A love letter to Christchurch

It’s been a busy few weeks. Since my last post there has been a whirlwind European bus tour, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and some very long flights from London to China to New Zealand and back again. So there’s a lot to catch up on. Phew.

First and foremost though, I want to talk about Christchurch, one of New Zealand’s largest cities. In February 2011 the city was devastated by a large earthquake which took 185 lives and caused mass destruction. We visited Christchurch nearly three years after the quake and it was a moving experience to see the city’s slow recovery. Some areas have been repaired or rebuilt but huge areas of the city, particularly in the red zone, have been replaced by grey rubble. These fenced-off areas could look like a war zone but the people of Christchurch have turned their city into somewhere really special. They’ve brought colour, life, creativity and spirit to their city. It’s inspiring to see.

Where there were office buildings and shops there are now art installations, street murals, pop-up businesses and a shopping mall built entirely of colourful shipping containers stacked on top of each other. In the city’s nooks, crannies and open spaces you will find delightful surprises such as the coin-operated ‘dance-o-mat’, a space for people to play music and dance as they please. You’ll find oversized outdoor furniture, giant chess boards, life-sized snakes and ladders, rainbow-coloured benches to rest your weary feet, 1960’s inspired psychedelic flowers painted on the footpath and many more surprises.

The food and drink! Oh, the food and drink

Many of Christchurch’s beloved cafes have reinvented themselves following the quake. I highly recommend visiting C4 coffee shop and C1 espresso. The fresh juice stall within Cashel St’s Re:START mall made me a mouth-wateringly good carrot, apple and ginger juice.

I enjoyed some of the best food I’ve had in years during our visit to Christchurch. I had been reliably informed that the garlic naans at Riccarton’s Arjee Bhajee were ‘off the hook’ – and they were. So much, in fact, that we ate there twice. Once in the evening (the venison and portobello mushroom curry is amazing, as is the lamb saag) and once on their fixed-price weekday lunch menu (get the lamb bhutuwa, you won’t regret it). Average cost: $10 per person for lunch, $30-35 per person for dinner including naan and beer.

Dinner that evening was at Spice Paragon, a new-build Thai restaurant in Riccarton. Four of us shared the melting beef cheek, the tempura fish with mango salad and the mussaman lamb curry. Add scallop starters, creme-brulee desserts and a bottle of the Mt Difficulty riesling to the mix and I was in food heaven. Bliss. Average cost: $50 per person for a heavenly three-course feed.

And the beer! We had a great time sampling beers at new pop-up speakeasy Volstead, before heading to Harlequin Public House, an amazing new restaurant and cocktail bar/speakeasy in Ironside House, opposite Victoria St’s Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower. The clock tower is an eery memorial to the 2011 quake: it is half the height it used to be and its hands are stopped at 12:52, the time of the quake.

Street art

Wandering around Christchurch you’ll spot many a painted mural – many of them with evocative messaging or memorials to the quake. It feels very East-London-meets-Berlin which meant, of course, that I LOVED IT as those are two of my favourite places in the world.

I first visited Christchurch as a small child in 1991, then again as a boozy student in 2005. I spent a few days in the backpacker’s hostel just opposite the now-ruined cathedral and this trip gave me chills to see what the quake had done to that building. This was my third visit and I have to say: I always loved Christchurch. Now I love it even more fiercely, and differently: there’s respect, sorrow and inspiration in the mix now. I can’t wait to see what the future holds.

Check out Christchurch, chur

A guide to the city’s thriving pop-ups

A guide to the ‘gap filler’ art installations and other fun surprises

The Re:START mall

Neat Places, a great guide to what’s new and fun in Christchurch

 

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