Rekindling Christchurch

Like a forest regenerates after a fire, green tendrils climbing out of blackened trunks and scorched earth, the city of Christchurch is taking giant strides to an exciting future. After the devastation of the earthquake on February 22, 2011, the city is a hive of activity with the flock of cranes dotting the skyline signifying construction on a grand scale. Empty blocks, like missing teeth between still-standing buildings, have artworks, installations, mini golf holes, gardens and other ‘gap filler’ projects distracting from their emptiness.

Historic facades are held up with shipping containers or metal rods until new buildings can be constructed behind them or repairs made. The 106-year-old Isaac Theatre Royal is a great example of this. The Theatre, the only Edwardian theatre in New Zealand, was hidden by containers for years but opened in November 2014 after a NZ$40million rebuild. It has given the city back its artistic heart.

Who knew just how handy shipping containers could be? After the earthquake, the city needed shops so up popped Re:START, a shopping centre made of shipping containers artfully decorated by the retailers. In a clever idea, the centre is designed to move as more buildings are constructed, keeping it on the city fringe but not in the way. If you have time, visit Quake City in Re:START to see just what the city experienced in the two quakes in 2010 and 2011.

In with the new
The locals are starting to be excited for the future, with an influx of workers from all around the world bringing new cuisines and also new ideas for just what could be. The city is also pumped to be hosting the opening match of the Cricket World Cup, which will take place on 14 February, 2015 between New Zealand and Sri Lanka. A new shopping centre, The Tannery, has opened in an old 1950s tannery, with beautiful buildings housing boutique retail shops, restaurants and bars. One building is modeled on Sydney’s Strand Arcade with an impressive light-filled atrium, while another is brick fronted and hosts a range of businesses. Gustav’s is well worth a visit – a beautifully fitted out restaurant and bar with warm timbers, and an evening menu cooked on an Aga that has prime position in one of the two spaces. She Universe is the place for chocoholics, Beauty at the Tannery is an impressive spa and the Recycle Boutique ensures your unwanted clothes do not go to waste.

C One Espresso is a prime example of recycling and also of innovation. The original café was destroyed so owner Sam Crofskey set up a new and improved version in the old post office across the street. Tables are made with wood from the old building and the lights – beautiful old glass spheres – are from the Great Hall in the Arts Centre. Old machinery is put to good use in quirky ways, and there is a collection of old teapots and other paraphernalia that was saved, and on sale. Orders are taken with pen and paper, but the delivery method can be anything but old school, with a system of clear pneumatic tubes delivering delicious sliders or chips to your table. Add to that the bookcase, groaning with classic novels, that is actually a sliding door, the vineyard and bee hive on the roof, the veggie garden out the front,  the home made nectar, and the exceptional coffee, and you  have a winner. Sam is opening an eight-room hotel upstairs in 2015 – the mind boggles what he will do with that.

Old favourites going strong
Christchurch is a very green city, with an enormous amount of green space through the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park. A great way to get out amongst it is to go punting on the Avon River. Tours start at the historic Antigua Boat Sheds, which would not look out of place in Cambridge, with an Edwardian-fashion clad punter cheerily welcoming us on board the flat-bottomed boat. We sit in comfy cushions and glide up the Avon with the Botanic Gardens on the right and Hagley Park on the left. It is ridiculously relaxing, and we are accompanied in parts by a variety of ducks, swimming nonchalantly alongside.

Home in the High Country

Less than an hour from Christchurch, tucked into the foothills of Mt Hutt and bordered by the Rakaia River, sits Terrace Downs, a magnificent resort that is holiday perfection for people of all ages.

The Resort is known for its spectacular par-72, 18-hole championship golf course designed by Sid Pudicombe, with lush, perfectly manicured greens complemented by the backdrop of the mountains. The view can be a distraction, particularly on the 16th hole which hugs the corner of Rakaia Gorge, and the 10th, which overlooks the terraces that the Resort is named for. The course is something special, with nine lakes to look at, over 60 bunkers to avoid and the beauty of the Canterbury High Country evident all around you.

Terrace Downs is not just about golf, with a rich assortment of activities and tours within the Resort and nearby. Hire a mountain bike and explore the foothills of the Southern Alps in the fresh air. If you’re a Lord of the Rings fan sign up for a 4WD tour of Middle Earth and see a little of Narnia as well – sans wardrobe of course. Take aim and try your hand at clay target shooting or archery in the forest. Go fishing, jet boating, horseback riding, sky diving, hiking … or just relax and rejuvenate with a treatment at the Resort’s day spa.

After all that exercise, sightseeing or just relaxing in the Canterbury sunshine, you can thoroughly wind down with a choice of one-, two- or three-bedroom Villa Suites or four-to seven-bed chalets. Take your family, friends or work colleagues and make the most of this phenomenal location. As for dining, serenade your taste buds with breakfast, lunch or a light dinner at The Café or for a fine dining experience at Hunter’s Restaurant, with its open fire, leather sofas and warm tones.

Whether you are seeking a hole in one, some rejuvenation for the soul, a gourmet weekend of fine food and wine tasting, or an action packed adventure, Terrace Downs ticks all the boxes – all just under an hour away from Christchurch.

