15 December 2012

Christchurch - a return home and some fine coffee

Crafted Coffee Company at Re:START
Christchurch - a return home and some fine coffee
I once would have described my home town as pleasant, but dull. Recently (by which I mean in the 15 years since I left Christchurch) things had started to change. Christchurch had taken on a buzz of its own. The gothic arts centre precinct had plenty to keep art lovers, foodies and market lovers happy. The Summertimes events were always wonderfully executed and well attended. New Regents Street was a quaint strip of shops and restaurants set in candy coloured vintage shopfronts. High Street brought a bit of grungy street-cred to the city with it's fabulous cafes and quirky boutiques. And then the very new and decidedly funky Sol Square drinking and dining precinct was another huge step toward making Christchurch truly a world class destination.  And then came the big shake, and another and everything changed. Each and every one of the above attractions (with the exception of the brilliant Summertimes outdoor public events) are closed for repair or are nothing but a pile of rubble at time of writing.

The catholic cathedral on Barbados Street
I decided to finally return to my home town in October 2012 to re-aquaint myself with a place I once knew so well but had lost touch with. Day one I set out for the CBD with my camera and a pair of comfortable boots. I walked past the newly build but never used AMI Stadium (previously Jade Stadium and originally Lancaster park) It looks fine but apparently is unsafe. I wove my way up Ferry Rd past the bus depot, catholic cathedral (pictured right) and polytechnic to Madras Street. I saw several vacant lots where whatever once stood had been completely removed. Several buildings were boarded up and abandoned and a few walls had been bolstered up with (to my eye) pretty make-shift looking supports. There was damage but there was nothing too hard hitting at this point.

I stopped for a coffee at Black Betty which was busy and buzzing and by far the most activity I had seen since arriving in the country. (Cafe write up below) It was after this coffee stop that things got more hard hitting. I was now in the city proper. More sites were car parks than built upon - or that's how it felt. There sure is plenty of parking in Christchurch right now. Oh the irony - no shops but shed loads of parking - and paid parking at that. From Barbados I headed toward my old favourite stomping ground High Street.

At the time of writing this was the edge of the 'Red Zone' the area that is completely fenced off and out of bounds. I continued west down St Asaph toward Manchester and this is where I really started to get lost and disoriented and physically affected by the damage. So very many buildings were behind the barriers and crumbling or simply gone that I struggled to know where I was anymore.
I continued up Manchester St and took a left at Tuam. The scape seemed to open up even more approaching Colombo Street with huge vacant lots in all directions. I saw what was obviously the new bus terminal area so headed over attracted by the activity. 

From here I spotted the rear entrance to Ballantyne's the home-grown and perennially successful department store. I entered the store and was smacked in the face by their fine bone china department. Really? After what I had just seen outside? Are Cantabrians really still buying fine china? The irony was certainly not lost on me. Ballantyne's was like stepping into another workd. Another planet. Content, well dress shoppers perused the quality goods and sipped on cafe lattes. Life goes on of course: Daughters are still getting married and brothers are still having birthdays and ladies that lunch still need to eat... and of course the residents have lived through and processed the disaster that I had encountered only an hour or so prior. 
The main entrance of Ballantynes fronts what was Cashel Street Mall and is now a progressive retail space coined the Re:START.

This shipping container 'pop-up' mall is an ideal way to bring life back into the city centre. Several cafes and a variety of retailers including a book store, boutique grocery store, giftware and clothing outlets occupy the space. It is a great space but on this visit, day one of my re-aquantance with my broken home town, it was not what I came to see.

Scenes from Re:START mall where Cashel Mall once was.

I continued through the mall to the river past what was infamously 'The Strip' (Let's not go there - popular with 23 year olds but not my scene even back when I was 23) and made my way onto Worcester Street towards the Christchurch Art Gallery and The Arts Centre which were both closed with intent to reopen.
I continued around to Gloucester Street past the library, over Colombo where I caught a glimpse of the decapitated cathedral. Around about here I passed a red double decker tourist bus touring the wreckage. Mixed feeling about that one: a) yes I guess someone may as well find the silver lining amongst the carnage and b) yes I too was touring around camera in hand.... c) but surely being born and bred in the city gives me licence...

