christchurch, the city that's still rising from the rubble
WHEN YOU LOOK YOU WILL SEE
People talk about Christchurch as if it were an unwanted scar, the ugly place you only pass through, but if you scratch the surface you may be surprised. With its beautiful botanical gardens and its ideal location to the beach, people often end up staying longer than their intended one night.
This is what happened to me. When I first arrived after spending four months travelling around south East Asia, it was a shock. Stepping off the plane to a cold spring day, (of course I hadn’t thought to wear something other than shorts) I didn’t quite know what to think. I walked around the centre and immediately went ‘I don’t like this’ without really giving it much chance. I remember saying it reminded me of the walking dead, there were no people on the streets and I was surrounded by a mix match of buildings.
So after spending a couple of days questioning why I ever left Bali, things began to get better. A kind offer to go on a trip to a $3 second hand clothing store meant I could buy a much needed coat. Not only did I get a coat I got my eyes opened to what Christchurch had to offer. We drove to a beach named Taylors Mistake, the sun was shining and the sky was such an intense shade of blue I couldn’t help but smile. It’s safe to say things began to look up from that day and Taylors Mistake is still one of my favourite places.
After that I decided to be more positive about Christchurch and give the broken city a chance. It paid off. My top 3 places in the centre, which are all free,
• The botanical gardens, a place to get lost within and forget about the city for an hour or two.
• Art gallery, with its changing exhibitions there’s always something new to look at.
• The museum of Canterbury. History, quirky trivia and changing exhibitions mean this is a great place to visit on a rainy day, or a hot day as I found out, the air con was a saviour!
Outside of the centre,
• Taylors Mistake, a cute sandy cove that’s favoured by surfers. The walk around godly head, which starts at the beach, is an added bonus with its amazing views.
• Akaroa, on banks peninsula, this little French settlement is a perfect day trip from Christchurch.
There’s plenty to do here, from dolphin spotting trips to penguin tours. I went on a penguin eco tour that was really insightful. Pohatu penguins was the organisation I used, getting picked up in Akaroa and driven through the countryside to a remote part of the coastline where you see the nest boxes of penguins and then watch them as they come back to shore for the evening. Pohatu is the largest Australasian Little Penguin colony on mainland New Zealand. Francis and Shireen Helps have worked over the last three decades protecting White-flippered Penguins (Eudyptula minor albosignata), Canterbury's own variant of Australasian Little Penguin, from introduced predators. I would definitely recommend this tour, the passion for penguin conservation is infectious and inspiring.
• Lyttleton and Diamond Harbour
Other things to explore,
• Margaret Mahy’s Family Park, great fun both sober and merry from a drink or two.
• The numerous Bars and restaurants, a particular favourite of mine is, Versuvio a cosy wine bar with a great atmosphere and of course amazing wine!
• Quake City, a museum dedicated to the science of earthquakes. You will walk around Christchurch in a different light, after understanding the cause and effects of the quakes.
What definitely helped boost my experience in Christchurch was staying at Kiwi Basecamp, a little gem of a hostel, that as I found out is very much like the song hotel California, ‘You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave’. People, including me, migrate back, it becomes a familiar place where you always feel welcomed. Arriving at the hostel I was greeted by a guy in a onesie painting a window frame, turns out he was checking me in, I knew then that this would be a good hostel, I wasn’t wrong. The general atmosphere of laughter, friendliness and complete randomness is a perfect cocktail, bringing many like-minded travellers together.