Hanna Hussein enjoys another Kiwi adventure — the country’s longest and highest ziplines — this time around.
“NEW Zealand changed me and it will change you too!” I say to Elin, my travel partner, to convince her to try out an activity that will challenge her biggest fear — acrophobia.
“I used to be scared of heights but not after I skydived at the Bay of Islands and bungee-jumped off the Auckland Bridge a few years ago,” I continue my plea as we both settle ourselves onboard Air New Zealand’s seasonal flight from Singapore to Christchurch.
We are travelling to the South Island’s biggest city as part of a media trip organised by the airline together with Tourism New Zealand to introduce parts of the Canterbury Region.
While I’m excited and looking forward to another Kiwi adventure — the country’s longest and highest ziplines — I’m also nervous, even though I don’t think it’s going to be so terrifying. But I might have spoken too soon.
Nestled in Port Hills, the Christchurch Adventure Park is the largest mountain bike park in the southern hemisphere, spanning more than 350 hectares.
Located just a 20-minute drive from the central city, it is where adranaline-junkies go to experience epic adventures such as mountain biking on elaborate tracks, hopping on a scenic chairlift or racing through the valley on dual ziplines — the last, which we are about to experience!
First, we have to register at the Guest Services form and get our height and weight taken. Elin is still hesitant about joining us but after much persuasion, she finally relents. I’m so excited for her as I’m pretty sure she will enjoy it.
Once we have all registered, we head to meet the guides, Ollie and Brian. They will be taking care of us, making sure that we remain safe throughout the activity.
Ollie and Brian talk us through the procedures and then help us suit up with the safety harness and helmets. We are each given a heavy zipline trolley to carry on our own stuff. From the base, we go on a less than 10-minute mild hike to the chairlift station. There, we ride the scenic chairlift up the hill, my first time on this. The 1.8km long chairlift is the longest in New Zealand and the first in the country purposefully designed for riders and their bikes.
On the way up, we get to view the breathtaking pine forest. However, there are some parts that are still scarred by the Port Hills fire of February 2017, just eight weeks after the park was first opened. The park was rebuilt and re-opened 10 months later.
We also get to see the overview of the Mountain Biking trails. At times, we are able to see riders drifting down the slopy dirt hill on their bikes; oh it’s so unnerving to watch them in action!
Upon arrival at the launch site, we stop to admire the panaromic views of Christchurch, the Southern Alps, and the Pacific Ocean all the way to the Kaikoura Ranges.
When we arrive at the first platform, Elin is a bit shaky, and to be honest, so am I. “We can do this,” I say to encourage Elin not to chicken out at the last minute.
We both step up to the platform, give our trolleys to Ollie, and prepare for the swing. Dangling at the edge, the ground looks so far below from up here!
“Ready?” Ollie calls.
“I am!” I answer. I look at Elin and she nods nervously. Ollie then pulls some strings and I begin to slide down the wire cables, soaring above the trees. I scream in excitement, and a second later, Elin zips by on my right side. We reach the end with a hard bump, but the ride is so worth it.
While Brian prepares to dismount us, he asks Elin, ”How was it?”. Elin looks tense but satisfied. Suddenly I hear her cheer. “It’s so incredible, I survived!”
The first line is just 490 metres, and takes us less than a minute. We have three more lines to go. We continue onward to the second line which is just 410m but a little bit steeper than the previous one.
The third and fourth are the spine-chilling ziplines. While the second last is the highest line at 150m above the valley, the last line is 1.1km in length, which allows us to glide down with increasing speed, up to 120kph (depending on body weight and aerodynamics).
Next on our itinerary is a late-lunch at C1 Espresso, a cafe located in the city. But this is no ordinary cafe — it has been around for over 20 years but remains fast, fresh and unique. From the outside, it looks like any typical busy cafe, but what makes it interesting is the decor inside.
I spot some transparent tubes suspended from the ceiling and walls but have no idea what they are. Well, they’re actually pneumatic tubes, typically used in offices to transfer important documents back then. But today you can probably find them only in hospitals where they are being used to transport fresh blood samples.
This active pneumatic tube system is used to deliver orders directly to diners’ tables. Excited to see how it works, I opt for fish and chips which is priced at NZ$20.90 from the pneumatics menu.
In less than 15 minutes, an aluminium canister swooshes in the tube, arriving beside our table. You just need to pull the tube hatch up until it rings, and take the canister out.
I am fascinated with the system. You don’t have to worry that your food will spill because the aluminium canister is secure. To open it, twist the opening in the opposite direction and you will see that your food is wrapped in brown oil paper.
Aside from the fish and chips, you can also order burgers, sliders, nachos, and cauliflower nuggets. There is also a kids menu. However, not all food can be delivered through these tubes.
Other cool things at the cafe are a mineral water dispenser that looks like a classic sewing machine, a funky machine that can test your caffeine levels, and a secret bookshelf that opens up to the toilet!
