{going solo in NZ} Part 4: charming and sleepy Christchurch

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going solo in NZ: Itinerary | Auckland | Wellington | Picton & Kaikoura | Christchurch | Queenstown | quirks & perks of solo travelling |

You can’t visit the South Island without passing through Christchurch, even if it isn’t exactly the most exciting city in itself. Being the last leg of my solo trip, I chose to spend 5 full days in the city, exploring all its touristy sights & museums, but was mostly catching up on blogging before heading to Queenstown for a family vacation.

It’s a quiet and chill city, with not much to do after most shops and restaurants close by 5/6pm. And despite being surrounded by mountains, there’s no particularly great hiking spots nor beautiful beaches in the vicinity. To make up for that, my Christchurch friend mentioned how most people have pets (particularly dogs) to keep themselves entertained.

Overall, I found aspects of Chch (how the locals type the city’s name) rather charming, most notably their English-style architecture, but didn’t enjoy it quite the way I did all the others.

Christchurch Itinerary (1-6 Aug)
Day 1 (Mon)🚗 Arrived from Kaikoura
🏨 Check in @ 282 Madras Street (Airbnb)
🍽️ Ramen Ria (Japanese/Fusion)
Day 2 (Tue)🌳 Christchurch Botanic Gardens
🍽️ Zen Sushi & Dumplings (Japanese)
🏛️ Canterbury Museum
🍫 The Fudge Cottage
🏛️ Christchurch Art Gallery
🛍️ Thrift shopping @ Lincoln Road
🍽️ AFG Afghan Restaurant (Middle-Eastern)
Day 3 (Wed)🛍️ Thrift shopping @ Sydenham, Colombo Street
🍰 Grizzly Baked Goods
🍽️ Saigon Centre (Vietnamese)
🛍️ Window-shopping in the city centre
Day 4 (Thu)🏛️ Centre of Contemporary Art
🏛️ Exploring The Arts Centre: Rutherford’s Den, Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities, The Central Art Gallery
🍽️ Little Fish Co @ Riverside Market (Seafood)
Day 5 (Fri)🌳 Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
🍽️ Happy Kitchen (Hong Kong)
Day 6 (Sat)CHC✈️ZQN
Day 1 – room review + first impressions

Continuing from where my previous post left off, I arrived in Christchurch after a short 2.5-hour drive from Kaikoura, thanks to my friend who lives in Chch. I stopped off at my Airbnb (linked here) to dump my heavy bags & suitcase, and met my lovely Airbnb superhost Fiona!

Conveniently located a 10-minute walk from the CBD and situated above a cafe (Table at Monks), the subdivided studio apartment far exceeded my expectations. The place was spacious, clean, well-decorated, and had all the amenities I needed for a comfortable and happy 5-night stay. Not to mention the massive windows that let me effortlessly take in the view of mountains in the distance and watch the sunset from the comfort of my room every evening.

After unpacking a bit, I rejoined my friend for dinner in the CBD, grabbing a quick bowl of duck ramen at Ramen Ria. At $20+ per bowl, the small portion of fusion Chinese-Jap ramen still left me feeling hungry, and since all the shops had somehow closed by 6pm (after we finished dinner), I had no choice but to buy instant noodles from the nearby Kosco Metro Korean supermarket…

Day 2 – Botanic gardens, museums, and AFG Restaurant (the best kebab I’ve ever had)

The next morning, I took a 2km walk from my Airbnb to the Botanic Gardens, and then spent another hour completing the recommended walking route within the gardens. Unfortunately, since it was winter, there wasn’t anything particularly nice to see, with barren rose gardens and the usual greenery.

Thankfully, the Canterbury Museum was located at the main entrance of the Botanic Gardens (the side with the Peacock Fountain), so I nipped in for a leisurely exploration of the museum.

It’s a medium-sized museum with free entry, taking 2-2.5 hours to cover its 2-storeys worth of galleries. My personal highlight of the museum was the Antarctic Gallery, which retold the history of decades of perilous Antarctic expeditions, and how early explorers relied on resourcefulness & innovation to survive the harsh weather. This museum hosts the world’s largest collection of Antarctic artefacts, including a few massive expedition vehicles.

I then headed to the nearby Christchurch Art Gallery, which is your typical contemporary art museum. While I aimlessly wandered through the exhibits, my local friend excitedly texted me to say that AFG/Afghan Restaurant was going to be open this evening, and that we would meet for dinner there.

You might be wondering, why would a famous local restaurant not have fixed opening hours? Well, their food is just that good.

My friend explained the cult status behind AFG/Afghan Restaurant: it’s owned by Abdul, who decides each day whether he’ll be opening the store for dinner (at around 5.30/6pm). One of his employees will then post this intel on a dedicated Facebook group in the afternoon, so you’ll only really know a few hours in advance. Sometimes, the restaurant doesn’t open for a whole week, so I was extremely lucky that he decided to during my stay in Chch.

Being your typical kiasu Singaporean, upon hearing that there’s usually a long queue by opening time, I was determined to be first in line and stood there 30 minutes early. True enough, a queue of 5 groups had formed behind me before AFG even opened its doors.

