Christchurch – never a dull moment

On her annual trip to Christchurch, HELEN PERRY takes the bus to Lyttelton, a village she hasn’t visited in almost 40 years.

 

For many years Lyttelton has slipped under my radar but not this year. On a crisp Saturday morning, husband and I hopped aboard the 9.32am bus at the Christchurch Central Bus Interchange. It would take us through the tunnel and over the hill to the picturesque harbour town.

On my first visit, nearly 40 years ago, I loved the tiny wooden houses nestled on the hillside and I recall thinking how novel they would look freshly painted in a rainbow of colours – much like the colourful houses on the isle of Burano, off the coast from Venice.

That vision hasn’t played out but what a delight to re-visit after all these years and on a day when the local Farmers’ Market was all go in the main street where small stores, cafes and shop fronts still reflected a past era.

The bus trip took about 45 minutes and, hallelujah, as superannuitants we travelled free of charge! On board were about six or seven other passengers also visiting the markets – we knew that because everyone was busily talking about what might be available.

What fun the markets were! After negotiating the length of the street once, we opted for a breakfast of West Coast whitebait butties and ate them perched on chairs which reminded me of my student days at high school.

We followed up with coffee from one caravan and the most delicious, freshly-made, full of natural whipped cream, chocolate éclairs – to die for!

Sadly, not being Christchurch residents, there was no buying from the tables of heavenly, fresh baked bread or stalls laden with sumptuous vegetables. Although our buying was limited to a very aromatic ‘Kiwi’ rub (for steaks, roasts or to add to dips), we could still enjoy the wonderful, varied taste of this and that.

What’s more, the happy environment, which included plenty of dogs on leashes wagging their tails at each other without any sign of aggression, put us in a convivial mood too.

After we had our fill of food, flowers and fabulous vege, we wandered the foreshore before taking the bus back to our central Christchurch hotel. As always, we stayed at the Ibis on the edge of Cathedral Square. It’s perfectly situated for shopping and sightseeing, in walking distance of many attractions.

Of course, while bus tours might usually involve a trip of several days to see parts of the country, for me bus travel usually means a series of short day trips (or less) to take in the sights of any unfamiliar city without having to concentrate on navigating roads or finding parking.

Furthermore, a big advantage is being able to look out the bus window and take in places of interest along the route – we nearly made an unscheduled ‘hop-off/hop-on again’ stop at the base of the gondola but then opted to stay on board so as not to miss the market.

Indeed, it was a day to remember but there were more adventures to come …

Punting on the Avon

Unbelievably, in all my many years of visiting Christchurch, I had never been punting on the Avon. Either the weather was against me or other plans took precedence. This time, I was not to be denied. What a pleasure this iconic attraction turned out to be.

Although we had intended to book our own individual craft and punter, we discovered this needed to be done online, whereas we had opted to walk to the Antigua Boat Sheds, thinking we could trust our luck.

As it turned out, a shared, larger punt proved no hassle, as there was only four in our party, and meandering on the river was absolutely idyllic.

Our young and appropriately dressed punter was knowledgeable about the sculptures, river care and trees we passed on route. Our interest in the adjacent Botanic Gardens was piqued. So, later, we went walking through this amazing parkland and also indulged in lunch at the architecturally magnificent Ilex Cafe.

But before that, we lay back enjoying the leisurely pace of our punt as it glided past lush riverbanks where many people had opted to sit for a snack or bare their legs in the sunshine.

The boat sheds themselves were also worth inspecting. Housing numerous punts of varying size, they were brightly painted in fresh green and white stripes – very English – and there were lessons to be learnt for those interested.

We considered the cost extremely fair – adults $35; children (5-15years), $15 and a family pass $85. Subsequently, I have chalked this one up for a return visit as lazing a little longer that afternoon was not an option. Instead, we hurried back to our hotel and prepared to meet friends for dinner at the breathtaking …

King of snake

I must mention one fabulous restaurant on Oxford Terrace – the riverside dining quarter lined with tempting eateries which attract patrons day and night.

An evening with friends at second floor, King of Snake was a winner. Sophisticated, exquisite décor and a diverse, interesting Euro/Asian menu had me in raptures. It’s years since I’ve been so excited about a venue.

In particular, a wide selection of small and large sharing plates made choosing difficult – so many intriguing and exotic combinations.

Without rabbiting on, I’ll just mention the delicious, crispy eggplant, chicken fried rice balls, mini chicken rotis (yum, yum!) and the Penang curry with beef cheeks.

The latter was divine, not anything I expected with the oh-so-tender beef cheeks falling apart on the fork. Crisp pressed half duck and crispy pork belly completed our selection, both adding to a sumptuous meal.

We also ordered calamari, perhaps the only dish I would put to one side – I felt many a venue provided similar and the King of Snake menu offered so much more of interest.

Although tempting, we could not manage dessert and had I not been so tired from our daytime excursions I would have liked a nightcap in the bar where, once again, décor and ambience called for us to stay. However, our friends also had a fair drive home to Rolleston, so not this time.

This certainly proved to be a memorable night. Having thoroughly enjoyed seven dishes, rice plus a bottle of wine and more than one beer for the men, I did not think our combined bill of $309.50 was over the top, which means I’ll be returning to this new favourite of mine.