More things to love about Christchurch

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Christchurch hasn’t had it easy over the past few years. There have been earthquakes and recently a deluge that brought widespread flooding. I have had friends describe the city as a kind of purgatory where everything permanent is temporary, and the absence of landmarks, roads, buildings and people have a weight of presence. Temporary fences are everywhere, blocks of cleared rubble remain empty, and the shadows of buildings now gone are printed on the sides of those still standing.

I recently went down to Christchurch to see friends and family. Each time I visit, I always find something new happening. It feels as though the buds of activity come from unknown or unusual sources, and there is something intimate and exciting about these things that pop up seemingly from nowhere. The fun of places in Christchurch is a casualness which comes from the pop-up nature of many of the cafes, bars, shops and venues that pepper the changing map of the city. The people who start these projects are rarely entrepreneurs, but more often enthusiastic and perhaps bored Christchurchians. The common belief that there is nothing to do in Christchurch is being challenged by people who have taken the matter into their own hands. They have started to shape the city into what they want/need it to be, instead of waiting of CERA to shape it for them.

Here are some places of interest in Christchurch:

edit 5C1 & Alice in Videoland

I have been going to C1 since I was in High school. The building it used to be in has since come down, but the café is still going strong just across the road. The building it now occupies used to be the best video-store in town, called “Alice in Videoland”; now Alice’s has moved just next door and C1 proudly occupies the corner of High street and Tuam. C1 has fantastic coffee, food, décor and service. Apparently a lot of the interior was done with bits and pieces of salvaged material from quake-affected buildings around Christchurch (the door to the bathrooms is a secret sliding-bookcase). There is a door from C1 into Alice’s, so you can have your lunch and coffee then go next door to look for some fantastic films.


edit 9NG gallery

NG is my undoubtedly one of my favourite clothing boutiques in New Zealand. It sits in a lone-standing heritage building alongside a bar/brewery and an excellent barbershop on the edge of a massive empty lot. Sharon Ng, who started the shop/gallery, goes to Paris twice a year to do all of her buying. She has her own label, and is usually in store for a chat. Ng stocks designers that are pretty hard to find anywhere in New Zealand, let alone the rest of the world: Sharon Wauchob, Haider Ackermann, Barbara I Gongini, A.F. Vandervorst, Alexandra Groover, Christian Peau, Reinhard Plank. Technically, it is a womenswear store, but most of the clothing could go both ways. There is also an excellent recycle section which sells second-hand designer clothing. I found some pretty bargain Rick and Margiela hiding in the recycle.


edit 8 edit 7Physics room

IS a great gallery. The space is simple but very beautiful, and the reading room is well-stocked. The Physics rooms works closely with other galleries in the country and the shows are curated with sensitivity and a sharp eye. In an old building with an iron-grate elevator, the physics room sits just above the Christchurch Art Gallery. The big gallery building is still not open to the public, so smaller capsule shows are displayed in their temporary space. Project space has great openings, with plenty of wine, beer and people to talk to. Gallery openings are usually a nice segue into a fun night.

Beat Street Café

A nice little café on the outskirts of the CBD. It has a makeshift, slap-dash vibe which inspired someone sitting close to our table to say that it felt like Wellington. It has a large outdoor area, with quirky little drawings and knick-knacks scattered about the place. The furniture doesn’t match and it all look like it was all found at different garage sales. The food is fantastic though, and the coffee is pretty good. Perfect for a Christchurch house-party hangover. The atmosphere is super relaxed and the staff are very friendly. My friends told me about a game they play called “Beat Street Bingo”. The aim of the game is to get three points. You get a point if: the person serving you is super attractive, the person serving you has dreadlocks, your food is late, your food is not what you ordered, the person serving you comes and has a chat, the person serving you is hungover, you are hungover.

Jonathan Smart Gallery

Jonathan smart is a great guy. He will kiss you on both cheeks and smile from ear to ear while he shows you around the gallery. He is a respected curator and gallerist who represents a number of both upcoming and established artists. The old gallery used to be upstairs on high street, just down the road from the old c1, but has since moved to Sydenham. The new space has more of a warehouse vibe, but tends more kindly to large scale works and installations. Jonathan is a wealth of conversation, and his knowledge of cricket, fishing and art is overwhelming. He won’t hesitate to bust out a nice Chardonnay for friends and visitors.



I usually go to Samo, but this time it was closed. It is small, intimate and definitely worth a visit. The café is nestled in a small shed, and opens out to a large front area with picnic tables and benches. You can sit outside in the sun and look out over Lyttelton harbour with a really nice coffee and some food. There is a food-cart on the same property if you are looking for something more substantial than cabinet food. The whole atmosphere is super relaxed. Lyttelton is most chilled out place in all of Christchurch, where everyone in a café knows one another, and the waitstaff will come and sit down to have a chat. If it’s hot, just drive around to Corsair bay for a swim afterwards.


I haven’t been to Plume in a while, but even from memory I know that it’s a fantastic store. There is one in Dunedin and one in Christchurch. It is a boutique run by Nom D* (hence the name “Plume”). For those less familiar with the South Island, it could be said to have a kind of Zambesi vibe, but a little rougher around the edges. You can definitely see the family resemblance. It used to be on that same High street stretch, but has since moved to Merivale. Plume stocks a mix of international (Gareth Pugh, Bernard Wilhelm, Rick Owens, Margiela, Comme des Garcons) and local (Zambesi, Underground Sundae, Jimmy D, Nom D*) designers.


edit1 edit 3 edit 2Civil and Naval

I didn’t know, but a friend of mine started this bar some months back. It’s another Lyttelton gem, nestled in a small, narrow space on the main drag. It’s a beautiful bar. The interior is stripped back to naked wood from the vaulted ceiling, tables, chairs and down to the floorboards. When the cold sea breeze start to blow in Louis, the owner of the bar, starts up the little log-burner. The friendly barman was telling us that stacking firewood isn’t very easy. There is a nice outdoor area, and a great selection of beers and spirits. They serve coffee and tea late into the night as well. I wasn’t sure if the fellow who came to help us at the bar was actually the bar-man or someone who just hung out there a lot. That’s why I like Lyttelton. They often hire the place out for private functions, imagine having that place to yourself for a night!


edit 10Monday Room

A nice place for a last night in Christchurch drink. Another venture run by a young Christchurchian: a high school friend of Chris’. The interior is rich and dark, like a modern speakeasy. The bar is well stocked and boasts a fantastic wine and beer selection. There is a fire-warmed outdoor area where bands come to play for the groups chatting at high tables, perched on barstools. I’ve heard the food is great, but I’ve only ever gone for a drink. A different vibe and different crowd to Civil and Naval, but still quietly cool and well worth a visit. The bar-staff are friendly and know lots about lots of drinks.


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So Christchurch shouldn’t be seen as half a city, or a city that is on the way to recovery. It is a vibrant place, with heaps of exciting places, activities and people. I don’t think it’s “on its way” to anything. People are making the city what they want it to be, and it’s pretty amazing to see. In their “Places to go in 2014” list, the New York Times placed Christchurch second. I think it’s well deserved.


Author: Steven Park

I live in Auckland and am currently doing my Honours in Fine Arts at Elam. I run a design label called "6x4", where I make clothing, furniture, home-ware and other exciting things. Say hello if you see me walking around! Read More

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