We'll be arriving in Christchurch around noon (Nov 9), and after our "meet & greet" transfer to our hotel (Scenic Circle - Cotswold Hotel), we'll be hosted by Ms. Gaynor Dyet, a representative of Christchurch & Canterbury Marketing Ltd., who will help us make the most of our short time in this beautiful "Garden City":
- Lunch at the historic Curators House
- the vibrant Arts Centre of Christchurch
- Punting in the Park
- Christchurch historic Tramway
- Christchurch Art Gallery "Te Puna o Waiwhetu"
- Christchurch Gondola
- dinner somewhere in the historic Arts Centre, serving local produce and wines (Annís Place)
Help! The in-flight entertainment isnít working properly Ö No movies or games! Just proves how quickly you get accustomed to new services huh ;-) I met a nice kiwi lady from Christchurch during the toilet queue, and she was eagerly staring out of the window. ëChecking for the Southern Alpsí, she said. Ensuring me that weíd be: ëhitting them sooní. At the time, we were about an hour away from Christchurch, but I rushed my WC pitstop, so Iíd be sure not to miss out on anything Ö Stared out of the window for more than half an hour, Ö nothing! (JJ was sitting next to the window btw ;-) And then Ö ëOh my God!í. There they were. A majestic snow capped mountain range, as far as the eye could see. Green valleys, icy blue rivers cutting through them, and then the patchwork of pastures of the Canterbury Plains became visible. Definitely a breathtaking site, and holding the promise of great things to come.
We arrived earlier than expected in Christchurch, Ö but that ëgained timeí was quickly turned into ëlost timeí after our New Zealand customs experience. We were unlucky to have been seated at the back of the aircraft, and were subsequently also at the end of queus for the customs check. We totally understand that they want to take care that no goods are brought into these islands, cause this could have disastrous effects for the local wildlife, nature and agriculture. You are warned several times when entering New Zealand that certain goods have to be disposed of or declared (plants, seeds, dairy products, camping gear and walking boots, Ö). After you get past the first ëhumaní customs barrier, your luggage is scrutinised by cuddly beagle doggies. Aaah ;-) But if he gets a whiff of something Ö you risk a hefty fine, starting from 200 NZD, and in some cases, imprisonment. So beware! Leave any snacks, fruit, Ö etc you received on board the aircraft behind, or throw them into the designated bins before passing through customs.
As a result, we spent 1 hour and 15 minutes getting through customs, and missed our arranged airport transfer Ö
So we took a taxi from Christchurch airport (25 NZD) to our hotel, the Scenic Circle Costwold Hotel. Gaynor Dyet, our guide from Christchurch and Canterbury Marketing, was already waiting for us at reception. The Cotswold has a very cosy set-up. The Tudor style cottages have spacious rooms with a separate a sitting area and ensuite. We had a quick freshen up, and off we went, eager to explore. Gaynor was great! Thank god we had arranged this, because with only a half a day in this magnificent city, we would not know where to begin! First we drove up to the surrounding hills, to the ëSign of the Takaheí, an old stagecoach resting place. Not far from this heritage listed monument we walked up to the lookout for a 180? panorama of the city below, the surrounding pastures of the Canterbury plains, a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean to the right and the majestic mountain range of the Southern Alps as a backdrop. Wow!
Christchurch only has about 330.000 inhabitants, and is New Zealandís second largest city. Founded in the 1850ís, and neatly planned out in a grid pattern, the oldest buildings in this region are built in a neo-gothic style, and most can to be found in the city centre. During our drive back to the centre, we noticed that Christchurch is a very wide-spread, low-build, green city. It has a distinctive English feel about it. The green lung of the city is Hagley Park, including the magnificent Botanic Gardens. We had a late lunch (15:15) at the Curatorsí House, a beautifully maintained listed building, were the caretaker of the Botanic Gardens used to live. Great food and an excellent place to relax! Then we quickly visited the Christchurch Arts Centre, where several artists rent a studio to create and display their artwork. We had a quick stop in the Fudge Shop, which also organises guided tours and then strolled passed the many stalls of the arts and crafts market, that are set up in the square on Saturdays en Sundays from 10 till 16. On some days you even get free entertainment, when local musicians or poets come to do their thing.
We then had a quick visit to the Canterbury museum, that has a recreation of the Christchurch street from around the 1900ís, including a Penny Farthing you can have a go on. We hurried on to our appointment at the boatshed for our punting in the park. Gaynor had brought along some bread to feed the ducks, and we said our goodbyes and thanked her for the great introduction to her home town. So off we went a punting with our experienced punter Cambell. The weather was still beautifully sunny, and we floated through the Botanic Gardens and Hayden Park, while he told us a bit about how the punting came to Christchurch and about the local plants and animals we saw, including the rarer paradise ducks and their gorgeous fluffy ducklins. We soon had a whole trail of duckies following us (the bread, remember ;-), and it was a very romantic and relaxing experience. When we returned to the Old Antigua Boatshed, we had some bread left and gave it to the next punting passengers. Two lovely ladies, who were smart enough to bring along their own bottle of Champagne to complete the experience. Gaynor had also given us day-tickets for the historic tram that does a loop in the city centre of Christchurch. We decided to do the whole loop first, so we could get our bearings. We hopped back off at the north end of Hagley Park, where the sports grounds are, and walked back to our hotel (15 min.) for another freshen-up and a change of clothes (it was getting pretty chilly and windy). After our pit-stop, we headed back to the centre of town, and with combined a couple of the loop walks as mentioned in the handy walking maps from the tourist office.
We had a work-related visit to the brand new hotel ëOff the Squareí and were very lucky to get a personal guided tour by the architect and designer himself, Tim. It is a truely impressive concept (part of the Cathedral Junction project, originated by the revolutionary motorcycle designer, John Britten). The modern design uses quality and the unique local promises to make it Christchurchesí next big thing. A definite tip! Visit their site for more info on this cool hotel and the other Legend Network accommodations.
When it started to get dark, the jet-lag really hit us, so we decided to head back to our hotel, take it easy and have an improvised ëtake-awayí dinner.
Jean-Jacques Halans ©2003