WHY GO NOW?
Blessed with a dry, sunny climate, beautiful gardens and a laidback vibe, Christchurch is shaking off its "old school England" image with a year-round programme of free festivals and cultural activities. A highlight for the summer is the World Buskers Festival (19-29 January); see www.bethere.org.nz for details.
You can reach Christchurch in one hop from Heathrow on Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; www.airnewzealand.co.uk) via Los Angeles or Singapore Airlines (0870 608 8886; www.singapore air.co.uk) via Singapore. Emirates (0870 243 2222; www.emirates.com) flies daily from Birmingham, Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow via Dubai and Sydney.
From Christchurch's modest airport, the Red Bus City Flyer (00 64 3 379 4260; www.redbus.co.nz/flyer.htm) departs for Cathedral Square (1) every 12 minutes; NZ$7 (£2.75) one way, NZ$12 (£4.70) return.
GET YOUR BEARINGS
Any British visitor will be struck by the abundance of English and colonial place names radiating out from Cathedral Square (1): Durham, Gloucester, Hereford streets, to name but a few. The main drags are Worcester (running east-west) and Colombo (north-south) streets. The former cuts through the Square towards Hagley Park. Colombo Street stretches all the way to the Port Hills, a wild wonderland of walking and biking trails. For details on exploring them and other city highlights, the Christchurch visitor centre (00 64 3 379 9629; www.christchurchnz.net) is in the south-west corner of the Square.
The George (2) at 50 Park Terrace (00 64 3 379 4560; www.info.thegeorge.com) is the city's premier boutique hotel, and boasts two of Christchurch's top restaurants (Pescatore and 50 on Park). Double rooms from NZ$320 (£130); breakfast is an extra NZ$28 (£11) per person.
Behind the cathedral at 115 Worcester Street is Hotel Off the Square (3) (00 64 3 374 9980, www.offthesquare.com), with suites of a rather lurid hue. Doubles from NZ$135 (£54), excluding breakfast.
A cosier option is Homelea (4) at 195 Bealey Avenue (00 64 3 379 9977, www.homelea.co.nz ), a characterful Edwardian B&B run by two classical musicians. It's a 15-minute walk to Cathedral Square. Double rooms from NZ$100 (£40).
TAKE A HIKE
Head west through the Square, passing the oversized chess set and the Edwardian Regent Theatre, now a cinema. Cross the Avon River via the 1885 Worcester Street Bridge (5), turn left and pass the 1872 Canterbury Club (6), a gentlemen's club whose hitching post is a reminder of the city's early days as a sheep-farming service town. Follow the river around to the Antigua Boatsheds (7), then turn right into Rolleston Avenue, next to Hagley Park, the location for the wonderful Botanic Gardens and Canterbury Museum (8 ). Back on Worcester Street, the 1876 Gothic former Canterbury University buildings where the physicist Ernest Rutherford first studied now house the Arts Centre (9), and are the site of a thriving weekend market ( see Window Shopping). Opposite the Arts Centre is the new Christchurch Art Gallery (10), whose collection includes a fine selection of colonial art.
LUNCH ON THE RUN
An influx of students from the Far East in the 1990s saw a swathe of sushi and noodle bars appear. These days, expats and locals alike crowd the sparsely furnished Cookai (11) at 172A Manchester Street (00 64 3 366 8688), which serves brilliant sushi, sashimi and noodles (from NZ$5/£2). If you fancy a picnic in Victoria Square (12), pick up a salad or sandwich from The Daily Grind (13), a café on the corner of New Regent and Armagh streets (00 64 3 377 4959).
To extend your knowledge of Maori culture beyond the haka, then Ko Tane at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve (15 ) (00 64 3 359 6226; www.willowbank.co.nz/kotane) is the place to do it. Elders and performers sensitively introduce visitors to Maori legend, arts and spirituality through song and dance, concluding with a walk through a nocturnal bird house to see the shy, rather dowdy national emblem, the kiwi. Shows run at 5.30pm and 6.30pm daily and cost from NZ$36 (£14). Book the Attractions Black Bus at the visitor centre in the Square, which will get you out to the reserve in time for the show.
