Our flight from Melbourne landed at Christchurch at 2355 hrs on 6 December 2019. Our original plan was to spend the night at an airport hotel, collect the rental vehicle from the airport in the morning and drive south in the direction of Lake Tekapo. Christchurch did not feature in our original sightseeing plans because the impression I gathered from online reviews was that it was a depressing city which still bore ugly scars from 2 massive earthquakes (4 September 2010 and 22 February 2011), and a massacre on 15 March 2019 when a gunman shot 51 people to death at a downtown mosque.
As fate would have it, our original travel plans suffered an early demise due to NZ's worst flood in 20 years, and we ended up spending the nights of 6 and 7 December 2019 in Christchurch. That gave us the opportunity to give the city a look, and what we saw was far from depressing. Rather, the rebuilt city was clean, modern and beautiful. There was an air of cohesiveness in the people. They were proud of their home and were working together to bring Christchurch forward.
When we walked around the city centre on a sunny Sunday, the shops cafes and pubs were abuzz with people having a good time. Buskers were performing on the street, a charming tourist tram ran through the heart of the city, and children were feeding fish and ducks in the crystal clear river. Granted a badly battered Christchurch Cathedral still stands as a grim reminder of the tragedies in Christchurch, but I would urge all travellers to the South Island to give this city a chance and not bypass it.
The 2 nights which we spent in Christchurch were at the brand spanking new Novotel Christchurch Airport. The hotel had suffered a series of construction delays which saw its opening pushed back repeatedly from 2017. When we checked in on the night of 6 December 2019, it had barely been open for 12 days! Everything still smelled new. The soundproofing was very well done, as we didn't hear a squeak from the runway at all.
Buffet breakfast in the morning was wonderful. I requested for eggs benedict with smoked salmon, and the chef made it perfectly. No extra charge. Asian comfort food like congee and fried noodles featured in the spread. Our table was next to the floor to ceiling windows on both mornings, and we could enjoy our breakfast whilst watching planes take off and land.
During our stay in Christchurch, we checked out The Little High Eatery, touted as the city's "newest and most unique space to eat out". The menu was varied and the prices reasonable. The popular eatery was filled to the brim with diners, and we couldn't get a table for the 8 of us. If we ever find ourselves in Christchurch again, we'll certainly head there for a meal!
Christchurch was also where we sank our teeth into the best burger we've ever tasted. Ever heard of Burger Fuel? It's a NZ burger chain which now has outlets in 6 countries, but alas, Singapore is not one of them. If you find yourself near a Burger Fuel, you have to try one of their burgers and fries (with aioli sauce). You won't regret it. And yes, it tastes better than Fergburger in Queenstown.
Our Jetstar flight left Christchurch at 1650 hrs on 8 December 2019, and arrived at Wellington at 1740 hrs. The shortest inter-city flight I've ever been on. It was also my first time arriving at a new destination without a plan whatsoever. We didn't know anything about Wellington, aside from the fact that it was NZ's capital and that it was located in the southern end of the North Island.
As the family went about retrieving luggage, I sat in a corner using my apps to search for a decent, affordable downtown hotel where we could stay at for the next 13 hours, before our next flight out to Queenstown. We quickly settled on Novotel Wellington. This would be the third (but not our last) Novotel of our trip. We are partial to the Accor group for being family-friendly. They have twin double beds in their rooms, and up to 2 children under 16 can stay in their parents' room and have breakfast for free. Moreover, of the available hotels in downtown Wellington that evening, Novotel Wellington had the highest review rating on Expedia.
We arrived at Novotel Wellington in 2 taxis. The property was dated, but it was in a convenient location. The back door led right onto the main thoroughfare of Lambton Quay. It was past 1900 hrs when we got there and all the shops were shut, but it was a short walk from there to the scenic waterfront where the restaurants were still busy with the dinner crowd.
We surveyed the restaurants on the waterfront and decided on the Crab Shack. It was lively and packed with diners wearing bibs gnawing on crab claws. Seemed like a lot of fun. We dug into their most popular crab dishes, steak, calamari, tempura soft-shell crab, extra spicy wings, etc. and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
We had found ourselves in Wellington unexpectedly, and it had turned out to be a pleasant surprise.