Glimpses of well-manicured, intensely green gardens and well-kept homes are visible through the fanning russet hues of the tree-lined streets of a Christchurch autumn.
From the airport to the city centre is a smooth 20 minute drive along slick, newly rain-hosed road. And between the trees the streetscape is flecked with all the signs of a thriving globalised Australasian pacific city.
Strips of high-end homewares stores with nordic-lamp-lit windows are full-stopped by street corners jammed with cafes serving all things fair-trade, raw and juiced. Locals are out and about in the full mid-morning parade of baby strollers, activewear, hip slimline suits and mobility scooters.
So far it doesn’t look like a city devastated by the horror of a series of major earthquakes.
It’s not until after we check in to our accommodation and head into the CBD to explore the city on foot that the signs of the quake strike at your heart.
In February 2011, the city was struck by a magnitude 6.3 quake, followed by a series of lesser “aftershock” quakes – the most recent of which was in 2016. From the crumbled walls of the gorgeous Christchurch Cathedral to entire vacant grey blocks; the holes in the city are a reminder that as the world moves on, the slow churn of pushback from insurance companies has taken its toll on the heart of the city and it’s people.
But it is still, a beautiful, incredible city. And out of the gaps, a new, colourful layers have emerged. You can’t help but be uplifted by the creativity that’s manifested in the revival. And furthermore, the new features are just darn cool.
Four must-dos :
1.Re: START Market
Otherwise known as the shipping container city, and formerly the Cathedral Square, the Re:START market was built from scratch by ingeniously dropping the floors out of the containers, fitting them together in a Meccano-like fashion and painting them in ice-cream bright hues. Literally born from the ruins of the earthquake, the market was built in the central city area that was cordoned-off from public access, with many of the businesses originally located in the area now reborn in their new corrugated (kind of cosy-like) homes.
There’s everything from a Lululemon and Apple Store to local crafts and bookstores. But go one better and feast your eyes on some local designs like Beau Coop for Karen Walker at handcrafted footwear store Head over Heels. Or get into the warrior-like New Zealand spirit and find some rugby gear to style up with loose ripped boyfriend jeans and bling sneakers at Champions of the World.
The best bit is the caravans and containers serving fresh lunch options – the spice and fragrance of which only serving to add to the feeling of a city centre which is very much alive. And delicious. My picks? A smoothie from from Pure Pulp and a warm chicken salad from Herba Gourmet.
I would call this is an uber park. Its swathe scoops one side of the city, gathering in the River Avon and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. It’s everything you dreamed a park should be when you were a kid – evidenced by the kids aged between 6 and 75 model boat racing and mums and dads using their children as a great excuse to blow bubbles and try their weary working limbs at oversized play equipment. Some make themselves even more at home – throwing a hammock between the trees to soak in the last of the late-day sun as coloured bubbles sweep sleepily past and the winner of the last boat races of the day cheer in delight.
3.Punting on the Avon
Because if you’ve always wanted to cruise down a lightly lapping duck-dotted river rowed by a man in a striped shirt and panama, this river equals its British counterpart in pretty-factor and romance – if not in size.
Walk no further than 27 steps for dinner. Seasonal, local wherever possible. Although European inspired, the flavours are fresh and earthy – having come from some of the cleanest air and water on the planet. Special mention goes to the warm house made herb bread – don’t even bother resisting.
For great breakfast, try Park Ranger. As a branding addict, I can’t go past their clean take on 60s style. As a breakfast addict, their healthy muffins and fairtrade coffee are a perfect match for crisp mornings when you need brekky on the fly on your way to the reason you go to New Zealand. The wilderness.
More on that, coming up.
In the meantime, I urge you not to listen to chatter purporting this city to be hole-ridden, recovering and a stop-over only.
It’s a gleaming exemplar of what can be done when the world comes together for you, then forgets you for a bit while you try to dust off and reshape yourself into something new, resulting in learning you have to lean on each other to polish what you have, re-imagine what you could be and urge people to take a look at you again.
Have you been to Christchurch? I’d love to hear about your fave spot in NZ, comment below.
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