It had been over a year since we visited Christchurch, so when our mate Kyle at Bare Kiwi invited us to explore the city with our friend Liz at Young Adventuress, we jumped at the chance to rediscover Christchurch.
When we first arrived in the city over a year ago there were some incredible re-build initiatives going on, but you didn’t have to look far to see evidence of what had happened just 3 years ago. Coming back to Christchurch this time just felt different. Even more impressive than all the physical changes was the great energy we felt from the people we met and enthusiasm for all the opportunities that the city is pursuing.
The most incredible part of Christchurch’s story is the perseverance of its people. I can’t imagine what they must have gone through, but to see the strength in the community to rally together to re-build the city is truly an inspiration. Not many cities get the opportunity to re-define its landscape and culture. Witnessing the innovation and creativity that is flowing through the streets of Christchurch makes it such a unique destination.
We were excited to be included in Christchurch Tourism’s Incredible Race around the city. Who doesn’t love an awesome adventure race!? Over the course of a couple hours we raced around the downtown core, answering trivia questions to get our next clue and discovering some of the great features around the city.
At the heart of the city, the Re:Start mall boasts a number of cute shops, cafés and clothing stores, all built within shipping containers. Since the wait for new buildings in the CDB would be too long, the creative idea to leverage shipping containers as retail outlets helped kick-start the re-build and breath new life into Christchurch’s downtown core. The number of stores has grown significantly since we last visited and the vibe down there was really cool with some delicious street vendors and even a solar charging table for phones complimenting the funky retail shops and cafés.
The Quake City Museum is an absolute must for any visitor to Christchurch. To truly understand the history of what happened you must take the time to explore the museum. The interactive displays help you learn about the science of earthquakes, however the most heart wrenching part was listening to the 15 personal counts of the devastating earthquakes. Definitely take your time and listen to them all.
Another great spot is along New Regent Street. One of the first areas of the city to re-open after the earthquakes, it is made up of pastel-hued shops in Spanish Mission style terraced architecture providing a perfect place to stroll and enjoy a cup of coffee. The Tram Station is also located at the end of the street where you can board one of the antique trams that will take you all over the city. They are even equipped with audio video content that shows you what the city looked like before the quakes and the plans for the future.
My favorite thing about the city though are all the street art and ‘gap fillers’. Utilizing vacant spaces for temporary, creative purposes, throughout the city are beautiful murals, unique sculptures and artistic displays. I loved the ‘lego sheep’ scattered around the city and the stunning painting of the ballerina near New Regent Street.
Over the weekend, we noticed these giraffes popping up all over the city. In the latest public art project called “Christchurch Stands Tall“, 99 giant fiberglass giraffe sculptures were scattered along streets, parks and public spaces throughout Christchurch, each uniquely painted by local artists. This quickly became a game of trying to locate as many giraffes as possible, and with an app available now this could definitely become the coolest city scavenger hunt around!
Another really cool street art was “Woods from the Trees”. Built from recovered Rimu wood from buildings after the earthquake, they were re-purposed into a stunning tree sculpture. A disco giraffe also happened to be on the corner as well.
One thing we didn’t know before was exploring Christchurch at night is just as beautiful. Several street arts are lit up making the downtown come alive! We even stumbled upon a band that was playing on the street – just enjoying a jam together, entertaining anyone that walked by.
The most moving piece was the display of 185 empty white chairs. A memorial for the lives lost during the earthquakes, each one is unique with its own personality – just like each person. Nearby, “Cardboard” Cathedral was constructed on the site of the former St John’s Latimer Square Anglican Church and is made out of nearly 300 cardboard tubes, timber beams, structural steel and concrete. The triangular window also incorporates images from Christchurch Cathedral’s original rose window adding a touch of the past with the new future.
With a surge of new businesses popping up around the city, the restaurant and bar scene is starting to take off again. Stranges Lane is one of the newest nighttime hot spots with 4 bars that open up into this funky alleyway – a popular spot on the weekends!
C1 Espresso is rivaled as one of the best cafés in New Zealand. Their attention to detail is evident throughout the entire place. Orders are taken and sent to the kitchen in a container that travels throughout a network of tubes hanging from the ceiling. You can even order from their Pneumatic menu and have your sliders delivered to you via tube at 100km/hr! I think they describe it best:
“These are burgers from the future, delivered to the present from somewhere in the past (or something like that). We acknowledge that this is the thin edge of the wedge, an unholy fusion of food and technology. It will herald a time when burgers, robots and chefs become self-aware and destroy all humans.”
With all local, fresh ingredients, the food is FABULOUS and has some really fun features like the sewing machine water fountain and moving bookshelf to get to the toilets. If you want to check it out, just look for the giant statue of a guy in a blue suit doing a 70’s disco jive on the roof of the building.
Even the hotels are taking a fun spin on things. Hotel 115 is one of the newest hotels where each room is unique, offering boutique style suites in the heart of the city. We had a blast Halloween night dressing up and enjoying a drink on the balcony before taking in the Halloween Party with Christchurch Tourism at Mashina Lounge.
And the fun didn’t stop in just the CBD – we went exploring outside the downtown area with Kyle and Liz with our first stop at the International Antarctic Centre. An interactive exhibit, we had a chance to learn about life at Scott Base, hung out with some little blue penguins and went on the all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle – the Hagglund – what a wild ride!
Being from Canada we felt at home in the ‘Antarctic Storm’ simulator where they drop the temperature and cranked up the wind machine to mimic the cold, cruel environment of the arctic. With puffy winter jackets and boot covers, we explored the fresh snow and even made a few slides down the ice slide next to the igloo!
Another great adventure we had was at the Adrenaline Forest! An aerial obstacle course, we took to the trees for some high wire fun! We had a great time challenging ourselves and cheering each other on throughout the course. Jordan, Kyle and I decided to take it a step further and try the hardest route #6. It climbed high into the trees and definitely gave us the adrenaline rush we were looking for with heaps of ziplines, challenging traverses and even a simulated bungy swing into a giant spider web of ropes!
We had done something similar in Canada, but it wasn’t as intense and yet it required a guide at all times. With the use of the clever ‘clic-it‘ safety system, they can prevent people from unclipping while in the trees, giving you free reign to explore at some pretty epic heights!
To finish off the day, we headed towards the coast to enjoy some fish & chips and drinks along the beach. I had no idea the beach was so close to the city – it reminded me a lot of our home in Lyall Bay. A perfect way to cap off a wonderful weekend rediscovering the amazing city of Christchurch.
I can’t wait to come back and see the even more amazing changes that are sure to happen as the city continues to evolve and grow! Keep it up Christchurch – you’re awesome 🙂
Check out this wicked video Kyle from Bare Kiwi put together from our visit to Christchurch!