A vibrant new Christchurch has emerged following the devastating 2011 earthquake that claimed so many lives and some 80 percent of the CBD.
Gleaming retail outlets, sophisticated accommodation options, popping street art, and fabulous restaurants and cafes are all part of the reconstructed urban landscape. However, you’ll also find plenty of links with the city’s best loved traditions. Christchurch remains an integral part of any visit to New Zealand’s South Island, and is a great spot to base yourself to see some of the region’s most spectacular natural landscapes.
Enjoy this Christchurch travel guide.
Christchurch for history lovers
The city was founded in the 1850s by the Canterbury Pilgrims from England.
Canterbury Museum tells the stories of Christchurch and Canterbury from the arrival of the first inhabitants — the Tangata whenua — some 800 years ago, right through to the present day. Galleries depict the interaction between the Māori and European settlers, the extinction of the Moa bird, and Antarctic exploration.
While public tram services ended in Christchurch back in 1923, a city tour with Christchurch Attractions on a meticulously restored heritage tram is a fun way to step back in time. Drivers provide commentary on the city’s history and architecture, and are a wealth of knowledge on where to eat and what’s on around town.
You’ll hear the people of Christchurch talk of life before and after the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 that changed the face of the city forever. Quake City is a moving external exhibition by the Canterbury Museum that documents the tragic events, the aftermath and the city’s gradual recovery.
Top cultural experiences in Christchurch
Christchurch offers a cutting edge cultural scene of art, music, theatre and art house film.
A visit to Christchurch Art Gallery is a must. The best of New Zealand landscape art is showcased in the ongoing exhibition In the Vast Emptiness. The rest of the gallery is dedicated to everything from wood carving to pop art. Keep an eye out for Andy Warhol’s portrait of Mao Tse-tung.
Lovers of modern art in all its forms should make their way to the Centre of Contemporary Art (CoCA), which has been challenging artistic conventions for almost four decades. Entry to the gallery is free.
Christchurch has firmly embraced street art as part of the renewal process. Large murals dot the urban landscape, bringing colour and vibrancy to the CBD.
Over on Hereford Street, a short walk from where the much-loved Christchurch Cathedral still stands in ruins, is the Transitional Cathedral. Widely known as the ‘cardboard cathedral’, it’s a work of art in its own right. The cathedral was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, and 98 cardboard tubes (some up to 20 metres long) were used in its construction. Coloured windows replicate the rose windows of the original cathedral. Across the road, 185 stark white empty chairs serve as an emotive memorial to the 185 lives lost in the 2011 earthquake.
One of the easiest ways to get a sense of everything that’s happening around town is to join a hop on hop off tour on the city’s fleet of four 1960s-era Route Master London buses. Knowledgeable drivers/guides share information about the city’s history, attractions and regeneration.
For a taste of popular culture, join Hassle Free Tours on their full-day Lord of the Rings: Edoras Tour. Travel by 4WD bus to Mount Potts High Country Station — home to Mount Sunday, which served as the Rohan capital of Edoras in the second and third Lord of the Rings films. Enjoy a picnic lunch before taking an optional short hike to the summit of Mount Sunday for the stunning vistas.
Great places to eat in Christchurch
With its pretty Spanish Mission style architecture, New Regent Street is a great spot to eat.
Twenty Seven Steps offers European-inspired cuisine, paired with the best of New Zealand wines. It’s no surprise that this innovative eatery was awarded Restaurant of the Year at the 2017 Christchurch Hospitality Awards. Cross the street to The Last Word whiskey and cocktail bar for a nightcap after dinner. It offers around 200 whiskey varieties.
The Little High Eatery also did well in the awards. Inside you’ll find eight different eateries, offering burgers, pizza, Asian street food and Latin American dishes.
It’s all about delectable dumplings and bountiful bao buns at Sister Kong Beer & Dumplings on Victoria Street. The steamed buns are served burger-style with meat or chicken. The signature saffron chicken bao bun is seriously awesome.
On Friday evenings Cathedral Square hosts more than a dozen food trucks for the Friday Street Food Market. Tantalise your taste buds with Indian street food, Malaysian noodles, German bratwurst sausages, Polish goulash, Egyptian puffed donuts and even Transylvanian chimney cake! The market has proved to be a fantastic way to get people back into the city centre.
