So there I was, wrapped in woollen scarves and my teeth chattering just a little, walking through Christchurch Central City trying to remember just how cold did winters really get here?
Despite having grown up in Christchurch, and living here until my mid twenties; It had felt like such a long time away. Christchurch is quite a different city these days, a hub of urban regeneration and new pockets of delicious food and activities that have unfurled across the city throughout the last 9 years of rebuilding since the devastating earthquakes.
However, so many of my fond memories growing up involve blossoming blooms in the botanical gardens or lazy summer evenings sprawled out on Sumner beach. The truth is, I’d been avoiding winter for the longest time I’d forgotten how to enjoy it here! But then, COVID-19 came along just as I was visited for my brothers wedding, and I found myself (for the first time in many years) living back in Christchurch through the winter.
It turns out there are so many things to do in Christchurch in the winter after all, thanks to some exciting new developments (along with some old favourites!)
So here I was, rediscovering the city I grew up in – not to mentioned playing tour guide to my American partner who was visiting for the first time when we ended up (surprise!) moving here. Trying to show him the heart of a place I was rediscovering myself.
1. Soak at the He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools
The He Puna Taimoana pools are a shiny & new on the list of things to do in Christchurch having only opened up their doors in June.
Located on the New Brighton seafront looking out to the pier, this area has a long history of salt water hot pools. The original “Howey’s Hydro Baths” were in a similar location a long while back, and at the time the salt-water baths were credited with curing some pretty intense ailments such as sciatica & rheumatism.
Warm salt water is associated with a variety of healing benefits including: calming the nervous system, boosting circulation, easing muscular/joint inflammation and reducing general pain.About He Puna Taimoana
I went on a Monday morning, hoping to avoid the weekend rush. Thanks to a limited booking system there are never too many people in the pools at once, and the views out to the ocean combined with chilled music playing softly somewhere into the background made for a super relaxing start to the day.
The complex also has a wonderful steam room & sauna, a collection of hot pools, a cold plunge pool and an onsite cafe.
Opening Hours: 10am-8pm, 7 days a week. Visit their site here to make a booking
2. Explore the magnificent food-haven that is the Riverside Market
When I first returned to Christchurch after a number of years away, I kept being told to see the Riverside Market. As proof Christchurch is recovering, that it’s bustling and up and coming and maybe even a little bit hipster.
Turns out the Riverside market is all those things and more. While it spills out into a warren of charming laneways, the Riverside Market itself is all under cover making it a perfectly acceptable outing for a rainy winter day in the city.
One of my perennial shopping favourites The Mediterranean Food company has opened up a smaller Tuscan Deli store in here, jostling up right next to one of my top ten Christchurch food experiences (for as long as I can remember) Dimitri’s Souvlaki, where you should go quite literally right now and order the lamb souvlaki. You can thank me later.
Having just those two places opening up so close together was more than enough to lure me in. Yet, never in my wildest dreams was I expecting the eatery paradise I discovered inside.
In the middle is a collective food market, a greengrocer, butcher, fishmonger. Dotted around lay specialty meats, cheeses, chocolatiers, and other specialty goods. Restaurants and bars fill the rest of the space and range from Sushi train and a ramen joint, Malaysian, Turkish, Argentine Barbecue, Vietnamese.. the list goes on and on, I could spend an entire winter hiding out in here taste testing everything.
Needless to say, I am super impressed and plan to return many times. You can find the full (and very impressive) directory here: https://riverside.nz/directory
Opening Hours: Open 7 days, varying hours depending on the eatery or store you’re headed to. Check out the Riverside Market site for a full map & list of vendors and their opening hours.
3. Take a trip to the Lyttelton Market (bring your umbrella!)
Locals might argue that Lyttelton really isn’t quite Christchurch and thus shouldn’t be on a things to do in Christchurch list as much as it should be on a things to do near Christchurch one. But, nevertheless, here we are. It’s a quick drive (or bus trip) through the tunnel to discover one of my favourite hidden little towns of the South Island.
The Lyttelton farmers market is a bit of a cultural institution, and is certainly a more lively hub of activity in the warmer months.
Yet the show must go on, and the market continues through the year rain or shine full of live music, great food & an upbeat smalltown vibe.
What to do at the Lyttelton market?
Wandering down the bustling main street of Lyttelton on a Saturday morning you can pick up a fresh, hot coveted Hope river Pie, or swing by the Lyttelton Coffee Company for an excellent flat white and a spot of brunch (if you can get a table – it’s a popular choice for good reason!) Eruption Brewing is a local brewery who also make a great mulled wine, and if it’s cooler out they have the fire going too.
