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A unique blend of old and new awaits visitors to one of New Zealand’s most popular cities, as JENNY EVANS discovers.

CHRISTCHURCH OFFERS an amalgamation of natural beauty, rich history and cutting-edge modernity.

Tucked away on the eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island, its unique blend of old and new often surprises first-time visitors and provides a host of experiences for any traveller.

You cannot visit Christchurch without seeing reminders of the 2011 earthquake. The many vacant lots in the city are now car parks and an abundance of street art adorns exposed walls.

But there is also regeneration. New state of the art buildings are emerging, including the impressive Te Pae Convention Centre which hosted the recent TravelManagers conference.

Coming from Sydney, where it seems there are more and more people (and traffic) every day, Christchurch is a literal breath of fresh air.

The atmosphere is cold and crisp, with blue skies and warm sun. Wide, empty streets intersect with trundling trams and lead to a central shopping district.

This area is home to the innovative Re:START Mall, built from shipping containers following the earthquake. It offers an array of boutique stores, food stalls and street art, and in comparison, next to no people!

For those looking to explore, Christchurch has plenty to offer. The city’s trams provide a blend of history and sightseeing, while a gondola delivers eye-catching aerial views.

For the more adventurous, zip-lining, tree climbing and hot air balloon rides give a bird’s eye view of the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps.

Recognised as New Zealand’s Garden City, Christchurch boasts more than 1,200 parks and gardens, including The Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park at its heart. Visitors can relax by the Avon River, or perhaps enjoy a punt ride for a different perspective.

Christchurch has a long-standing connection with Antarctic expeditions, having been a crucial port in the early days of Southern Ocean exploration. It served as the launch point for notable explorers like Scott, Shackleton and Hillary.

Situated by the airport, The International Antarctic Centre is a unique attraction. While the White Continent might be out of reach for most, this centre offers an Antarctic experience for all the family.

You’ll learn about life in modern Antarctic research stations, experience a chilling storm simulation and traverse crevasses in a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle.

Perhaps the highlight for many is the opportunity to meet little Blue penguins at the centre’s Penguin Rescue, although mine was meeting the husky dogs.

The result is an educational yet entertaining experience that offers a glimpse into the importance of Antarctic research, as well as its delicate ecosystems.

During my stay I lodged at the Distinction Hotel, a four-star establishment located in Cathedral Square in the city centre.

Though small with just 179 rooms and a single restaurant, the hotel offers deep carpets and incredibly comfortable beds. Marble bathrooms come equipped with rainwater showers and breakfast features a well-stocked hot and cold buffet.

Christchurch isn’t just a gateway to New Zealand’s South Island or a stopover before a cruise. It’s a destination in itself.

With a varied palette of activities, from leisurely garden strolls and museum visits to high-adrenaline adventures and a dash of Antarctic exploration, it’s a city that caters to all kinds of travellers.

Christchurch effortlessly combines the heritage of yesteryears with the innovation of tomorrow, making it a must-see on any South Island itinerary.


From the marine wonderland of Kaikoura Canyon to the sun-soaked vineyards of Blenheim, I embarked on a whirlwind adventure through New Zealand’s lesser-known gems.

Whether you’re chasing glimpses of elusive whales or savouring world-class wines, there’s something here for every explorer.

Nestled 180km north of Christchurch, the small coastal town of Kaikoura is a sanctuary for marine life.

As you approach the town, you’ll immediately notice seals lounging on the beach near the roadside. On rare occasions, you may even catch a glimpse of whales from the shore.

Just 800metres off the coastline lies the submarine Kaik?ura Canyon, which spans more than 60km and plunges to depths exceeding 1,200 metres.

The convergence of two powerful sea currents here fuels an explosion of plant and animal life, making Kaikoura a magnet for an array of marine species.

While a permanent pod of sperm whales calls these waters home, blue whales, humpbacks and orcas are also frequent visitors. Dolphins, seals and albatrosses can be observed year-round.

However, it’s worth noting that spotting specific creatures isn’t guaranteed, so spending more time in Kaikoura will increase your chances of witnessing the natural wonders you seek.

I had just one day here and, unfortunately, joined the unlucky five per cent of Kaikoura Whale Watching trips that returned without a sighting. Nevertheless, the journey on the jet-propelled catamaran was a thrill.

Once the boat reached open waters, expansive decks allowed us to absorb the serene ocean views. Seasickness is often a concern, but the crew offered helpful tips and even had virtual reality sets for those severely affected.

Although whales eluded us, seals, seabirds and dolphins provided ample consolation.

For those preferring aerial views, South Pacific Helicopters offers a variety of whale-watching experiences and scenic tours of the region. Bird enthusiasts can take advantage of the Kaikoura Canyon’s diverse seabird population through specialised albatross encounter tours.

The highlight of my day was kayaking in the early morning with Kaikoura Kayaks. I shared a two-seater with Albany, a visitor from Ireland.

With calm seas and overcast skies, we paddled from the peninsula’s southern tip to a seal colony, encountering playful seals and dolphins along the way. Our guide, Emma, was both informative and accommodating.

The Maori name Kaikoura translates to “Eat Crayfish,” a nod to the region’s culinary staple. I treated myself to a crayfish with garlic butter and chips from Nin’s Bin, a roadside shack. Priced at $72, it was a splurge, but when in Kaikoura, why not?

Following a wonderful stay at Hapuku Lodge and Tree Houses, I then headed up the coast to the small town of Blenheim.

Situated in the heart of Marlborough, New Zealand’s wine-growing region, Blenheim is a sun-soaked town boasting an average of 2,438 hours of sunshine each year.

Time-constrained yet eager to make the most of it, I rented a bike from Wine Tours by Bike.

Steve picked me up from my hotel and took me to their base in the middle of the Marlborough vineyards. I spent an enjoyable morning cycling from one vineyard to another, relishing wine tastings along the way. The flat terrain and well-placed cycleways made for an effortless journey.

After a delicious lunch at Wairau River Wines, Steve escorted me back to my hotel for a much-needed siesta.

I stayed at the 14th Lane Urban Hotel in Blenheim, a relaxed property featuring spacious rooms, cooking amenities and a dedicated work area. Situated in the town’s heart, the hotel is within walking distance of various eateries, rounding off a satisfying journey through the very different worlds of whales and wine.

Whale Watch Kaikoura

Kaikoura Kayaks

South Pacific Helicopters

14th Lane Urban Hotel