And so from Colombo past the New Regents Street development (cordoned off, but being worked on) and to Latimer Square. Just south of Latimer Square, I passed the CCTV site where so many of the fatalities occurred. In this areal so many landmarks are simply gone. I was now nearly full circle around the Red Zone and approaching C4 espresso, (Cafe write-up below) relocated from High Street and re-established in their own roasting warehouse.

Pre-quake Christchurch was doing well. It was going places it was progressive and really quite exciting. But the spirit of the city has survived even if its infrastructure has not. Mankind is tenatious. We are the only species that can adapt to any earthly environment. We survive. Christchurch is no exception and the people keep on. Businesses have relocated families have moved, roads have been diverted - but Christchurch survives. I hope and pray that the city planners have it's best interests at heart as the re-build gets underway. The real hot spots seem to be being taken care of likeThe Arts Centre and New Regents Street but as for the remaining CBD time will tell.

Below are some photos and notes from some of the cafe spots I frequented on this day and on following days during my stay.


 My first coffee in the country was here at Black Betty. It sits adjacent to the Polytec (as anyone over 25 calls it) which remains relatively unharmed from the quakes. Elements of the interiors here reminded me of seven seeds - the on site roasting, the plywood panelled walls and the industrial scale of the space. Every cafe I visited had counter service with a generous display of baked goods (kiwi's love a bit of home baking - especially slices) and savoury bakes, filled rolls etc. Most cafes also boast a cooked breakfast menu until early afternoon and prepared-to-order lunches.

165 Madras Street  
Christchurch Central, 


This placed oozed hipster cool back in its High Street premises. It was quirky and challenging (loved the vintage sewing machine plumbed up for tap water) and the coffee was always great. This is an all new concept with the cafe space relocated to a corner of the roasting warehouse with an industrial vibe and retro touches. I came here twice during my stay.  They have no kitchen and offering various coffees plus baked counter goodies.

278 Tuam Street
Christchurch Central, 


The Addington Coffee Co-op has been chugging along for a few years, unaffected by the quakes and accidentally now in the heart of the so called Somo (South of Moorhouse) entertainment district that has   sprung up in the area post quake. This place is the 'all rounder' with ample seating, great coffee an extensive menu a buzzing atmosphere.

297 Lincoln Road, 

Christchurch Coffee Scene:

I had a lot of coffee on my trip home. I usually stick to one a day but left that rule at Tullamarine on my departure. I had enough coffee to draw a few conclusions about how Christchurch folk like their caffeine:
-They like it big. Most cafes serve it big damn big. But the dainty 'tulip' cups are usually on hand so if you prefer a smaller serve seek and request.
-They like it strong and dark. Every coffee I knocked back was heavy in the cup - the coffee seems to be roasted dark making for an intense coffee with dark crema and an almost ashy aftertaste.
-They like it fair trade. Fair trade coffee is fairly traded - but pretty much all specialty coffee is fairly traded on account of its fine quality. ie market economy deems good prices for good coffee as buyers are out there hunting down the good stuff and paying good money for it. Fair trade coffee is indeed fairly traded but specialty coffee by default is too and is by definition really damn good.

 Christchurch has it's fair share of home grown coffee chains. You will surely come across an Underground Coffee Company cafe and a Coffee Culture outlet. I used to frequent the Sumner Coffee Culture back when it was boutique, unique and in fact the flagship cafe. It has now spread it's seed wide and inevitably lost something. In saying that it is a comfortable space with good (huge) coffee and therefore a convenient pit stop. Underground I regret to say I only sampled on my way back out of town at the airport. I sat at chatted with my brother over a 6am flat white - and then another and it was so damn good that I left Christchurch with regrets: that I didn't try underground sooner. That is the hint of the day right there: check out Underground Coffee if in Chch any time soon!

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