I adore the eighties, it’s probably my favourite decade. The earlier half in particular, the clothes, (OMG the clothes!) the make up, the music, the dance moves, such a mixed bag of goodies, this is my go to ‘music’ era after a couple of glasses of vino.

So imagine my sheer excitement when I got invited to see one of the great pop legends of this decade perform. But I know, when I reveal his name (clue there!!) anyone under the age of, say 30, will have that scrunched up look on their face as they utter the immortal words (which sink the heart of us oldies), “whose that?”

Trust me, if you were around in the eighties; or like my daughters, have been indoctrinated with the music since birth; you would’ve been as excited as me on receiving the invitation. But ….. I jump ahead of myself, now in the words of another great song (albeit before the 80’s) … let’s start at the very beginning.

Do you remember in my last words to you I mentioned I love getting to the airport early for all flights? So my Monday flight is at 8.30am and my husband wonders why I don’t just go and camp overnight at Welly airport (ooooooo! ……), he’s only joking of course. But once again, I am up with the tui and I plonk myself in the waiting area at about 6.30am, along with other bleary eyed travellers.
 
On this occasion, I do think it’s too early for a glass of the old sauvy, so I content myself with a large ‘wake up’ cup of coffee until I board my flight to Christchurch. Getting to the airport early this time did not work in my favour as we had delay, after delay, after delay. Come on Mr aeroplane man, don’t you know I have a date with Christchurch!
  
In my three and a half years here in New Zealand, I have only visited the South Island once. I know, shocking isn’t it. That was to watch an All Blacks game, so obviously not much sightseeing. In fact not much seeing at all after the match! And so for only the second time in my life, I land in the South Island ready to explore Christchurch.

And wow, it’s a hot one! Thankfully, the taxi had air con which cooled me and my three fellow explorers on the short journey from the airport to the Crowne Plaza. Unfortunately, because of those delays, we had to postpone our planned tour of the hotel. This was a shame, because on first site this refurbished property had a very intimate reception area, housing a bar and lovely bright comfy chairs. So it was coffee on the go and a walk over to our (now first) port of call.

Christchurch is beautiful. The devastation of the earthquake is still very visible and everywhere you look there is scaffolding or construction work, but it doesn’t stop this city from shining. The Cathedral in the central square is missing most of it’s walls and roof but will be restored to it’s former glory, which I am sure will look magnificent. Through all the ongoing works, there are pockets of new life and old architecture working together to resurrect the city.
 
The newly opened Distinction Christchurch Hotel has undergone a facelift and now shines bright and proud. The recently refurbished conference areas are light and airy, and can host around 200 guests. The new beds look extremely comfy and makes one want to jump on them as soon as you walk in the room, don’t worry, I resisted. The bar and restaurant on the ground floor has live music playing every Friday and Saturday
We are lead across the square and take our place in the queue at the bus stop. Every Friday the square is filled with food trucks ready and waiting for the weekend to kick off.
 
I haven’t queued at a bus stop in a long time, all I need it to do now is rain and it will be like being back in the UK!! In fact there are many British influences here; a red double decker bus, a red telephone box, and a statue of Queen Victoria in the park to name but a few. Thankfully the weather is not one of them. Our transport arrives and “Oh My Gosh”, it’s a tram! Complete with informative conductor, this restored heritage vehicle is a fantastic way around the City. Allowing you to hop on and off at any of the stops along the way. We alight at Regent Street (more Britishness) which is filled with shops and cafes and has a lovely welcoming vibe. The City Tram is a must do.
Already the morning has passed us by and we are taken to the Hagley Oval for a tour and then lunch. I have to confess to not being a massive Cricket fan. I once met the England cricket team and had no idea who they were – sorry guys! But this place was stunning, I don’t think I have ever seen grass that green or lawns that manicured.
 
Besides international cricket matches, Hagley Oval hosts a variety of events and is a popular wedding venue. The inside spaces are filled with natural light and the Pavilion’s main area, where we had lunch, has floor to ceiling windows overlooking the grounds.
After an early start and a full morning, lunch is a very welcome offering and once again, I find myself facing culinary firsts, well for me anyway. This time it was squid ink, yes you have read it correctly. This stuff that is squirted from tentacled beasts as a defence mechanism and has now ended up in my macaroon – crazy right? The verdict – quite salty, but in a good way, it was surprisingly delicious, who’d have thought! I was of course forced to wash this down with a great NZ Sauv Blanc as each course continued to be placed in front of me.
 
