x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

My kind of place: Christchurch, New Zealand

The quake-stricken city is slowly getting back on its feet amid a massive rejuvenation project.

The RE:Start Mall, a temporary project in Christchurch's largely destroyed city centre, comprises a cluster of brightly painted shipping containers. Alamy
The RE:Start Mall, a temporary project in Christchurch's largely destroyed city centre, comprises a cluster of brightly painted shipping containers. Alamy

Why Christchurch?

Christchurch has long been known as the Garden City for its abundance of relaxing parks and green spaces, but it has unwillingly gained the new moniker of Quakeschurch. The city's been shaken by around 9,000 quakes since it all started with a 7.1 magnitude one in September last year, followed by the smaller but more devastating quake in February that killed nearly 200 people. Despite the city centre and many other parts of the city remaining offlimits, a massive demolition and rejuvenation project is underway. A new Christchurch is rising and visitors who expect a wasteland are finding new shops, restaurants and clubs springing up between rubble-filled plots of land where heritage buildings once stood. Even the residents have learned to adopt an explorer's attitude to their own city.

A comfortable bed

Most of the central city hotels remain closed but you will find options in the city's less-affected western suburbs, such as Papanui and Riccarton. The George is a peaceful boutique hotel (www.thegeorge.com; 00 64 3379 4560) with an enviable location overlooking the 161-hectare Hagley Park so there is plenty of opportunity for a post-dinner stroll after eating in their award-winning restaurant, Pescatore. Mountain bikes are included in the room rate (NZ$400 [Dh1,142] per night for two, including taxes), an ideal way to explore this flat town.

Visitors looking for self-contained units or travelling in groups might like to try the opposite end of Hagley Park and stay in Parkview (hotelparkview.co.nz; 00 64 3348 0723), a stone's throw from Riccarton, which has emerged as the new restaurant and cafe zone. Rooms cost from $200 (Dh571) per night.

For pure indulgence, head 25 minutes south to the idyllic rural setting of Tai Tapu and book a room at the elegant and historic country estate of Otahuna Lodge (www.otahuna.co.nz; 00 64 3329 6333). Serious luxury comes at a price, though: having every whim catered for costs $1,700 (Dh4,855) per night for two.

Find your feet

Christchurch's flat geography makes exploration on foot the ideal way to seek and discover, as long as you don't mind getting turned back occasionally when you stray towards areas still deemed unsafe by the authorities. Start with a coffee while reflecting on the city's English heritage at the Antigua Boatsheds and cafe (www.boatsheds.co.nz). You might feel compelled to hire a canoe and paddle down the gentle Avon River or wrap yourself in tranquillity by walking through the nearby Hagley Park and the adjoining Botanic Gardens. While the city centre is being rebuilt, the park has also become a cultural hub so stop by the Dome, a 30m inflatable - and therefore quake-safe - structure that can hold 400 people in the temporary Events Village (www.eventsvillage.co.nz).

For the first time since the really bad quake in February, officials have recently opened a walkway into the city centre, where you can catch a glimpse of the destruction. Take a peek at Christchurch Cathedral, once the city's iconic postcard view but now a symbol of the earthquake. You'll need sturdy shoes and a photo ID for this walk.

Meet the locals

Most New Zealanders love a chat and Christchurch residents are no exception. Don't be surprised when shop assistants take an overly interested approach to your holiday or what you're intending to do with your day: it's perfectly normal.

Head to the farmers' market in the artsy port suburb of Lyttelton (www.lyttelton.net.nz/lfm) or the city's newest indoor market, (www.gardencitymarket.co.nz) in the outer suburb of Hornby for local food and handicrafts.

Book a table

With its proximity to the sea and countryside plus enviable water sources for irrigation, it's little wonder Christchurch chefs take such pride in locally sourced produce. Most of the top restaurants remain in the cordoned-off city centre so many have relocated to the suburbs and are doing a roaring trade for hungry locals. Bamboozle Oriental Fusion Kitchen & Bar (00 64 3326 7878) is the new buzz on the block. You'll find this popular restaurant in the seaside enclave of Sumner - it's so new it doesn't even have a website yet but you'll be more than satisfied with this Kiwi take on oriental flavours and dishes such as Chubby Noodles ($23; Dh66) or marinated fish of the day ($26; Dh74).

For impeccable French cuisine, track down St Germain (www.saint-germain.co.nz; 00 64 3355 3096) in the Heartland Hotel Cotswold, run by three French brothers who have made Christchurch home. Try the juicy beef fillet baked in a sea-salt crust ($36).

Rotherhams of Riccarton (rotherhamsofriccarton.co.nz; 00 64 3341 5142) provides a sense of occasion, serving European and New Zealand cuisine with an enviable seafood selection entree featuring variations of salmon, scallop, oyster, prawn and mussels ($27; Dh77).

If you're looking for brunch in rustic surroundings, go where the locals go: Under the Red Verandah (utrv.co.nz; 0064 3381 1109). Pick from a breakfast or lunch menu, including oaty pancakes with berry compote, yoghurt, banana and maple syrup ($19; Dh54) in an outdoor setting.

Shopper's paradise

It might sound like a joke but Christchurch's newest , most vibrant and upmarket shopping district is actually a collection of shipping containers. Small but perfectly formed, the RE:Start project (www.restart.org.nz) is a cluster of brightly painted and refurbished containers in a central area that was largely destroyed in February's quake. The city's landmark department store Ballantynes (www.ballantynes.com) serves as the anchor while designer clothes, technology outlets and cafes make for a lively urban atmosphere.

What to avoid

Rolleston, a satellite town 20 minutes south of Christchurch. It is flagged as "the town of the future" but even with the obliteration of much of the city centre, the future is yet to arrive and you'll be faced with a soulless giant strip mall.

Don't miss

A day trip out to the seaside suburb of Sumner. This area has really got its act together since the earthquake. Take the Number 3 bus and enjoy the coastal scenery (occasionally driving alongside shipping containers put there to protect the road from further rockfall). Buy an ice cream for the beach walk and return to browse through the quirky shops, open-air cafes and restaurants.