Christchurch Botanic Gardens. © Bernard Spragg 

Loved by the locals: Christchurch

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1. Dance-O-Mat

My favourite Gap Filler, the Dance-O-Mat is a coin-operated dance floor. Plug in your phone, insert $2 and the space whirls to life with sound and lights. Be the star of your own show or join in someone else’s party, this is community space at its best. Now in its fourth location, the Dance-O-Mat pops up in vacant spaces and then moves on when development rolls in.

Ballerinas, belly dancers, break dancers – and even Prince Charles and Camilla – have had a spin on this now-iconic space.

2. Margaret Mahy playground

By day, you’ll probably feel more comfortable if you have some actual kids in tow, but by night this new playground – the largest in the southern hemisphere – comes alive with the delightful squeals of children trapped in the bodies of adults and teenagers. 

There’s lots of good reasons for this – including trampolines, slides, flying foxes, water cannons, splash pads and a barbecue area.

Named for one of New Zealand’s most iconic children’s authors, the playground is one of the first projects completed under the city’s recovery plan and will be part of the larger East Frame residential zone, which hopes to attract more residents – including families – to the central city.

3. Christchurch Tram

I know it seems naff, but it’s actually a great way to rest your feet for a bit, learn a few tidbits about the city and get your bearings.

The eclectic group of drivers, who call themselves 'trammies', are passionate about vintage trams and are never short of a yarn.

They provide a running commentary as the trams snake through the city. Hop on and off the city’s 17 stops all day for $25.

4. Christchurch Botanic Gardens

One thing that hasn’t changed in post-quake Christchurch is the beautiful Botanic Gardens. The garden’s 21 acres are planted collections from all around the world. It all started with the planting of an English oak to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra in 1863. 

Whether you’re earnestly exploring New Zealand fauna or just hiding out for a few hours, the garden's an oasis of green.

Neighbouring Hagley Park, established in 1855, is said to have been an inspiration for Central Park in New York City two years later.

5. Re:Start container mall

One of the city’s most successful transitional projects, the Re:Start container mall popped up just eight months after the February 2011 quake as a place for the small, displaced central city retailers to re-appear. The project set out to make the point that if you put something good in the poor, broken city, people would come. And they were right.

It quickly became one of the focal points of the regenerating city. Get there while you can. The small-scale container mall has big development encroaching steadily on all sides.

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