Many of the city's denizens like to whoop it up on noisy riverside pubs and cafés along Oxford Terrace (aka "the Strip", but not quite as dazzling as Las Vegas). Barcelona (00 64 3 377 2100) is one of its more sophisticated establishments, and offers organic food, tapas, a good wine list and local beer. For a more civilised start to the evening (its name notwithstanding), Le Plonk (16) at 213 Manchester Street (00 64 3 377 7724) offers a superb selection of New Zealand wines try the Daniel Schuster pinot noir (NZ$12/£4.70) and live jazz most nights of the week. Almost all pubs, clubs and bars are open at least until 3am on Fridays and Saturdays, and until midnight the rest of the week.
DINING WITHTHE LOCALS
Indochine's (17) ravishing Asian-inspired cocktails keeps this black lacquered restaurant and bar on 209 Cambridge Terrace (00 64 3 365 7323, www.indochine.co.nz) humming most nights of the week. More a fun, buzzy eatery than fine dining, its fusion menu and attentive service propelled it to New Zealand Restaurant of the Year shortlist. Perch on stools overlooking the Avon, nestle into booths while nibbling prawn and pork dumplings with peanut sauce or enjoy a romantic dinner à deux.
SUNDAY MORNING: GO TO CHURCH
On a visit to the city in 1934, George Bernard Shaw was full of praise for its beautiful cathedral. But he wasn't talking about the one in the Square (1); rather, the Neo-Classical Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament (18) (00 64 3 377 5610; www.christchurchcathedral.org.nz) on Barbadoes Street. Mass is celebrated four times every Sunday, but turn up at 10.30am and you'll hear the choir singing anything from Palestrina to Poulenc. There is an orchestral mass at least once a month; on Christmas Eve you can hear Schubert's Mass in C.
OUT TO BRUNCH
Coffee has become an obsession for Kiwis in recent years, in particular the search for the perfect "flat white" essentially a strong latte with a smooth, creamy topping. The Savoy Brown (19) at 143 High Street (00 64 3 365 7262) is a new café in a revamped former red-light district; nibble a homemade lemon tartlet (NZ$3/£1.20) and peruse glossy lifestyle magazines. Or follow the smell of roasting beans to C1 (20) at number 150 (00 64 3 366 7370), whose grungy decor and staff belie its reputation for the freshest coffee in town, with a vegetarian-friendly all-day menu.
Stay on High Street, which has become a hotbed of cutting-edge emporia, ranging from one-off fashion at Tango (21), European imports at Embellish, antiques, vintage clothing and second hand books. For souvenirs and one-off Kiwiana, head to the Arts Centre (9) weekend market (00 64 3 366 0989; www.artscentre.org.nz), where you'll find possum-wool socks, handmade jumpers, greenstone jewellery, bone carvings, toys, food and fine art; 10am-4pm Saturday and Sunday. Failing that, the city's venerable old department store Ballantynes(22) in City Mall has an excellent homewares department, including beautiful New Zealand mohair throws from NZ$120 (£47).
TAKE A RIDE
... up the river on a Sunday afternoon. The willow-lined Avon skirts Hagley Park, and you can join a Punting in the Park guided tour through the Botanic Gardens at the Antigua Boatsheds (7), 2 Cambridge Terrace (00 64 3 366 0337, www.punting.co.nz). Tours cost NZ$16 (£6.30).
ICING ON THE CAKE
Cork or screwcap? The debate rages on in the global wine industry, but food writer Mavis Airey's outstanding personalised Taste Canterbury tours (00 64 3 326 6753) give an insight into the burgeoning fine wine and food industry in the region. The Waipara tour is especially recommended, which includes a tasting at the Muddy Water winery; from NZ$100 (£40) per person for a half-day tour.