Christchurch could qualify as a template for the perfect small city. With a population of around 375,000, it's the largest of New Zealand's South Island cities -- it's also the most English looking in appearance. Unsurprising, when you realise that Christchurch was envisioned as a planned community for the Church of England in the 1850s.
Nearby, the stunning gold and green Canterbury Plains, back-dropped by mountains and with a web of indigo streams, are so familiar that many "The Lord of the Rings" fans now recognise them as Middle Earth.
Visitors to Christchurch don't need to consciously avoid the subject of devastating earthquakes that hit the city between 2010 and 2012. Many reminders remain, but residents are stoically independent, and Kiwis (the people, not the bird) in general are a positive lot.
Rebuilding began almost immediately, and extensive plans for the next decade or more aim to create an accessible and liveable city. Already, shops, cafes and bars have returned in force, as have visitors.
The languidly winding Avon River, its banks flanked by parks and gardens remains of course, as well as the punts that drift along it -- along with their punters in waistcoats and straw boater hats.
As always, the seasons come and go, with spring and autumn each a delight in this leafy city which is often accurately referred to as the Garden City. Much still remains from the past, and the many new additions to the city are fascinating and well worth seeing.
Visitors are not allowed to walk out of the port area for security reasons, so the port authority provides a shuttle between the passenger terminal and the i-SITE Information Centre at the center of Lyttelton. To explore Lyttelton, stop into the i-SITE office to pick up maps with walking tours and information on attractions, galleries, cafes and restaurants. The i-SITE facility also has an Internet centre and telephones.
Re:START Mall: To give new life to businesses affected by the 2011 earthquake, the Re:START Mall was created to be home to boutiques, restaurants and other attractions of interest to visitors. The mall was constructed out of shipping containers. As with most innovations in New Zealand, it is surprisingly upbeat and funky and certainly worth a trip if you're an avid shopper.
Gap Filler: In a similar vein, the Gap Filler organization hosts creative and fun activities, exhibits and more, in places awaiting post-earthquake reconstruction. Past event offerings have included temporary saunas, a butterfly garden, Gap Golf and Dance-O-Mat. Check for what's coming up while your ship is in town.
Cathedral Square: Called "the Square" by residents, it's dominated by the neo-Gothic Christchurch Cathedral, which was badly damaged in the quakes. However, it remains a great place to experience the city's vibe, with a number of cafes and bars in the vicinity. Check out the huge, 18-meter-tall metal sculpture, the Chalice, which commemorates the millennium. The cathedral has been deconsecrated, and there are plans for partial demolition. Standing in for it as a place of worship is what the locals call The "Cardboard Cathedral," which opened in 2013, stands in as a place of worship and incorporates images from Christchurch Cathedral's original rose window, a poignant reminder for many. (Open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays; donations encouraged)
Avon River and Antigua Boatshed: Take a stroll along the weeping willow-lined Avon River, or rent a punt or canoe at the historic Antigua Boatshed. Built in 1882, this is the last shed standing on the riverbank. The Boat Shed Cafe serves breakfast and lunch and provides picnic baskets for meals on the river. (2 Cambridge Terrace; 03-366-6768; open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. October to March and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. rest of the year)
Christchurch Botanic Gardens: One of the largest city parks in the world, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on Rolleston Avenue, about a 10-minute walk from Re:Start Mall, is renowned for its 19th-century trees. The gardens boast more than 10,000 specimens of indigenous and imported plants. A multipurpose visitor centre is located at the nursery site in the gardens and opens out onto a lawn area and banks of the Avon River. Find out about walking tours, displays, horticultural information and botanical books. The gardens also feature impressive fountains and artwork. (Open 7 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. daily)
Christchurch Art Gallery: The gallery has been closed since suffering extensive damage, but plans are in place for reopening in December 2015. The impressive architectural structure is home to the largest art institution on the South Island and one of New Zealand's most important public art collections, featuring more than 5,500 items, which include paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, glass, metalwork and photography. The gallery also hosts a wide variety of compelling art exhibitions. (Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street; 03-941-7300)
Canterbury Museum: Housed in one of New Zealand's most historic buildings, the Canterbury Museum features excellent Maori and Antarctic galleries. It is famous for its kiwi bird artefacts and moa bones, with one of the largest collections from the moa hunting period. The extinct moa was an indigenous, flightless bird that measured up to 12 feet tall and weighed up to 500 pounds. The building is located within strolling distance of the Botanic Gardens, the Arts Centre,Christchurch Art Gallery and Cathedral Square. (Rolleston Avenue, open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. April to September and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. other months; donation appreciated)
Christchurch Gondola: Outside the city center, the Christchurch Gondola offers visitors panoramic views from high atop the city from a perch 1,500 feet above sea level. Stunning 360-degree views extend to Pegasus Bay and the Pacific Ocean to the town of Kaikoura, as well as over Banks Peninsula, Lake Ellesmere and Lyttelton Harbour and across the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps. At the summit, find hiking and biking trails, guided walks, exhibitions, a cafe and restaurant and the Time Tunnel ride, a dramatic reconstruction of the history of the region. The Gondola Shuttle operates daily and departs the central city from outside the Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue at: 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. The shuttle departs the gondola on the hour during the morning and on the half hour during the afternoon. (10 Bridle Path Road, Heathcote; 03-384-0310)
Banks Peninsula and Akaroa: Dramatically jutting into the ocean southeast of Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula was formed by two volcanic eruptions. The landscape is rugged and wild, yet the area is home to numerous harbours, villages and farmland. The centerpiece is the quaint town of Akaroa, with its cafes and patisseries. This former French settlement and whaling station is rich with Maori and maritime history. Because of the distance and travel times, the Banks Peninsula is best explored as part of an organized shore excursion.
