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Christchurch, New Zealand

Great Destination:

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Christchurch was New Zealand’s first established city, in 1856.
  • New Zealand’s first international airport opened at Christchurch in 1950.
  • In two years after its September 2010 quake, Christchurch recorded 4,423 quakes Richter-rated 3.0 or more.
  • Christchurch’s airport is the major base for the U.S. Antarctic program.
  • New Zealand’s first railway operated, from 1863, between Christchurch and Ferrymead Historic Park.

The blooming city

Christchurch sits on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It is that island’s largest metropolis and its tourism gateway.

A determinedly English outpost, Christchurch has its own Avon River weaving dreamily through the middle of town. It provides idyllic settings for a riverside stroll or punting (boating) on the river reminiscent of scenes at Cambridge in England. Christchurch also has so many fine gardens it calls itself the Garden City.

However, its charming historic center was severely compromised by major earthquakes in September 2010 and February 2011. The city finally gave up its iconic cathedral, on Cathedral Square, concluding it had to be “deconstructed.”

Scores of other downtown buildings, also deemed unsafe, were slated for destruction. The public was temporarily denied access to a red zone in the city center, which was reopened in 2013 once rendered safe. Cathedral Square was in the zone; other tourist attractions were shut down for a time, as well. (Aftershocks, declining in intensity, continue to occur.)

Christchurch remains an attractive tourist destination, nevertheless. Visitors are aware of the losses — it’s unavoidable — but learn about and watch the progress on ambitious plans to reinvent the city center with fewer buildings, shorter buildings and more parkland. Gardens will be even more important.

Equally compelling, Christchurch’s people showed their resilience and creativity during adversity, most notably in a pop-up business district built with shipping containers near the red zone. Other up-from-nothing shops, eateries and entertainment sites appeared around town, too.

Christchurch is as far south as Toronto is north, but with considerably milder weather. It faces the Pacific Ocean, but its backdrop in other directions includes the Canterbury Plains, hills and/or mountain ranges. The varied terrain translates into access to diversions ranging from bungee jumping, mountain biking, skiing, whitewater rafting and windsurfing to golfing, whale watching and wine tasting. All are within a two-hour drive or less.

With so much choice, Christchurch has broad appeal across all personality types. Besides, for active sports enthusiasts, it can be especially appealing to head south to pursue any passion — like skiing or windsurfing — when the sport is not in season in North America.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Survey Christchurch from a helicopter — admiring its gorgeous setting while getting a new angle on its damaged and changing cityscape.
    On the ground, tour the city on a Segway.
  • Swim with dolphins at Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. Or head out farther to swim with dolphins and do some whale watching at Kaikoura northeast of Christchurch.
  • Go whitewater rafting in the Southern Alps on a day trip from Christchurch. Raft the rapids of the Rangitata Gorge, or choose a more sedate option.
  • See a rugby match at the AMI Stadium in town. Or make that cricket, if you find the game stimulating!
  • Go surfing in the Pacific at the colorfully named site, Taylor’s Mistake, on nearby Banks Peninsula.
  • See the city by bicycle. Mountain bikes are an alternative for out-of-city excursions. Other options: self-guided motorcycle tours or, even, chauffeured motorcycle tours.

Things to do for Centrics

  • If still relevant when you visit, book a sightseeing tour focused on the city’s red zone, meaning the central business district that was closed to the public after the 2010 and 2011 quakes.
    Or, if available when you visit, ride the hop-on, hop-off Christchurch tramway in order to eye developments in the city center at your own pace. Drivers provide commentary.
  • Consider the World Buskers Festival (January), with a big lineup of comedy, acrobatics and street performances, or the Festival of Flowers (February/March). Another choice is the Waipara Wine and Food Festival, in roughly the same time period as the flower fest.
  • View the city’s changing landscape from a punt, or flat-bottomed boat, that glides along the Avon River while the punter (the person who guides the boat) does all the work.
    Or, make your own way along the Avon River in a canoe or paddleboat.
  • Arrive in Christchurch aboard the TranzCoastal Train, which you can ride from Blenheim along the east coast of the South Island with the Kaikoura mountains west of the tracks. For part of the ride, the tracks are so close to the shore they seem to be nearly in the Pacific.
  • Take a harbor cruise and see dolphins at Akaroa, a historic French seaside settlement on the Banks Peninsula.
  • Create a self-guided wine tour to some of the several Waipara wineries, just north of Christchurch. As you sip, remember driving is on the left in New Zealand.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take in the glories of Christchurch’s 74-acre Botanic Gardens, which are bordered by the Avon River.
    Also, arrange to join one of the full- or half-day tours that take you to a selection of the city’s best private gardens.
  • Choose a unique eatery, such as the Curator’s House at the Botanic Gardens. If available when you arrive, another option is dinner aboard a restored tramcar, the Tramway Restaurant, as it travels the tram route.
  • Learn about the Maori way of life and see a cultural performance at the Ko Tane Living Maori Village at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Also, see New Zealand’s nocturnal and flightless kiwis at the reserve.
  • If operating by the time of your visit, take the Christchurch Gondola up Mount Cavendish for a 360-degree view of the city, the Banks Peninsula, the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps.
  • Allow plenty of time for shopping, dining and socializing in the new precinct called Project Restart. Here the businesses operate in a creatively arranged collection of shipping containers in the Cashel Mall area of Cashel Street on the outskirts of the badly damaged city center.
  • Ride an Antarctic vehicle, the Hagglund, at the International Antarctic Centre next to the airport. Also, view penguins in indoor or outdoor settings. Christchurch bills itself as the world’s gateway to Antarctica.

Additional Resources

For more information (including — at this writing — a section on what to do in the event of an earthquake), consult Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism at www.christchurchnz.com