Enter Flat Man and Phoenix

They arrive, one tall and one short. Both wear flowing cloaks and face masks.

The Spiderman-like duo do not soar self-propelled to the heights of Mount Cavendish. They step aboard a Christchurch Gondola cabin and glide up the wire. 

The taller one checks in as the mysterious Flat Man, and the small guy as five-year-old Phoenix. He might be Flat Man’s apprentice?

Flat Man, a University of Canterbury student, keeps his real identity secret even from his flatmates. Following the Christchurch earthquakes he promoted himself as Christchurch’s superhero, dressed for the role, and began distributing food parcels to those in need. He visited schools and families, spreading a philosophy of kindness and generosity.

His apprentice is distinguished by his different mask. It is part of a bandage covering much of his body. He suffers from chronic eczema.  Bandages help to eliminate itching and scratching.

It is Phoenix’s big day out. It began with a medal presentation by assistant Christchurch mayor, Vicki Buck. A visit to the Antarctic Centre followed.

They were heading up for lunch at the Red Rock Café when I spotted them. It is the perfect day.

“The Gondola is just an essential part of Christchurch,” Flat Man says. “The views are spectacular.”

Also spectacular is the table awaiting Flat Man, Phoenix, Grandma and one or two others. The centrepiece is a cake encircled with chocolate and iced with a Spiderman image.

Grandma is Phoenix’s guardian for his special day out. She says chronic eczema is a terrible condition too many children suffer from.  Phoenix does not go to school, and is instead schooled at home.

She recalls the evening Flat Man appeared on TV 3 Campbell Live.

“Phoenix became an instant admirer. His eyes lit up. It was amazing. I started to dress him in a cloak to help take his attention away from his uncomfortable, painful condition. He is well known in the community. When we go shopping people will say, ‘Good morning Phoenix.’ Depending on his mood he will say, ‘No I am Spiderman,’ or, ‘I am Superman.’”

“A friend got onto a computer, found the Flat Man website, and sent a message. Flat Man got in touch and Phoenix found a friend and mentor. So here we are up here on this beautiful day. I cannot believe how kind the Gondola staff have been to us. Look at this wonderful cake.”

Phoenix is a likeable, lively kid. Rather than having him sit for a long time, Flat Man takes him for a run around the Gondola building balcony. A convenient circuit can be made with an occasional pause for the view. On one side of the hill a paraglider takes to the skies. 

 Meeting Flat Man, Phoenix and Grandma is an inspiration.

Inspired by emergence of the Student Volunteer Army following the Christchurch earthquakes, Flat Man says he is getting out there and helping others in any way he is able. His Flat Man costume has a distinctive lightning bolt logo. Initially he funded his philanthropy himself, but as his profile has grown he has been overwhelmed by donations and support.

“If I can do something to bring just a little joy to those in need, then why not?”





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Welcome Aboard China

China is set to become a significant source of visitors to Christchurch and New Zealand.

I recall early Chinese visitors on the trams. Initially they lacked a little of the sophistication of the Japanese visitors we had become acquainted with. I was therefore impressed by the speed at which visitors from China became a new wave of accomplished travellers.

Last weekend I spent an enjoyable half-day joining Tan Xiutian, Consul General of China in Christchurch, her husband Zhang (Jason) and family members on some Welcome Aboard attractions: Caterpillar Botanic Gardens Tour, Punting on the Avon, and the Christchurch Tram.

The Gardens Tour began following an exchange of gifts between the Chinese VIP visitors and Welcome Aboard Managing Director Michael Esposito. Consul General Tan Xiutian presented Michael with an impressive book of New Zealand photographs compiled by Jason. The text included an English translation. I quickly made friends with Jason, an accomplished photographer.

Also impressive were our staff assigned to escort the Chinese group: Jurgen Wagner (Gardens Tour), Adrian Ramsay (Punting) and Valerie Mayer (Tram).

Jurgen impressed with his in-depth knowledge of the Botanic Gardens and his style of commentary.

“There are 2000 trees in the Botanic Gardens and each one has a story,” he told us, before saying, “I know the stories of about 1,900 of them.” Interestingly, Jurgen has attracted commendable respect from Botanic Gardens gurus for his botanical knowledge and Caterpillar commentary.

It was a glorious morning for a punt trip from the Antigua Boat Sheds. Autumn colours are appearing along the river. Adrian was able to greet the VIPs with a little Mandarin.

This was followed by a ride from the Museum to New Regent Street on Tram No. 11, the immaculate Box Car, with Valerie in charge.

When I asked (over a Chinese lunch in Cathedral Junction) what stood out as a visitor attraction, the Consul General enthused, “All of it.”

She expressed a wish for China Southern Airlines to make Christchurch a regular destination.  The airline had recently visited, making the inaugural visit of a Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Jason said a problem with Chinese visitors is their rush to get through the South Island. It has been a long-time problem for Asian visitors.

He would recommend spending two days in Christchurch. Welcome Aboard attractions could easily provide a day’s great activities – something to work on perhaps.

When we parted, going our separate ways, I had made some new friends.


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Red Rock Café lifting its game

Emma Cunningham has taken over management of the Christchurch Gondola’s popular Red Rock Café.

I caught up with Emma on her third day on the job and found her upbeat about the café’s future.

“I was here before. I am now back in the driver’s seat,” enthuses Emma.

While confirming Red Rock Café has been operating well since the Gondola attraction re-opened a year ago – it was closed for two years following the February 2011 earthquakes – she thinks it is time to take the café to a new level.

“With the great team here we are certainly capable of a lot more,” she says.

Her aim is for visitors to Christchurch and locals to perceive Red Rock Café as a destination rather than somewhere to enjoy a coffee, snack or lunch while taking in the view.

“We are keen to showcase what New Zealand has to offer in cuisine and beverages. We will look at our beer and wine selections while offering free-range products along with selections of the best cheeses, salmon and pork.

“Improvements will evolve around food quality and service. Having well-trained baristas, our coffee is outstanding.”

Other projects being considered include wine tastings and opening some evenings for locals, perhaps for a Sunday roast?

“We want to see people stay at the café a little longer, enjoying a second coffee or beer. Annual Pass holders will be particularly welcomed.”

A children’s corner has been reinstated.

Emma brings a ton of hospitality experience to her appointment. She has operated catering organisations and owned two South Island Coffee Culture franchises. She is also studying to be a hospitality life coach qualified to teach adult students.

“Hospitality is a living, breathing, growing beast,” says Emma.   

In the meantime she is researching other well-known cafes in tourist destinations such as Queenstown and Rotorua.

“We need to know how the Red Rock Café compares. One of our points of difference is baking and preparing everything on the premises. A lot of cafes are brings things in on frozen slabs.

“People going to cafes and restaurants are looking for something different. Many will research reviews such as those on TripAdvisor. Our future will rely on our reputation. Word of mouth counts for everything,” says Emma. 

My Red Rock Café visit is on an overcast day of drizzle. The view is playing peek-a-boo with a white veil. Nevertheless the café is buzzing. Emma is called away to help during our interview.

Riding the Gondola down and arriving at the base station I meet up with Ray Pyne driving the Welcome Aboard Grand Tour. On board I am greeted by 24 smiling passengers undeterred by the cloudy day. 


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Great deal for Christchurch locals

Welcome Aboard’s Annual Pass for locals has got to be the greatest deal going for Christchurch says Tramway Operations Manager John Smith. Sales have been gathering momentum, particularly following the re-start of the city’s heritage trams.

So what is the deal?

Annual Pass cost: $55 for an individual adult and $119 for a family comprising two adults and up to three children aged 15 and under.

Annual Pass includes: unlimited rides on both the Christchurch Tram and Christchurch Gondola for one year from the date of purchase.

Annual Passholders are also offered 30% off other Welcome Aboard attractions (including Punting on the Avon, Caterpillar Botanic Gardens Tour and Thrillseekers Adventures Jet Boat rides in Hanmer Springs) as well as a 10% discount on retail goods at the Gondola’s well-stocked Shop at the Top. An Annual Pass does not need much use to pay for itself!

The Annual Pass was introduced when the Wood Scenic Line took over the Tramway and Port Hills Gondola attractions in early 2005. The company, now trading under the Welcome Aboard Christchurch brand, understood locals saw their attractions as existing purely for tourists.

 “The reality is we are involved in the community,” says Smith. “The Annual Pass enables the community to have some ownership in what we offer.”

 Presently about 7000 locals enjoy using an Annual Pass.

 Welcome Aboard perceives the trams as being part of the rebuild. They are providing an attraction at a time when Christchurch has less to offer, for children in particular. Flamboyant developer Anthony Gough is looking forward to the trams being part of his spectacular Oxford Terrace redevelopment.

Pre-earthquake pass holders with time left on their passes as of 22 February 2011 have been able to make use of that remaining time with the clock ticking from when the trams restarted last November. It was a generous offer returning positive feedback for the company.

 “Renewals are coming through with pass holders commenting on the great look of the spruced up trams and they look forward to the extension through City Mall opening.

“It is great to see so many children riding the trams with their parents. They absolutely love their tram rides. We also see their great excitement when they call in to the Cathedral Junction Tram Station ticket office,” Smith says.

 Up at the Gondola’s Red Rock Café a steady flow of Annual Pass holders flow through. The café is a popular morning coffee venue for mothers after dropping their children off at school. They are followed by those calling for a sociable lunch, and after school can also be a popular time.

 To purchase an Annual Pass call in and see the Welcome Aboard staff at either the Cathedral Junction Tram Station or Gondola Base Station. 

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Sharing a special moment

Among the pleasures of being a punter on the Avon is sharing in special anniversaries, says Adrian Ramsay.

