Where To Eat, Shop And Find A Spacious Float Cabin In Christchurch

By Rebecca Barry-Hill, Rebecca Barry Hill
Rosa and Margo Flanagan of Two Raw Sisters at The Welder. Photo / Supplied

Nothing broadens travel like the mind. Just shut your eyes — preferably while bobbing like an apple in a pitch-black bath packed with Epsom salts. Anyone who books a spacious float cabin at O-Studio in Christchurch can have their own Eddie Monsoon iso tank moment (minus Patsy wafting a ciggy).

The studio space has been built with the warm woods of a Scandi snow hut, offering restorative luxuries from yoga classes to athlete-friendly compression treatments to this trippy "float" experience, where my thoughts soon take the reigns in the darkness, at least until I flick on Otautahi's starscape to light up the ceiling.

Afterwards you can dry and style your hair before sipping on a lemongrass tea, and embark on your day knowing you've absorbed enough magnesium from the salts to sleep like the grateful dead.

O-Studio is located in South Town's The Welder, a wellbeing precinct indicative of the new direction Christchurch is taking, following the destructive and deadly earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 that decimated much of the central city.

This multi-faceted foodie and event space, all concrete floors, green foliage and whirring coffee machines, is also home to social media and cookbook darlings Two Raw Sisters. Margo and Rosa Flanagan devise their plant-based recipes and run food-prep workshops in the space where, as early as the late 1800s, blacksmiths blow-torched and hammered metal.

I continue floating through the garden city, marvelling at what I first saw as a tartan-wearing school student on a music trip. The buttoned-up feeling that prevailed all those years ago has relaxed — this newly rebuilt Christchurch feels like it's bucking against its academic traditions, reclaiming its southern identity.

That certainly feels the case at The Mayfair, Otautahi's youngest hotel. Like many of the new buildings, it tops out at five storeys, yet still exudes the high life. With its black exterior, glossy foyer and plush rooms (my suite has its own mid-century-style drinks cart serving pre-mixed negronis and old-fashioneds), it doesn't try to replicate the city's heritage buildings; even its version of high tea served at its bar and restaurant Majestic at Mayfair has been given a modern makeover by French patisserie chef Aurelien Fermen.

Our tiered cake-stand of morsels includes traditional scones alongside a Japanese-style egg pancake filled with crabmeat, a mini pavlova flecked with micro-greens, and the La Rochelle-bred chef's piece de resistance, a chocolate éclair shaped like a swan.

Retail therapy

There's much to rediscover about shopping in Christchurch too, with many retailers relocating from the CBD or repurposing heritage buildings. At the iconic Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, a wood-crafting workshop is in session when we visit, but you can also browse two floors of aromatic goodies, from scented soaps to locally produced homewares and grocery items at Frances Nation, or concoct your own fragrance at Fragranzi Artisan Perfume Studio.

Upstairs is home to Dominic Ellett's Indigo and Provisions, a mostly menswear clothing store that oozes utilitarian style. James Richardson of leather goods brand Sonder regularly plies his wares making saddle-stitched wallets and key fobs in store, and the walls are adorned with Aztec-style blankets for style-conscious campers.

Infinite Definite on High Street. Photo / Nancy Zhou
Infinite Definite on High Street. Photo / Nancy Zhou

Infinite Definite is another Christchurch favourite that has modernised. The store was located in shipping containers following the quakes but has since moved into a new building on High Street, 300m from its original location.

Co-founder Jono Moran has hand-crafted the store’s fixtures, and along with gorgeous glassware, books and other home accoutrements, stocks local labels that excel in understated style, from Kowtow to Penny Sage and Marle.

Meanwhile, anyone heading to the airport must make a point of stopping for a bite to eat at the recently refurbished Untouched World. It feels like it’s in the middle of nowhere but the New Zealand knitwear brand has ensured their flagship store and kitchen is a place to linger.

Visitors enter via a tranquil garden into a warehouse with exposed beams and rattan lampshades, a striking Māori kite on the wall by renowned artist and carver Riki Manuel.

Brazilian head chef Victor Espindula's mouth-watering menu is packed with salads (including a deliberately made "charcoal toast" if you're in need of a detox), plus smoothies and raw sweet treats. Once satisfied, browse the luxurious garments made on site from merino, possum, cashmere, mohair and other sumptuous wool blends.


