Christchurch: An easy act to swallow

By Sharon Stephenson

Please note, this story was written prior to the Christchurch earthquakes so some information may no longer be accurate.

South of Lichfield is one of the Garden City's trendy meeting places. Photo / Supplied
South of Lichfield is one of the Garden City's trendy meeting places. Photo / Supplied

If there's an easier way to make a living than wrapping rubber bands around your face, no one has told Shay Horay.

And hopefully they never do, because the street performer's antics with latex are delighting - and revolting - the huge crowd at Christchurch's annual Buskers Festival.

It's the 15th time the Garden City has shrugged off its conservative shackles and thrown out the welcome mat for performance artists from throughout the world.

There are more than 40 performers - acrobats, fire-eaters, jugglers, comedians, musos, aerialists, clowns, mime artists and, let's be honest, freaks.

But it's easy to warm to a city that not only encourages such pandemonium but enshrines it in a festival.

The publicist's list of must-sees rivals the Crusaders' trophy cabinet and the programme has us quickstepping from Buskers Park to Cathedral Square, over to the Arts Centre and back to the Civic to ensure we don't miss a thing.

Watching Wellington-based acrobatics Fuse Productions I find myself focusing on their ripped bodies, wondering how many hours I'd have to spend in a gym before I too could look like that in a leotard. Plus I'd have to give up my food addiction and Christchurch isn't the place to do that.

Although the buskers are on the streets in force just once a year, this is a city that takes its stomach seriously year-round. So if there's no street theatre there's always street-side dining. And if you visit in autumn, the crisp clear days and gorgeous colours are sure to stir up the appetite.

Nowhere are Christchurch's culinary strengths more evident than at the South of Lichfield - known as SoL - where 'it' bars and restaurants rub up against clothing boutiques such as Gas, owned by one Dan Carter.

Our first refuelling stop is The Mexican Cafe where freeze-your-tongue margaritas and cheesy nachos ruin my leotard fantasy forever. Later we return to SoL to stuff ourselves at the wonderfully retro Fish and Chip Shop where food comes wrapped in newspaper, and I loiter in the toilets to peruse walls covered in 100-year-old newspapers.

Ignoring the fact we've already consumed our combined bodyweight in food, we book for dinner on the Tramway restaurant. It's very 'touristy', but the colonial-style funicular loops us slowly around the scenic city while we feast on salmon so fresh I expect it to swim off my plate.

As it's probably illegal to visit Christchurch and not schlep out to Akaroa, the next day we head to the coast and a date with the world's smallest and rarest dolphins.

Stupidly, I spend the winding journey in the back seat reading trashy magazines which means by the time we get to cute-as-a-button Akaroa my only aim is to find a bin so I can throw up.

Consequently, I'm far too nauseous to suit up with those who've paid $110 to frolic with the friendly Hector's dolphins.

It isn't long before the friendly wee guys appear. From my spot on board I convince myself I have a better view of the dolphins than those swimming alongside them, thanks to the increasingly high waves. Although the waves also, of course, kickstart the barf reflex. Nice.

But there's nothing like a cheeky pinot gris to make a girl feel better and we're soon back on land and pulling into Matua Country Retreat's long driveway.

A secluded bolthole just out of Akaroa, people come here to tune out and disappear from view. Oh, and eat. Owner Sue Lovett plies us with a Kaituna Valley Pinot Gris, crusty bread and a creamy havarti from nearby Barry's Bay Cheese.

I bite into one of Lovett's pickled walnuts and wonder if I have died and gone to heaven. They're so popular with visitors that when I whip out my wallet to buy a jar, the pantry is bare. Further down the road we pull into the iconic French Farm Winery, which spreads its tentacles over gently rolling pasture on the western side of Akaroa Harbour.

Owner Mark Smith pulled this vineyard from the brink of bankruptcy four years ago and now its two restaurants, 8ha of vines and Provence-style setting provide the backdrop for many a wedding and long lunch. From our vantage point on the terrace, we polish off a huge platter of delectable morsels and a lovely Akaroa Harbour rosé.

Four hours, two aspirin and a nana-nap later, the epicurean orgy continues. We dine at Dux de Lux, a Christchurch institution, where the seafood jambalaya is so generous I don't know where to start.

Indeed, after a wild weekend in the South Island's biggest city there is only one answer to: "Does my bum look big in this?"

No leotard for me.

CHECKLIST

What's on: Christchurch plays host to the New Zealand International Jazz and Blues festival from March 25-April 4. Taking place in venues around the city, the festival includes performances from dozens of jazz and blues musicians. For more information visit jazzfestivalnz.com.

Where to stay:

The George: 50 Park Terrace, Christchurch. This luxury establishment is one of Christchurch's top hotels. Special touches, such as the scrummy chocolates and the wee teddy that guests are encouraged to take home, make this a standout.

The Charlotte Jane: 110 Papanui Rd, Christchurch. This glorious building began life in 1891 as posh girls' school, Rangi Ruru. But since 1996, it's been a place for well-heeled travellers to lay their weary heads. Colonial antiques, claw-foot baths and decor Laura Ashley would swoon over add up to an unforgettable experience.

Sharon Stephenson flew to Christchurch courtesy of Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism and Pacific Blue.

- Herald on Sunday

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