Published on : Sunday, February 21, 2016
Five years on from the earthquakes that changed the face of Christchurch, the resilient South Island city is emerging with a strong and intriguing new edge – and as New Zealand’s newest destination story.
New Zealand’s second largest city has become one of the most unique urban redevelopments in the world attracting attention for creativity and innovation and, while the central business district that bore the brunt of the damage is still a work in progress, visitors to Christchurch who know where to look are certainly well-rewarded.
Project by project, the constantly-evolving urban landscape – described as having reached its reconstruction peak – is taking form with glistening new buildings, like the recently opened transport centre, and stylishly restored heritage precincts such as the Isaac Theatre Royal and 1930s New Regent Street sitting among refreshed open spaces and gap filler installations that show the edgy attitude of many future focused locals.
Exceptional projects like the Transitional ‘cardboard’ Cathedral, creative street art, clever retail spaces and a raft of quality cafés, bars and restaurants are creating a potent vibe in this once conservative-minded city.
New look Christchurch
While the inner city is abuzz with construction, many areas are untouched by change and offer tranquil pursuits like punting on the Avon River through the Botanical Gardens, one of Christchurch’s 740 parks.
Significant heritage restoration projects are also a reminder of the city’s place in New Zealand history. As well as the Theatre Royal, already completed are New Regent Street with 40 shops built in the Spanish Mission Revival style of the 1930s; the rejuvenated Canterbury Museum, Victoria St Precinct – a hub of night life, the 100-years Old Government Building Heritage Hotel and The Tannery – a boutique shopping emporium beside Heathcote River in Woolaston.
Ultra-modern, stylish buildings like the Ilex Visitors Centre & Café with sophisticated designs promoting sustainability and the latest technology, are a highlight of the new look city.
The Christchurch Art gallery – one of the central city’s significant modern buildings – reopened in December 2015. Work is currently underway on restoring The Christchurch Arts Centre with various areas opening in stages as the work is completed.
The now famous Re:START shopping mall, home to over 20 businesses operating out of brightly coloured shipping containers, sprang up in 2011 to re-start the city’s retail sector after the earthquake. The area has now been re-jigged to make way for the new permanent retail hub but the container shops will be in place for at least another year.
Places to stay
Having lost much of its inner city accommodation in 2011, Christchurch hotel redevelopment has been a major focus of the rebuild.The city now has 302 new commercial accommodation properties and 5530 rooms.
Recent openings have included Breakfree Cashel, the Ramada Suites and the five-star Hotel Montreal.
In early 2017, a new 200-room Crowne Plaza will open in the inner city.
Places to eat
In the past nine months, 54 bars and restaurants have opened boosting the total number of cafes and restaurants to 760 – more than before the earthquakes.
The region also now boasts New Zealand Cuisine Restaurant of the Year, Roots which is just over the hill from Christchurch city in Lyttelton. The restaurant also won an Innovation Award for the ethos behind its dining experience. Chef Giulio Sturla will only serve food he has grown, foraged or sourced locally from artisan producers and sustainable farms.
Stranges Lane is another popular new dining destination in Christchurch where a selection of restaurants share an open courtyard in a heritage laneway development.
One of the best ways to experience the changing face of downtown Christchurch and absorb the creative buzz is on a walking or cycle tour. Christchurch Bike and Walking Tours offer a two-hour guided tour – the flat nature of the city streets making the excursion easily achievable for visitors of varying ages and abilities.
More adventurous cyclists will be interested in the new MTB ultimate adventure park on Cashmere Hills to the east of the city. Currently under development, the park will offer 180 – 200km trails with a lift for bikes, and eventually zip lines and three-star cabin accommodation.