Ultimate guide to Christchurch, NZ
Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand. Our South Island tour with Wild Kiwi kicked off from Christchurch and also finished up there giving us a couple of days to explore the city.
This post will provide you with a list of things to see and do in Christchurch.
A bit of history on Christchurch
If you didn’t know much about Christchurch before 2010, that all changed when it became world news after the city suffered from a series of earthquakes between September 2010 and early 2012. The worst earthquake hit on 22 February 2011 killing 185 people and destroying hundreds of buildings beyond repair.
Walking around the streets of Christchurch, you really feel for the city and the people. More than six years later, the city is still filled with temporary fencing, temporary carparks (where buildings once stood) and graffiti. To be fair, there has been a lot of rebuilds completed, including the mall and the big accounting firms with their logos on display.
What to see and do in Christchurch
This seems to be the place for the locals. There are many scenic walks and of course the Gondola to get to the top, where you’ll enjoy the scenic views towards Christchurch. It isn’t like the Gondola in Queenstown where you can walk from the city centre and head straight up. You need to either drive, take a bus or get on the shuttle bus ($10 return) from outside the Botanic Gardens.
You then buy your tickets at the base of the Gondola, we decided on a combo which included the city tram (and let’s be honest, the city tram is a must!).
At the top of, you will find a large souvenir shop, a terrace that wraps around the building and most importantly, views towards Christchurch and beyond.
If you’re feeling peckish, there is a cafe with plenty of seating.
Then, of course, there is the Time Tunnel. Not something I would recommend, but it’s there so if you have time to kill then you may as well hop on and go for a bit of an odd journey. The poor girl in the videos must honestly look back at it and regret filming those scenes.
What you do need to do, is skip the Gondola ride back down and take the scenic route, along The Bridle Path. You’ll find many locals (and their dogs) doing a bit of exercise and I would be surprised if you didn’t see a sheep along the path.
Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens are quite beautiful. It is the biggest green space in Christchurch and brings in over 1 million visitors each year. It’s not hard to see why.
The River Avon flows through the gardens where you can try your luck at punting! If punting isn’t for you, don’t’ worry, there are many pathways where you can safely stroll around to take in the beautiful blooms.
Earthquake Memorial – 185 Empty White Chairs
Representing the 185 people who lost their lives on 22 February 2011 during the Earthquake. This memorial is very touching and really hits you hard. The chairs range from baby capsules, wheelchairs and your everyday chair.
Where is the memorial located? You will find the 185 Empty White Chairs on the Corner of Cashel and Madras Street, Christchurch.
Re:START / Container Mall
Re:START, now called Container Mall acted as a temporary shopping mall after the devastating 22 February 2011 earthquake. This earthquake destroyed most of the buildings in the City Mall. Re:START remains open to the public and locals and tourists enjoy the area and space. At the time of writing this post, the main shopping mall has reopened, however, the Container Mall still remains with a number of stores still working out of the shipping containers.
Cardboard Cathedral was opened 2 years after the earthquake hit Christchurch. This cathedral is only temporary and is a memorial of the city’s most prized landmarks.
The cathedral is supposed to now be one of the safest, earthquake-proof buildings in Christchurch. It was built from 98 equally sized cardboard tubes and 8 steel shipping containers.
Cathedral Square is also known as the heart of Christchurch. However, when you look around, you see rubble and construction. As at September 2017, the cathedral remains in desperate need of repair and hasn’t been touched since the earthquake. We were told that the cathedral has now been given finance and approval to re-build, but this will likely take around 7 – 10 years to complete.
I must admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Quake City… the name sounds poorly thought out given the situation. However, after visiting the museum, I realised it is much more than an ‘attraction’, it is absolutely worth visiting to appreciate the history of earthquakes in Christchurch and the effect it has had on the city.
You’ll see mementoes, artefacts and have the opportunity to watch video footage from when the quake first struck, listening to the stories told by the survivors.
What I found really interesting is that the cathedral clocks stopped at the time the earthquake hit, quite the reminder.
The tram is a great way to see the city!
It is a 50 minute round journey and you can hop on and off as much as you like with trams every 15 – 20 minutes. It provided us with a quick feel for the city and gave us plenty of ideas for where we wanted to go for a bite to eat and where we wanted to explore a bit more.
New Regent Street
What a beautiful street!! It really takes you back to the 1930’s. You will find the tram does run down this street and it also happens to be Christchurch’s major tourist attraction! It is easily the most beautiful street in Christchurch, which isn’t too difficult with all the temporary fencing, but to put it into perspective, I have also been told this is the most beautiful street in New Zealand! You be the judge.
New Regent Street is a pedestrian mall in Christchurch. Built as a private development in the early 1930s with 40 shops in Spanish Mission architectural style, it is one of the city’s major tourist attractions
Where to eat in Christchurch
Fiddlesticks has a great atmosphere. I couldn’t fault my dish and Jenna said it would have to be one of the best steak’s she has eaten, ever. And for those who know Jenna, knows she has eaten at a lot of steak restaurants so this is a pretty big call!
If you’re looking for a restaurant with a twist, C1 Espresso will be just that. If you order the sliders, they will be delivered to your table in pneumatic tubes. It is quite interesting and very well set up.
We did go for dinner and it was pretty quiet, I would suggest visiting C1 around lunchtime instead to have a bit of an atmosphere (while seeing your food delivered via the pneumatic tubes).
Great lunch spot, check this place out. Casa Publica can be found on New Regent Street, so you can enjoy some people watching while having a meal and a few drinks. Most importantly, you can enjoy desert just a few meters down the road (check out our next tip!).
After your lunch at Casa Publica, head across the street to Rollickin Gelato. You know it’s good when there is such a big lineup!! It was good, and the line moves pretty quickly so don’t let that impact your decision. Check it out!
Where to stay in Christchurch
We stayed at the Novotel Christchurch Cathedral Square. It is in the perfect location for exploring the city. Click here to read our full review.
What else to do on the South Island of NZ?
If you’re travelling around the South Island, keep an eye on our New Zealand page for our detailed posts around the island.
Do you have travel insurance?
Before travelling, make sure you get a travel insurance policy – you never know when you might need it! Click here for information on travel insurance, what company we recommend and a link to get an instant quote.
“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller