Welcome to another post for Fabulous Journeys! This week, I’m featuring a country down under. I’m making a series out of this, as this is one of the most beautiful countries I’ve ever been in the world (and had the privilege to live in). Enjoy this Fabulous Journeys post!
Aotearoa – The Land of the Long White Cloud
There is a special place located 42 degrees south of the Equator. It’s comprised of 2 major islands, and it’s often confused to be part of Australia. Its original inhabitants called it “Aotearoa”, which means the “Land of the Long White Cloud”. The locals refer to it as “Godzone”. If this still doesn’t ring a bell, I’m talking about the beautiful country of New Zealand! Many people would have seen the ad campaigns of New Zealand, showcasing the magnificent scenery of snow-capped mountains, turquoise-blue lakes and pristine, glacial-fed rivers. It’s very clean, fresh and peaceful, and for lack of a better word to describe it, the last paradise on Earth!
The New Zealand Attraction
New Zealand holds a very special place in my heart. It’s one of the places on Earth that I have never grown tiredof seeing and I always have great fond memories of the place, the people and the laid-back lifestyle. I cannot work out still how I managed to end up in New Zealand, but I’m so glad I did. One memory I had before I first arrived in New Zealand was when I was in Sri Lanka several years ago. I was in the Singapore Airlines office in Colombo waiting to get my tickets to head back to the Philippines, and while waiting, I saw their brochure of New Zealand. I remember vividly that it had a picture of a bunch of guys whitewater rafting on a wild river, with snowcapped mountains surrounding it. I was awestruck by the picture and thought to myself that this would definitely be one of the place I will visit before I die. Little did I know that 4 years later, I would be given an opportunity to work and live there! Talk about the law of attraction working here!
I lived in New Zealand for a good 5 years. During that time, I spent as much opportunity as I could to explore as much of the country as I can, and I loved it to the point that I became a Kiwi myself 3 years ago! I’ve said enough of what I think of New Zealand, it’s time for me to show you what New Zealand really has to offer to tempt your senses and feast your eyes! For starters, New Zealand is comprised of 2 major land masses: the North Island and the South Island. I thought that having lived in this beautiful country that there is a lot to write about, so I’m putting this out as a series of blogpost on New Zealand. I’ll start this week with where I lived and spent most of my time in New Zealand, Christchurch, the Garden City of New Zealand.
The Garden City
Christchurch has often been referred to as the Garden City of New Zealand. You will notice it with all the beautiful parks around, and the well-manicured lawns along Fendalton Avenue, where you will most likely go past from the airport going into the city centre. Christchurch is also known to be the most English city in New Zealand. This is due to the fact that the city was specifically created as a new settlement by the English who arrived here in search for a new life in the colonies. The city was designed to look like a typical English town, hence you will notice that in the architecture of the old buildings around the city.
Christchurch is currently the second largest city in New Zealand (second-equal to the capital Wellington, though this could be argued by the Wellingtonians), and it has the second biggest airport in the country. Most people who go to New Zealand would usually have passed by Christchurch if they are on their way to Queenstown. However, most people bypass Christchurch and just proceed to other parts of the South Island. Christchurch has its own attractions and deserves to be seen. As an ex-local, I have explored a few sights that are totally worth visiting in Christchurch. Here is a list of these wonderful attractions:
1.) Christ Church Cathedral - this cathedral is the focal point of the city, and the Cathedral Square, where it is actually located. This cathedral is of a gothic style, and took a few years to complete. It’s one of the best cathedrals in New Zealand in terms of its type of architecture. On Cathedral Square, people hang around and there is an area where they play this huge chess pieces, and anyone can have a go at them. You can play with anyone you want. They also have an open market in the square every Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, where you can buy local, handmade New Zealand products and souvenirs . Most of the vendors at this small open market moved to the Arts Centre weekend market for the weekend, so if you miss them at this location, look out for the Arts Centre on weekend.
UPDATE (22 Feb 2011): After the massive 6.1 magnitude earthquake, I’m sad to say that the Christ Church cathedral fell victim to mother nature’s rath and the spire crumbled to pieces. Hopefully Christchurch will pick up the pieces and restore this beautiful centrepiece of the city. My thoughts and prayers to those affected by the destructive earthquake.
2.) Arts Centre - this is the old University of Canterbury campus that is now transformed into a gallery of shops and artist galleries. The building is of gothic design as well, much like the Christ Church cathedral. As mentioned earlier, there is a weekend market that happens here, and you find the best souvenirs here, from jade (pounamu) to wool products to homemade beauty products made of local natural ingredients.
3.) River Avon, Botanical Gardens and Hagley Park - this is a great place for a stroll, especially during Spring or Autumn, when you see the different colours come alive! In Spring, you will find lots of cherry blossoms in full bloom along Hagley Park and in the botanic gardens. In autumn, on the other hand, you will find the change in the colour of the leaves, which is really stunning! Both the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park are right beside each other. The River avon cuts through the middle of both of them, and you can do “punting” on the Avon, which is basically like cruising on a gondola in Venice.
