24 February 2018

 
William and Kate see the regeneration of Christchurch’s Cashel Street shopping mall
In the steps of William & Kate
Katie Nichol follows the royal itinerary in New Zealand - and sees the remarkable spirit that lifts the city of Christchurch
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last visited New Zealand three years ago when Prince William travelled there a month after Christchurch was devastated by an earthquake. Today, the quintessentially English city, a home from home, is again bustling with charm. An impressive £23billion regeneration project is under way and the central business district, which was severely damaged, is slowly being restored.

The Cashel Street Mall, the city’s biggest outdoor shopping precinct, has been rebuilt using colourful shipping containers to house pop-up shops. The one-off boutiques, bookshops and craft stalls are a delight to browse, while the bustling cafes and street entertainers offer a wonderful way to while away an afternoon. On Saturdays there’s a popular street market. You can eat your way around the world at the many stalls and walk off the calories at the Botanic Gardens, a peaceful and fragrant retreat.
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Fabulous fjords: A cruise ship is dwarfed by towering scenery of Milford Sound
The Botanic gardens in Christchurch where the royal couple opened the new visitor centre
A visit to the CTV Building Memorial Park - the site of the former Canterbury Television building, which was razed when the quake struck - is a moving experience. It is now a memorial to the 185 people who died in the disaster. There’s also the Transitional Cathedral, built as a temporary replacement for the city’s historic cathedral, which suffered major structural damage and saw its spire and tower destroyed in the earthquake. Known as ‘The Cardboard Cathedral’, the impressive eco-structure - built by Japanese designer Shigeru Ban - is fascinating.

Much of the building, in Latimer Square, several blocks from the original cathedral, is made from cardboard tubes. Christchurch is a good starting point from which to explore New Zealand’s South Island, and from there I headed to Queenstown. An hour’s flight away, it is the country’s adventure capital and the landing is considered one of the top ten in the world. As you descend, Lake Wakatipu is framed by snowcapped mountains.

Tourism dominates Queenstown, with nearly two million visitors a year, and many of the resorts are on the lake shore. I stayed at the Rydges Lakeland Resort, where I recommend you ask for a room with a view. A five-minute walk away is the town centre, where there are lots of good bars and restaurants. I enjoyed a memorable breakfast at the Vudu Cafe on Beach Street. A word of warning - leave your diet at the entrance.
The city’s visitor centre, located in the gardens, was opened by William and Kate in April during their highly successful tour Down Under with baby George. Yet, despite all its delights, it is the 2011 earthquake that identifies Christchurch now.
"The island has species unique to its shores and is a natural playground."
The counter heaves with freshly baked treats, including toasted banana bread with fig and lemon marmellata and mascarpone, which is simply heaven-sent. The fennel and vodka house-cured salmon with scrambled eggs, pickled beetroot and micro greens on toasted sourdough will fill you up until dinner.

Keen for a bird’s-eye view of the region, I took the Skyline Gondola, which transports you almost 1,500ft above Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. The views are amazing, as are the incredibly tall trees. At the top is a lookout where you can see for miles - on a clear day Coronet Peak, the Remarkables mountain range and Cecil and Walter Peaks are all visible.
"If you are in Queenstown for a couple of days, it’s definitely worth visiting the nearby Milford Sound to see the country’s famous fjords."
Enjoy a glass of vine at a NZ vineyard
Hold tight: A Shotover Jetboat, right, speeds through the narrow canyon with, below, an exhilarated William and Kate aboard
Built as a temporary replacement for Christchurch’s cathedral, the ‘cardboard cathedral’ has quickly become a sight all its own
If the view is not enough, there is a thrilling gravity-fuelled luge ride and a downhill bike track. Having watched numerous bungeejumpers launching themselves off platforms during the ascent, I headed to the AJ Hackett Bungy, where the thrilling jump was pioneered. The centre offers six different rides. I suffer from vertigo so chose the Kawarau Zipride over the more hair-raising bungee. The ‘zip’ cable ride, which costs £25, starts about 130ft above a river and sends you gliding almost 400ft across a stunning canyon with spectacular views.

The famous Shotover Jet boat ride is also a trip to experience while in the area. The Shotover River Canyon boasts the clearest river I have ever seen. The scenery is breathtaking and the alpine air so delicious I wanted to bottle it. The ride itself (which William and Kate enjoyed during their trip) is thrilling, fast - and wet. Riders are belted into the boat - so completely safe - but the drivers, who know every ridge, boulder and bend of the canyon, really put their feet down.

The twin-engine jets - known as the ‘big reds’ - travel at up to 85mph in very shallow water. The trip itself is 25 minutes and amid all the fun, don’t forget to look up - the canyon towering above is awesome. After all the adventure I was keen to kick back and sample some of New Zealand’s wines. Just a 15-minute drive from Queenstown, the Amisfield Winery and Bistro at Lake Hayes is known for its first-class Pinot Noir, a personal favourite.

The winery, which William and Kate also visited, is beautifully appointed, with floor-to-ceiling glass windows overlooking the vineyards, Lake Hayes and the Remarkables mountain range. The award-winning bistro offers a daily à la carte menu complete with recommended wines to complement each course. If you are in Queenstown for a couple of days, it’s definitely worth visiting the nearby Milford Sound on the west coast to see the country’s famous fjords.

The flight over the Southern Alps, glaciers and waterfalls is an experience in itself, and there are a number of tour operators, such as Air Milford, that offer trip packages including flights, a guided walk through the native beech forests and an hourand- a-half-long cruise through the fjords. It costs about £250 per person, but with the chance to see such diverse landscape - and penguins if you are lucky - it’s worth it.


Original article published in Nov 2014. All info and prices correct at time of publication.
 
 
 
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