Operation Deep Freeze: Since the 1950s, Christchurch has been the main staging center for Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. government's Antarctic project. During the Southern Hemisphere's summer months, numerous American Starlifter and Galaxy aircraft fly south to McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
International Antarctic Centre: The International Antarctic Centre features informative displays that depict life and work on the frozen continent. A specially designed "blizzard" room, featuring sub-zero temperatures, a Penguin Encounter enclosure and an exciting 10-minute ride on a Hagglunds all-terrain snowmobile. The centre, located near Christchurch's airport, is a 15-minute drive from the city. The Penguin Express shuttle departs hourly from the Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue -- from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. October to March and ?10 a.m. to 4 p.m. April to September. (38 Orchard Road; 3-357-0519 ; open 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. daily)
From Lyttelton to Christchurch: Most cruise lines offer shuttle service to the center of Christchurch. From Lyttelton, independent travelers can take one of two public bus routes (numbers 35 and 28) to Christchurch. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes. Taxis are also available.
On Foot: Christchurch is an easy city to navigate on foot. All of the major attractions are within easy walking distance from Cathedral Square, locally known as the Square, in the heart of the city. Stroll the city's many pedestrian areas, riverfront areas and impressive gardens. Allow time to stop in at the many shops, art galleries, museums, artisan workshops, cafes and restaurants. The Christchurch i-SITE Visitor Centre is located adjacent to Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue and offers free city maps.
By Bus: Metro bus service is available to most suburbs and outlying areas. A station can be found on Lichfield Street.
By Tram: In 2015, the historic tram resumed its 17-stop loop throughout the city centre, providing a fun way to get around to see the sights. The tram runs 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. September to March and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April to August.
By Taxi: Taxis, including Blue Star Taxis and First Direct Taxis, all have meters and most accept credit cards.
Christchurch offers a wide array of culinary options, from affordable ethnic eateries to elegant dining experiences. Many restaurants and cafes pride themselves on using local and seasonal ingredients; try the fresh New Zealand seafood or spring lamb. And, on market days at the Arts Centre, sample the many ethnic food stalls, offering everything from Spanish paella and German sausages to hand-tossed pizza and homemade sweets.
Curator's House: At the Botanical Gardens, you'll find Curator's House, which uses fresh, regional ingredients for a diverse menu with a Spanish/Tapas influence. (7 Rolleston Avenue; 3-379-2252; open from 10 a.m. daily for lunch, dinner and tapas)
Antigua Boat Shed Cafe: The Antigua Boat Shed Cafe enjoys a romantic riverside location and is open for breakfast and lunch. In addition to the dine-in menu, the cafe packs picnic hampers for guests to enjoy lunch on the river. (2 Cambridge Terrace, Christchurch Central; 03-366-5885)
Fiddlesticks Restaurant & Bar: This place offers fresh fare in a sophisticated yet relaxing atmosphere. Watch people stroll by as you dine, or choose a seat outside in the courtyard near a roaring fire. (48 Worcester Boulevard; 3-365-0533; open 8 a.m. to late Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to late Saturday, Sunday and holidays)
The Lotus-Heart Vegetarian Restaurant: This restaurant strives to use the finest organic produce, and its curries are said to be the best in town. (363 St. Asaph Street; 3-377-2727)
C1: CI: This cafe earned its right to be name Cafe of the Year as it led the way in reopening in the central city after the earthquake. It is a trendsetter in other ways too, swiftly delivering your orders of chips or sliders via funky pneumatic tubes. Think that's strange? Check out the vintage sewing machine water dispenser too! (185 High Street, Christchurch Central; 03-379-1917; open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
Many ships anchor and tender to Akaroa, a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch. However, more ships are calling at Lyttelton (population 3,100), about 20 minutes (eight miles) from Christchurch's city center. Lyttelton is a working port city with its own character and charm and serves as a bedroom community for Christchurch.
As you should in any travel destination, be aware of your surroundings, and leave all unnecessary valuables onboard in your cabin's safe.
Currency is the New Zealand dollar; check xe.com or oanda.com for exchange rates. ATMs and foreign exchange offices are abundant in the city center.
The official language is English. People who have travelled in the north of New Zealand might find the Kiwi accent is not as pronounced in the South Island. Some of this is because of the higher proportion of Scottish and English residents who settled the area.
Look for New Zealand-made merino products, including sweaters, scarves, hats, undergarments and more. Also super-soft socks, gloves and mittens, made from wool mixed with possum fur. Also, New Zealand arts and craft and souvenirs are of the highest standard, featuring distinctive Maori and Islander designs, fine wood or bone carving and artisan workmanship.
42 Below Vodka is named for New Zealand's latitude of 42 degrees south of the equator, and the nation's premium brand vodka comes in flavours like manuka honey, kiwi and feijoa (a fruit similar to a guavasteen), as well as passionfruit and plain.