Editor's Note: Cruise ships have not called at Christchurch since the 2011 earthquake that destroyed its pier. Ships now dock at Akaroa, more than an hour's drive away. A new cruise berth at Lyttelton Port is expected to be rebuilt in time for the 2019-2020 summer season.
Christchurch could qualify as a template for the perfect small city. With a population of around 350,000, 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) tend to be a positive lot.
Rebuilding began almost immediately but progress was slow. Extensive plans for the next decade or more aim to create an accessible and liveable city. Shops, cafes and bars have returned in force, as have visitors.
Remaining intact, of course, is the languidly winding Avon River, its banks flanked by parks and gardens. Punts still 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.
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 centre. Lyttelton is a working port city with its own character and charm and serves as a commuter community for Christchurch.
A new $56 million cruise ship berth will be built in Lyttelton, expected to be completed in time for the 2019/2010 season.
As you should in any travel destination, be aware of your surroundings, and leave all unnecessary valuables onboard in your cabin's safe.
From Lyttelton to Christchurch: When the port is in operation, most cruise lines offer shuttle service to the centre of Christchurch. From Lyttelton, independent travellers 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: An historic tram does a 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.
Currency is the New Zealand dollar. ATMs and foreign exchange offices are abundant in the city centre.
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.
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.)
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.