It is quite sad that many people only think of Christchurch as the earthquake city, and are somewhat reluctant to visit because of news that it’s still recovering from the events which forever changed it, coupled with the fear of experiencing a strong quake while there.
It’s a pity, because, not only is Christchurch now the safest tremor city in New Zealand (all structurally unsound buildings have been demolished or sealed off, and new buildings have to adhere to strict guidelines), but it’s also very much ready to welcome visitors and is full of fun, quirky, adrenaline-pumping and memorable things to do. Christchurch’s economy needs tourists to go back to this great little corner of New Zealand, and those who do are in for a treat. Read on to see why you should definitely go and visit, as well as for some ideas (amongst many others) on what to see and do.
Explore a Pop Up city
Following the tragedy of the earthquake which hit the city hard and destroyed or damaged many of its buildings beyond repair, Christchurch has transformed itself into a ‘pop up city’ where clever temporary structures keep emerging to fill the gaps left by demolished buildings, and much loved restaurants, cafes and bars re-open in safe locations.
The result is a fresh, vibrant and modern city full of surprises, which, despite lacking many traditional buildings which sadly did not survive the quake, is constantly finding ways to re-invent itself as a tourist destination, and has managed to create something quite unique.
Here are some of the pop ups which you can visit during your trip to Christchurch:
- Re-start Centre: A series of 27 retailers (and counting) housed in colourful containers and surrounded by clever landscaping. This shopping area feels fresh and welcoming with its bright outdoor furniture and splashes of colour everywhere, and is full of unique stores and inviting cafes. It is also often a space used for live music and street performers, such as the epic ‘Mulletman’, featured below. He even has his own facebook page.
-Smash Palace – a Bar in a bus.
-Cargo Bar – a Bar housed in a container.
-The Gap Filler project – With so many buildings being demolished after the earthquake, the city has been left with lots of empty gaps to fill. While the city works on a plan to rebuild and re-design its spaces, the gap filler project is helping fill Christchurch with temporary, fun and creative structures. Some gap filler projects which you’ll currently come across include the Summer pavillion, made of pallets painted blue, Concrete Propositions, a funky abstract artwork covering a very big wall, and, my favourite, the dance-o-mat, an outdoor dance floor with four club-worthy speakers which you can have all to yourself for 2 dollars per 30 minutes and is just perfect for flash mobs. For more gap filler projects, visit its website here.
-Restaurants like the Flying Burrito Brothers and The Pedal Pusher. Pedal Pushers is a new restraurant that is one of many ‘popping up’ in the suburbds, and the Flying Burrito Brothers has relocated from its city site, along with many others.
If you’re planning a trip to Christchurch, be sure to visit popupcity.co.nz for many more quirky places to explore, drink and dine at.
See Christchurch from above
It is easy to see why Christchurch is known as the garden city once your hovering up high in a helicopter, looking down at leafy Hagley park and all the green dotting its pretty suburbs. This is also the best vantage point from where to notice that small remaining expanse of grey, also known as the red zone, which is still closed off to the public until all unsafe buildings are demolished. But then there is also the Re:Start mall whose colours sing proudly even from so far up, and the rolling green hills, and the white beaches, and the bright blue waters of its bays, all stretching beneath you, so that that stretch of grey is all but a small piece of a landscape full of beauty.
Garden city helicopters do a variety of scenic heliflights over Christchurch and around.
Get that adrenaline pumping
I am very happy about the fact that I didn’t actually have any idea what jet boating was until I was on board surrounded by fellow life-jacket clad adventurers, as otherwise the very dominant sensible streak in my personality would have never agreed to do it. And I am happy because, as that boat whizzed at super speed on beautifully creamy blue river water, and the driver expertly executed heart-stopping last minute turns just when we thought we’d be crashing right into the rock face, I was having the most amazing time.
Couple the rush of adrenaline and the cool water occasionally splashing into my face and mountain views which brought memories of Switzerland, and this was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had during my travels.
Thrillseakers is located in Hanmer Springs and offers combo packs which can include jet boating, bungee jumping, rafting and quad biking in a stunning location.
The Antarctic Centre
If you’re thinking that the Antarctic Centre in Christchurch is filled with explorer mannequins and boring black and white photos, think again. When you visit, go for the full experience and get yourself the Xtreme pass, and prepare yourself for a heck of a great time.
You’ll take a ride on a Hagglund, the very same vehicle used for Antarctic expeditions, and take a spin on a dirt track with steep hills and water onto and through which your driver will expertly manoeuvre the vehicle-cum-floating lump of metal, causing several hair-raising moments, then watch tiny cute fairy penguins being fed while you listen to stories of how they were rescued from situations from which they would otherwise not have survived. Move on to the 4D extreme theatre experience meant to simulate your very own trip to Antarctica (I won’t spoil the surprises there), going back to watch the penguins have a nap. After you’ve had your fill of looking at small fluffy creatures, put on an Antarctica-worthy jacket and walk into a -8 degree-room complete with fake snow, a slide and an igloo and brace yourself for a simulated storm with a windchill of -17. Finally, warm yourself back up as you watch ‘Beyond the Frozen Sunset’, a music-only documentary shown on a massive screen which captures the hypnotic beauty of Antarctica.
Enjoy great wine in memorable locations
Christchurch is surrounded by many little pictureque villages with lots of wineries to explore. Even if, like myself, you enjoy the occasional glass of wine but don’t go mad over the stuff, you’ll still fall in love with gems like the Pegasus Bay winery, with its clever decor (including empty bottles of wine on window sills which filter and colour soft sunlight) and fairy-tale worthy gardens, complete with a little red bridge over a stream. And if you don’t visit for the wine, you should definitely visit for the food and surroundings.
Soak in mineral pools
I was far too busy soothing the aches and pains of a happy traveller in the divinely hot waters of one of Hanmer Springs Sulphur pools to bother taking pictures of this place, but who needs them anyway? All you need to do is close your eyes and picture yourself soaking in thermal water, all with the added bonus of a view of rolling green hills. Oh, there are slides and a spa too.
It is really heart-warming to see tourists starting to return to Christchurch, but, strangely enough, Australians are still not visiting as much as they used to. With quick and cheap flights connecting its East coast cities to Christchurch and all these amazing things to do and see, there is really no excuse not to go.
-Text and Photography by Denise Pulis @www.theartofslowtravel.com. All rights reserved.