New Zealand’s gorgeous city took a battering in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, but since then locals have been working hard to revive the city and bring it back to life. Musician and winner of Stars In Their Eyes, Mandy Pickering, was born and raised in Christchurch. She tells suitcases&strollers why she loves living in her hometown with her sons Isaac (11) and Levi (9) and how your family holiday to Christchurch with kids can provide much-needed assistance to rebuilding an economy. 

How has the city bounced back since the earthquakes?

The spirit in Christchurch is inspiring! Despite difficult times there is a spirit of excitement and anticipation as we watch our city go through an amazing transition. Christchurch has an incredible opportunity to reinvent itself and we are excited to show the world what we have to offer.

What are some of the things locals are doing to help to try to get Christchurch back on its feet?

I personally have been privileged to be a part of an inspiring story. We started a family project called Heart Strings which involved a collection of guitars lovingly hand crafted by my father-in-law using timber from historical buildings that fell in the Canterbury earthquakes. Each guitar had a design that reflected the history of the timber used to craft it and each wa a piece of art as well as a beautiful instrument. We auctioned each guitar to the highest bidder and were thrilled to raise NZ$111,000 which we donated back to the Christchurch Arts Community. 

Another initiative that has really impressed me is the Gap Filler projects. Run completely by volunteers, this is a series of imaginative and fun projects designed to utilise and beautify areas in Christchurch that were left vacant due to demolished buildings. 

Why is Christchurch a good place for families to visit?

Beyond its sheer beauty, Christchurch has so much to offer in every season. From the stunning beaches, parks and countless festivals during summertime to the close by majestic mountains providing family fun in the snow during wintertime. 

Christchurch is less than 2 hours drive away from Hanmer Springs, famous for natural thermal hot pools, and Akaroa, a beautiful historic French village nestled in the Banks Peninsula.

Where is your favourite place to take your kids in Christchurch?

We love outdoor spaces so we spend a lot of time at the beautiful Christchurch beaches and we also love the Botanic Gardens. The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are stunning and provide a play area for the children. Summertime also brings a variety of outdoor concerts and live entertainment for families.

Where is your kids' favourite place to hang out in Christchurch?

Our kids enjoy the outdoors and they love animals so the Christchurch wildlife parks: Willowbank Wildlife Reserve & Restaurant and Orana Wildlife Park are a hit with them. They enjoy learning about native wildlife including the kiwi and they love having the opportunity tofeed the animals and play in the open spaces.

What do you do with the kids when it is raining?

The International Antarctic Centre is a great option for the kids on those rainy days. With a real snow storm, Antarctic vehicle rides, gorgeous penguins and a 4D movie there are plenty of options to keep them excited. 

The Canterbury Museum is also a great indoor option and is an educational adventure that offers interactive activities for children.

What or where's the best kept secret of Christchurch that tourists might not know about?

Only a 30 minutes drive from Christchurch, North Canterbury wineries are our hidden treasure. Mud House Winery and Pegasus Bay are rated as some of the top wine producers in New Zealand so you can relax and enjoy some wine tasting or sit back and unwind at one of their beautiful restaurants and make a day of it.  For those wanting to stay close by, the Christchurch Farmers Market in Riccarton offers a great selection of local arts and craft, yummy food stalls, fresh produce and live music.

What are some things tourists can do when they visit Christchurch to help boost the economy and bring the city back to its former glory?

An absolute must see is the amazing re:START container mall – a unique shopping experience in the central city shopping mall made purely from shipping containers. The brightly coloured stacked boxes hold 27 reputable stores who lost the their inner city premises in the earthquakes. A range of family-friendly cafes and live entertainent compliment a shopping experience perfectly.

When is the best time of year to visit?

I am biased because summer is my favourite time of year, but Christchurch in summertime really is spectacular. There are family festivals and events happening all over the city from the beaches to the parks and the central city and there is always something fun and exciting to do. If you were a skier/snowboarder then winter wound be just as amazing I’m sure.

Where is the best place for families to stay in Christchurch?

The central city is an ideal place to stay if you want to explore the new town of Christchurch with all that it has to offer. The Classic Villas is family-run boutique accommodation for families (for children over 12 years of age).

The stunning Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square Hotel has reopened so I would definitely recommend staying there. It has been totally refurbished and is centrally located so you are right near the vibrant container shopping precinct in the heart of the city and the new Transitional (cardboard) Cathedral that also recently reopened. 

For those wanting to stay closer to the airport you can't go past Peppers Clearwater Resort, a stunning lakefront resort set within beautiful grounds and surrounded by clear shimmering lakes, perfect for families.

What are your top things to do in Christchurch?

It's difficult to narrow it down but I would have to say:

·  The Christchurch Gondola for it's stunning views of Canterbury

·  The Southern Alps and the ocean all in one

·  Punting down Avon River for the serenity it brings and because you get to experience the beauty of the The Christchurch Botanic Gardens at the same time

·  Willowbank Wildlife Reserve & Restaurant for outdoor family fun while interacting with the animals

Christchurch is the most convenient city to reach the New Zealand ski fields and adventure areas. For more travel tips on things to do in New Zealand with kids, see the suitcases&strollers stories Ski New Zealand 1: Queenstown, Queenstown with Bindi Irwin and Ski New Zealand 2: Wanaka

To read the suitcases&strollers interview with Australian Idol winner and singer Damien Leith, click here