Of conifers and cheesecake

Khursheed Dinshaw | Updated on November 21, 2020

On the move: The tram, which has been converted into the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant, is New Zealand’s only such attraction   -  KHURSHEED DINSHAW

A day in Christchurch, under the Kiwi sun, combines culinary and natural gems

Standing at the bustling Cathedral Junction in Christchurch, New Zealand, I gazed at the lone track in front of me. “Any minute now,” the usher said, upping my anticipation. As if on cue, Tram 411 chugged in proudly and was enthusiastically greeted by smiles from all 36 diners who were waiting for it.

The tram, which has been converted into the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant, is New Zealand’s only such attraction. Built in 1927 by the Melbourne Metropolitan Tramways Board, the vehicle functioned as a passenger car for a few years before transitioning into the Tramway Restaurant in 2000. I was escorted to my plush seat as I marvelled at the luxurious colonial interiors.

The white tablecloth, gleaming cutlery, spotless beverage glasses and decadent four-course menu set the mood for my outdoor dinner-cum-sightseeing tour (without any stops) of 150 minutes. As we chugged out from Cathedral Junction, the server poured a welcome drink and then offered me an appetiser. Looking out the window of the air-conditioned tram, I saw the Avon River and Botanic Gardens.

Flowers of pohotukawa, the Kiwi Christmas tree   -  ISTOCK.COM


By the time main course arrived, we had reached the Christchurch Cathedral. As diners relished lamb rump, dukkah-spiced pumpkin or oven-baked Akaroa salmon, each with its wine match, we admired the Cathedral designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, an English architect who worked on Gothic revival. The plan was to construct a timber cathedral but it changed when stone was sourced from Canterbury. Black pine and totara trees from the Banks Peninsula provided the roof timber.

Next we crossed the Cashel Mall and several other streets; some had playgrounds while others were lined with art. Cyclists whizzed past, pedestrians waved at us, and we ate dessert while greeting them back. There was blueberry lemon cheesecake, chocolate passion fruit mousse or a cheese platter to choose from, each, again, paired with wine. Tummy full after the $119 meal, I hopped off the restaurant to head back to the hotel.

And on my way there, I revisited the morning I had spent in the lap of nature.

The sunny day was perfect for exploring the outdoors of Christchurch. My eventful food-filled day had begun at Travis Wetlands Nature Heritage Park, located right in the centre of the city. Covering 116 ha, this park has walking trails that are also wheelchair friendly. I had opted for the 3.5-km walk on a trail that took me under forested canopy and around wetlands peppered with native trees.

My guide also introduced me to a local fern, maroon in colour and floating in water.

The fern was in the company of birds, some of whom chose to flit overhead at the sight of approaching humans. A kingfisher and an Australasian harrier took off to the skies while the grey teal, with its red eyes, and the paradise shelduck continued to roost in their spots. The frisky shoveller stuck to the water. I diverted attention to the nest of a welcome swallow in the rafters of a viewing platform.

Among the small birds playing hide-and-seek in the bushes, we spotted a grey warbler, yellowhammer, redpoll, goldfinch and greenfinch. A few swans and geese basked in the sun on the banks of Travis but the native diving duck evaded us. The highlight of the walk was hearing a bellbird, which sounded like a bell chiming, and the tui bird, which is native to New Zealand.

It took some patience to find a bellbird. The one we found was drawing nectar from the red flaming flowers of the pohutukawa tree. This tree is an intrinsic part of Kiwi Christmas and is popularly seen on greeting cards. Along the trail, I also learnt of other native tree species such as the matai, a Kiwi conifer much loved by birds such as the wood pigeon.

Further ahead were a couple of cabbage-palms (it has nothing to do with the vegetable) with pointed leaves that pierced the sky like rapiers. Under the forest canopy, common nettle and ferns formed a busy colony. Along the trail, a patch of purple flowers caught my eye. They belonged to the blue potato bush or Paraguay nightshade.

Apart from introducing me to native flora and fauna, the nature walk also helped me work up an appetite for the dinner in the tram restaurant. That’s a good starter.

Khursheed Dinshaw is a Pune-based freelance writer-photographer

Travel log
  • Getting there
  • Christchurch has its own airport, which is a 15-minute drive from Cathedral Square.
  • Stay
  • Distinction Christchurch Hotel (distinctionhotels.co.nz/) at Cathedral Square is a minute’s walk from the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant.
  • BLink Tip
  • While in the city, enjoy punting on the Avon River as you soak in the sights and sounds of the Botanic Gardens. This is a tour aboard a punt, which is a boat with a flat bottom that is manoeuvred with a long pole.

Published on November 21, 2020

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