Christchurch’s Riverside Market has fast secured its stature as the central city’s anchor. You’ll find yourself returning there time and time again while free-roaming Christchurch on your urban safari. It is a cradle of culinary temptation, an emporium of goodness and decadence in equal measure. A roaring success since its spring opening, like all good farmers’ markets Riverside is not just a mercantile nexus but a grand community hub. Complementing the stylish sweep of prime hospitality venues that comprise The Terrace, Riverside Market is the rock and rock star du jour.
One of my favourite merchants in the food hall is The Butcher’s Mistress, where the meat is so intensely red, you know it’s fresh off the hoof. They are sticklers for locally sourced meats, whether it’s Canterbury lamb, angus beef, free farmed pork or South Island venison. Always inventive, a big-seller while I was in the market was their legs of lamb, marinating in coca cola. It’s a cut above the rest. Other essential stops include Charing Cross Cheesery for their artisanal sheep milk delights, the Bohemian Bakery and Cured – for their hand-crafted gourmet salami. Leave room for The Donut Dispensary – Krispy Crème don’t have a patch on these bundles of joy. Their Boston Creams are scoffing bliss.
There’s a feast of ethnic food booths to expand the taste buds, like Dosa Kitchen. A dosa is a south Indian savoury pancake created from a fermented batter of soaked rice and lentils. They’re Vegan and Gluten-free. But no matter how your palette rolls, you’ll fall in love with its seductively sour, tangy flavour and airy, crisp texture. Don’t miss the Kombucha Girls, a stellar little Maori business, fawned over for its vegetarian treats and flavour-hit Kombucha drinks, like pineapple mango, feijoa and ruby red (a blend of beetroot, red apple, lemon and ginger.) Snap up some bottles to go.
While the food hall is the central star, brimming with artisanal producers, purveyors and merchants, there’s also a supporting cast of wraparound restaurants and surprise finds in the fabulous laneway stores like, Shopology. The homewares store is staunchly patriotic, an exemplar of the buy local ethos, where their creative collection of homegrown products spans jewellery, fashion, artisan food products, art and gifts.
Another gem is Beehive Collective, a well-being store where the displayed wares of local creators promote personal well-being for the heart and home, and even your pets. Kiwi Originals is a go-to for specialist New Zealand made gifts and homewares. Their native bird cushions are swoon-worthy.
A sure-fire way to get up to speed with the tale of the tape from the past ten years of post-quake redevelopment is to take a city cycle tour with Stu Waddel from Chill. Stu shifted to Christchurch from Wellington, lured by the soft-adventure bounty of Canterbury’s great outdoors. He didn’t expect to fall in love with the city itself – but the post-quake evolution has enraptured him.
Despite its obstacle-course consequences for motorists, the reconfigured city centre’s dedicated cycle lane network makes sightseeing by bike a breeze – so, you might as well use them! Stu’s two hour long tour, casting a giant figure of eight configuration across the city centre, threads together a highlights reel of old and new Christchurch. And his story-telling is masterly. https://www.chillout.co.nz/
It’s the street art, the public art that has really redefined the city centre’s fabric, from the spell-binding profusion of wall murals to the striking installations like Michael Parekowhai’s powerful bronze sculpture of a bull standing on a piano. Called Chapman’s Homer, it captured Christchurch’s heart shortly after the quakes and takes pride of place outside the Christchurch Art Gallery. Despite living in Christchurch, I hadn’t previously appreciated some of the hidden gems that Stu lustily incorporated into his touring route.
Edging North Hagley Park in Park Terrace, Solidarity Grid is a public art installation of 21 street lamps from 21 cities, gifted to the city as a gesture of solidarity during the recovery. All highly distinctive, from Swiss sleek design to ostentatious Chinese designs, donor cities include Adelaide, Seattle, St Moritz, Gansu, Wuhan, Sendai, Boston, Sydney, Sofia and Mexico City.
Tootling through the Botanic Gardens, Stu led me to the urban treasure adjoining the Daffodil Woodland. ‘Flora and Otto’ is a throne-like stone armchair and ottoman, lovingly mosaicked with broken china, crowd-sourced from households during the quake. It weighs a whopping two tonnes! There’s hidden finds aplenty like the large rock ‘mani stone’ placed at the foot of a Himalayan Pine tree that was planted by the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.
