Get on Track for Fun by Karen Phelps
From the Garden City to the edge of the wilderness, Christchurch always has a warm welcome – no matter what the temperature. Karen Phelps is tour guide.
Something new is in the air in Christchurch and it’s not just spring. Word on the street is that the city is changing, shedding its conservative image for something a bit more up beat.
A case in point is the re-development of Cathedral Square – a mixture of conservatism, tradition and innovation. A bronze Christ by Auckland-based sculptor Terry Stringer welcomes people into the church’s south west doors - a contemporary, friendly figure in contrast to the traditional sculpture of John Robert Godley (founder of Canterbury in 1850) who gazes sternly down from his pedestal.
Outside the cathedral a banner announces a jazz service to be held complete with an Elvis impersonator and dotted around the bland grey concrete slabs, tubs of brightly coloured polyanthus and violas sit alongside more modern crimson kale and parsley designs.
Nearby New Regent Street is a draw card with its candy coloured Spanish-style facades. The Daily Grind coffee shop with outdoor tables so you can watch the tram trundle past, Cubana which sells Cuban coffee and cigars (the more expensive cigars are a mere $85 a pop) and Oltre il Bagno which stocks locally handmade Buzz body treats, some of which come in shapes that look good enough to eat. At night the area also has some classy bars such as The Blue Note piano bar and restaurant and Six Chairs Missing, not to mention the Theatre Royal, which is situated just around the corner.
For something a bit different try dining on the tram. It is bound to attract a few curious stares as you eat your meal while the tram makes its circuit round the city by night.
The hippest area in the city is undoubtedly High Street with stores stocking local designers (Plush, Blonde Red, Tango, Novak), vintage clothing (Gerties, Forget-me-not) and some trendy cafes (C-1 Espresso and The Globe). At night all the young and cool of the city migrate down to the Dux de Lux at the Arts Centre which has it all – restaurant, sports bar, huge outdoor courtyard, boutique brewery, free live (usually local) bands and even a swanky cocktail lounge bar upstairs.
Also popular are the bars and restaurants along Oxford Terrace or what is commonly known as ‘The Strip’ – which has nothing to do with strip clubs. Outside most of the bars you’ll see shivering, goose pimple covered lads and lasses queuing up to get a slice of the action. Oh yes they breed them tough down here in the South. But the atmosphere is warm and friendly.
Easy to miss is Sammy’s Jazz Review restaurant and bar tucked away down the little side street of Bedford Row (off Manchester Street). It has atmosphere to the max, an interesting mix of people and live jazz every night.
On the weekends you can’t beat the Arts Centre for variety. Originally the site for the old university, today the distinctive Gothic revival stone buildings house over forty art galleries, craft studios and shops, theatres, cafes, restaurants and bars. All are open seven days and on the weekends there is the famous outdoor craft market, buskers and ethnic food stalls.
Also popular is Riccarton Rotary Sunday Market held out at the Riccarton Park Racecourse (entrance off Racecourse Road off Yaldhurst Road) every Sunday wet or fine from 9am – 2pm, which boasts it is the largest in the South Island with over 300 stalls.
If you’re on a budget head down to the Botanic Gardens, Canterbury Museum and Robert McDougall art gallery (all off Rolleston Ave) or walk around the beautiful gardens at Mona Vale (63 Fendalton Road). A twenty-minute drive from town is the Groynes Picnic Reserve (160 Johns Road, Harewood) with wide-open spaces, trees, a gently meandering river and playground. Entry to all these places is free.
Approximately 30 minutes drive from the city center is the laid-back seaside suburb of Sumner. Generally home to those who want to get away from it all, it also attracts a number of artists and surfies who frequent the beach even in the middle of winter. There are a number of quaint shops and the local Hollywood Theatre (Marriner Street) is an old-style cinema with three separate theatres including the Silverstar Lounge with luxury armchairs. There are also a few distinctive restaurants on Wakefield Ave such as Club Bazaar Pizzeria with its eclectic kiwiana décor including antique memorabilia such as old amusement games from the 1890’s to 1970’s and a Board Room collection of old surfboards. On the other side of the road stairs lead up to an outdoor dining patio at the Ruptured Duck Pizzeria and Bar and at street level the Forget Me Not Café, which serves up a diverse menu.
On the beach itself is Cave Rock, which you can clamber your way to the top of to get great views along the beach or, at low tide, walk right through the hole in the middle. Sumner beach is good for swimming and safe for kids as long as they swim between the flags. Next to Cave Rock on the end of a jetty built out into the beach is On the Beach restaurant, a nice place to sit and have a drink on a hot day. Right at the eastern end of the beach is Scarborough, which has a playground and paddling pool for the kids and the award winning Scarborough Fare Restaurant and Café situated by the Esplanade Clock Tower. It is also possible to walk up Heberden Ave to Whitewash Heads and right around to Taylors Mistake Beach (popular with local surfies). It’s a steep climb of about 3km but worth the effort. After returning a good reward is to stop off at Foodfare Handmade Chocolates (141 Nayland Street).
On the way to Sumner you’ll pass the quiet suburb of Heathcote. Tucked away here is Ferrymead Historic Park, a unique treat to please kids and adults alike. Set up in the 1960’s by interested volunteers it is basically Christchurch as it was in the early 1900’s. Ride old trains and trams, wagons led by Clydesdale horses then walk through a replica Edwardian village, complete with an old-fashioned bakery selling tasty goods baked on a wood fired brick oven. There is also a working print shop, blacksmiths, Hall of Flame (biggest display of old fire engines in the Southern Hemisphere) and post and telegraph museum with communication history from morse code through to early telephone exchanges.
Heading in the other direction from Christchurch over the Port Hills is the colourful town of Lyttelton. Totally different in atmosphere from the city, it tends to attract a mix of sailors and the bohemian set. There are cute houses tucked into the hillside aplenty. Climb up the metal staircase to the Wunderbar (set above the supermarket on London Street), which attracts the locals and city dwellers alike with its quirky kitsch atmosphere of velvet padded walls, lamp shades made out of film, hair curlers, dolls heads and bottle brushes and mounted Barbie dolls that look down over the supermarket. People over here frankly don’t give a damn so expect some interesting people watching opportunities. Also on London Street the Volcano Café and Lava bar is also an interesting experience with its Pacific rim inspired décor. The food is hearty rather than fine dining and it’s a popular place, especially on a warm summers night when you can climb the stairs in the bar and drink outside in the courtyard under the stars.
Overlooking the town is the historic Timeball Station, a stone castle-like building above Reserve Terrace on the eastern side of Lyttelton. Built in 1876 it is a fine example of Victorian technology. The station signaled time and shipping information for over fifty years. While in port ships used the timeball to check their chronometer (which enabled mariners to calculate longitude while at sea). The rare timeball mechanism is still in working order today and the 115 kg, 1.5 metre wide black zinc ball drops 3metres in 16 seconds at 1pm daily.
The good thing about Christchurch is that, no matter who you are or what your budget, there’s something for everyone. It’s always had a lot to offer, but it’s now getting even better.
Various activities and festivals take place around Christchurch at different times of the year. To find out what is happening while you’re there ring the:
Christchurch City Council’s Leisure Unit (03) 3722480, www.bethere.org.nz
Arts Centre (03) 3660989, www.artscentre.org.nz
Visitor Information Center (03) 3799629, www.christchurchnz.netwww.seeitliveitdoit.co.nz
To get around the central city catch the tram which stops at some of the better inner city attractions (Arts Centre, Cathedral Square and Botanic Gardens) or there is a free shuttle to take you around town and to some of the outlying shopping centers.