Want to know some of the hidden gems in my city? Places we locals go to? Places where other tourists are rarely seen? Here are five of my favourites for you – 3 of the five are free, and they range from a popular walk along the coastline, another hike that is a freshwater nature heritage park, sailing on a 90-year old schooner, a world-renown crime-writers home and my first choice, a blast-from-the-past with my just around the corner from my place – an inner city grocery shop.
It’s just a ten mins wander north from ‘the square’ and where you can step back in time inside Johnson’s Grocery. Colin Johnson, the grocer, will greet you wearing his traditional white apron. This shop is possibly the last of its kind in New Zealand – he even uses a pencil and paper to add up the bill, and that impresses me.
Opened in 1911 as Leigh and Co. it was bought by Colin’s father in 1949 and he has worked here since 1957! This is shopping as it used to be with lollies (sweets) in jars on the counter and cheese sliced from the block with a wire. What I love is how Colin always seems to know exactly where everything is and he climbs up and down a ladder to retrieve whatever it is I’ve asked for.
What do you want? Swiss chocolate? Truffles from France? English biscuits? Haggis from Scotland? This old-fashioned shop has them all, with many speciality items sourced world-wide – go and see if he has what you remember from your homeland or childhood. Colin doesn’t ever have to ask for stock, people from around the world ask him to carry their special goods
Colin seems to enjoy welcoming tourists into the shop telling me “They don’t have to buy anything and they are always welcome to take photographs.” It’s certainly photogenic – and free.
When you see an old delivery bicycle on the footpath you will know you have arrived at a non-tourist, but a well-loved-by-locals shop. (Johnson’s Grocery: 787 Colombo Street, Christchurch, is open Mondays to Saturdays.)
Also on my ‘top five‘ is this house. Dame Ngaio Marsh 1895–1982 is a New Zealand crime writer and author of 32 detective novels. Here in Christchurch her home-town, she is also known as a theatre director and one of the theatres at the University of Canterbury where she studied, bears here name.
She has been classed as one of the four original “Queens of Crime” – women crime writers, in including Agatha Christie, who dominated the crime fiction genre in the 1920s and 1930s.
Four of her novels are set in New Zealand, with her detective, Alleyn, either on secondment to the New Zealand police or on holiday here. What most people don’t know (even many locals) is that her home on the lower part of Cashmere Hills is preserved as a museum. I visited it recently with a group of authors and we loved it.
What is even more special is that this Historic Places Trust house is open by appointment only so you know you will be seeing something unique, a place very, very few other travellers will see … that’s always good to impress friends and family! www.ngaio-marsh.org.nz ph. 3 3379248 for a booking.
Note: New Zealand art historian Joanne Drayton’s biography, Ngaio Marsh: Her Life in Crime was published by HarperCollins in 2008.
Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park (the Beach Road gates open from 8am to 8pm) is a lowland freshwater wetland, located in the midst of an urban environment. With many easy walkways and viewing areas, it’s a good place to see many of our birds and plants.
It covers 116 hectares and was purchased by the Christchurch City Council in 1996 after years of it being farmed and drained: the area is now being managed as a Nature Heritage Park.
Evidently some fifty-five species of birds have been recorded here and it is the most important freshwater wetland in Christchurch and nearly 80 per cent of pre-European native wetland plant species are present in the wetland, including species that are now rare on our Canterbury Plains. This is free
Number 4 on list list is the MV Tuhoe: a 90-year old schooner that regularly sails the Kaiapoi and Waimakariri rivers. Departing from Kaiapoi Wharf, you will cruise for a relaxing hour watching river and bird life, and great views of the Southern Alps and Pegasus Bay.
For dates, times of sailings and tickets can be booked with the Kaiapoi i-SITE Visitor Centre, Raven Quay, Kaiapoi
And, finally in my favourite hidden places, another free attraction is The Flowers Track. This walk is the most popular of the network of tracks on Scarborough Hill – just above Sumner beach. It can be a stiff climb to go all the way up to up to Nicholson Park at the summit but has great views across the sea over the city and plains to the Southern Alps you can also hike just part of it, admiring not only the views but the hillside gardens of the homes that cling to the side of our extinct volcano that created Banks Peninsula. The track starts only five minutes from the Scarborough Fare café where many of us stop for coffee, lunch, or an ice-cream after we walk back down to sea level. The number three bus from the city will take you close to the start of the track.