Boutique treasure: Lyttelton

The homes of Lyttelton cling to the hills and overlook the marina.  PHOTOS: CHRISTCHURCHNZ
The homes of Lyttelton cling to the hills and overlook the marina. PHOTOS: CHRISTCHURCHNZ
One of the  silver linings to the legacy of the 2011 Christchurch earthquake has been Lyttelton’s elevated stature as a beloved gem in the city’s crown, writes Mike Yardley.Viciously battered by the seismic storm directly beneath the ground, the port town’s raffish, historic charm is still there in spades, but it’s overlaid with an effortlessly cool and creative ethos.

It’s that grungy boho villagey spirit that’s gone ahead in leaps and bounds, postquake.

The creative prowess positively purrs from potters and jewellers to green-fingered plant artists and a plethora of recycled-clothing boutiques.

Bars and cafes advertise all manner of live gigs and poets, while Lyttelton is also very bookish, with a host of second-hand stores, including what is surely one of New Zealand’s best magazine shops — Leslie’s Bookshop, under the command of Paul Leslie.

At last count, he stocks more than 2000 magazine titles.

It’s located at the base of the J.D. Bundy building, which is also home to the Lyttelton Coffee Company.

Lyttelton’s historic charm remains.
Lyttelton’s historic charm remains.
The cafe is Lyttelton personified: businessmen hold meetings at the stripped-back, rustic tables alongside heavily tattooed port workers with dreadlocks.

Just 20 minutes from the city centre, port workers and local artists co-exist amid the heady parade of spirited bars, eateries and eclectic retail offerings.

Houses tenaciously cling on to the hillside at the most implausible angles while pint-sized and princess-pretty beaches necklace the harbour.

Follow the winding road to the neighbouring communities of Rapaki, Cass Bay and Corsair Bay.

As a kid, Sunday drives would often see my family whisk through the 2km-long Lyttelton Road Tunnel, which at the time was New Zealand’s longest road tunnel. (Auckland’s Waterview Tunnel now wears that crown.)

It still feels trippy to emerge out of that long tunnel into the blinding daylight, as if you are emerging from the roading equivalent of a rabbit hole.

As the cradle of European settlement of Canterbury, one of the city’s toughest walks, the Bridle Path was constructed by the first settlers in 1850 to lead them over the Port Hills to their fledgling new settlement.

Today, the Bridle Path doubles as a highly popular open-air gym, serving up unrivalled views across the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps, plus Lyttelton Harbour and Banks Peninsula.

Quail Island is a great excursion.
Quail Island is a great excursion.
In the middle of the harbour is Otamahua/Quail Island, which was once used as a quarantine facility for people with leprosy.

At the same time as the lepers were confined to their one small bay, Antarctic explorers, Scott and Shackleton took advantage of the island to train their sled dogs and ponies before setting off on their ill-fated voyages.

The inner harbour island can be reached via a 15-minute ferry ride from Lyttelton.

During the summer months, Black Cat cruises operates a twice-daily schedule. It makes for a great excursion, with a network of walking tracks aflutter with native birds and a ship graveyard.

Another great island jaunt is to Ripapa Island.

Tucked close against the southern shore of the harbour, Ripapa was an ideal site for a fortified pa for Ngai Tahu and later, a fortress to defend against possible foreign enemy attacks.

Its colourful history is remarkable, spanning a fortified pa and tapu burial ground, quarantine outpost, prisoner of war camp, and heavily armed fortress to repel advancing Russian, German, and Japanese invaders.

A marauding German captain, Count Felix Von Luckner, captured in the last days of WW1, was incarcerated on Ripapa for 109 days, and his signature can still be seen today etched into a wall of one of the island’s buildings.

Today, day-trippers can also admire the giant disappearing guns (that were never fired in anger), mazes of underground tunnels, torpedo stores, bunkers, and tales of skirmishes with the fearsome northern rampager Te Rauparaha.

London St is the beating heart of Lyttelton.

This wonderfully characterful main street is unquestionably Lyttelton’s beating heart, throbbing with a quirky mix of gift stores, eateries, bookshops and record stores.

Henry Trading is the kind of store a quick browse can’t do justice to.

The shop is loaded with gifts, candles, ceramics, natural body products, woollen goods, toys, kitchen tools, desk supplies and so much more.

Threaded through this eclectic collection, is a commitment to selling items of quality and care, items that are made to last and made to love.

Hello Christmas shopping.

It’s home to Civil & Naval, a seriously cool little tapas bar, housed in a revitalised old brick building, offering local craft beer, cocktails and delectable food.

The sharing menu is dotted with memorable plates such as hand-cut chips and bottomless aioli (genius) and outrageously delicious deep fried cauliflower with maple syrup and chipotle.

There are larger options too, for grub like ginger beer-battered fish with pickle and preserved lemon.

Genius!

‘‘Iconic’’ launchpad Wunderbar.  PHOTO: MY GUIDE
‘‘Iconic’’ launchpad Wunderbar. PHOTO: MY GUIDE
An "iconic" launchpad for so many musicians and a legendary Lyttelton watering hole is Wunderbar.

It’s probably one of the first bars I used to frequent, legally.

Self-proclaimed as the weirdest, coolest little bar and live music venue in New Zealand, Wunderbar is a show-stopping sensory treat.

With eccentricities covering every inch of wall space, including doll heads and planetary mirror balls, you’d struggle to find a venue that stamps a stronger impression.

Every Wednesday is Open Mic & Jam Night. Get amongst it!

Garden of  international significance, Ohinetahi Gardens 
PHOTO: OHINETAHI
Garden of international significance, Ohinetahi Gardens PHOTO: OHINETAHI
Further afield, head down the harbour to Governors Bay, home to Ohinetahi, a garden of international significance.

Underpinning its acclaim is the fact Ohinetahi incorporates magical garden displays, architectural works, art and sculpture.

The gardens’ special significance dates to 1865 when then-owner and botanist Thomas H. Potts began planting them.

In 1976, Sir Miles Warren, his sister, Pauline, and her husband, John Trengrove, bought the property.

After restoring the ramshackle 19th century homestead, the three established a grand garden.

Artist Pauline Trengrove combined her talents with the two architects. What a trinity. Over the years, the garden has expanded, taking in a woodland walkway across a swing bridge and accommodating more than two dozen contemporary sculptures.

Get lost in a maze of perfect hedges, beautiful roses and native planting.

The gazebos and serene settings create dreamy fairy-tale vibes and early summer sees the gardens at their blazing best.

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