What to do in Christchurch
Highlights of central Christchurch
Parts of the Christchurch CBD remain closed to the public, as demolitions proceed in the wake of the February 2012 earthquake. Shopping and dining in the central city is limited, and some of the city's heritage attractions are closed awaiting repair or possible demolition.
However, the city centre is still well worth a visit, and there remains much of the charm that has long attracted visitors.
Cathedral Square. The Square is currently closed to the public. However it is possible to get to the edge of the Square, and view Christchurch's Anglican gothic revival Cathedral which was badly damaged, and which awaits a final decision on its fate. The other prominent feature in the Square is 18-metre high Chalice, one of sculptor Neil Dawson’s great public artworks. The conical structure represents leaves of native trees of Canterbury, swirling in an eddy of the nor’west wind.
Canterbury Museum: Open. In the late 19th century, the museum traded moa bones found in Canterbury, for artefacts from around the world. Consequently the museum has a surprisingly good collection for a city of this size. There are exhibitions of New Zealand’s natural history, Maori art and culture, and early European settlement in Christchurch. More information at the Canterbury Museum website. Anyone with an interest in Antarctic exploration should visit Canterbury Museum's Antarctic Galleries, which house artefacts from the Scott, Amundsen and Shackleton expeditions of the early 20th century; also vehicles used in the first ever successful trans-Antarctic expedition (Fuchs-Hillary, 1958), and a fully reconstructed scientific station returned from the ice.
Re:Start Mall. CBD shopping is very limited at present, and is currently centred around the Re:Start mall, with a number shops housed within a quirky cluster of colourfully painted shipping containers, creating a surprisingly congenial retail space.
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are 30 hectares (74 acres) within a picturesque loop of the Avon River. The first plantings were in 1863, only 13 years after the founding of Christchurch. There is now an extensive collection of specimen trees from around the world. There are also large beds of annual and perennial flowering plants, and a number of conservatories. There is also a large New Zealand native tree and shrub section.
Encircling the Botanical Gardens on the west side of the city centre is Hagley Park, Christchurch city's largest park. Ringed by trees (mostly oaks), with sports fields, ponds, a nine-hole golf course and a network of paths, this is where you can find wide open spaces within minutes walking of the city centre.
You can go Punting on the Avon river from a couple of locations near the city centre. Alternatively, if you prefer to propel yourself, you can hire a kayak or rowboat from the Antigua Boatsheds, and paddle through the Botanical Gardens.
Christ's College, next to the Canterbury Museum, is one of the oldest schools in New Zealand, and has a number of historic buildings attractively arranged around a large quadrangle in the tradition of old public schools in Britain. You can peer through the gates at the quadrangle, but to go further you need to take a tour, which run three times per week in the summer months.
Victoria Square. Currently closed to the public. The square, with its early 20th century statues of Queen Victoria and explorer James Cook, is a reminder of the very strong sentiment still attached to Britain at that time. Near the Avon River is a pou, a tall Maori carving with themes of Maori mythology and the relationship of the local Ngai Tahu tribe with the land and resources in Canterbury.
The Christchurch Art Gallery.. Currently closed to the public. This striking glass-fronted building is scheduled to reopen in mid-2013. The galleries have permanent collections of Canterbury and New Zealand art, and seasonal exhibitions, many from abroad.
Christchurch Arts Centre. Currently closed to the public, although you may walk around its perimeter. When the University of Canterbury moved to the suburbs in the 1960s, central Christchurch lost a vibrant link to the academic world. In compensation, the city gained the university’s vacant collection of Gothic revival stone buildings, quadrangles and cloisters, which now house the city’s Arts Centre. The workshops, galleries, shops, cafes, cinemas and weekend market are a popular place to wander around. More information at the Christchurch Arts Centre website. A must for anyone with an interest in science is Rutherford’s Den, where ‘the father of nuclear physics’, Ernest Rutherford, carried out his first ever experiments as a post-graduate student. Click here for more information on Ernest Rutherford and Rutherford’s Den. An entertaining way to spend an evening is to book on to the Arts Centre's Ghost Walk ... if you dare...
Other Christchurch attractions
The International Antarctic Centre is the world's largest public attraction dedicated to Antarctica. Highlights include the "Snow and Ice Experience" (put on a jacket, step on to the snow and experience the chill of an Antarctic wind); a fun ride on a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle; a stunning 14-minute audio-visual; and galleries of Antarctic natural history, marine life, polar exploration and modern-day Antarctic bases. The Little Blue Penguin enclosure allows you to get up close to these engaging creatures, and the underwater viewing is a delight at feeding time. The International Antarctic Centre is located within easy walking distance of Christchurch International Airport, so can be easily combined with your flight out of the city.
Riccarton Bush is the largest surviving remnant of the forests that once covered the Canterbury Plains in pre-human times, and it is situated right in Christchurch, only ten minutes driving (or an easy bus ride or 40 minute walk) from the city centre. As you walk among the tall kahikatea trees, only the distant hum of traffic tells you that you are in a large city. With its diverse native trees, climbers and ferns, it is recommended for anyone with a botanical interest. A new predator-proof fence means that you may see and hear various native birds including the fantail, grey warbler, bellbird and keruru (NZ's large native pigeon). A visit to Riccarton Bush (and Deans Cottage, below) is part of The Inside Story's full-day Christchurch tour.
Right next to Riccarton Bush is Deans Cottage, the oldest remaining building on the Canterbury Plains. It was constructed by the pioneering Deans brothers from Scotland in 1843, seven years before Christchurch itself was founded. The cottage and the much larger Riccarton House (adjacent) are in a lovely park-like setting by the Avon River (here a small stream), dominated by large exotic trees planted by the Deans over 150 years ago.
If you are an aviation lover, visit the Air Force Museum at Wigram. There are 28 historical military aircraft (World War II and post-war), plus hands-on displays, under the one roof.
There are two beach suburbs easily accessible, including by city bus. Sumner is picturesque, being enclosed by hills and cliffs, and has a village feel with several good cafes. New Brighton has a wide stretch of sand, is good for swimming at all tides, and has a long pier.
Walks near Christchurch
The best walks in the immediate vicinity of Christchurch are in the once-volcanic Port Hills on the southern edge of the city. A network of tracks weave around rock outcrops, through patches of native forest and scrub, and across tussock tops. The full traverse is known as the Crater Rim Walkway - since it often meets the Summit Road (and other roads), it is easy to just walk sections of this track at a time. There are excellent views over the city and Canterbury Plains to the mountains, and also across Lyttelton Harbour.
Note that some tracks in the Port Hills are closed due to earthquake damage or rockfall risk.
The best access to currently open tracks by city bus is to the hill suburb of Cashmere, and then taking a track through Victoria Park to the Summit Road.
You will find some walking brochures at the Christchurch City Council in Worcester Boulevard, or in some city libraries. Alternatively there are several excellent walking guides by Mark Pickering, covering the Christchurch and Canterbury region – these booklets are available at most good Christchurch bookshops.
If you want to do some serious hiking (or 'tramping' as we call it in New Zealand), then get advice, maps and brochures from the Christchurch office of the Department of Conservation (DOC). There's also plenty of information on the Department of Conservation's website.