Within the city centre, we also savoured some of the new pocket precincts that have sprung up in recent years like Salt District, a hive of mixed-use buildings with boutiques and boho eateries on the ground floor, while offices and apartments rise above – once again bedecked in eye-catching mural art. The lip-smacking Little High eatery emporium is in the same ‘hood. A top foodie option is to pull up a seat at the bar of Eightgrains, admire the chefs at work, while you savour a teapot cocktail and nosh on some seriously delicious dumplings.
I also took a cultural and culinary meander along the City Promenade, flanking the Avon River, with Cate and Riwai Grace from Amiki Tours, dipping into the city’s multi-cultural narrative and some of the creative Maori businesses in the city centre like the Kombucha Girls at Riverside Market. And the night time kai safari is a progressive dinner, threading together a string of eateries with seasonal shared plates of local produce from fabulous venues like Inati, where you dine at the chef’s table with an intimate view of the theatre of the kitchen. It’s also a great way to decipher the plethora of Maori design elements that now enrich the city centre’s fabric. www.amikitours.com
The head-turning giant of Te Pae, the city’s glittering new convention centre, is nearing completion. Its sheer heft is being artfully softened by the 40,000 herring bone tiles, fashioned in braided river patterns, taking shape on its curvaceous façade. In spring, waka tours will be launched in the Avon River, while many of the city’s old-standards, like Punting on the Avon, the tram and gondola are about to purr back into life. If you’re travelling with kids, Orana Wildlife Park, Willowbank and the brand spanking saltwater hot pools at New Brighton are sure-bet family pleasers. Hello winter.
I headed for the heritage-wreathed Port Hills, joining Nicole Ellwood from Crater Rim Walks, for a personal guided hike on the Godley Head Loop Track, complete with drinks and eats. Nicole runs a variety of bespoke tours on the walkway network, atop the caldera of this ancient shield volcano. Rest assured, it last blew 5 million years ago.
From the exalted coastal promontory of Godley Head, at the eastern end of the walkway, the vista over Lyttleton Harbour’s bright cerulean water, backed by the light-tanned Banks Peninsula landscape of tussock and basalt rock make for a painterly landscape. To the west, the panorama takes the golden sands of Taylor’s Mistake, lofty Scarborough and the city’s sprawling patchwork. But Nicole really brought the headland to life with so many anecdotes and insights as we strolled the trail. www.craterrimwalks.co.nz
Gazing down on the harbour’s entrance, where Hector’s dolphins frequently frolic, German-laid mines still lurk in the vast depths of the seabed. Despite numerous attempts to identify their specific location, the mines continue to elude our navy divers. Dove-tailing with the 75th anniversary of the end of WWII, the gun emplacements of the coastal defence battery at Godley Head have just been refreshed with some superb wall murals by Wongi Wilson, in tribute to the home guard, particularly to the women who operated the whole compound.
There’s a stirring relic from Captain Scott’s ill-fated polar expedition at Godley Head. One of the pre-fabricated huts that travelled to and from Antarctica on the Terra Nova, is now permanently located on the headland. Climb the stairs onto the roof balcony for even more elevated views. After the Terra Nova returned to Lyttelton, Scott’s grieving wife Kathleen actually stayed in the hut after it was first assembled in Sumner, as did Scott’s dog handler. Kathleen learned of her husband’s death on her voyage out here. Soon after arriving, she was commissioned to sculpt his magnificent memorial statue, which you can admire on the City Promenade by Worcester Blvd.
My runaway soft-adventure highlight was also on the Port Hills, at the Christchurch Adventure Park. Alongside the plethora of high-octane mountain bike and walking trails, and New Zealand’s longest chairlift, the park also boasts a 4 zipline adventure tour, including the nation’s highest and longest lines. I opted to do the stand-alone Long Ride, which spans 1.1km, under the expert guidance of Ollie and Ralph.
Reaching the launch platform, the pangs of trepidation were palpable. Quietly musing to myself that it would be appallingly rude form to chicken out, I took a deep breath as my heart skipped several beats. Hurtling down to the floor of Cashmere Valley from just below the Sign of the Kiwi and flying over the pine forest canopy with an eagle’s view across the city is a blow-your-hair back, catch-your-breath ride to remember.
The rush of air is exhilarating as you charge down the line at speeds up to 100km! (Loaded down with far too many Riverside Market treats, I mustered top speeds of 85km.) My body was abuzz with adrenaline for the rest of the day. Exhilaration guaranteed. Surrender to the adventure! www.christchurchadventurepark.com
For more tips and insider recommendations on exploring Christchurch, check out the official website, chock-full with trip inspiration. www.christchurchnz.com