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The garden city remains closely bound to its English heritage, most evident in its stone Gothic Revival churches and meeting houses. Named after Oxford’s Christ Church College, the city has grown from a settlement on the willowed banks of the Avon River to a bohemian and distinctively Kiwi community of artists and free spirits. The city faithfully preserves its recent past through a network of museums, galleries, and gardens.
Christchurch’s flat grid of streets extends in every direction from Cathedral Square, the city’s center, where food stalls and artisans congregate beneath the bell tower of Christchurch Cathedral. Cobblestoned Worcester Street continues east through Latimer Square and west (as Worcester Blvd.) over the Avon River, to the east through Centre, the Canterbury Museums, and the Botanic Gardens. The city’s central thoroughfare, Colombo Street, is lined with souvenir shops and runs north-south through the square. Arcades and plazas fan out from the City Mall, the pedestrian walkway one block south of the cathedral on Cashel Street. North of the cathedral, Victoria Square fronts the Town Hall. The Avon River runs through the square and is followed on either side of Oxford and Cambridge Terrace. Manchester Street, Cashel St., and Oxford Terrace form a U-shaped nightlife district. Central Christchurch is bordered to the west by gigantic Hagley Park, to the north and east by suburbs, and to the south by Moorhouse Avenue, the boundary of the industrial area.
In cathedral square, you can visit the centerpiece of Christchurch, the looming 1865 Gothic Revival cathedral combines stones quarried and hewn in Canterbury with wooden beams from native matai and totara. Near Hagley Park, the free Botanic Gardens feature one of the country’s best array of indigenous tree and plant life, with 10,000 different species sharing 20 hectares of land. Meanwhile, some of the area’s most worthwhile attractions might lie just outise the downtown area; most are accessible by a short bus ride from the city center, such as the International Antarctic Centre or Orana Park.
Make sure you check off all the best spots during your trip to Christchurch. Here’s what we recommend. Click the links to explore and book tours or local guides.
Many restaurants are concentrated on Colombo Street, north of Kilmore St., and on Manchester Street, south of Gloucester St. Vendors in Cathedral Square sell a range of kebabs and stir-frys around lunchtime; on weekends they take over a corner of the Arts Centre.
In the tradition of the earliest inhabitants’ dinner of roast moa and kumara (sweet potato), New Zealanders still maintain a largely meat-and-potatoes diet. While vegetarian and vegan options are becoming trendy, traditional New Zealand food tends to be meaty. The national dish is hot meat pie loaded with lamb or beef and gravy in flaky pastry. Seafood is always an abundant alternative; fresh fish, prawns, crayfish, shellfish, and more overrun coastal towns. Fruit-flavored ice cream with chunks of fruits is consumed in vast quantities, though hokey pokey (vanilla ice cream loaded with bits of toffee) is a national favorite. Not only does New Zealand proudly produce the most ice cream per capita in the world, it also rivals the US for most ice cream consumed per capita.
In small towns, the tendency toward the basic can be seen in the Main St. triumvirate of fish ‘n chip dives, cafes, and ever-present Chinese restaurants – all serving fried, greasy goodies. Ethnic restaurants, such as Thai, Malaysian, and Indian are no longer few and far between. Middle Eastern kebab joints, usually a good deal, have been proliferating. Keep in mind that ordering an entree will often get you an appetizer or starter in New Zealand; main courses are listed as mains.
While Kiwis serve excellent beer, with various national lagers and draughts (e.g., Steinlager, Speights, and Tui), it’s the wine that takes the cake. The wines of the Marlborough of Hawke’s Bay regions are world famous, particularly the Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Pinot Noir varieties. New Zealand white wines challenge the French hold on the market, and red wines are improving. For non-alcoholic refreshment, try Lemon and Paeroa (L&P), a popular carbonated lemon drink that is “world-famous in New Zealand.” For a more refined thirst-quencher, you can enjoy a British-style Devonshire tea.
The late afternoon meal traditionally consists of tea, scone with Devonshire cream or jam, crumpets, and other delectables. A lighter Kiwi treat, often served for dessert, is the pavlova, a tribute to egg whites and kiwifruit. New Zealand offers a range of exotic fruits and veggies, including feijoas, nashi, persimmons, and of course kiwifruit. In 2000, the golden kiwifruit, a yellow, sweeter version of the traditional kiwi, was engineered for worldwide consumption.
Perhaps only in Christchurch can an afternoon summer stroll take visitors past a man juggling swords, a pair of clowns on unicycles, and two acrobats performing stunts in spandex. That is the Busker Festival in a nutshell. Over 40 national and international acts draw 250,000 tourists for ten days in late January and early February. Each day presents a full lineup of street performances at locations in Cathedral Sq. and the pedestrians malls on High and Cashel St.
Audience members quickly learn that when it comes to busking, there is not always a clear distinction between performer and audience member. Performers often draw passersby into their acts and the twittering crowds wonder who will be the next “volunteer.”
One of the most famous buskers is a Christchurch resident known as the Wizard. Clad in black, the Wizard is loved and loathed in equal measure for his taunting and confounding act. While old age has limited his performances to a few times a year, the busking legend regularly appears in his magic cap for the festival.
Christchurch hosts an amazing number of festivals for a city its size. The International Buskers Festival attracts the world’s most talented to the streets of Christchurch in late January. The Festival of Flowers blooms every February. Since 1983, Summertimes has brought a series of concerts and theater performances to the city throughout the summer. The Christchurch Arts Festivals runs in winter of odd years. Also in August, the Montana Christchurch Winter Carnival celebrates the ski season with imported snow. In November, New Zealand Cup and Show Week hits the city with high stakes horse racing, food, and fashion.
New Zealand society is largely bicultural, comprised primarily of British, Pakeha, and Maori New Zealanders. The world maori was originally used to distinguish “ordinary people” from strange European explorers. In fact, many Maori did not self-identify as Maori until well into the 1830s. Maoritanga, loosely translated as “the ways of the Maori,” serves as an umbrella term for the cultural traditions and organization of Maori life. Although many Maori now live off the traditional grounds in an urban environment, New Zealand has experienced a renaissance of Maoritanga as more Maori look to their rich heritage for identity.
The most fundamental idea of Maori custom is the notion of tapu and its lesser-known counterpart, noa. Tapu, roughly translated as “sacred” or “spiritual restriction,” indicates the presence of supernatural power (whether good or evil) and commands respect and attention. Ignoring tapu is a great taboo – yes, that is the root of the English word – across New Zealand. Noa underscores the absence of such power and thus deserves no special caution. For example, a man has the tapu responsibility in a tribe to oversee ceremonial duties and give speeches at a marae, but he cannot look respectable without the help of the female’s noa duties of preparing food and singing songs. Personal relationships within and between tribes also require an understanding of mana. Translated literally, the word means “prestige” or “responsibility,” but the meaning is more of an essence that grants seniority to a worthy individual. Traditionally, the amount of mana in an individual depends on his or her ancestry, experience, and seniority in a tribe. Nowadays, mana is instead often influenced more by one’s success and achievements.
In New Zealand, tribal association is not an official designation; there are over 40 recognized iwi in New Zealand. Within the iwi exist smaller regional communities called hapu. These communities were originally groups that owned land within the tribe. Today, each hapu seldom owns more land than a marae reserve. For this reason, the hapu generally has more significance for rural populations; city-dwellers generally tend to identify less with their hapu.
The marae are sacred grounds around a Maori whare tupuna (ancestral meeting house) and the site of the powhiri (formal welcome), receiving visitors into the community. The ceremony consists of four basic components. Upon arriving at the marae, a warrior from the village will greet visitors with a haka, an elaborate set of body movements and a tongue-protruding facial gesture (it’s exceedingly uncouth to return such a gesture). The wero (challenge) ends when a teka (peace offering) is offered and accepted. After this step, a female elder will issue the karanga, a chant of welcome and mourning for the visitors’ great ancestors. As your group crosses the marae, pause and bow in respect for the ancestors of the tribe before congregating in front of the whare. In response to the chief’s whaikorero (speech of welcoming), the designated chief of your group will deliver a brief speech in return (preferably in Maori as well, but protocol varies). To seal the bond of friendship, both chiefs press (but do not rub) noses together in the traditional greeting known as the hongi.
After the hongi, the separate groups finally mingle and are called to dine in the whare kai. Shoes are not worn inside the whare kai, and pictures may not be permitted, depending on the tribe. After a karakia (prayer) is given, the hangi (dinner), is prepared – sweet potatoes, meat, and other goodies roasted in a pit of stones.