Something New: A Day in Christchurch Part 2

For Part 1 please visit here.

The Canterbury Museum

The Canterbury Museum is located on the grounds of the Botanic Gardens, so you have no excuse not to pop in for a visit. Opened in 1870, the museum is housed in a beautiful stone building at the gates of the gardens.  As New Zealand is a relatively young country (in terms of human inhabitants) I found their museums really interesting as they are filled with well preserved items from throughout social and natural history. This includes Canterbury’s own resident Mummy.

For those wanting to know more about pre- European settler history the museum had exhibits on Maori art, tools and ceremonies.  These items are distinctive due to their use of carved wood, shell and green stone. The craftsmanship and intricate details was really superb. There was also a sad and poignant display dedicated to the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands. The Moriori lived by a code of non-aggression and pacifism which almost led to their whole people being wiped out by violent Maori invaders in the 1830s. But now their culture is going through a revival and this exhibition to a stark reminder of their past.

Maori Art

In terms of natural history the museum had recreations of scenes with Moa. The Moa were giant, flightless birds native to New Zealand that sadly was hunted to extinction by the first human settlers. They could grow really big, up to 12 foot in height in fact, and it is such a shame that we have none alive today.Damn greedy humans! There were also dinosaurs, a geology exhibition and samples of stuffed animals gathered by scientists and collectors. Although not all of these were native to New Zealand many were and gave a great insight into just how unique this Island is.

Poor Moa being speared by a hungry human.

Of course you can’t discuss Kiwi history without the Europeans and the museum details the lives of the first European settlers in Christchurch. On display were names, personal affects and items including diaries which documented their journey to New Zealand. For me this was a real highlight as I come from a place where we know the age in which our cities and towns were founded, but almost never do we have specific names, addresses, and genuine items of furniture from the houses.

Dress from 1885 worn by an New Zealand Socialite.

Added to this there was a wonderful costume gallery with beautiful items that were made in New Zealand. Some items even detailed the back story of the clothes including who wore them and to what event. I particularly loved the lady driver outfit/flight, so stylish. They also included men’s clothes which are often left out of these types of exhibitions despite their contributions to the history of style and tailoring. Well done to the curator.

Outfit worn by Lady Constance Stewart, one of New Zealand’s first woman aviators.

Those interested in decorative history would also very much enjoy the Canterbury museum due to its wealth of furniture which displayed the tastes of European settlers. The exhibition gave the history of fashion trends from the styles of carvings to the types of wood used. Bone, shell and stone carvings were also included and the skill needed to carve some of the tiny pieces was really astounding. I wonder what the furniture makers of the day would think of out Ikea, mass-market items.

Decorative Arts Hall

For visitors who are looking for something a bit different there was plenty to see! There is a recreation of Christchurch in the Victorian times where you can wander down the street, browse the shops, or pose on a penny-farthing. The Paua Shell house is, as it says, a house full of shells, which was wonderfully kitch. Antarctic exploration was also represented with items and memorabilia from Scott’s last expedition.

Old Victorian Christchurch Street displau

If you are still on your feet after all that there is cafe upstairs which looks out onto the botanic gardens and you can fill yourself full of tasty sandwiches and cakes.

Food and Drink

For food any visitor is spoiled for choice in Christchurch. There are plenty of cafe’s and restaurants around to meet every taste. One place that really stood out for us was an Indian Restaurant called Himalayas. Located on Colombo Street it is accessible for anyone staying near the centre of the city. The food was divine, the service quick but not intrusive and the menu selection was fantastic. Myself and my companion ordered the vegetarian platter to start. It was beautifully presented and the dips were refreshing and light which was a perfect contrast to the dish. For mains I ordered the chana masala which was cooked perfectly. The real star of the show however was the Dal Makhani, a dish of blank lentils cooked on a slow fire with aromatic spices.  Absolutely delicious.

Drink wise New Zealand is probably best known here for its wine. To our surprise (and delight) there is a growing craft bear and ale movement which is gaining momentum. If this is your type of tipple a visit to Pomeroy’s is a must. With over 20 taps of delicious, often prize winning beers to be sampled we were spoiled for choice. I particularly enjoyed the Emersons Pilsner which was beautifully malty. The pub boasts a packed calender of events, a restaurant, its own accommodation and outside seating area. It even has a library full of books about Christchurch so it was not hard to understand why it was so full.

Pomeroy’s Pub

If alcohol is off your menu fear not! Christchurch takes its coffee very seriously and there are many, great small independent cafes to explore and enjoy.

I hope this guide inspires anyone taking a trip down to the south island to make a stop in Christchurch. It is a great city and has lots of offer, much more than can be seen in one day.

If visiting a Lonely Planet Guide is indispensable and will give great tips and handy maps.

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