Stephen Fleming's guide to Christchurch

Two years ago, Stephen Fleming made one of the best decisions of his life. He and wife Kelly had taken their young family on holiday to Christchurch.

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.”

Canterbury outdoors

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.