Christchurch's regeneration is just as evident at New Brighton Beach. The city's warmest post-quake attraction is He Puna Taimoana New Brighton Hot Pools, where we watch the sun rise over the surf and sip a mocktail while soaking in one of its five hot saltwater pools.

With restricted numbers, visitors can expect to start the day on a relaxing note. There's even the option to join a guided meditation or sweat it out in the dry sauna (or steam if you fancy), followed by a plunge into an icy-cold pool. He Puna is open from 6am and throughout the day for two-hour sessions, to ensure it never feels crowded.

Plating up at Soul Quarter.  Photo / Nancy Zhou
Plating up at Soul Quarter. Photo / Nancy Zhou

Stylish sustenance

Afterwards we head to Miro, a stately former gentlemen's club housed in a pink art deco building, that has shucked off its patriarchal rules and is now a welcoming breakfast and lunch joint and event space.

It doesn’t feel much more luxurious than sitting by the open fire, a mimosa in hand and the prospect of “posh porridge” to come — this glammed-up pantry staple has caught on in Christchurch (including at Majestic at Mayfair, which does a version drizzled in caramel and coconut).

At Miro the silky, almond-topped oats arrive on a breakfast board alongside the world's best eggs benny, atop a finely layered potato rosti.

Perhaps the coastal soak inspired us to seek out an innovative take on seafood for dinner. Hali is a bar and restaurant on separate levels, the exterior wrapped in sculptural bubbles.

As the chefs buzzed around the open kitchen, we dined on groper, served raw with apple, lime, chilli, yuzu and truffle. The fish pie was delightfully deconstructed, with two juicy scampi and a side of potato mash with tuatua.

For dessert we found ourselves at soul quarter, a relaxed yet elegant restaurant on Stranges Lane, a huddle of bars, restaurants and live music venues. Soul appeared to offer a more traditional dining experience with sweet classics such as pear crumble and chocolate mousse on the menu.

But the execution by Chilean head chef Carlos Rodriguez elevated each dish — my crème caramel was served with a salted caramel ice cream and coffee soil, and was to-diet for.

A cocktail from Monarch. Photo / Nancy Zhou
A cocktail from Monarch. Photo / Nancy Zhou

Still hankering for a late-night cocktail, we ventured to Monarch Cocktail Bar, in the same Cashel St-Oxford Terrace building as popular Asian fusion restaurant King of Snake.

I soon found myself tuning into the American McIntosh sound system — the same audio that powered Woodstock, no doubt part of the draw for Monarch's mature crowd, keen to hear themselves think as they sip on a cocktail.

The clarity of the audio, and the attention paid to the playlist (ambient house, 90s trip-hop and Joni Mitchell) weren't the only impressive elements at this hidden gem — among its many upcycled features, the 18th-century wood panels on the bar came from a church in the UK, the marble in the foyer from Florence, and the heavy timber front doors from the quake-damaged Christchurch Basilica, where plenty of locals have told proprietor David Warring they first ventured through them as newly christened babies.

Arty party

The Central Art Gallery in Christchurch, situated in the old university, is a young gallery renowned as much for its exhibitions as its grand building.

As gallerist Jane Maloney explains, many people come simply to admire the high ceilings, wooden floors and reverent sense of space — on the day of our visit, there’s even a ghostly Echo installation by Neil Dawson hanging over the entrance.

Inside, visitors are invited to pull art out on wire racks, and it’s befitting of the cavernous space that the works generally shown are those on a bigger scale. From early September, the gallery has exhibited a show by Veronica Huber, whose experimental grid works feature the repetition of humble materials such as graphite and washi tape.

From the grand to the miniature, we then ventured to The National, a contemporary jewellery gallery on Moorhouse Avenue. Since the quakes, it has moved off the beaten track to a former lithograph space, where director Caroline Billing says she's found the freedom to break boundaries and foster a more intimate conduit between the artists she represents and those who visit.

Rather than stand back and admire the works as we did at Central, here we find ourselves leaning in to inspect colour and whimsy on every surface (and in some cases, hanging from the ceiling, walls, and hiding in a multitude of drawers). It’s the ideal place to end what has been a whirlwind trip of rediscovery, in a city that has embraced change and cast itself anew.

Unlock this article and all our Viva Premium content by subscribing to 

Share this article: