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 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.
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 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.
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. www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz
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.
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?
Relieve Those Aching Feet
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
Corner of New Regent & Glouster (Just down the street from The Gingko Tree)
184-186 Oxford Terrace
By Cymber Quinn and Bob Conn, Hawaii Jetsetters Magazine Correspondents.