I remember flying to New Zealand on a one-way ticket in March of 2011, only weeks after the big earthquake. It devastated Christchurch, destroying a vast majority of the city centre and hundreds of homes. In the end, 185 people lost their lives while countless others lost family, jobs, and friends. This natural disaster deterred many from visiting the city, including me. My first trip was in August 2011 when I needed to catch a bus to Queenstown. Not understanding the damage, the event, or the aftermath whatsoever, I arrived at night, seeing nothing of the city besides the corner cafe and my bed. It wasn’t until the next morning when the bus circled the ‘Red Zone’ that I realized the severity of the situation. I sat on the bus, wiping tears from my eyes all the way to Queenstown.
Fast forward to present day and I have explored the city more times than I can remember. What has happened to Christchurch since 2011, I don’t think anyone thought would happen; it grew into a place of opportunity for new business, new buildings, new people, new art, new life. I feel like it’s Springtime every time I visit; something new is blossoming around every corner. From one of the city’s biggest fans, I tell anyone in my path that their travel plans need to include Christchurch. It’s diverse attractions, people, food, art & lifestyle are what make it so vibrant and rare. If you’re planning on coming to New Zealand without visiting Christchurch, take a second to understand what you’ll be missing.
The Christchurch Cafe Scene
Hello Sunday Cafe
I always love to start with a coffee/food combo option in any list, and Hello Sunday Café couldn’t be a better place to begin. Once a school, this adorable and tiny café makes everything in-house from their breads to their sauces. They are some of the most hospitable staff I’ve ever come across and did I mention their food is to die for? Best for brunch, Hello Sunday Café is not only must eat, it’s a local hot spot too. So much in fact, it just won an award for best café. See? I’m not lying!
Supreme Supreme is one of the city’s best urban cafes. The design, the staff, and the coffee are worth coming back for on the daily. Previously home to an Asian food warehouse, the old building still pays homage to the previous tenants with its design and signage. It’s modern and minimal design allow for big flavours and personalities. Their single-origin coffee is my main go-to when I come visit. It’s delicious and every cup comes with a info guide on the bean, where it’s grown and tasting notes. Recently I’ve come for more than just the filtered coffee…trust me when I say this; order the mac n’ cheese.
To get your fix for shopping, head to the city centre and check out the ReStart Mall. This project was put together to bring money and life back to the city and its local businesses. Opening in October of 2011, the mall has grown to over 50 businesses, made completely out of shipping containers, ReStart has revolutionised the way we think about recycling and small spaces. This brightly coloured spot has plenty to offer too; amazing local food trucks, the best souvenirs, local shops filled with unique goods & art, and cafes. If you want to help the city get back on its feet and experience a variety of local businesses, shop here.
Saturday markets rule in Christchurch. Both Riccarton and Lyttleton Saturday markets offer up the best in local produce, jewellery, coffee, baked goods, clothes, accessories, and plenty more local goods that you can’t wait to get your hands on. It’s also a great option to grab a cheaper meal and get to know locals. Open rain or shine, a market should be at the top of your list of must-do’s here.
The FoodGetting back to the food scene, Christchurch absolutely spoils anyone who comes to say hi. I always check websites like Neat Places to get the 411 (do people still say that?) on up-and-coming eateries, must-eat items, and fun dining experiences. Food is at the top of my list of things to experience in any place, and Christchurch really delivers.
This place was recommended to me by flatmates, and they really picked a diamond. Comprised of three different restaurants, Stranges Lane includes; Orleans, Strange & Co, and Lower 9th Diner. From American diner to Southern specialties, these three bring the flavour and fun. Sit on the outdoor patio with fairy lights and heaters for ultimate ambiance. Depending on your taste buds, you can sample from all three menus. Order at one place on all three menus if you like! I love the cocktails and crack fries and usually make this a stop on the foodie itinerary when visiting.
Potsticker Dumpling Bar
This place gets me every time. Their funky decor, accommodating staff and delicious menu are really worth the visit. The hardest part is choosing between several types of potstickers, dim sum, and their signature pot sticker burgers. Their Xiao Long Bao is a must, so already have that in mind when you sit down to order 1,000 potstickers (or is it just me?). Menus hang above each table which consists of creating-your-own-potsticker buffet by filling in the bubbles on the order sheet. Potsticker Dumpling Bar, I love you.
Street Art Tour
Take a self-made walking tour of Christchurch’s city centre. After the earthquake in 2011, street artists turned the rubble and broken buildings into some of the most stunning works of art in the entire country. It’s a beautiful tribute to the city and the love they have to bring it back to life. It’s an amazing art walk that will make you feel proud just to have witnessed these unbelievable and colourful works of art. The city loves them so much that they have created a mini-map showcasing the best places to see the most popular pieces of street art.
The Canterbury Museum is one of the city’s shining stars. With revolving and ongoing exhibitions, the museum pairs history and culture brilliantly. Staples like the Paua House and indigenous exhibitions, allow the museum to showcase the past, present & future of New Zealand. I had a chance to check out the new Air New Zealand exhibition celebrating 75 years in the air. I was blown away. From sitting in a plane in the 60’s to sitting in a plane in the future, this exhibit is truly hands-on and out of this world. I could not recommend this exhibition enough.
New Regent Street
One of the first times I walked the city centre I happened to stumble upon New Regent Street and I thought I was transported to another era. The architecture resembles Spanish Mission design, immediately giving the charming street a stand-out quality. Cafes, media agencies, boutiques, bars & restaurants line this adorable street, making it impossible not to stop and enjoy an hour or two of people watching.
Isaac Theatre Royal
A community favourite, the Isaac Theatre Royal has been around for over 100 years in Christchurch. The building went through a reconstruction of sorts after the earthquake and re-opened in 2014. Home to a variety of shows and events, the theatre provides the perfect outlet of expression and arts for the Christchurch community as well as its visitors. This award-winning theatre continues to pull in entertaining shows and proves that the people of Christchurch value the performing arts again and again. Even if you don’t frequent the theatre, this one is stunning both on and off the stage.
As much as I love everything on offer in Christchurch, the people are what keep me coming back. I will never forget the staff at Hello Sunday for recommending other cafes to visit, or the lady on the corner by Ballantyne’s handing out Christchurch mini-maps. She was so grateful and happy to see a solo traveller exploring the city. The infectious positivity I encounter each time I visit is a true testament to the locals. Thank you for welcoming me.
About the author:
Jen Heuett is the creator of Travel + Trust & Wanderlust, an online community to educate, empower and inspire women to travel solo. Her words can also be found on Huffington Post, Mind Body Green, and Travel Hooligan, her first travel company that inspires young adults to utilize the Working Holiday Visa in Australia and New Zealand. She currently resides in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand.