Secret Christchurch: Top tips only locals know

When European settlers founded Christchurch in 1850, they built their new city to English ideals. To be a Mini England, with very English-sounding street names and very English-looking buildings. But that all changed in February 2011, when a Mw 6.2 earthquake irreparably damaged much of Christchurch.

Today, Christchurch is reborn with cutting-edge architecture, amazing cafés, and fantastic bars and restaurants. No longer Mini England, Christchurch is growing into a unique, exciting city that’s all its own.

Old and new – Christchurch.

I was born and raised here in Christchurch and, to me, the changes make it feel like I’m exploring a new city with an old friend. Without some insider tips, there are many gems that are too easily missed. So here are my personal Christchurch must-dos.

1. Walk

If you like exploring laneways to see what’s around the corner, you’ll love Christchurch. The new buildings are full of passages that run between and through the buildings, often opening out into courtyards. Check out Lord Rutherford’s Den in the Arts Centre (named for Lord Ernest Rutherford, the New Zealand-born physicist who became the first person to knowingly split an atom) for educational fun or Rollickin’ Gelato in New Regent Street for amazing gelato and sorbet.

2. Play

Once the site of a public pool, and covering an entire city block, the Margaret Mahy Family Playground is an absolutely amazing park that my kids love (and I’m sure yours will too). It’s a great spot for an inexpensive and fun family day out. You can get coffee and ice-cream there, or you can bring your own picnic too. Make sure you look out for the ducks in the river and the friendly eels that live under the jetty.

Magaret Mahy Family Playground.

For even more excitement, head to the Christchurch Adventure Park. Located in the Port Hills, it’s mountain-bikers’ heaven, with a chairlift to take you up to the top of the park and miles of tracks to explore on the way down.

3. Walk and Play (Victoria park)

Also in the Port Hills, Victoria Park is one of Christchurch’s best picnic areas. There are numerous spots with great views of the Canterbury Plains, as well as a massive slide built into the hillside (leave it to the kids if you’re not feeling brave). There are also loads of fantastic walking tracks that go through the bush and back to Summit Road. If all that walking makes you feel peckish, Sign of the Kiwi is a great place to stop for a coffee and an ice-cream (yes, there is a theme in this post. I love ice-cream 😉). And a bit of trivia for the film buffs – a key scene from the Peter Jackson movie Heavenly Creatures was filmed here too.

Victoria Park

4. Refresh

After all that walking and exercise, you’ll probably need a drink. So check out The Terrace on Oxford Terrace, where you’ll find a dozen bars and restaurants (and more great architecture and laneways to explore) in the one place, all overlooking the Avon River. One of my personal favorites is Kong, a ‘20s-style cocktail lounge where you don’t even need to look at the menu, as the staff will specially create a cocktail to suit your tastes. They’ll ask you what flavours (not what drinks) you like and build something delicious around that.

At Kong with the Christchurch Wotif crew. There’s Teresa (right), me (centre) and Haley (left).

Two more of my favorite watering holes are the Red Light District and Loius Champagne & Oyster Bar, both on Victoria Street. So many great new bars have opened in Christchurch recently, you’ll be spoilt for choice!

5. Replenish

Inati. Just writing the word makes me want to go back to this restaurant again and again. The word ‘inati’ means ‘to share’ and it’s reflected in the menu – every dish is designed to shared. Owners Simon and Lisa Levy have created a contemporary and intimate setting, in which you can’t help but embrace their passion for flavour. It’s a wonderful dining experience – don’t miss it!

6. Rest

The Distinction Christchurch Hotel is one of the city’s newest stays and it’s fast becoming a hit with travellers. Situated in the heart of the city, it’s the perfect homebase for both work and play, and within easy walking distance of almost all of my recommendations above. The rooms are spacious, comfy, and very stylish.

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