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New Zealand: Auckland, Christchurch, Milford Sound, Mount Cook, Queenstown, Rotorua
Christchurch, New Zealand: Chic city
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
Garden City – that’s quite a name for Christchurch. The city’s 70% public area is reserved for park lands. In fact, Christchurch’s Hagley Park is the third largest city park in the world – after Hyde Park of London and Central Park of New York. And around parks are friendly people making their way through old world charm. Some good universities have made this city a student’s favourite too.
Christchurch is about 4 hours drive from Mt. Cook. I spent the morning hours in Mt. Cook to enjoy the sunrise and the breakfast. I left at 10 AM and reached at 3 PM. Travelers like me are bound to take more time than necessary – thanks to the many picture stops that I prefer to take.
The drive from Mt. Cook to Christchurch would certainly rank amongst my best. Rolling hills, grazing cattle, snow-peaked mountains, blue lakes (this description is now become a cliché since I began to write my New Zealand experiences!) will enchant the most discerning.
Highlight of the journey is Lake Tekapo. A small little town settled on the banks of sparkling blue waters of Lake Tekapo. I am told, many travelers actually like to spend the night in this beautiful town if they want to give staying at Mt. Cook a miss. Whilst there, do make it a point to visit a historic church located on the shores. You will be pleasantly surprised by the simple stone structure and the wooden interiors. The positioning of the ‘Cross’ was indeed captivating… backdrop of which were the mountains behind.
A few meters away is the statue of the Coolie dog. This breed of dog finds a special place in the hearts of shepherds (which means most of the New Zealanders) as it renders yeoman service to its owners. I thought that the creation of the statue was a great way to recognize our four legged friends.
We checked into Marque Hotel right in downtown. At 23 stories the hotel is the tallest building of Christchurch. Must let you know, that just two months prior to my visit, Christchurch experienced their worst earthquake – damaging many structures. Fortunately no lives were lost. Entire city was being done up. Even my hotel walls had developed some cracks, but we were assured that there was nothing to worry. Amen.
I had set up a meeting at 4PM with the authorities of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism Authority. Just so you know, you will come across many signs and notes displaying the words ‘Ch Ch’. Just means Christchurch & Canterbury. The authorities were good enough to tell me more about the city and also gave us a few coupons that would allow us free entry to some of city’s attractions.
Central to Christchurch is the Cathedral Square. Indeed, bang in centre of town, the neighbourhood is home to the cathedral, tram stations, Government buildings, hotels & restaurants, bars & cafes, gift shops and boutique stores… all those things that the local or the tourist would want. From Cathedral Square we hopped on a City Circuit bus that’s free for all. The idea was to smell the soil that would help us decide our tours for tomorrow. After 45 minutes we got down from where we started. Unfortunately, the tour was not of much help. I guess the route it took was essentially favouring the locals and quite rightly so.
That evening we just wandered around Cathedral Square and many of the streets that emerge out from the square. Marque Hotel was just a few minutes’ walk away. Just opposite to our hotel was a lovely little street which had beautiful pastel coloured buildings on both the sides. On the ground floor were many restaurants serving cuisine from around the world. And when the city tram ran across, it took me in the world of the distant past. We rested early. Tomorrow would be a long day for us.
There’s so much to see and do in Christchurch. But since I only had a day on hand, it was essential to prioritize. Three things couldn’t be missed – Tram ride; Punting on Avon and the Gondola ride. Some clarification is in place for Gondola. One is what we all are familiar with – going up the hill in cable cars; and the other stands for a peaceful boat ride (remember Venice?). In Christchurch the boat ride would be referred to as Punting.
I strongly suggest buying a triple combo pass costing $50 for an adult. The pass gives unlimited access to the Tram; a 30-minute ride on the punt and a trip to top of the mountain using the gondola. This can be purchased at the Tram Station, which incidentally is in the Cathedral Square neighbourhood.
Punting on River Avon can be opted from 2 locations. From tram stop 2 (Worcester Bridge) or from tram stop 5 (Clock Tower). My option was stop 2 for no special reason. You could do well trying stop 5. The attendant at the Tram Station will help you book a punting slot. It’s advisable to book prior especially in high season. A part of city life from the late 1800s to 1954, horse drawn and electric trams ran services to many parts of the city and suburbs. These beautifully restored trams returned to the streets of Christchurch to the joy of residents & visitors. The tram drivers provide you with an entertaining and informative ride. The Tram is indeed a Christchurch icon.
After breakfast at 9:30 AM we took the tram from stop 11 and got down at stop 2. We had booked the punting slot starting at 10AM. The punt was ready for us. For company we had 2 Japanese tourists. The boat was in control of a young Chinese student. He was very enthusiastic soul and offered us plenty of information as we silently cruised along. We cruised for 15 minutes upstream before turning back. The Avon River is pure stream water and is home to few species of fish and water birds. On both sides of the Avon are plenty of heritage buildings. The ride lasted for 30 minutes.
Our next stop was number 5 – across the road was the Botanic Garden. During my visit, the garden was in full bloom. Christchurch is known for its gorgeous parks. With over 800 parks in the city limits, it’s only apt that the place be known as Garden City. Largest of its park is Hagley Park. Sitting in the corner of Hagley Park (over 400 acres) is the 70 acre Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Established in 1863, the garden has several distinct area including a riverside woodland garden, a pinetum, a formal rose garden, water & rock gardens and extensive collection of New Zealand native trees as also from around the world. For $15 you can hop on ‘The Caterpillar’ a battery operated tram that takes you on a guided trip through the park. The driver easily doubles up as a botanist parting with very valuable information. During the time of my visit, the garden was in full bloom creating some excellent photo opportunities. After spending a couple of hours in the gardens it was time to move on.
Christchurch Gondola is around 10 kms from downtown. A bus service to the gondola costs $10 for the return journey. The buses depart regularly from various locations. However, since we had a car with us, we decided to drive. From the gardens we took the tram and completed the circuit enjoying the city from the wooden benches of the tram and alighted at Cathedral Square.
To our pleasant surprise, that afternoon, the location was in festive spirits. South Koreans living in Christchurch had organized a festival. South Korean food, artefacts, et all were on sale. Highlight was the stage set up for the cultural show. We were lucky to be just in time to enjoy the Maori dance. Boy, those guys and girls are big!
In 15 minutes, we were at the base of the gondola station. Once atop, we spent an hour on the observation deck, a ‘time travel’ journey and walked a bit on the crater rim. The location offers excellent view of the city, the harbor, the plains and the mountain range. Instead of coming back to the city directly, we opted to drive the Summit road. The road snakes through picturesque mountain setting taking you through beautiful town of Lyttelton and its harbor. The drive offers some spectacular bird’s eye view of the enchantment below. I certainly recommend folks with cars to do this drive that won’t take more than 40 minutes to complete.
By the time we reached Christchurch it was 7PM. We parked our car at the hotel ($15 per day for hotel guests) and spent the rest of the evening wandering and enjoying the city by night. Tomorrow, our tour of the South Island of New Zealand would come to an end.
North Island beckons.
The severe earthquake in early 2011 has left Christchurch completely shattered. The local authorities have plans to raze down many buildings and that includes some heritage structures. I fear this lovely city may lose some of its old world charm. Please do check around before you make your travel plans. Hopefully, all will be well.
Christchurch Image Gallery Photo viewer
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