The unexpected is around every leafy corner in the South Island’s biggest city.

The thing to do

Going for a punt on the Avon River is something that the locals actually do themselves. You’ll float down the ribbon of water on a 30-minute ride through the peaceful Botanic Gardens and the centre of the city in a small, flat-bottomed boat poled by a guide dressed in Edwardian costume. The trips begin and end daily at the historic green-and white-striped Antigua Boat Sheds.

The food scene

Riverside Market, which sits along the Avon River, is a must-see with its 30 eateries and 40 produce stalls. A local favourite here is Dimitri’s. Brothers Dimitri and Nick are known for their generous souvlakis of pita bread stuffed with shaved meat (lamb, chicken, beef), salad, tzatziki and home-made tomato sauce (hummus and hot chilli are optional), all served in a paper cone. Just the thing for eating on the go.

Image credit: ChristchurchNZ.

Or stop in at Riverside Cantina, which serves up Sour Mango Daiquiris of rum and mango nectar and chicken and peanut wontons with satay sauce or Canterbury Wagyu spring rolls. For something sweet, Gelato & Tea is a good bet. The gelato is made in-house and comes in flavours such as Snickers, pistachio sorbet, matcha banana and orange mandarin.

The bar scene

If you’re seeking a pint, Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn in the city centre is the place to be. Within the red brick building with exposed wooden beams inside, you can sample the pale lager or a local brew like Beer Baroness Brewing Company’s Lady Danger Red Ale. Pair your drink with a gourmet burger or freerange Cumberland snags. For spirits, head for The Last Word whisky and cocktail lounge on Spanish Mission-style New Regent Street, in the centre of the city, where the buildings are in an array of pastel colours. The bar’s whisky tasting lets you try six local and international whiskies, including a cocktail and four Scottish single malts. Afterwards, pop across the road to Wilko and relax in the soft leather chairs by the windows with a craft beer while you watch the action on the street.

The stay

The Observatory Hotel, Christchurch, New Zealand

The refurbished heritage Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora – close to the city centre and the 21-hectare Botanic Gardens – isn’t just for losing yourself in the creative arts. It’s also home to The Observatory Hotel, each of its 33 rooms filled with antique, locally crafted furniture. Forget neutral tones – these guestrooms celebrate colour at every turn, with sorbet, jewel and candy hues combining to whimsical effect.

One for the kids

People have travelled from Christchurch to Antarctica for decades and you can get a taste of that experience at the International Antarctic Centre. Check out the enormous all terrain Antarctic vehicles, learn about exploration of the continent, see penguins frolic and more. A must-do is the Storm Dome, a room chilled to -8°C that feels colder because of a -18°C wind chill machine.

The easy day trip

Lyttelton is a small port town 20 minutes drive south-east of Christchurch. Packed with boutique shopping, cafés and gastropubs, it’s also a great spot to swim at the tree bordered beaches or hike the hilly trails. Try the Bridle Path – the view of the blue harbour and town below is cinematic.

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