It's a 15-hour flight from San Francisco to New Zealand, so we were really happy that our first stop was the Heritage Christchurch Hotel in the heart of the city. Reception was cheerful, and it was clear that they were used to pampering people who had experienced a little too much jetting and setting.

The Heritage Christchurch is
located in the heart of the city.

Our 11th floor penthouse suite was comfortably decorated in tasteful furnishings (à la Danish modern) in shades of light green and purple. How did they know these are my favorites? If you've read any of my previous articles, you know how important an excellent bed is to having a good hotel experience, and Heritage's king was first rate. We had a nice poofy pillow top mattress with super soft sheets. As an added bonus, we had eight sleeping pillows in addition to the six or seven decorative ones. As Bob and I like to sleep with pillows between our knees to alleviate back tension, we loved this.

Patio dining at Heritage
Christchurch's OGB restaurant.

Below: The Font Bar.

We were too pooped from our travels to go out for food, so we ordered room service. Because Christchurch is a multicultural city with large English, Asian, and Polynesian populations, the menu made for interesting reading. You can get fish-n-chips, bangers-n-mash, Thai green curry, pasta, hamburgers, and omelets. We ordered an interesting and spicy version of Hot-n-Sour soup, and a perfectly presented Caesar salad. All of these wonderful dishes are available at the hotel restaurant, which is located in the OGB — Old Government Building, just across the driveway.

The Old Government Building is the work of acclaimed architect Joseph Clarkson Maddison and is believed to be the finest example of monumental Italianate Renaissance Palazzo in New Zealand. Restoration of the century-old building to transform it into hotel suites was achieved without destroying any of the building's innate charm, using Maddison's original drawings. The OGB houses luxurious suites, the restaurant, wine celler, a chic bar, and a wonderful day spa.

The bathroom had a nice, large tub for soaking and large shower with a high showerhead, which Bob especially appreciated because of his 6'3" height. Many of the rooms include a complete kitchen, not just a coffeemaker. We enjoyed the flat screen TV, the first we had seen in a hotel room. Heritage offers Sky TV satellite service which includes all the American TV you could want, plus BBC and MTV — in New Zealand that's Maori Television.

An Executive Suite at
Heritage Christchurch.

The Maoris are Polynesian relatives of Hawaiians, and they have managed to maintain their language and their culture; they also control all the jade mining in the country. To get a taste of Maori life, rent the recent movie, "The Whale Rider." Maori TV offers all the same television fare as the English language version — news, events, documentaries, even game shows, all in the local language.

The Heritage offers high speed Internet, although you have to pay for it, and a lovely evening turn down service. But what makes the hotel so spectacular is its location — just a few minutes' walk to loads of beautiful and interesting sites in "The Most English City in New Zealand". It's also called "The Garden City" . . . read on to learn why.

Christchurch Botantic Gardens

Seven minutes' walk from the hotel are the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.

The Avon River flows
through Christchurch.

"When the first settlers from England arrived at  Lyttleton in 1850, they brought with them the gardening  traditions of that country. It was just 13 years after the arrival that the initial plans were made to  form the present Botanic Gardens.

The grounds of the Botanic Gardens encompass an area of 30 hectares, the majority of this  being within the loop of the Avon River. Contained within this area is undoubtedly the finest collection of exotic  and indigeous plants to be found anywhere in New Zealand.  There are numerous large majestic trees, many of which  are in excess of 100 years, and form an interesting  background to the various sections of the Gardens.

Spring (October, November and December) is the best time to visit the  Rock Garden, where blooms change daily. From Spring  through Summer to Autumn, many plants continue to flower, bringing life and colour to this part of the Gardens."

I love gardens, and we walked through different parts of this one every day we were in Christchurch. As you botanists may know, Giant Sequoias need quite specific conditions in which to grow, and those conditions are found only in California and China. Or so I thought. We were quite surprised to find 6-7 fine specimens of redwoods, growing happily, and for quite some time, too, judging by their size. One of the redwoods has a branch that makes a wonderful hammock-y seat. From its shiny bark, it was clear my hiney was not the first to grace it.

Got Art?

On your way to or from the Botanic Gardens, be sure to stop in the Te Puna O Waiwhetu or Christchurch Art Gallery (all government signs are offered in English and Maori; the "wh" is pronounced as an "f.") The Gallery is the city's art museum, and houses a fine collection of New Zealand art in its permanent collection, and a fine show of portraits when we were there. There's also a MOMA-style gift shop and appropriately modern eatery. Admission is free, though a donation is appreciated. There was a considerable controversy over the aesthetics of proposed addition, so you'll have to let us know how it turned out when you get there.

