View at the Top: Christchurch Gondola (NZ)

My son-in-law pointed out the earthquake rubble below us. To my untrained eyes, they just looked like rocks littering the side of Mt Cavendish, but from the gondola car making its way to the top, you could see that many rocks were not covered in lichen, signifying recent movement from their original spots. So many rocks came tumbling down after the February 2011 quake that they damaged roads and guardrails leading to the summit and forced the closure of the gondola tourist attraction. The danger of rockfall and cliff subsidence also led to the declaration of red zone status on properties below.

Mt Cavendish is part of the Port Hills, an east-west range of hills lying between Christchurch and Lyttleton and part of an ancient volcanic rim that can be seen from Christchurch.

In April, the gondola re-opened to much fanfare, another symbolic step toward the recovery of Christchurch after two major quakes (and their numerous aftershocks) damaged the area’s infrastructure and, it seemed, the psyche of the local Cantabrians. The gondola is a major tourist attraction for the city. Not only are there the steep climb and descent, but once at the summit, numerous hiking and bike trails and launch points for paragliders present adventurous opportunities. If nothing else, the panorama affords spectacular views of Lyttleton Harbour to the south, the Southern Alps to the northwest and the city of Christchurch situated on the Canterbury Plains to the north.

At the summit, a trail outside the restaurant led us down the hillside, in spots scattered with sheep dung, which my 4-year-old grandson was petrified to walk around. After days of gloom (being winter in the southern hemisphere), the sun made an appearance today. In fact, because of a common temperature inversion phenomenon, it was warmer at these higher elevations than below, easily 15oC.

Southern Alps

Southern Alps

Lyttleton Harbour

Lyttleton Harbour

Phoenix Rising: The Optimism of Christchurch

Yesterday’s news that a large 6.5 earthquake hit Wellington, New Zealand’s capital, following a 5.7 rattler only two days before, was yet another reminder that New Zealand remains seismically active. When I was here earlier in the year, Mt Tongariro on the North Island erupted. Volcanic activity and sudden earth movement are alive and well here and throughout the entire Ring of Fire, which includes my own home state of Washington. Residents in my neck of the woods talk matter-of-factly of expecting The Big One.

Christchurch was famously struck by two big earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, separated by a mere 6 months. Tragically the latter resulted in 185 deaths. These were followed by the horrific Sendai earthquake in Japan later in 2011. Both quakes did significant damage to NZ’s second largest city, especially to the Central Business District (CBD) where a large number of older buildings was concentrated, including the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. After the first quake, safety concerns led civil authorities to close down the CBD to public access. It remained inaccessible until about two months ago, after all unsafe buildings were razed, inspections completed and hazardous areas fenced off. Visible evidence of the destruction still remains, prodigious piles of rubble behind chain-link fences that will take years to clean up. The cathedral is a shadow of its former self.

Despite all this, as I walked through the area, I was really impressed with the positive spirit reflected in the downtown area, the optimism that comes from a people looking ahead rather than dwelling on the misfortunes of the past. Re:START’s project of sponsoring the construction of the container mall was a welcome, affirmative and symbolic gesture. Even if the CBD is mostly unrecognizable from what it had once been, there are indications everywhere that the phoenix is rising from its ashes. Whether it was temporary topiaries in the shape of animals, potted plants, decoration on chain-link fences, the fencing around the cathedral punctuated in front by a planter-box representation, or amateur entertainers performing for the public, these small signs signify hope for the future. With no motor vehicles, a big part of the CBD is for the moment a pedestrian zone. People were out in force today, many recalling with family and friends the former pre-quake landscape.

Fried Fish from Coppell Place Seafoods (Christchurch, NZ)


Ask a bunch of Kiwis where they enjoy their favorite fish and chips and you’re likely to get a range of opinions, so ubiquitous is this kind of shop throughout New Zealand. As an aside, an odd fact in New Zealand and Australia is that hamburgers are often sold in fish and chip shops, too. After asking around among friends, our daughter’s family has started going to Coppell Place Seafoods, about 5km from their home, a small takeout (takeaway, as it’s called in New Zed and elsewhere) that isn’t much to look at from the outside. Though many items are on the fry menu, including donuts, the fish is what customers usually order. The most popular is likely the first fish listed on the menu, akaroa cod, enormous pieces that are over a foot long. Fish can be ordered either crumbed or battered.

