My family and I were lucky last month. We visited the magnificent city of Christchurch and left only two short weeks before the tragic earthquake that crumbled this beautiful place to the ground, crushing its people, its spirit, its beauty.
But after witnessing this city pre-tragedy, I have to say – there’s no way its spirit will remain crushed. There is such an atmosphere to this city – a feeling, a sentiment – from its historical buildings to its gardens and people – it’s no wonder tourist from all over the world flock there to experience the beauty.
As Christchurch heals and rebuilds herself, I felt compelled to publish our journey here with our children – not only in support of encouraging the tourists to visit once again, but just to show how utterly beautiful this city was… and once again will be.
Christchurch is one of my most beloved travel destinations. I hope that some time soon, it becomes one of yours, too.
On Day Ten of our New Zealand adventure, we woke to a glorious summer day in Christchurch. After breakfast, we walked through Victoria Square park> where the 18th World Buskers Festival was busily setting up, past a beautiful statue of Captain Cook (on whom I have a terrible crush, I know – I’m such a dag)…
…to the city centre for a coffee at Christchurch Cathedral café… a must-sip pitstop.
We then walked past the Arts Centre district, which is sizable and includes many little galleries and courtyards packed with all things artistic. Many of the buildings are beautiful, traditional 19th century grey stone – just stunning.
This particular area featured a sweet little farmer’s market (on Fridays), with delicious things to eat and indulge in.
The kids enjoyed gamboling along the roadside, past the theatre and through an impressive line up of busts of famous New Zealanders, including acclaimed children’s author Margaret Mahy.
It was then onto the Canterbury Museum, right next to the Botanic Gardens.
When we got to the museum, we were distracted by the World Busking Festival (free!).
It was a joy to wander around town and run into some fabulous Scot or Canadian or Texan laying on cut glass, throwing each other in the air, swallowing balloons, lighting bullwhips or throwing knives. Here in the gardens, the kids enjoyed some acrobatics.
Walking through the beautiful Botanic Gardens…
. . . the kids and I revelled in the central rose garden . . . which just happened to be surrounded by magnificent, plush dahlias . . .
. . . and enjoyed the outdoor gardens . . .
. . . before heading indoors for another breathtaking begonia display (my new favourite flower) as well as cacti and orchids, among other treasures.
All cultured out, Husband took the kids for a walk to an internet café while I visited the Christchurch Museum (free!) which is so impressive, I don’t even know where to start.
Firstly, there’s an incredible section on Maori history and treasure, including life-size displays of how the Maori used to live…
Then there’s a superb and fascinating display on early explorers, including my hero Mr Cook (sigh). Then there’s one of my absolutely favourite things I’ve seen in NZ so far – the Paua Shell House. An astonishing recreation of the living room of Fred and Myrtle Flutey’s house in Bluff on the southern most tip of NZ, this illustrious display starts with the most charming, retro film explaining the history of this gorgeous couple. The film also explains the other pop culture icons of NZ, like jandals (thongs) and chocolate fish.
You see, Fred started collecting paua shells (and incidentally, the paua or abalone shell is an endearing NZ icon) and when he ran out of space to display them, he started pinning them to the walls. The collection became a phenomenon, and hordes of visitors from all over the world came to visit the Shell House.
The rest of the museum contains an astonishing array of collections that had my heart racing. This incredible (and really beautiful) hall was filled with precious, collectible treasure from silverware to hand-painted vases.
The Antarctic exhibition was a sight to behold, with lifesize animal and human displays and even real life vehicles that have traversed the Antarctic landscape. There is also a superb Discovery section for children. But more on these soon.
Walking back towards town, I meandered through the Arts Centre buildings for a peek and loved what I saw, including yet another busking performance – an enormous Scotsman flinging himself onto shards of glass and eating fire.
Next stop was a visit to the Art Gallery – Te Puna O Waiwhetu – an imposing modern building of glass and steel, hosting a really impressive collection of artwork, most particularly work from young artists (in their 20s and 30s). The bottom floor of the gallery was closed due to exhibition construction – such a shame because I just wanted more more more more more. The gift shop is superb.
Husband had taken the kids to the local swimming pool – an enormous indoor heated pool with river-like channels of water for the kids to swim against. At only $9 for all three of them, this is a great way to pass some time in this wonderful capital.
On Day Eleven of our trip – our second day in Christchurch, the rain finally caught up with us. We woke to imposing skies so jumped in the car to see if we could get a clearer view from the gondola east of Christchurch. Alas, the rain worsened on the way so we instead drove to Lyttleton, a small and sweet harbour town south of the city, accessed through a tunnel in the mountain (we love tunnels!).
Heading back into town, we drove to the west of Christchurch to the beautiful Canterbury Farmer’s Market held at Riccarton House and Bush every Saturday from 9am to 12pm. Luscious! Loved it – and what a stunning setting, complete with old time threesome spinning some tunes while the kids dined on pancakes and we took in the fresh produce, great coffee, gorgeous little river and willow trees.
Next it was back into the city for a wander down New Regent Street, which is packed with pastel buildings, a tramline and coffee stops.
After coffee and a walk, it was back to the Canterbury Museum to see all they had missed out on yesterday.
One of the best museum experiences in New Zealand, there’s a fantastic Discovery Centre for kids ($2 per person, although the attendant didn’t charge me, just the kids) which houses a mind-boggling assortment of tactile experiences for kids from tots through grade school (and also had this big kid entranced).
It’s kind of hard to explain the amazing array of stimulating wonder on offer, so I’ll just show you some.
If bugs and taxidermy specimens are not your thing, don’t get too freaked out – these specimens are done really well and are not at all creepy. Whatever the case, the kids will be mesmerised. There is a glass wall filled with an incredible swirl of butterflies and beetles in whirling flight, and loads of pull-out drawers packed with eye-boggling patterns of bugs and butterflies and other creepy crawlies.
There’s a striking wall of eggs from a variety of wild birds, a mass of 3D jigsaw puzzles including a child-size dinosaur, even a faux archaeological dig for the kids with coarse sand and fossils. There’s just so much, it’s a delight to behold.
Beyond the Discovery Centre, the museum also hosts its own 150BC mummy – a 25-year-old Egyptian female, complete with x-ray images and fascinating MRI results.
The kids also loved the Antarctica exhibition with ride on skidoo and the very first vehicle to reach the south pole, among many many more fascinating pieces.
There’s so much to do and see in Christchurch for kids – but make sure you enjoy the enormous range of arts and culture on offer for adults, too – and don’t forget to sample those wines.