Upon entering, we were greeted by organised chaos. Turns out, there’s no menu, because AFG serves just one menu for just $20: fresh salad, kebabs, chicken curry (with a chicken thigh each) and biryani rice. We just ordered a portion for two, and heaping plates of delicious curried goodness were soon served up. Depending on your appetite, a two-person portion here could feed 3-4 people, or you could pack the rest of your meal to go (I gobbled up my portion just fine, since I hadn’t eaten much the whole day).

Ending the day off with the best kebabs I’ve had in 25 years of life was quite an unforgettable experience, and it’s a rite of passage anyone visiting Chch should try (if AFG happens to be open :P).

Day 3 – non-stop op-shopping

I had run out of touristy things to do in Christchurch, being the sleepy medium-sized town it is, so I went op-shopping. Op shops are NZ’s equivalent of second hand stores, and their proceeds go to various charities. Having been bitten by the op-shopping bug earlier in Auckland, I continued this spree here as well.

My entire op-shopping route was about 5km and took just under half a day (including meal breaks), so please ignore this section unless you’re a devoted op-shopper like me:

  • Salvation Army Family Store (Sydenham) – lots of knick knacks, crockery/cutlery, and the usual second-hand clothes
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStore – a massive warehouse that’s slightly out of the way, but has everything under the sun at insanely cheap prices, perfect for your next upcycling project
  • Thrive Op Shop (Sydenham) – meh, I have no impression of this shop
  • Flourish op shop – smaller than the other stores, but stocking better quality and higher-value items
  • St John Boutique Community Shop – a small but well-curated thrift shop, with good quality and trendy clothing items

All the walking between the op shops left me famished, so I stopped along the way at two excellent places – a fantastic bakery nestled in an industrial estate (Grizzly Baked Goods, where I had the best bombolini of my life) and a crowded Asian restaurant (Saigon Centre Vietnamese Restaurant). I was sufficiently refuelled for round two of op-shopping and CBD exploration.

Grizzly Baked Goods’ bombolini

I ran out of things to do by mid-afternoon and decided to call it a day, retreating to the comfort of my cosy Airbnb to admire the view from the balcony, with a cup of tea. #hyggelife

Day 4 – free museum-hopping in The Arts Centre + exploring the CBD

In case you couldn’t tell, I was desperately looking for interesting things to do in Christchurch (that weren’t excessively gimmicky/pricey like the tram/cable car/gondola), so I decided to visit all the free museums.

The museums generally close early (around 3pm) and aren’t open all days of the week, do check out the individual websites for the latest opening days & hours! I chose to go on a Thursday morning, and just casually skimmed through all these places:

  • I would personally skip the Centre of Contemporary Art (open Tue – Sat), but I happened to pass by it on the way to The Art Centre. Only 1 exhibition was running when I visited, and it featured…just one projector screen
  • These 3 small galleries are located within The Arts Centre, the former University of Canterbury campus, and might take a total of 1-1.5 hours if you go through them really slowly:
    • Rutherford’s Den (open Thu – Mon): being a science-person, this was a relatively cool museum about Ernest Rutherford, Nobel prize winner & father of nuclear physics, who studied & conducted some of his famous experiments in the very building the museum was built in
    • Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities (open Wed – Sun): a small but well-curated gallery containing various Greek & Roman artefacts, and the historical context or mythology behind them
    • The Central Art Gallery (open Wed – Sun): a cold, commercial modern art gallery, where you can splash out a few thousand for an artwork to bring home

The Arts Centre is a beautiful complex of Gothic Revival-style buildings dating back to the 1800s, home to various galleries, stores, restaurants/cafes and event spaces. And it’s conveniently located across the road from the Botanic Gardens & Canterbury Museum, making it possible to hit up all these places within a day (if they all happen to be open).

I then spent 2 hours wandering around the CBD, grabbing a quick lunch at Riverside Market (a large food court with an insane variety of food options) and exploring the shops (which were all pretty generic).

Day 5 – Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

On my last full day in Christchurch, my friend drove me out to the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, a 20-minute drive out from the town centre. It’s also accessible by public bus, but that would have taken nearly an hour.

Being a massive animal lover, it was practically heaven for me, and we spent 2 hours seeing, feeding and smelling the 30+ types of animals there. The reserve was divided into a few sections: farm animals, native NZ fauna and zoo/exotics, with the farm section being a massive petting zoo (and all-day buffet for the happy animals).

My 3 favourite animals/experiences were:

  1. Kneeling on a platform, feeding throngs of metre-long freshwater eels with meat on a metal spoon, as they swarmed and flung themselves onto the platform to reach the food
  2. Hanging out with 10+ keas (large alpine NZ parrots) in an outdoor aviary, taking beautiful close-up shots of them as they scampered around our feet or flew dangerously close to our heads. Being renowned little destroyers, their favourite hobby seemed to be nibbling at guests’ shoe soles, and even the tires on a baby’s pram!
  3. Seeing kiwis for the first time in my life, in a large kiwi house with 4 kiwis rustling around in the dark undergrowth – but you’ll have to let your eyes adjust to the complete darkness to spot them!

It was easily the highlight of my Chch trip, a perfect experience for both adults & children, and I highly recommend making a half-day trip out to this lovely reserve!

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