakfast including their famous Eggs Benedict. For lunch be sure to check out their daily specials. I had the schnitzel with homemade mac n’cheese and honestly couldn’t have been happier.
For a mid-day snack near the Central Business District, there’s no better choice than the Canterbury Cheesemongers. Pick up some fresh bread, fantastic cheese and you have an instant picnic to take to the nearby Botanic Gardens or riverside along the Avon. This is a really nice way to slow down and enjoy the afternoon.
Throughout my time in New Zealand I noticed a trend of combining Kiwi quirkiness with fine food, as perhaps best seen at Cook’n With Gas. This establishment is also located near the Central Business District in a classic villa featuring a roaring fire, hardwood floors and an intimate, bistro feel. Their focus is on both fine food and wines, helping guests find the best New Zealand vintages to go with the masterfully prepared meals. I had a massive meat sampler, for lack of a better term, that featured expertly cooked lamb, pork, sausages and of course beef. More than just offering great food, this is a fun place to spend the evening with friends and family.
Let me say from the outset that I have never been a fan of B&Bs. My perception was always of a busybody matron running a creaky old house furnished with a lot of lace and perhaps teddy bears or creepy dolls. That perception was rattled to the core by the Classic Villa; they single-handedly changed my entire world view on B&Bs. Classic Villa is located near the Central Business District and occupies the perfect location to explore the city and region. More than just location, the hotel is perfect in just about every way. The staff are friendly and helpful and as soon as I arrived they showed me around the kitchen which I was allowed to use at any time. The Diet Coke in the fridge was enough to make me a fan. The hotel has elegant hardwood floors and is exquisitely decorated, but without being fussy. If anything, their style is classic and timeless. The room itself was fabulous and I fell in love with it, and the Villa, instantly. No lace or teddy bears in site, just a modern room with comfortable finishings and an understated elegance. I could have stayed there for a week and been happy, but sadly I only had the one night.