If you’re into Pizza, Bomba Getato hand makes their pizzas & calzones with exceptional care (and an impressive overnight rising of their traditionally made dough) and sell amazing pizza slices & calzones out front during the market. Their gelato is also incredible if you don’t mind a frosty treat on a cool winter day!
The best buy of the market itself (in my opinion) is the bread stall closest to the Oxford Street & London Street corner. Their Focaccia is some of the best I’ve ever had – but get in quick, they always sell out early!
Opening Hours: Every Saturday, rain or shine – 10am – 1pm. Visit the market website here
4. Snuggle with Cozy Kitties at Catnap, The Christchurch Cat Cafe
What’s more cozy than fuzzy little kittens pouncing about the place? Did I mention Catnap also whips up a wicked hot chocolate or flat white? Just make sure to keep your mug covered to protect from curious kitten tounges!
Cat cafes have been taking off around the world, and finally Christchurch has its own. Set in a beautiful large space with lots of cat towers, play toys, couches & cozy nooks, this is an ideal place to while away the winter and maybe fall in love a few times over.
Catnap also works with the Cats Protection League to rehome cats in need of a new loving family – so many of the felines you’ll meet may even be available for adoption.
Everything about this place is charming, down to the cat shaped stirring spoons & kitten printed cushions.
Opening Hours: Wednesday – Sunday 10am until 5pm. Bookings recommended. head to the Catnap website here to make a booking.
5. See Real Kiwis in the Willowbank Nocturnal House
When it comes to things to do in Christchurch (or in fact, New Zealand as a whole!) experiencing a sighting of a live kiwi bird should be up on your list! However, our nations emblem is actually extraordinarily rare.
Most New Zealander’s will have never seen a kiwi in the wild, and only a small handful will have even heard them calling in the night.
That’s why going to a nocturnal house is a great way to see these amazing little creatures for yourself, without spending many cold nights out in the deep bush trying to spot something so elusive.
Willowbank has many other animals too, and I have many fond childhood memories of visiting the barnyard animals, rare tuatara lizard and huge conga eels here!
Opening Hours: Willowbank is open 9:30am – 5.00pm 7 days a week throughout the year (Except Christmas Day) but the Kiwi nocturnal house opens a little later from 10:30. You can visit Willowbank’s website here
6. Learn About our Shaky Past at Quake City Earthquake Museum.
The devastating earthquakes of 2011 & 2012 reshaped the city of Christchurch – both figuratively and literally. For me personally, it was the last time I ever lived in Christchurch.
Coming back 9 years later and the rebuild effort is amazing. Seeing my hometown blossoming back into something interesting, something more than a pile of rubble, is magnificent.
This is why I think anybody who is not from Christchurch should spent time at Quake City, it is an amazingly well put together exhibit that really tells the story of the devastation, the rebuilt, and the resiliency of Cantabrians.
Opening Hours: 10am – 5pm 7 days a week (except Christmas) You can learn more about Quake City here
7. Warm your Insides with some Ramen & Dumplings at Little High Eatery
I may be obsessed with ramen. It’s hard to know for sure, but ever since I visited Japan and experienced ramen in its full soupy, fatty, slurpy glory I’ve been forever changed.
Since then, It’s become my mission to try and find ramen everywhere I go; in the hopes that someday I will find an experience as delicious as those I found in Japan. And what better way to warm your chilly body from the inside out this winter than a steaming hot bowl of noodles?
That is exactly how I stumbled upon the Little High Eatery. My perpetual hunt for delicious ramen led me to try out Sushi Soldier for their house special pork & chicken bone broth with pork belly. It was pretty delicious, not gonna lie!
But as it turns out, Little High Eatery is something between a food court and a night market paradise of delectable international foods eaten in a comment eating space.
Currently eight different vendors reside here, so in addition to Sushi Soldier you’ll find: Little Social for coffee & drinks, Bacon Brothers for a burger bar, Eightgrains for boutique Chinese food & handmade dumplings, BASE Woodfired Pizza for pizza, El Fogón for Venezuelan inspired BBQ, Noodlemonk for Thai Stret Kitchen food, and Caribe Latin Kitchen for latin American.
So if you can’t travel (like I can’t right now, thanks COVID-19!) you can at least come here to warm up and travel with your tastebuds.
What do you like to do in Christchurch?
I’m always looking for new things to check out! Leave your own suggestions in the comments, it doesn’t need to be winter friendly either, I’m curious for all seasons!