As the outgoing programme director of WORD Christchurch - a world-class festival of writing and ideas, and a published author, it is fair to say that Rachael King is an ardent fan of the written word.
An accidental Christchurchian - “I live in Christchurch – not entirely by choice” - Rachael has come to love the city since she first moved there in 2008 to do a one-year writers’ residency at the University of Canterbury.
“Circumstances conspired to keep me here. Then in 2013 a job came up to run the local writers’ festival and it gave me a chance to make a difference in the post-quake city. We rebranded the festival as WORD Christchurch and the rest is history.
“The best thing about Christchurch is how dynamic it is post-quake. A lot of people who haven’t been here for a long time still have an image of Christchurch that seems stuck in the 1990s. The new Christchurch is changing all the time as the city is rebuilt.
"I love that Ngāi Tahu stories are being woven into the civic buildings and the fabric of the city, in the streets, along the river. It’s also easy to get around – I can bike to work in 14 minutes; the kids can bike and walk to school and I love all the new spaces that are putting people ahead of cars. I also love the proximity to the Port Hills which are omnipresent. I see faces in them in the ever-changing light. Also, as someone who grew up in Auckland, I get a visceral thrill every time I glimpse snowy mountains from the end of my road on a clear winters’ day, or from a tall building.”
The revised WORD Christchurch Festival runs from November 10-13 (under Level 2 conditions) and features speakers such as Helen Clark, Hinemoa Elder, Emily Writes, Patricia Grace, Helen Garner, Ruth Ozeki, Ian Rankin and Abbas Nazari. Livestream tickets are also available. For the full programme visit wordchristchurch.co.nz
Favourite place for a drink?
The bars I feel most at home in are The Last Word on New Regent St (the owner Alex has created such a welcoming vibe, and we try and do quirky cosy events there during WORD), Smash Palace and Astro Lounge for their casual rock & roll atmosphere. I’m a bit allergic to many of the popular bars and hospitality areas in Christchurch, so tend to go to the places that have a more arty, indie vibe for want of a better description.
Best place for breakfast?
Caffeine Laboratory for poached eggs and their home-smoked salmon; Black Betty for just about anything; and I recently took some vegan friends to South Town Club for a scrumptious breakfast. I still miss Kadett, which closed down at the end of 2019.
Where do you get your morning coffee - and what’s your coffee order?
Foundation – decaf Americano, milk on side.
The restaurant you’ve been going to for years?
Tomi, our local Japanese restaurant in Edgeware Village.
Favourite restaurant to visit with friends?
Cellar Door at the Arts Centre – amazing food and wine flights; Dice & Slice (all the latest board games plus pizza) with the kids; Super in Lyttelton which is where I often take visiting overseas writers.
For something fancy?
27 Steps never fails to deliver for a special meal. Another New Regent St gem, and another spot we send visiting writers as we know it’ll always be good, and it’s close to the festival action.
Best ‘cheap eat’?
Favourite place for date night?
Where do you go for ‘special’, non-supermarket food or drink?
Favourite place for live music?
Blue Smoke at the Tannery and Space Academy though I’m getting a bit old for stand-up gigs. I haven’t been to the Wunderbar for a while but always enjoy that, and The Loons has re-opened recently – both in Lyttelton and always nice to have a reason to visit. I wish more bands would play at The Piano where I can sit down. I saw Nadia Reid and Tiny Ruins there and it was both sublime and comfortable! We also have the WORD festival there so I’m a bit biased.
Favourite gallery or museum?
Christchurch Art Gallery. They have excellent exhibitions, curators and really good parties. The recent Hellzapoppin’: The Art of Flying Nun was so well done – it was such a shame that COVID curtailed the opening party.
Where do you go for some relaxation or a beauty treatment?
Best kept shopping secret?
I’m not sure how secret they are but Christchurch has excellent bookshops such as the University Bookshop and Scorpio Books; more tucked away bookshops are probably the Children’s Bookshop in Redcliffs, and Colombo Bookstore in Sydenham. All run by passionate book people who have created welcoming spaces for booklovers.
READ MORE: Rachael shares her favourite independent bookstores
Where do you go for a workout?
Les Mills – Body Pump three times a week! There are women in my class who are over 70 and still going strong. I plan to still be lifting weights in 20 years. And Victoria Park to walk up some good hills.
Where do you go when you’re after local art or design?
If someone was visiting your neighbourhood/city for the first time, what’s the one place you would recommend they visit?
If they’ve got kids – the Margaret Mahy Playground! Otherwise… Riverside Markets! It really adds character to the city, and is unlike anything in New Zealand I reckon. It’s a great place to eat and hang out and just wander. Like Little High Eatery, it’s one of those places that everybody loves.
We take the kids to both places and we all order dinner from somewhere different. It makes the city feel like a city – for too long the inner city was dead after the quakes and people gravitated towards the suburban shopping malls which are character-free zones.
Anything - or anywhere - you’d like to add?
You can’t live in Christchurch without regular visits to Tūranga, the central library. It’s a real community hub. It’s got books of course, but so much more. Computers, games, coffee, sewing machines, 3D printing, a recording studio… every Friday they have youth time where teens can have free reign of their creative spaces. My 12-year-old son is recording an album bit by bit.
Libraries are one of the few spaces in a city where you don’t need to spend money to justify being there. It has become a home for many WORD events too – including a special custom-built venue called The Faraway Near to bring in international writers digitally, right to your table – and we love it, as do all the visiting writers.