For something not quite as relaxing but equally as enjoyable, we don helmets and high visibility vests for a two-hour Rebuild City tour with Christchurch Bike Tours. Our guide leads us around the city centre, showing some of the earthquake damage and pointing out new buildings and other points of interest. We stop at Cathedral Square, which is full of life with a tai chi group on one side of us and a festival celebrating Korean culture on the other. We can’t help but just stare at the Cathedral – last time I was here the spire was standing tall and proud, and the stunning bluestone cathedral was the focal point of the city. Now it is partly in ruins, the steeple lying broken on the ground and fatal gashes in its sides. The people of the city are debating whether the Cathedral should be restored or rebuilt – an emotional debate that has no easy fix.

We cycle on, waving at the tourists on the restored Christchurch Tram which is back trundling around its loop, much to the delight of locals and visitors alike, with another loop set to open mid-February. We stop along Armagh Street to admire one of the artworks that lift spirits around the city, The Ballerina, painted by Bay of Plenty artist Owen Dippie. It is spectacular with the most striking blues making it quite mesmerising. We carefully make our way up New Regent Street, past the Rekindle shop which sells furniture and pieces made of timber and materials damaged in the quake, and sit a moment on the large grass lounges outside another empty block in Gloucester Street. On this one there is a dance’o’mat which plays dance music when you step onto it and a beautiful art installation called Treehouses for Swamp Dwellers, by local artist Julia Morrison. We also stop in the Re;START Mall, looking in the windows of Scorpio Books, Ballantynes and wish the queue was smaller at A Mouse Called Bean café.

We pedal back along the river bank, alight a little tenderly from our trusty bikes and tuck into a very well deserved lunch at the Curator’s House Restaurant in the Botanic Gardens, walking it off through the Gardens afterwards. The Gardens are sublime, but the best part is seeing how many people are enjoying them, throwing a frisbee, having a picnic, going for a stroll, admiring the flowers or going for a kayak up the river.

With so many inspirational art works in the city, we try our hand at painting at a new business called Paint’n’Sip, where you – you guessed it – you paint and sip. Our artist Ariana showed us the painting we were copying, and then took us through how to paint it, step by step. The wine definitely helped, particularly the second glass, and conversation definitely waned as we all concentrated on not being the worst. Let’s just say there probably wasn’t a winner, but we all were secretly surprised at how good they looked. Or was that the wine?

Wine and dine
Christchurch is abuzz with new restaurants and funky bars, ensuring a very lively nightlife. We checked out a few along Victoria Street, including Chinwag, which had delicious share plates, a dessert with sauces delivered via syringe and vibrant hybiscus lights, Mexicanos with terrific tacos and  stick on moustaches, The Dirty Land had impressive cocktails, and King of Snake was certainly all aslither when we arrived. Another new dining venue was Strange’s Lane, which has five bars and cafes inside including Orleans. It did have a southern vibe, with po boys, ribs and chicken waffles devoured to a great song list of New Orleans classics. The stained glass windows and pressed tin in the venue all came from a house that was destroyed, with the owner of the house giving the new location the thumbs up when she visited. The Brick Pit and White House Black are also new and gaining rave reviews.

Harbour lights
Christchurch is the gateway to many other delights, including the French-settled town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. The quaint timber cottages sit on the foreshores and up the hillside, all overlooking the turquoise blue of the harbour. One of the main attractions here is a small, rare dolphin, the Hector’s Dolphin, which only lives in this part of New Zealand. We choose to do an Akaroa Harbour Nature Cruise with Black Cat Cruises and head out across the harbour. We spot two Hector’s Dolphins – their fins do resemble a Mickey Mouse ear – and also see New Zealand fur seals, a salmon farm, plenty of fat black sheep, sea caves and five-week old spotted shags, that were being dive bombed by a seagull.

Back on dry land we explored the unusual garden at the Giant’s House, which is visually striking. Josie Martin has created an exquisite garden, its paths surrounded by mosaic sculptures and pieces of art. A highlight is the mosaic-clad grand piano piece, its raised lid revealing a piano full of cacti. The grand house will reopen soon after having some quake damage repaired, and will house a gallery. Take your camera – it is a riot of colour.

Back in Christchurch, we stop off at the Transitional ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral on our way to the airport. This Cathedral was designed by Shigeru Ban, who likes to work on emergency projects pro bono and won the 2014 Pritzker Architecture Prize. Ban designed a building that makes use of varied construction materials from cardboard tubes to timber beams, structural steel and concrete. The cardboard tubes are massive – there are 90 tubes up to 20 metres long and weighing 120-kilograms. Smaller tubes are used for the choir stalls, and the altar. Walk up to the altar and look back to the incredible triangular glass window. It is quite something.

The building has become much more than a temporary church. It symbolises progress to the locals, attracts visitors and combines two things that Christchurch has in copious quantities … resilience and creativity. Christchurch is standing tall. •

Photography courtesy Helen Hayes


Getting There
Air New Zealand flies to Christchurch from Sydney and Melbourne.

Where to Stay
Christchurch – The Hotel Montreal is a new property in the heart of Christchurch with glamorous interiors and a good vibe. The rooms are enormous, the bed divine and the TV huge. +64-3/943-8547;

Akaroa – Akaroa Village Inn is across the road from the  main jetty and the rooms are clean, comfortable and well fitted out. Ask for one on the waterfront for beautiful views. +64-3/304 1111;

What to Do

Where to Eat


Further Information

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