Christchurch

Christchurch Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum

The George Hotel in Christchurch felt sophisticated and luxurious after our pretty but simple motel in Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. I’d found The George online when looking for somewhere to use two Hyatt free night certificates we needed to use. Although not a Hyatt, The George partners with Hyatt and free night certificates are usable there for some dates and categories.* A lovely spacious room with huge bathroom, a seating area and a balcony overlooking green trees confirmed I’d made a good choice. Hagley Park North sits just across the street from The George and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens and city center are a short walk away.

I’d made reservations for dinner at Cellar Door, a wine bar set in the south quad of the lovely Christchurch Arts Centre. We spent the hours before dinner wandering the city center, taking the old cathedral undergoing major reconstruction as well as other lingering signs of mass destruction beside gleaming modern buildings and stately older stone structures reflecting the English and Scottish whalers who settled in Christchurch. Remnants of the devastating earthquake in 2011 that killed 185 people are apparent everywhere and make Christchurch a striking mix of old and new, ruins and construction, bustling and deserted, cheerful and mournful.

Cellar Door turned out to a happy choice for dinner and we enjoyed flights of local wine along with venison and fish from the Canterbury region. Dark was just descending as we left Cellar Door, so we strolled across the street to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens lured by the hot pink lights setting off the adjoining buildings of Christ’s College and the Canterbury museum, flower beds and fountains.

A fun treat awaited us back at The George: A small teddy bear sat by my pillow with a tag proclaiming him to be George the Bear and stating that he wished to travel with us. George has his own Facebook page and is quite the traveler judging by the photos I’ve seen (and posted) there. What a fun and clever idea! Fun for the guests, free advertising for the hotel. I’ve snapped quite a few photos of George on his travels and he’s now living with us in Paris and even gets out and about here on occasion. He’s very excited about an upcoming trip to Uzbekistan. 😉

We had no real plans for our full day in Christchurch so set out on foot to cover as many of the recommended sights as we could. An early stop near a riverside memorial wall for the victims of the earthquake made us stop and read the tributes. One with a photo of a young man and the anguished words of his parents and siblings stays with me. Heartbreaking. The lunchtime earthquake lasted such a short time, but the resulting loss of life and property was staggering. We came across more memorials: a garden where a collapsed news building once stood, a touching display of 185 empty white chairs of all styles on the grounds of a former church, and on and on. A white baby carrier among the chairs was particularly poignant.

Around Christchurch [clockwise from top left]: on the Avon River, New Regent Street, Hamish Hay Bridge, Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre, White Chairs Memorial on the site of the former St. Luke’s in the City Anglican Church

More uplifting was a stop on 1930’s-era New Regent Street dotted with pastel mission-style buildings housing cafes and boutiques. Although New Regent Street took damage in the 2011 earthquake (and later quakes as well), it was rebuilt and restored. A period tram carries tourists to the popular pedestrian street and covered mall.

New Regent Street tram and covered mall

Dating even further back to the 1880’s, Hamish Hay Bridge is a lacy wrought iron and stone confection spanning the Avon river and connecting to Victoria Square park. The park is flanked on opposite sides by the modern city hall and the large Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre. The Convention Centre is eye-catching with its tile facade and unusual shape. The tiles and shape are supposed to represent the “Canterbury region’s braided rivers.” The tiles looked like a herringbone pattern to me, but I liked them all the same.

Of course, David soon called for a local beer brake so we made our way to the Canterbury Brewers Collective inside the Riverside Market in downtown Christchurch. The CBC offers a large selection of local craft beers on tap and in bottles. We had fun sipping tasty beers and chatting with the owner about beer and about his eventful life. He’s a native of Christchurch, but had moved to the Seattle area where he had the bad luck to live through the housing crash. Having lost his home, he decided to return to Christchurch with his wife. They arrived only days before the 2011 earthquake. His stories of the quake and the days and weeks and months afterwards were harrowing. If you’re feeling down on your luck, remember what this guy has been through. And he’s still going and still positive. Bravo and best of luck to the Canterbury Brewers Collective!

Canterbury Brewers Collective in the Riverside Market

With our thirst quenched, we headed to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. We’d only scraped the lighted surface the night before so wanted to see more. The gardens were well worth our time: Gorgeous grounds, interesting native plants, artistic fountains and bridges…and a plethora of tiny ducklings!

We found ourselves without dinner plans and with very few options on a Monday night. Heading back to the Art Centre area, we found Cook ‘N’ With Gas open and the menu looked good. The quaint eatery was deserted save for one table of three in the back. Unfortunately, everything that had appealed on the menu was unavailable. Our friendly waiter checked with the chef who finally agreed he could thaw some venison that should be good, but we’d need to patch together some of the sides from other dishes since he had none of what was supposed to go with the meat. We gave it a shot and the result was mixed insofar as the combinations went, but the meat was fine and it wasn’t a bad meal. Cheers to the chef for improvising.

The next day it was time to head across the South Island through Arthur’s Pass to the west coast. I’d read about some of the overlooks near Christchurch, though, and hated to leave without seeing at least some of them. So we drove thirty minutes out of our way to Sugarloaf Reserve and a great view of Governors Bay from Summit Road. The detour was worth it:

Governors Bay

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* I often want to combine one hotel certificate of mine with one of David’s for a two-night stay. Obviously, we want to stay in the same room and not have to pack, check out, change rooms (after some hours) and check back in to a new room. But, not infrequently, even when I’ve found two consecutive nights available at a participating hotel, the category of room may be different. For example, at a recent stay in Monaco, I could find only one night in a king bed with ocean view and one night with two double beds with an ocean view or a king bed without an ocean view. In this case, I booked my preferred room for the first night (an ocean-view king) and the less desirable room for the second night using our certificates. Then, I called the hotel and explained that, although we had two reservations, we are one couple and would prefer not to move if at all possible. We had a similar situation with our bookings at The George and elsewhere in New Zealand. I have never had a hotel refuse to do this. After all, it’s easier for them, too, if the room is available. Anyway, there’s no guarantee and the rooms may genuinely be fully booked and unavailable, but it never hurts to ask.

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