The city has been labelled up-and-coming for years since its devastating earthquake, but here's why now is the time for celebration
My Kind of Place: Christchurch, New Zealand
Christchurch has long been lauded as the 'city of the future', a place so modern and cutting-edge, no earthquake could ever again shake its foundations. At first this mantra seemed as much a coping mechanism for disaster-weary residents, for whom the word 'resilient' was beginning to wear thin, as it was for the international tourism industry to answer its call.
But when the bricks and mortar stayed on the ground, debates over building demolitions and rebuilds raged on, and the city's recovery stalled - it seemed an opportunity that may never be realised.
But alongside the frustration and heartbreak, the collapse of businesses and demise of the central city brought with it a wealth of opportunities for those of entrepreneurial mind. The infrastructure-lacking CBD invited a new dining scene that includes food trucks and pop-up restaurants, mini golf greens, dance-o-mats, Lonely Planet-approved street art and anything from accommodation to shops and restaurants made from shipping containers.
Now, as the red-tape abates and the rebuild ramps up, it finally seems Christchurch 2.0 is on its trajectory to greatness.
A comfortable bed
The newly-opened Crowne Plaza hotel is trail-blazing the central city's hospitality scene.
Scooping tourism/hotel awards and rave reviews since its opening in April, other attractions in the surrounding area might be scarce, but that won’t last long. One of only a handful of high rises in the central city, the 17-storey hotel occupies the redeveloped former Forsyth Barr House which was damaged in the 2010/2011 earthquakes. A king bed superior room costs NZ$228 (Dh577).
However, if you are in the market for a unique experience, take the 40-minute drive to Little River to experience a PurePod.
Nestled among native New Zealand bush land, the pods are made entirely from glass and set away from civilisation. They are solar powered, with bio-fuel heaters, and equipped with binoculars or a telescope for bird-watching and star-gazing. Most importantly, there is no TV, DVD, Wi-Fi, reliable mobile-phone signal or air conditioning in sight. There are no signposts to the pods – you get directions when you book. The sustainable experience will cost you, though, at $490 (Dh1,241) per night.
Find your feet
Christchurch and the surrounding Port Hills are made for the plucky pedestrians. Strolling through the revamped central city, you will find an eclectic mix of hipster bars and cafes, construction sites and gleaming new buildings – peppered with huge displays of colourful street art. Take note of the Transitional Cathedral – a temporary home for the city’s Anglican diocese after the collapse of the Christchurch Cathedral; a call answered with a design made entirely from cardboard by Shigeru Ban; and the 185 White Chairs monument, a moving testament to those killed in the earthquakes.
At sunset, there is no better place than atop the Port Hills, most popularly via the Rapaki Track or from the nearby Christchurch Gondola, overlooking Lyttelton Harbour.
Meet the locals
New Regent Street has a long history as an eclectic mix of Christchurch handymen and women, selling their wares and handicrafts to tourists and locals alike. The cobblestoned street, flanked by two rows of pastel-coloured Spanish Mission-style buildings, is the city’s only complete heritage streetscape. Post-earthquakes, the street was cordoned off and fell into disrepair, but reopened in 2013, despite many of the boutiques remaining without tenants. Today, New Regent Street is home to examples of the city’s most impressive entrepreneurship, including the Ronan Keating-approved Caffeine Laboratory, and dessert cafe Rollickin' Gelato, which began as a 15-year-old boy and a gelato cart.
Book a table
How fitting it is that one of the city’s best restaurants is positioned smack-bang in the middle of New Regent Street, presiding over the tram tracks. Twenty Seven Steps is a cosy nook, with a small number of tables that tend to be full at all times of the night. While the free homemade cornbread is an easy crowd-pleaser, the chargrilled fillet is prime New Zealand beef at its finest, and the venison is farmed 20 minutes away in the countryside. Mains will set you back about $40 (Dh102).
If you have a hankering for Louisiana home-style fare, Orleans has been one of the city’s most-recommended restaurants since it opened in Strange’s Lane, Christchurch’s culinary back alley in 2014. This far from the shores of the Mississippi, there is no finer place for a fix of chicken and waffles, po’ boy or a mound of fried chicken. Sharing plates cost about $20 (Dh51).
New Zealand and Australia’s ode to the meal of the minute, the humble brunch, is Little Poms (www.littlepoms.co.nz). It seems an unassuming, cutesy little breakfast bar, but there is a queue snaking out the door every weekend, even in the dead of winter.
Much removed from UAE brunching, the Antipodean take is a flat white and smashed avocado affair, complete with a humming crowd of patrons in their activewear.
The blueberry hotcake (21.50 dollars [Dh55]) – a domed mound perforated with blueberries and topped with banana, nuts and ricotta – is a clear highlight.
The shopping mall made from shipping containers previously known as Re:start may have wound down, but the tenants, shops and restaurants remain. The vibrant inner-city space was makeshift at best after the earthquakes, but it's since become a humming treasure for residents - and a popular tourist attraction.
Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island, and some of New Zealand’s best scenery is just a few hours away. In August, Lonely Planet named the 1,370-kilometre journey from Christchurch to the Southern Alps as one of its Epic Drives of the World, and for good reason. The lakes of Pukaki and Tekapo, with New Zealand’s highest peak, Mount Cook, mirrored in its glassy surface is one of the best photographs you will take home. You can then wind your way through to Queenstown and Wanaka, and down to Milford Sound, via sub-alpine rainforest, glacial valleys and grassy paddocks.
What to avoid
While there are great things happening in the eastern suburbs, and it is a shot to the guts for the hardy residents who continue to stick it out there, much of it is red-zoned as public exclusion zones after the earthquakes, so they are best left for now.
Emirates flies from Dubai to Christchurch, via Sydney, from Dh6,360, while Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Christchurch, via Melbourne, from Dh6,040. Some flights have multiple stopovers, and the flight time is about 20 hours.