Marcia Butterfield thought her hometown was getting a bad rap when her friends complained about the lack of things to do in Christchurch after the earthquakes, so she set about proving otherwise – and she did.
Her response was ‘Neat Places’ – an innovative and practical guide listing everything that was good, new and hot to do in Christchurch as the city set about recovering its damaged heart. As the weeks and months went by, Neat Places evolved, accumulating new entries and growing into a business that’s now expanding across New Zealand.
“Friends were saying there was nothing to see and do in the city, so I wanted to prove otherwise,” she recalls. “Christchurch is often considered to be a bit sleepy and a little conservative, so I decided to try and change these misconceptions with Neat Places.”
With vineyards and ski fields only 90-minutes away by road, and surf beaches on the fringes, Marcia says Christchurch is the perfect place to live or visit for the outdoor enthusiast. Whether you like road cycling or mountain biking, skiing or surfing, walking in the forest or hiking in the hills, there is something to please every type of adventurer.
But what Marcia is most interested in, and why she chooses to live in Christchurch, is the culture, cuisine, and collective creativity that has been expressed through a series of amazing transitional projects that have emerged from the earthquakes.
“Despite what people may say, I believe Christchurch is a city where it’s impossible to get bored. It sounds clichéd but there truly is something for everyone. I’m particularly interested in the café, bar and restaurant culture, as well as the arts.”
Marcia, was born, raised and educated in Christchurch. She gained a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communications at the University of Canterbury and practical experience as the communications manager for the local Canterbury Rams basketball team.
Marcia then followed her parents to the United Kingdom. After a three-year working holiday and working for several PR agencies, she returned to Christchurch, and was in the midst of postgraduate studies in marketing when the earthquakes hit Canterbury.
Marcia left a role as online editor for a local body to set up a marketing business specialising in online content for the beauty and hair industry, then, in 2010, launched the “hobby project” that was to become a beacon for anyone looking for what to do or where to go in post-earthquake Christchurch.
Neat Places is a guide celebrating local, distinctive and one-of-a-kind businesses. It has evolved into a website, smartphone app and handy printed city guides – and is now moving beyond Christchurch into other New Zealand cities and regions.
While it was initially aimed at her friends, Marcia says Neat Places is as much for discerning urban visitors as it is for locals. By revealing the hidden gems and how to find them, she hopes that it will help make the challenge of exploring a city in recovery more accessible and enjoyable. The geo-locational smartphone app is free to download and users don’t need to connect to wifi or data to use it.
With the success of Neat Places in Christchurch, Marcia has grown her team and expanded into Auckland, Dunedin and Wellington, with the hope of one day showcasing the “neat places” of every town across the country.
As perceptions of Christchurch change, the city is also beginning to thrive, she says, not just because of new building developments and new shop, bar and café openings but also because of the people at the grassroots who are driving new projects and a new way of thinking. “Since the earthquakes, these people now have an attentive local, national and international audience who are eager to engage in new ideas and possibilities for the city.”
One particular movement Marcia is excited about, and has seen pop up since the earthquakes, is the focus on the production and consumption of food that is locally grown, organic, sustainable and ethically reared. “It’s hardly a radical idea but it is something Canterbury’s hospitality businesses have only just started to practise. These places have become some of my favourites.”
For Marcia, Christchurch is home and the place she wants to be. “For one thing, not many people get to experience a city evolving from the ground up. For another, I’ll never tire of the creativity and inspiration that this city gives me, or the big open spaces and endless possibilities that surround us.”
Marcia’s top five places in Christchurch
- Supreme Supreme - Supreme Supreme (10 Welles St) only reopened in early 2015 but has already become one of the city’s favourite cafés. This retro American-style diner and coffee roaster sources fresh and local. Try the macaroni cheese or fried chicken, and the coffee is Supreme. Open daily 7am – 4pm (Mon – Fri), 8am – 4pm (Sat & Sun).
- The Auricle - Match wine to music at this innovative sound gallery and wine bar at 336 St Asaph Street in the Central City that’s possibly the first of its kind in the world. Co-ordinated by the Cantabrian Society of Sonic Artists (CSSA), it’s a unique experience. Open 12pm – evening (Wed – Sun).
- The Colombo - A tired shopping centre (363 Colombo St, Sydenham) has been reborn as a stylish shopping destination for clothing, homeware, gifts and lunch. Highlights include J’aime les Macarons, Pot Sticker Dumplings, Stencil and Abode. Open 9am - 5:30pm (Mon – Sat), 10am – 5pm (Sun).
- The Agropolis – This urban working farm (154 High St) is part of an emerging food movement that took shape in central Christchurch post-earthquakes. Local or visitor, you can get involved by lending a hand at one of their Saturday morning workshops. Open daily.
- Black Estate, Waipara - Enjoy organic wines and fine local flavours at this family-run winery - 90 minutes’ drive, north of Christchurch, at 614 Omihi Rd in the lovely Waipara Valley wine region. The ambience is laidback, fun and hits a rather stylish note with its black interior. Open daily, 10am – 5pm (Phone +64 3 314 6085).
How to Get There
In New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is the country’s second-largest city. It has an international airport, and there are regular flights from other domestic centres.
Best Time to Visit
In autumn, the changing of the leaves makes the city’s historic districts especially beautiful. With ski areas such as Porters and Mt Hutt nearby, you can enjoy a winter wonderland. Known as “the Garden City”, Christchurch comes to life in spring, while summer is an opportunity to enjoy some of the city’s 40 safe swimming beaches.
From Christchurch and within 90 minutes’ drive, you can be in the Waipara Valley vineyard region, or in the historic French settlement of Akaroa in the heart of a now extinct volcano or at Mt Hutt which is the region’s premier commercial ski area, or soaking your cares away at Hanmer Hot Springs. Lyttelton, about 20 minutes from the centre of Christchurch, is a quirky, relaxed port town and the city’s oldest settlement.