Now, I am not a foodie type and I have never understood why people take photos of their food and post it on social media, rather than just tucking into to. But as it appears to be on trend to do this, I took a picture of my very pretty dessert just for you – enjoy.
 
I do want to point out that all the food served here was either locally or NZ produced. Something the Chef was proud to point out during his introduction of each dish – and rightly so.
About 90 minutes and a full belly later we were given a hard hat, goggles and a hi viz vest, not your normal attire for a visit to the Town Hall. Not very flattering either, but essential nonetheless.
 
We were privileged enough to be given a guided tour of the almost completed rebuilt, restored and refurbished building. This place is huge. I guess one of the benefits of rebuild is the chance to upgrade, particularly with technology and the two theatres are a prime example with the acoustics ‘…considered to be amongst the best in the world’.[1] The venue is due to open it’s doors to the public again on 1 March 2019. This is going to be a fantastic space.

After handing back my fashion accessories (eat your heart of Gucci and Chanel) it was time to sit back, relax and enjoy the serene surroundings of the river Avon as we were steered along the river by an Edwardian attired punter. This was a perfect end to our day; unting along, watching the ducks and being informed by the knowledgeable chap at the end of the boat about our surrounds. When you go to Christchurch this is a must. Punting on the Avon runs throughout the year, Winter or Summer!

We walked in the beautiful afternoon sun back to our hotel, where we had time to check in, and go spruce up for the evening’s entertainment. My room was really lovely and comfortable, and as I have now come to expect from the Crowne Plaza brand, was complete with Nespresso machine, slippers and dressing gowns (I don’t ask for much!). My room with a view was large and bright and had a massive bed for me to collapse into later on. A quick shower and change and I was downstairs to meet up with our hosts.

At this point we managed to squeeze in our postponed tour of the hotel facilities and were shown spacious and well equipped meeting rooms. We were also shown the private room where we would take breakfast the next morning. Back downstairs in the lobby/bar area we were treated to canapes and cheese boards. I really do enjoy a cheese board and this was no exception, along with meats and olives. As the last tour of the hotel facilities returned we bid a fond farewell to the ladies at the Crowne Plaza and headed off to Christchurch Stadium.
 
I wont keep you in suspense any longer, the mega star we had been invited to see, from the Vbase VIP hospitality suite, was none other than the Genesis legend and later solo artist Phil Collins. For the younger ones amongst you, you may well remember him from the Disney film Tarzan, for which he wrote and sang the sound track. OMG what a spectacular night, the hospitality was second to none and the man himself was outstanding. I sang along to all the songs (very badly and probably flat) used the wrong words and hummed where I couldn’t remember any at all!! I danced along with other members of my party (apparently this included the wife of deputy mayor, Christchurch; she was very good) and it was rather late by the time we got back to hotel.
I fell into my comfy bed and didn’t open my eyes for the next 7 hours.
 
When I did wake, I packed my bag and got ready to meet our hosts, for a private breakfast. Such a lovely way to start the day. No one taking the last sausage or piece of bacon and having to wait for trays to be replenished. A very good breakfast selection indeed, but not being much of a big breakfast person, I settled for coffee, and fruit with yoghurt.
 
A very painless check out and ride back to the airport followed, where a quick visit to the lounge saw more coffee and a biscuit while I waited to be told by the electronic departures board to go to my gate.
 
There is still plenty of construction going on in Christchurch, and to be honest, I didn’t fully understand to what extent this was until I visited. Along with the restoration of historic buildings there will be new buildings yet to come. From a five star luxury hotel to boutique cinemas for 40-50 people complete with wine bar. There is excitement in the air, a sense of rebirth and growth, it’s like watching your child blossom into adulthood. Personally, I cannot wait to visit Christchurch again and sample more of it’s amazing hospitality.
 
Ooooh Auckland, I think you’ve got some serious competition here!!
 
A huge thank you to everyone who hosted our group in Christchurch. In particular to Sarah-Jane from Vbase and Jessie from ChristchurchNZ, who looked after us so extremely well. Thank you to Vbase for allowing me to sing out of tune and out of key at the Phil Collins ‘Not Dead Yet’ performance. It was an honour to visit your wonderful City.
  
  
Deborah Stevens
Snr Event Executive, Auaha

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