Last Saturday – the third anniversary of Christchurch’s destructive earthquake that took 185 lives – two people had pre-booked a punt ride from Antigua Boatsheds departing at 12:30 pm. They wished for their river experience to coincide with the conclusion of the memorial service being held in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Adrian says it was indeed a memorable anniversary for the couple on two counts. They were married 23 years previously on February 22, and three years ago the woman, Liz, had been in her top floor office in the CTV building when the earthquake struck. She rode the building as it collapsed.  The CTV building claimed 115 lives that day.

Adrian’s punt Mary arrived at a crowded footbridge right on cue. The final act of the memorial service was to toss flowers into the river as a tribute to those who perished on February 22, 2011. The punt slid under the bridge, parting the brightly-coloured floating summer blooms.

“They were both celebrating the day; being alive and well and the emotions of punting through that large crowd of people throwing vast amounts of flowers into the river. It was a wonderful and emotional experience,” says Adrian.

 “As a long-time punter on the Avon I often have the privilege of sharing such special occasions. To be part of our clients’ special day is a particularly rewarding part of my job. It is the reason I love this work.”


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Support for Christchurch

A tramway colleague told me his visitors from Britain had been advised to give Christchurch a miss, with there being nothing to do in the earthquake-wrecked city. Sadly, the story is not an isolated tale. Too many international tourist booking agencies still believe Christchurch is a disaster zone.

This is despite prestigious Lonely Planet guide recommending Christchurch as a city to visit in 2013, which prompted a request from Singapore Airlines for a story titled Christchurch Arising (published in Silverkris inflight magazine February 2013).

This year Christchurch was rated number two on the New York Times’ list of recommended cities to visit.

The fact is Christchurch has much to offer visitors. Our Welcome Aboard Christchurch company has made a huge contribution to visitor attractions by re-opening the Gondola on the Port Hills a year ago and more recently the buzzing city heritage tramway. A Welcome Aboard daily Grand Tour provides the ideal package for an active day in the city at a great price.

Add to that the many funky cafes and a colourful shipping container shopping mall along with brilliant street art appearing on blank city walls, festivals and stunning exhibitions (don’t miss the Oi You Rise street art exhibition at Canterbury Museum, which is on Rolleston Avenue across from a tram stop).

Singapore Airlines general manager for New Zealand Edwin Chiang, recently in Christchurch, advises Tourism New Zealand and airlines to keep reminding potential inbound tourists that Christchurch is on the road to recovery from the quakes.

Singapore Airlines added additional flights to Christchurch this summer (in addition to its daily direct service between Christchurch and Singapore) and plans to do the same for the next summer season. The airline is also refitting aircraft used on its service to and from Christchurch.

Chiang said the Christchurch recovery, in his view, was moving in the right direction and was being assisted by increasing accommodation options.

Welcome Aboard’s heritage tramway offers the ideal way to experience the city and hear about what happened as a result of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 along with the exciting future already being created here in the city.

The Tram Station ticket office at the Cathedral Junction tram stop offers information and tickets for other Welcome Aboard attractions. Don’t miss the Caterpillar Botanic Gardens Tour or Punting on the Avon, the latter accessed from two tram stops.

love Chch 178 NR St Floral festival 2014

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At last, Christchurch is buzzing

After all the earthquake woes Christchurch is buzzing.

Our city was chosen by Lonely Planet as a city to visit in 2013.

This year the New York Times has come to the party, choosing us as their number two spot for cities to visit during 2014.

Resilience, clever reuse of rubble space, greening and new architecture such as the Transitional (cardboard) Anglican Cathedral have been amongst the point-scoring achievements.

The trams have been well patronised since their re-start in November. Businesses are returning to Cathedral Junction: especially pleasing to see was the re-opening of the delightful Seasons café this week. And the Tram Station ticket office attracts a steady stream of people keen to make the most of their visit to Christchurch.

Nearby New Regent Street is threatening to burst as its quaint shops fill with attractive boutique businesses.  The Wizard of New Zealand has found a congenial location in the street. He says he aims to have as much fun as he possibly can.

Attention-grabbing murals are appearing on once unappealing blank walls. A satisfying challenge is to combine street art as a backdrop to a tram photo. Particularly impressive is the work by Melbourne street artist Rone in Worcester Street near Cathedral Junction. The blank brick wall appeared following demolition of the long-standing Press building.

Several street artists have been busy in the central city with their paint spray cans, participating in New Zealand’s first Street Art Festival. And a brilliant street art exhibition ‘Oi You Rise’ is displayed over three levels of the CanterburyMuseum.

The works of well-known local and international urban artists include a stylised pre-quake Christchurch street and graffiti-covered versions of famous artworks such as the Rita Angus work depicting Cass.

Not to be missed, and offering choice subjects for the camera, the exhibition continues until March 23. The museum is conveniently close to a tram stop.

With so much happening in our buzzing city, tram drivers report not having time to talk about them all.

No wonder prestigious publications are giving our city the thumbs up.

Come and check us out.








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