Horticulture in the “Garden City”

Christchurch, New Zealand

After so many early wake-up calls, it was nice to sleep in this morning.

On the recommendation of Lonely Planet — confirmed by our hotel concierge — we walked into town for breakfast at Vudu Café. It was easily the best of our entire trip. The flat whites were creamy, rich and sweet. But it was the lemon butter pancakes, topped with fresh black and blueberries and maple syrup, that were just delicious.

We packed our bags and dropped off the rental Toyota at the airport. Avis then proved it is the world’s best agency by eliminating our one-way drop-off fee and reducing the bill by about $200. We’re still not sure why — but we certainly didn’t question their offer.

Our luck was different checking in with Jetstar, a discount subsidiary of Qantas. Like Ryanair, the airline offers obscenely cheap ticket prices but then charges like crazy for extras. Our bags were 9 kilos over the weight limit, which cost us an additional $90. Still, even with that charge, the one-way direct tickets to Christchurch, about an hour northeast, cost less than $70 a piece.

Christchurch, the largest city on the South Island and populated by about 300,000, was founded by the Church of England in the mid-19th century. The city’s architecture, gardens and culture remain eerily reminiscent of its founders’ home country. Our hotel, appropriately enough, was The George, a member of the Small Luxury Hotels and consistently rated one of the best in the city and the country. Needless to say, we had high expectations.

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Our premium executive twin room had recently been renovated, with views across the street to Hagley Park, planted by the first provincial government in 1855. The bathroom had the usual products — but we had never seen customized hotel soap, engraved with the George logo. Baller.

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The weather was summery so we made our way through the manicured park lawns and across stone bridges, as punters and kayakers boated down the Avon River, to the Botanic Gardens.

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Many of the garden’s plants, like the azaleas, were exploding with color. Roses were starting to bloom. Uniform-clad school children walked to cricket lessons. Gigantic sequoia trees — similar to those in Rotorua — soared overhead.

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We had heard and read about a Burmese restaurant, Bodhi Tree, and since neither of us had ever tried that type of ethnic cuisine before, decided to give it a go for dinner. When we arrived, the place was packed — and not only was their no room tonight, but it was also fully booked tomorrow. We made note that Burmese food was either spectacular or the restaurants in this city were terrible. Or both.

A nondescript sushi place on the Avon provided us with a decent, if unspectacular, meal.

Tomorrow, our last day, we explore Christchurch further by foot.

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