If you love great coffee (which undoubtedly you do), Christchurch won’t disappoint. The city’s plethora of cool cafes will satisfy even the toughest caffeine critic. Café 1851 at the brand new Crowne Plaza Hotel offers arguably the city’s best brew. It’s the first café in the South Island to use the boutique Mojo roasted beans. C4 Coffee Co roasts its own blends daily. Great coffee can also be found at C1 Espresso in the old post office building, and at the uber-cool and expanding Black & White Coffee Cartel. Located on Manchester Street, Raw Sugar Cafe offers a comfortable setting and a great brunch menu.
At just under an hour’s drive from the city, the Waipara Valley is home to around 40 boutique wineries, and renowned for its rieslings and pinot noirs. Join Canterbury Leisure Tours on a half day wine tour to four superb wineries for tastings. First stop is Waipara Springs, for an optional platter lunch featuring tastes of the region. Next stop is Greystone Wines — one of the oldest organic wineries in the valley, then Waipara Hills to try a variety of vintages. The tour wraps up at Pegasus Bay, where there’s time to enjoy the beautiful landscaped gardens before tasting more top drops.
Where to shop in Christchurch
An exciting new retail hub has emerged in the heart of the city.
The new ANZ Centre houses fashion and beauty retailers — including the flagship store of New Zealand’s Glassons brand. The Crossing on Cashel Street houses more fashion retailers, along with stockists of gifts and home wares.
If you’re in the market for outdoor gear, remember you’re in the home town of top Kiwi brands Kathmandu and Macpac. Both are prominent in the new retail precinct.
While much of Christchurch’s CBD was lost to the earthquakes, the iconic Ballantynes department store survived and continues to trade here after more than 160 years.
For a fresh food fix, head to the lovely grounds of Riccarton House and Bush on a Saturday morning for the Christchurch Farmers’ Market. More than 80 stallholders offer everything from fruit and vegies, to baked goodies, dairy products and even doggie treats.
Ways to relax in Christchurch
The pick of Christchurch’s many wonderful green spaces is Hagley Park.
Take advantage of the extensive walking trails, explore the New Zealand native gardens or simply laze away an afternoon on the Archery Lawn.
Christchurch is a very bike-friendly city, and Chill offers a two-hour guided city tour on classic bicycles. The tour takes in Hagley Park, the Avon River, and the new shopping and arts precinct. However, if you prefer to do your own thing, Chill will rent you a bike and away you go.
Stop and smell the roses, literally, in the stunning Christchurch Botanic Gardens. The Central Rose Garden has dozens of varieties. At nearby Antigua Boatsheds, you can enjoy one of the city’s best known activities — punting on the Avon River. Just northwest of the Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park, Mona Vale house is a beautiful spot to wander or enjoy a relaxing lunch.
A short distance out of the CBD, you’ll find Sumner Beach. It’s an idyllic location to soak up some sun, have a paddle and of course, enjoy an ice cream.
For those looking to head further afield, the ridiculously pretty town of Akaroa on Banks Peninsula makes a great day trip from Christchurch. If you don’t have access to wheels, book the daily return shuttle transfer. It will give you plenty of time to explore the town and learn about its unique heritage as New Zealand’s only town to be settled by French colonists. A harbour cruise with Akaroa Dolphins is just one of the highlights.
Where to stay in Christchurch
Crowne Plaza Christchurch
The fabulous Crowne Plaza Christchurch is the city’s newest place to stay. Guest rooms come complete with key pad access, smart TVs and USB ports, along with lovely little touches like the Rituals Happy Buddha toiletries and a relaxing room spray to help you drift off to sleep. Many rooms offer sweeping views of the city and Southern Alps. Free WiFi is available throughout the hotel.
Eco Villa provides an eco-friendly home away from home right in the heart of Christchurch. It’s also one of the city’s newest accommodation offerings, following a complete restoration. The historic house features eight guest rooms — four with private bathrooms and four with shared facilities. Each room features a bed head made from recycled timber. Guests are welcome to use the kitchen to prepare meals, which makes Eco Villa a great option for anyone wanting to self cater.
The property has an edible garden accessible to guests, along with outdoor bathtubs and free bicycles. Breakfast includes homemade organic products.
Louise travelled as a guest of ChristchurchNZ, Crowne Plaza Christchurch and Eco Villa.
Do you have any tips to add to our Christchurch travel guide? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Cover image courtesy of ChristchurchNZ. Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Louise Reynolds made up her mind at the age of about four that she would one day travel the world — and has so far visited around 30 countries across five continents and the Pacific. A hopeless Francophile, she has a particular love for France, its language and pretty much all things French. Louise’s favourite way to see the world is on foot and her boots have taken her walking on famous trails in Europe, South America and New Zealand. She also has a passion for her home state of Victoria and loves exploring its diverse regions.