Pamela McIntosh and her family head south for a special few days to explore the rebuilt Garden City in Christchurch.
Up up and away! Right on schedule, our Jetstar big bird pulls out from the gate and our family adventure takes flight. On board, options for snacks and kids’ activity packs keeps Georgia, 6, and Lennox, 2, happy high in the clouds.
We touch down in Christchurch, collect our luggage (which includes two car seats, free with the children’s flights) and pick up a SUV from Budget Car Rentals. It’s more spacious than our own car with a ton of room in the boot for shopping, I mean, luggage. And the digital check-in facilities means we’re on the road in no time, with more holiday hours up our sleeve.
Gettin’ acquainted with Christchurch
To balance out a busy morning travelling, we take the afternoon slow. We make ourselves home at Quest Apartment Hotel at Cathedral Junction, which couldn’t be more conveniently located: directly above the main stop for Christchurch’s iconic tram and just minutes from New Regent Street’s eateries and the impressive Margaret Mahy Playground.
To orientate ourselves (and because kids ride free!) we take a tram ride through the city centre with the option to hop-on, hop-off at each of the 17 stops. We disembark at Turanga – an architecturally-designed library which opened in 2018. But this is no regular library; it’s totally next level. The children’s books on level one are surrounded by oodles of gadgets for tots and teens, including no less than a million Lego and Duplo pieces ready to be turned into masterpieces as well as an indoor slide, dress-up area and a Playstation game-zone.
Less than 90-minutes from Christchurch is Akaroa – a historical French settlement known for its beautiful bays, quant village and local attractions. At the end of the wharf, Black Cat Cruises’ 20-metre catamaran waits patiently. She’s the vessel that’s staking us to see the region’s fur seals and rare Hector’s dolphins.
We board the boat, which has an indoor and outdoor area as well as a snack and refreshment bar. She’s a windy day which means dolphin-spotting is not guaranteed (you get your money back if you don’t see dolphins on the cruise), but we’re all thrilled to see seals among the rocks, and grey and black dolphins frolic at the front of the boat for 20 minutes.
Let’s get wild
It’s day three and it’s perfect weather for a wander around Orana Wildlife Park. Eighty hectares of open-range grounds are home to giraffes, white rhino’s, lion, tigers, Kiwi, and — not to be missed — Aotearoa’s only gorillas! For thrill-seekers and older children, a world-famous Lion Encounter will escort you through the African Lion Habitat onboard a specially-modified vehicle for extremely close views of the lions. We spent nearly three house there (hot tip, rent a pushchair for little ones whose legs get tired) and finished off with lunch at the cafe overlooking the amazing giraffe-feeding enclosure.
Cooler than cool
Wanting to experience the mystery, excitement and temperatures of Earth’s southernmost continent, our next stop is the International Antarctic Centre. Children aged 3+ can take a ride with their parents on the all-terrain Hägglund vehicle – beware, it’s as bumpy as it is exhilarating! And if you seek a chilly challenge, I dare you to see how long you can stay in the Storm Dome. It’s a room of snow and igloos chilled to -5 degrees (the resident Huskies love it!) and every hour it replicates a -18 degree Antarctic storm. We lasted all of a minute… Brrrr!
Before we bid farewell to Christchurch, which today is a modern and memorable place for families to eat, play and stay, we head to the foothills to the Gondola, which includes a lift to the summit for the best views of the region. The kids’ eyes get wider and wider the higher up we go, and are nearly bursting with awe as we take in the 360-degree views of the Southern Alps, Pegasus Bay and Lyttelton Harbour.
As we descend back down the hill in the 4-person gondola cabin, I ask Georgia what her favourite part of the trip was. “Time with my family”, she answered. Which is really what family getaways are all about aren’t they? Making memories in fun and interesting places with loved ones.