Christchurch, New Zealand
Those willing to make the long journey to New Zealand will be handsomely rewarded. From the legendary landscapes to its famous wines, and even more famous hospitality, this island in the middle of the South Pacific offers something for everyone. Even though Christchurch is the oldest established city in New Zealand, there’s a newness to this city, and a momentum unlike any other. Here’s why Christchurch, New Zealand is a place to love.
PLACES AND STORIES TO LOVE
Filling the gaps, one art installation at a time
After suffering two catastrophic earthquakes, one in 2010 and another in 2011, Christchurch is a phoenix rising up from the ashes. Eight years later, the effects are still evident, with city blocks sitting empty where buildings once stood. Kiwis are a resilient bunch, and the Gap Filler Project perfectly demonstrates how they’ve turned lemons into lemonade. American ex-pat Ryan Reynolds helped found the Gap Filler Project, an initiative turning empty city spaces into art installations.
One of the local favorites? The Dance-O-Mat. In the place of a former city building, you’ll now find a dance floor, with speaker system and a hook-up for your smart phone. Simply pump $2 into a washing machine-turned-sound system and you can play dance music for 30 minutes. This installation is in use about 8 hours every day, transforming an unused space into a thriving community centers. Think of it as empty space that’s been refilled with the human spirit.
IF YOU GO
Check out one of the latest Gap Filler Projects, Open City. This is a celebration of sweet, free things to do in Christchurch, whether it’s discovering a great climbing tree in the Gardens, enjoying a quirky piece of street art or relaxing in a great spot for a picnic.
For more information, visit gapfiller.org.nz.
A charming café that’s full of surprises
Every city ought to have an iconic café, and in Christchurch, that honor belongs to C1 Espresso. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week, this restaurant is known for more than just good food. Established in 1996, its original location was destroyed in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
They reopened in 2012, and made an effort to infuse fun into every aspect of the restaurant as a way to delight customers. For example, sliders, beers and fries are delivered to your table through pneumatic tubes; they’ve retrofitted an old Singer sewing machine to dispense water; and the bathroom is hidden behind a bookshelf. Owner Sam Crofsky wanted to reinvent the mundane. He’s certainly succeeded!
IF YOU GO
Why not order their famous burger and a beer? Your choice of burger arrives via pneumonic tube, with a can of garage project BEER. Will the beer arrive shaken up? Probably, but that’s just the risk you take when you’re eating a place as fun as C1.
Corner High & Tuam Streets
Christchurch, New Zealand
Food that’s rooted in tradition
Traditional food from the indigenous Māori people was hard to find in New Zealand for years. That is, until expert gardener Jade Temepara, who is of Māori descent, opened Kākano in Christchurch. A café, cooking school and garden, Jade wants to reintroduce New Zealanders to the traditional vegetables, greens, and herbs the Māori people once relied on. She has even gone as far to seed save and grow heirloom ingredients that date back generations, including her grandfather’s sweet potatoes. Since filming Places to Love: Christchurch, Jade has changed her business model and closed the café. Instead she is now operating a food truck and catering.
DID YOU KNOW?
Māori arrived in New Zealand, then known as The Land of the Long White Cloud, around AD950 in canoes. They mostly settled in the Northern parts of New Zealand because it tends to be warmer.
A bed and breakfast, where the break-fast is literal
The beautiful drive is just one of the things that drew me to the seaside village of Akaroa. This just so happens to be New Zealand’s first and only French settlement, and from bistros to flying the French flag, the influence is still holding strong. Additionally, Akaroa is also known a hub of unique marine life, mountain hikes, and a bed and breakfast where no set of China is safe.
Set on a hilltop overlooking Akaroa Harbour, artist Josie Martin’s creative vision almost outshines its natural surroundings. The Giants House dates back to the 1880s, and when Josie bought it, the grand home had fallen into disrepair. When Josie unearthed China buried in the front yard, she decided to break the plates and use them to create a mosaic on her doorstep. Since then, she’s continued to build sculptures and mosaics, as well as terraced gardens. You can’t help but feel inspired in this whimsical place—which is precisely Josie’s intention.
An accidental journey in conservation
There’s no such thing as a boring road trip in New Zealand, especially on the rural and picturesque South Island. Every point A to point B provides a show of astonishing natural beauty, and you really need to build in an extra hour or two just for all the stops along the way. The natural beauty is unparalleled, and you will be amazed at just how rural much of this island is. This is precisely why Francis and Shireen Helps decided to call this place home over 50 years ago.
The Helps moved to the area to raise sheep, but they learned there were some other animals who called this place home. Their land is home to a wild colony of “little penguins”. And it’s a fitting title—they are the smallest penguins on earth. These birds had been in decline for 40 years, until the Helps began a conservation effort to protect the nocturnal birds from predators. The colony has grown from 350 to over 1300 birds. If you want to see the penguins up close and personal, the Helps lead penguin tours on their property every night.
Living off the land, New Zealand-style
Foraging is all the rage in the world’s high end restaurants. But for Angela Clifford, foraging the best of New Zealand’s wild bounty feels a little more down to earth. We visited the Food Farm, Angela’s family farm in North Canterbury, about 50 miles north of Christchurch. She loves to invite visitors to partake in gathering wild foods, then cooking a meal together.
One of the coolest ingredients we encountered was elderflower. I know this is one that pops up on a lot of cocktail menus, but in this case, we tried it with soft, fresh ricotta and strawberries. What makes this part of the world so special is its climate and soil—just about everything can grow here, even bananas and fruits known for more tropical areas.
One of a kind wines in a jaw-dropping setting
It doesn’t take long to realize New Zealanders prefer taking the natural route. This is especially evident in their agricultural industry. My favorite thing grown in New Zealand? Wine grapes! The Waipara Valley in North Canterbury is known for growing chardonnay, pinot noir and Rieslings. I loved sampling wines at Black Estate, known for their organic and biodynamic wines (that basically means they don’t spray their grapes, and use things like compost in their growing methods).
There are a few other amazing vineyards in the area, including Pegasus Bay and Greystone Winery. Why not work your way through a few, making sure to snack as you go? I loved the food at Black Estate’s Cellar Door restaurant. Great cheeses, olives, cured meats, as well as hearty dishes like barbecued lamb and steak.
IF YOU GO
New Zealand is young, as far as wine growing regions go. It wasn’t until the 1970s they started to experiment with traditional European vines. New Zealand is famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. It’s bright and brash, and tastes like no other wine on earth.
Black Estate Cellar Door & Restaurant
614 Omihi Road
+64 3 314 6085
A library that embraces the old and new
This may sound a little strange, but I love visiting a local library when I travel. Christchurch’s Turanga Central Library is one of the most impressive I’ve seen. Unlike the libraries of my youth, with buttoned up librarians shushing visitors, this library encourages people to play, relax, learn and explore. And not just through books, but via interactive and digital equipment, including a $1.2 million touchscreen wall, virtual reality, 3D programs and even access to 3D printing.
Chris Hay, manager of the library, explained this library was designed to be a destination for the people of Christchurch, as well as visitors. It’s definitely meeting that expectation. When the doors opened in 2018, 12,700 people poured through the front doors in the first two-and-a-half days.
Like this post? Save it on Pinterest!
GOOD TO KNOW
Just because you’re not a local doesn’t mean there’s not plenty for you to do. Enjoy a coffee in the café, relax in one of the many reading nooks, check out an event or seminar.
60 Cathedral Square
Christchurch 8011, New Zealand