The famous New Zealand cricketer — now a successful IPL coach — knew the lovely city well. He’d been born there, grew up there, learned to play his cricket there.
He was a longtime capital city Wellington resident, but his three kids enjoyed a great winter’s week playing in the snow at Porter Heights, a ski field just 89km from Christchurch airport. Then they zoomed around on bikes, with smiles a mile wide, on the stunning lakefront of their accommodation at Peppers Clearwater Resort.
He realised what he was missing. “Kelly and I just looked at each other and knew this was how we wanted our kids to grow up - in the endless space and the wonderful countryside that the Canterbury region has to offer.”
Coastal Christchurch is set in the diamond of the wide Canterbury plains — a farming and horticultural area necklaced with braided rivers that flow down from the Southern Alps. The proximity of the majestic mountain range to the South Island’s largest city — it forms the backdrop — makes getting into the great outdoors easy. Ski trips, hiking, fly-fishing, world-class golf, soaking in the natural thermal pools of Hanmer Springs: head for the hills and you’re in another world.
Historic Hagley Oval
Fleming captained the BLACKCAPS in three ICC Cricket World Cups before his 2008 retirement and has a special affinity with his home town’s international venue. One of New Zealand’s oldest grounds with a cricketing history dating back to 1867, Hagley Oval is where he earned his stripes as a schoolboy.
“I played Junior Canterbury and trial matches there from the age of 10. It was huge to me at that time. Its park-like setting meant there could be three games going on inside one oval, which took some concentration. And it was a great thrill, because you saw some great players up close. Sir Richard Hadlee was playing across from me one day when I was playing a school game!”
Back then, the city’s international ground was across town, at Lancaster Park. When the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 forced its closure, cricket bosses needed to find a new home for the game — and quickly, with the ICC Cricket World Cup coming.
“I could never have imagined it being a premier international cricket ground. It’s a spectacular result, a great achievement. The result of great vision,” Fleming says of the new-look Hagley Oval that will proudly host the opening match of the tournament in February. “It’s going to be beautiful. It’s the perfect size, and a very good central location.”
Not for one moment has he regretted moving back to the region — there’s just so much for him and his family to do. His hot tips for making the most of a visit include taking lunch at family-friendly Pegasus Bay Winery and Restaurant, in the emerging wine region of Waipara. “It’s romantic and leisurely. Its beautiful outdoors setting makes for a great afternoon in the sun.”
Swimming with rare Hector’s dolphins at Akaroa, a unique French-inspired settlement at the tip of Banks Peninsula, is also an outstanding way to spend a day on the green outskirts of Christchurch, he says.
In the city itself, Fleming recommends relaxing at Vic’s Cafe & Bake on Victoria Street — the in-house bakery fills the café with delicious aromas. Then, Chinwag Eathai or King of Snake for dinner. Catch a game over a drink at Cargo Bar on Lincoln Road in inner city Addington, or Number 4 Bar & Restaurant in pretty Merivale.
There should be no surprises that an elegant batsman who scored over 8000 One-Day-International runs for the BLACKCAPS — the New Zealand record — should be drawn to a spot named “Number 4”. What may surprise you is how quickly Christchurch has recovered from its game-changing earthquakes.
“The city is reborn, reinvented, so these days a guided tour around Christchurch’s CBD is a must-do,” says Fleming. He had been visiting the hard-hit coastal suburbs of Sumner beach and Lyttelton the day before the most powerful quake struck, but was home in Wellington when it happened — watching the news with painful disbelief.
“But strength always come from adversity,” he notes. “Whilst there was a lot of heartache and damage, the rebuild has seen Cantabrians become closer, and more open than ever. I think there’s a certain humility that’s come out of what Christchurch has been through. A resilience, but also, a more rounded view on what’s important to us all.”
So, expect a warm, genuine southern welcome when you arrive. Fleming will be there — proud to call the city his home once again.