While some might joke that the relaxed pace of life in Christchurch keeps New Zealand’s “Garden City” stuck a couple of decades in the past, residents of this seaside town take pride in its reputation as a place to escape from the busy world. Nestled between the picturesque Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean, it’s easy to spend two days exploring the many beautiful walks, beaches, restaurants and shopping hot spots that make Christchurch such a unique destination, even as the city rebuilds after the devastating earthquake of February 2011.
First, check into The Chateau on the Park, a classy hotel beside the iconic Hagley Park. It’s a close call when picking out the best place to stay — the newly reopened Rendezvous Hotel and The George run a close second and third — but the Chateau’s central location will provide a fantastic base for your two-day adventure. Plus, its well-appointed five acres feature an outdoor pool, rental bicycles, a putting green and an atmospheric restaurant.
There’s no better way to spend your first day in the city than at Christchurch’s city-top gondola. Open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the gondola gives gorgeous views of the Canterbury Plains to the north and Lyttelton Harbour to the south as it ascends nearly a mile to the Crater Rim. The attraction has its very own museum, which takes visitors through the story of the first European settlers to arrive at Lyttelton Harbour in 1809. There are some lovely walks you can take at the gondola’s peak or, if the weather isn’t playing ball, take in the views while grabbing a bite to eat at Red Rock Cafe.
Spend the afternoon taking in the Garden City’s gorgeous botanic gardens by foot, tour or punt. Take a relaxing and romantic journey down the Avon River with the world-famous Punting on the Avon, or take the experience at speed by hopping on the Caterpillar, a bright green shuttle that takes you on a mobile garden tour led by a knowledgeable guide. Allow a bit of time to fully explore, as there are more than 50 acres of horticultural displays, memorials, garden art and walking tracks on offer.
If you’re feeling a little audacious, have a night out at Christchurch’s world-class casino, home to 36 table games and 500 slot machines. With three bars to choose from, there is also plenty to enjoy for visitors who don’t want to gamble. Find a spot and sit back with a drink while listening to the local bands that play every weekend.
You’ll have to choose between another relaxing day of garden hopping or a breakneck adventure for your second day. If an action-packed getaway to the snowy Southern Alps sounds like fun to you, book a South Island Alpine Safari, a day-long escapade into the heart of New Zealand. Everything is organized for you on this hassle-free day trip — just don’t forget a camera! Starting with an 8:30 a.m. pickup from your hotel, you’ll be ferried into the mountains on the TranzAlpine train for a day filled with jet boating, a four-wheeler tour and dramatic views of Canterbury’s unforgettable scenery. You’ll be dropped back at the hotel by 6:30 p.m., with just enough time to freshen up for dinner at the Chateau’s restaurant, The Garden Court Brasserie. The ground-floor eatery offers a huge range of dining options, with everything from chana masala to blue cod fillet or the classic Kiwi lamb cutlet offered for dinner.
A holiday in Christchurch wouldn’t be complete without a shopping spree at the instantly iconic, post-quake Re:START shopping mall on Cashel Street, where every store is housed in a shipping container. Popular designers and labels such as Trelise Cooper, Maher Shoes and Ballantynes line the streetscape, along with huge street murals by local artists Nick Tam, Wongi Wilson and Rachael Dewhirst.
For a spot of lunch, Base Woodfired Pizza is a local favorite for fresh, made-to-order pies. You can also try Hummingbird Coffee, a cozy boutique café with a Mediterranean vegetable salad and avocado zucchini corn fritters that are culinary knockouts.
End your day at Cook ‘n’ With Gas, a unique bistro on Worcester Boulevard where restaurateur and chef Bruce Griffiths whips up modern Kiwi fare in an 1860s villa. This favorite is renowned for its locally sourced menu and has a huge selection of wines and beer from New Zealand and abroad. Try the pork belly with creamed potato mash and savoy cabbage or lamb cutlets with potato gratin, artichokes and olive rub on ratatouille, then wash it down with the sweet flavor of Pegasus Bay Finale Noble Semillon. This tasty dessert wine is made in the nearby community of Waipara — and there’s no better way to end the perfect weekend in Christchurch.
Photos Courtesy of Christchurch City Council, Caterpillar Garden Tours, and Punting On The Avon