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Christchurch: A Family Reunites

After procrastinating for more than a year, here I am rekindling my blog with a trip we made to New Zealand in December 2022. Better late than never.

"Dua Yee!!!"

When I heard the collective voices of my nephew and nieces calling out to me, I spun around immediately to return their warm embraces. How much they'd grown over the last 3 years, especially my nephew who had become visibly taller than his mom (my sis).

Having last seen my sis' family in Melbourne in December 2019, we all longed for a family reunion when Covid travel restrictions were lifted, and New Zealand was picked as the destination for all of us to vacation together.

My family of 4 arrived in Christchurch from Singapore on the morning of 21 December 2022, whilst my sis' family along with my parents arrived from Melbourne several hours later. We agreed to meet at The Margaret Mahy Family Playground, on the banks of the Avon River. There couldn't have been a better spot for our family reunion. The kids unleashed all their pent-up energy from the flight on the climbing nets, flying fox, slides, etc, whilst the adults caught up with each other.

If not for hunger pangs reminding us that it was time for dinner, we would not have been able to pry the kids away from the massive playground. We strolled along the banks of the Avon River towards the city centre. To my surprise, there were quite a few interesting monuments along the way.

Just beside the playground was Edmonds' Clock Tower and Telephone Cabinet, and a little further along, the Thomas Edmonds Band Rotunda. Construction of all 3 structures took place in 1929 and were funded by Thomas Edmonds, a prominent businessman who had immigrated from London to Christchurch in 1879. Edmonds built the structures to commemorate his 50th year in Christchurch, with the intention of improving the riverside. On the evening of our stroll, we were treated to the delightful spectacle of a couple dancing the tango under the rotunda.

A skip and a hop away was Victoria Square, home to a cluster of notable landmarks such as the Statue of Captain James Cook, Bowker Fountain, the Statue of Queen Victoria, and New Zealand's oldest cast iron and stone bridge from 1864, the Hamish Hay Bridge. Up until the 1870s, Victoria Square was the centre of town life in Christchurch, where markets and trade fairs were held. It is now an oasis of calm, ideal for duck-watching and other forms of rest and relaxation.

Before long, we found ourselves face to face with Christ Church Cathedral, still in ruins from the devastating earthquake of 22 February 2011, but is painstakingly being restored to its former glory. Compared to what we saw 3 years back, progress has certainly been made in the restoration. I hope to return after 2027 when the rebuilding is due to be completed.

Other notable monuments we came across during our walk were the Statue of Robert Falcon Scott and the Bridge of Remembrance, which was erected in 1924 in memory of New Zealand soldiers who sacrificed their lives during the First World War.

Bridge of Remembrance joins Cashel Street, the main shopping belt in downtown Christchurch. Long summer daylight hours had given us the illusion that night had not fallen, when it was actually 1930 hrs by the time we arrived at the heart of the city. All the shops and many eateries had closed for the day, leaving only a handful of pubs and restaurants open, none of which looked particularly family-friendly.

At that point, we made a quick decision to grab some fries from Lord of the Fries, a vegan fast-food joint, to munch on as we walked back to where we had parked our rental cars. We then proceeded to Spitfire Square, near our hotel, picked up some burgers and groceries before all the stores there shut at 2100 hrs.

Just like our last trip to Christchurch, our choice of hotel was Novotel Christchurch Airport. The hotel was only a few days old during our first stay in December 2019, and had been used as a quarantine hotel during the pandemic until travel restrictions were lifted by the authorities. I'm happy to report that everything is back to normal at the hotel, and the place still looks as good as new.

The receptionists were very friendly, allowing us early check-in at 1200 hrs. Our flight from Singapore was delayed and we landed at 1115 hrs instead of 1040 hrs. Within 45 mins of landing, we had cleared immigration, collected our bags and were in our hotel room. Seamless travel at its best.

We paid S$295.46 (before 11% cashback from Shopback) for a superior room with 2 double beds which could sleep 4 and the rate included buffet breakfast for all 4 of us (3 adults and 1 child).

I love Novotel for their family-friendly policy of allowing up to 2 children below the age of 16 years to stay and eat free per room. Although we no longer had the option of a chef making us eggs benedict at the buffet breakfast like we did back in 2019, breakfast was still delicious with the usual western favourites and an Asian corner with congee and condiments.

Not only did the hotel receptionists arrange for early check-in for us, they also shared a very useful tip with us - pointing out to us where free overnight on-street parking could be obtained just a stone's throw away. We had rented an 8-seater Kia Carnival from Ace Rental Cars, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hertz, which was located 5 mins away from the airport.

The rental was done through my Rentalcars app. We paid NZD791.08 (before 9% cashback from Shopback) to use the vehicle for 5 days with full insurance coverage and an additional driver. Collection of the vehicle was easy. We used the courtesy phone near the Information Desk at the airport to ring the toll-free number for the free shuttle, walked to the pick up point, and the shuttle arrived within 5 mins. Ace Rental Cars were very quick with sorting out the documentation as well and we were on our way in no time.

I've no qualms about using Ace Rental Cars again, just like their parent company, Hertz. Both companies were well-organized and efficient! Light years ahead of Europcars and Go Rentals, both of which nearly ruined our vacation. More on that in a later post.


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