4.) Sign of the Takahe – This is another old gothic building that sits on top of the Port Hills, in the suburb of Cashmere. You get great views of the city and the Southern Alps on the other end. On a nice winter’s day, you get to see the city with the snowcapped Alps in the backdrop, one of those picture-perfect shots of the city! You can hold a function at the Sign of the Takahe, and they serve great food there!
5.) Lyttelton and the Christchurch Gondola - Lyttelton is a harbour town that is technically outside the Christchurch city boundaries, but is very close to the city. It’s only a 20 minute drive from the city. This is where the first settlers from England docked in Christchurch in the 1850s. It is now the port area for Christchurch, and from time to time, you get cruise ships arriving here. The town itself is quite charming, as its location is on the slopes of the Port Hills looking out to the Lyttelton Harbour. There are nice cool cafes and shops around that’s worth checking out, and if you happen to be Filipino, the only Filipino restaurant in Christchurch is just right there. On the harbour, you can also go for a dolphin watching cruise. You can have a great view of Lyttelton and Christchurch City by taking the Christchurch Gondola. The gondola is basically a cable car that will take you up to the top of an observation deck where you can have coffee or a meal with a view. There is a restaurant at the top that you can check out
6.) Sumner - This nice seaside suburb is a great place to chill out on a nice hot day. The beach here is nice, and the weather is generally slightly warmer than the city because of its sheltered location. It’s only a 15 minute drive from the city, and the suburb has a lot of nice houses around. It’s one of the more upmarket suburbs of Christchurch. I used to go there on weekends just to stroll on the beach and have ice cream on a nice clear and warm day! =)
Around Christchurch – Canterbury Region
7.) Waipara - Further afield from Christchurch, a 45-minute drive up north on State Highway 1 will take you to the wine-growing region of Waipara. There are more than a dozen wineries in the area, and they are known to produce a good Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. This is a fantastic place to go if you love your wine (like I do), and you can have a nice lunch in the many wineries around. The most famous wineries are Pegasus Bay (personally my favourite), Canterbury House, and Waipara Springs. Every March, the region holds a Waipara Wine and Food festival, which showcases the region’s many produce aside from wine, though wine is clearly the highlight!
8.) Akaroa - A little bit southeast of Christchurch is an area called Banks Peninsula. This area is quite hilly and offers some beautiful coastal villages. The biggest town in the area, and a big drawcard for tourists, is Akaroa. This town is a 90-minute drive from Christchurch, and is known for its rather French character and heritage. The French nearly colonised New Zealand in the 1840s, but the British managed to beat them by a day. There was a boatload of settlers from France who wanted to settle the Akaroa region, and when they found to their disappointment that the British beat them to it, some of them still settled here and put in their French character throughout the town. You’d find the street names are in French, and is the only town with a French character in the entire country.
9.) Hanmer Springs – This small town in the Hurunui district is a 2-hour drive from Christchurch, but it is a popular weekend destination amongst people from Christchurch and surrounding areas. The main attraction here is the thermal pools. These are natural pools that used to be just a hole in the ground in the 1890s, but eventually got developed into more like a resort complex. The water is still taken from the ground and distributed to the pools. There are different pools of different temperatures and nature, so kids can play as well as the adults. Around town, there are a number of great mountain biking tracks that you can explore, and walks up the nearby mountain range. It has an alpine feel to the town, and definitely a great winter getaway if you feel like staying in a log cabin. This is one of my favourite weekend getaways from Christchurch, and what my friends and I do is hire one of the holiday homes for the weekend, and just chill out on the thermal pools or go running up the beautiful mountains around!
10.) Kaikoura – This town is 2.5 hours away from Christchurch and offers a stunning view of the Pacific Ocean and the Kaikoura Ranges. The town’s name is comprised of 2 Maori words: “Kai” meaning Eat and “Koura” meaning Crayfish. Kaikoura has an abundance of crayfish on its shores, and you can see some stalls on the roadside selling these cooked crayfish that are just so good! This town is also known for its whale watching. Sperm whales tend to hang around near the deep trenches just a few kilometres from Kaikoura’s shores, which makes the area so unique in that whales can be found close enough from the shores. There is also a winery just as you enter the township of Kaikoura called Kaikoura Wine Company, and their location is absolutely wonderful! It is on a hill facing the ocean, which makes for a gorgeous view.
11.) Mt. Hutt – If you’re into skiing or snowboarding, then you have to check this field out. Mt. Hutt is one of the closest ski fields in Christchurch, and one of the best in the region. It has great facilities for beginners, intermediate, and advanced skiers. It’s only a 90-minute drive from Christchurch and has a reasonably good access road up to the ski field itself. This is one of my favourite ski fields in New Zealand and highly recommended when you’re in Christchurch during winter.
These are only some of the attractions in and around Christchurch. There are a few more which I haven’t covered, but I’ve only highlighted the ones that are really not to be missed. I hope this has given a great light to Christchurch, which is usually overlooked by visitors to the South Island, and only used as a gateway. There is more to it than you think. Check out Christchurch and plan for your next holiday and enjoy this magnificent Garden City!
I’ll have more posts coming up on other parts of the South Island of New Zealand, so watch out for it!
Til then, have a Fabulous Journey!