At 9am the following day, we meet with Stu Waddel of Chill — Explore With Us for a two-hour Chill Urban Tours, a cycling tour on vintage bicycles. From Durham Street, we cycle towards The Arts Centre Te Matatiki Toi Ora, which is one of the city’s landmarks that was built in 1877, located at Worcester Boulevard.
The centre is a hub for arts, culture, education, creativity and entrepreneurship. It is currently undergoing massive restoration as it was badly damaged in the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes.
Stu takes us to see the clock tower entrance on the north quad before continuing our tour to the next landmark — Canterbury Museum, which is housed in a Gothic Revival building similar to the Arts centre.
Designed by Benjamin Mountfort, it was opened in 1870. Julius von Haast, a German-born New Zealand explorer and geologist, was the founder of the museum, and his collection forms the core of the museum.
We also visit Christ’s College which was established by Reverend Henry Jacobs in 1850 and was previously in Lyttelton, 12km away, before it was moved here in 1856.
The tour then resumes towards Hagley Park and Botanic Gardens, which is the largest urban public park in Christchurch, created in 1855 by the Provincial Government. The huge park has two major avenues subdivided into three units — the Little Hagley Park (6.96 hectares), the North Hagley Park (87.17 hectares) and the South Hagley Park (70.507 hectares).
While we are there, we make a short stop to visit the Al Noor Mosque, the site of the tragic Christchurch mosque shooting in August last year.
Before we head back, we stop to see the iconic Christchurch Cathedral, a deconsecrated Anglican cathedral which was built between 1864 and 1904 in the centre of the city, surrounded by Cathedral Square. However, the facade of the church was severely damaged after the earthquakes. The church had made a decision to demolish the building and replace it with a new structure, but some were against it. Hence, the cathedral is now undergoing restoration.
BEST OF AOTEAROA
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, a wildlife park and nature reserve located at Hussey Road in Harewood, about 15 minutes from the city centre, turns out to be among the best parts of this trip. The development began in 1974, and today it covers seven hectares of lush native plantings and waterways.
It houses 95 different species of animals, divided in three sections — Wild New Zealand, Heritage New Zealand and Natural New Zealand.
We join a guided 45-minute Kiwi tour, hosted by the energetic Rachel who shares with us her personal journey going through the challenges faced by New Zealand’s unique wildlife. We get to know NZ’s Big Five — kaka (a rare bush parrot), kea (the cheeky mountain parrot), tuatara (an ancient reptile), takahe (which was previously thought to be extinct), as well as NZ’s iconic bird, kiwi.
Here at Willowbank, we also get to experience the KoTane Maori Cultural Performance that also shows how pre-European Maori lived in South Island, and how the culture has grown.
It’s such an interesting showcase, as we get to witness the lifestyle of the Maori in the past. The performance includes the musical instruments, games and weapons used by them.
But the highlight of the visit is the chance to see how the traditional hangi cooking, where the Maori cook chicken and root vegetables like kumara (sweet potato) in a pit dug into the ground and of course, to finally enjoy the piping hot hangi meals.
SAVVY COMFORTS IN AIR NEW ZEALAND BUSINESS PREMIER CLASS
“KIA Ora, welcome aboard! May I offer you a drink?” a lovely flight attendant in a bright fuchsia uniform greets me after I have settled into my oh-so-spacious Business Premier seat on board the Air New Zealand flight to Christchurch.
The Business Premier seating configuration on the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner is nothing like I have seen before — the seat which is partially slanting facing inwards (known as the herringbone seating design) is unique!
After take-off, the super soft leather armchair can actually be transformed into a fully lie-flat bed (complete with a memory foam mattress, two full-size pillows and a cosy duvet) offering passengers a very comfortable experience on a long-haul flight.
On top of that, each Business Premier passenger is given a funky pink and black toiletry bag although it is not a late-night flight.
The inflight entertainment facilities features 11-inch HD capacitive touch screen, premium headphone, in-seat power port, USB connection as well as individual reading light — giving Business Premier passengers personalised comfort.
One of the innovative designs of the inflight entertainment is the intuitive app-based design that features new movie releases in HD, TV Shows and box set series, brand new singles and multi player games, and amazing interactive functions such as ordering food and drinks from the screen, direct-messaging the crew, chatting with your friends via the Seat Chat function, watching the same movie using the Screen Share and many more!
Business Premier passengers will also get complimentary meals and drinks from a wide range of menus created by Chef Peter Gordon!
Currently, the airline is operating five times weekly between Singapore and Christchurch until Feb 22. On top of that, the airline is also operating a code-share service with Singapore Airlines three times a week, in addition to the latter’s daily service between Singapore and Christchurch.
In addition to Christchurch services, Air New Zealand and Singapore Airlines also offer three daily services between Auckland and Singapore and four times weekly service between Wellington and Singapore via Australia under their joint alliance.
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