How To See A Kiwi

New Zealanders playfully call themselves Kiwis, after the flightless bird that is unique to this island country. Of course, no matter where you go, you'll see Kiwis working, playing, driving, and living daily life. But if you want to see the namesake — the gentle, snooting, shy, and retiring, thick legged bird, you are best off visiting Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and Restaurant in Christchurch.

Willowbank is a theme-based zoo with a purpose: to teach visitors about the variety of animal life in New Zealand and the effects of the animals and humans have on the delicate ecobalance of the islands. The Livestock section gives you an opportunity to meet the animals that make up the bulk of ranching life: cows, deer and the ever present sheep. Another segment shows you to the introduced wildlife that you may see in your travels around the country. But of most interest is the area devoted to the native animals, those who were here when the first people — the Maori (relatives of the Hawaiians) -- showed up on the shores. At that time, there were two mammals (bats), loads of birds, and gazillions of insects. There were never any predator mammal species — no wolfs, much less dogs, or even cats. So New Zealand was home to a host of flightless birds, who have no fear of humans or any other predators. The moas — a type of emu that was larger than today's ostriches — were the first to go. The Maoris hunted them to extinction in relatively short order. Now the race is on to save the last of these unique flightless birds — the kiwis.

The author in the gardens.

Willowbank, and a number of other conservation organizations, breed kiwis in captivity and release them to the wild in places where they are likely to survive. They are threatened most by the Australian possum, a cute minkish-ferretish animal that looks nothing like the grisly American possum. Seventy million possums are killing and eating native animals and plants at an alarming rate, and it turns out that the best way you can help is to buy possum products. I bought a merino wool/possum knitted wrap, and you can get fur shoe liners, and other possum fur products. Sadly, at the time of this writing, Willowbank anticipates that within six months, two of the remaining six species of kiwi will be extinct.

Kiwis are noctural animals, so Willowbank keeps them in the dark — literally. They are kept in a special darkened house, so that they are awake when you are. The price of admission automatically includes a guided tour of the park, and our guide carried a flashlight with a red bulb, so we could see them without disturbing them. Kiwis have nostrils in the end of their beaks, and we got to see 10 or so birds snuffling around in the ground for grubs and other kiwi morsels.

Willowbank isn't all about serious conservation, though. You have the option of a delicious buffet of local foods and traditional Maori dishes, and in the evenings, you can see a performance of Maori cultural arts including singing, chanting, and dancing. A reasonably priced gift shop will ensure that you have all the gifts you need for those back home.

Willowbank is a 15 minute taxi ride from Heritage Christchurch.

Need a Haircut?

Stephen Bruce & Associates
Boutique Hairdressing
21 Worcester Boulevard
(03) 377-8797

When my husband and I arrived in Christchurch we had been traveling for about three months solid, and I was in desperate need of a haircut. Thousands of miles from my favorite hairstylist, I decided to take a risk. I found a place just five minute walk from the Heritage Christchurch, and chose it because the facilities were stylish and there was a BMW in the driveway. You don't get to buy a BMW by being a bad haircutter. I highly recommend Stephen Bruce & Associates. Stephen is a Kiwi who spent ten years in the swanky circles of London stylists, owning several salons and developing a reputation for being great. Then, as he puts it, he got tired of the "shagging and wild life" and decided to come home. I got an outstanding cut that lasted nearly eight weeks, perfect for the full-time traveler.

Relieve Those Aching Feet

Janelle Gold
The Gingko Tree
33 New Regent Street
(03) 379-7181

Just 3 minutes from the hotel is The Ginkgo Tree, a holistic health & beauty store. Be sure to ask for Janelle Gold who does an amazing foot reflexology treatment. Janelle will massage the acupuncture points on your feet and make you feel like a million. We did this a few days after we arrived and were completely recovered from our jet lag afterwards. Plus we were able to take in the 30 or so boutique shops that surround The Gingko Tree without any foot pain at all. Janelle is a delight to talk to. Tell her we sent you.

Take the Christchurch Tram!

Great Eats

New Zealand is a delightful blend of cultures, so you can find just about any type of food you like.  We recommend Little India, where you can get a perfectly filling lunch of curry (mild or hot) and tea for $6 NZ (about $4.50US). Facing the Avon River is a long line of restaurants, but we felt in need of some sushi and stopped into Sala Sala for a terrific bento box. Both are just a few minutes' walk from the hotel.

Little India Bistro & Tandoor
(03) 377-7997
Corner of New Regent & Glouster (Just down the street from The Gingko Tree)

Sala Sala
184-186 Oxford Terrace
(03) 366-6755

By Cymber Quinn and Bob Conn, Hawaii Jetsetters Magazine Correspondents.