Since Coppell is takeout only, much depends on maintaining quality when transported home, and their’s delivers. Wrapping the fish in newsprint paper helps. Even 45 minutes later when we sat down at the table, we dove into the fish, even our young grandson (not yet 4 years old) who devoured almost a single foot-long piece himself. The fish was mild, moist and flaky. There is a specialness about the crumbed coating, crispy, almost crunchy, and nicely seasoned. It also clung to the fish without falling off in pieces, culinary sleight-of-hand that makes you wonder how Coppell’s does it. The frying oil itself may not have been the freshest, registering an off-odor in the car on the drive home, but that was something I didn’t want to think about too much.

My wife and I both agree that the fried fish here is among the best we’ve had (☆☆☆☆). My grandson thinks so, too.

Fried akaroa cod

Fried akaroa cod with crumbed batter

Coppell Seafoods
3 Coppell Place
Hillmorton 8025
Christchurch, NZ
03-338 5440

Copenhagen Bakery (Christchurch, NZ)

Copenhagen Bakery sandwiches

Another business forced to close its doors after the September quake was Copenhagen Bakery located in the PriceWaterhouseCoopers Centre (now demolished). Known for its famous pies and pastries, it relocated to the Bishopdale neighborhood of Christchurch where it enjoys as much popularity as before. After a visit to the nearby Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, we went there for lunch.

On first visit, the selection is somewhat overwhelming. Not only is there a large choice of sandwiches, all on display behind a glass counter, but also all manner of quiches and, of course, their savory pies ($4.50 NZ). The pastry display is what you would expect of any decent Danish bakery, dazzling in its mouth-watering variety.

The sliced beef and mushroom pie was an umami bomb, thick with meat and mushroom filling made gelatinous with cornstarch, and encased in a very flaky shell. An outstanding meat pie (☆☆☆☆).

Beef and mushroom pie

The tomato soup (☆☆☆) was thick and creamy with admirable restraint on sweetness and embellished with a slight tartness.

Tomato soup

The almond and chocolate chip cookies we purchased afterward were delicious, rich with butter.

A second visit to the bakery was made three days later (July 27). The mince meat pie already sold out, the mince and cheese pie was a bit too cheesy (☆☆☆), suffering a little from a hot waxiness that typifies cheese pies.

Mince and cheese pie

The vegetarian pie (☆☆☆), filled with kumara (sweet potato), celery and bell peppers, is spicy and savory.

Vegetable pie

The daily special of mushroom soup (☆☆☆☆) was a masterpiece of mushroom flavor, thick and creamy with a touch of butter. It is a soup that should be a permanent menu offering.

Mushroom soup

Copenhagen Bakery
409 Harewood Road
Christchurch NZ 8051

Christchurch Container Mall (NZ)

Project Re:START in Christchurch is an attempt to revitalize a portion of the Central Business District by erecting a mall consisting of stacked shipping containers that have been modified for commercial purposes. It opened late last year to a lot of fanfare. This seems like an ingenious idea and one that has an eco-twist to boot. There aren’t a lot of stores, anchored by the upscale Ballantine’s that survived the earthquake, but the mall’s presence must be a welcome sight and experience for a city trying to recover from devastation.

Lunch at Samurai Bowl (Christchurch, NZ)

The September 2010 earthquake forced the closure of many businesses in Christchurch, many of them for good. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of natural disasters. Imagine how much more magnified the problem was for businesses in Fukushima.

Samurai Bowl was a Japanese restaurant with a popular following, especially among Japanese students studying here. It used to be located on Gloucester Street before being forced to close after the September quake. Eventually, the building in which it was located had to be torn down.

A year later, Samurai Bowl re-opened on Colombo Street in new digs, larger than before, and appears to be as popular as ever.

Though not advertised as such, the special Samurai Bowl is a tonkotsu style of ramen. It isn’t deeply porky or milky as the best examples of the broth, but it has nicely balanced, slightly gingery flavors.

Samural ramen

The miso ramen also had a good broth, its eggy noodles having a wonderful texture.

Not as impressive was spicy miso galbi-don. The generous beef chunks were somewhat chewy and gristly and the donburi was over-sauced.

Spicy miso galbi-don

Other customers had other interesting-looking dishes, some of which are on my radar for the next visit.

Samural Bowl
Shop 5/574 Colombo Street
Christchurch, NZ 8011
03-379 6752