As the winter laid it’s blanket on New Zealand and the weather turned cold in Auckland we decided that it was time to go for a journey to discover new places we haven’t been as well as revisit some of our old favorites like Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. So, in mid-June we packed up our life in Auckland and took off for a road-trip down south.
Fast forward a month on the road we arrived to Christchurch in early July. Just as expected, the city had slowly but surely come together since its earthquake back in 2011. The “New Christchurch” has so many faces – the central city is filled with leading-edge architecture alongside some of the most historic buildings in New Zealand. The outer suburbs, like Cashmere and Sumner are so scenic and blissful that everyday feels like a holiday.
Walking around in the new CBD, it would be difficult to believe that this stunning city hasn’t always been “THE” city to visit in New Zealand. And yet, before the earthquake, Christchurch was just another big city without any personality. As a matter a fact, one of our friends who has lived in Christchurch for over 20 years, told us that as sad as the earthquake was, it was well needed. She explained that before the rebuilt, Christchurch was an ugly city with lots of crime and not much to do or see.
Best things to do in Christchurch
Now Estralians didn’t get a chance to see Christchurch before the earthquake but we have been fortunate enough to call it our home for nearly a year in 2013-14, just under half a year in 2017 and a month in 2020. We’ve seen it in a stage where it was full of traffic cones and ruins and we’ve seen the result of an epic 9-year long rebuilt.
If you would like to visit the “Newest City” of New Zealand, then we welcome you to this blog post to read about our suggestions of all the best things to do in Christchurch.
One of the first places we revisited is the Canterbury Museum. This museum is a great place to learn about Christchurch and take a journey through the Canterbury region from the times of the first settlers – Maori to the arrival of the Europeans. There are also many beautiful displays and dioramas of all the native species of NZ birds, including those that are rare or extinct as well as displays of clothing, vessels, equipment and homes of the early settlers.
The Canterbury Museum isn’t interesting just from the inside but also from outside. This historic building is built from grey basalt and it speaks volumes. A truly astonishing architecture.
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Christchurch Botanic Gardens
Christchurch is known as the “Garden City” and for a good reason. Next to the Canterbury Museum is Christchurch Botanic Gardens. This garden is huge and has lots to discover.
Depending on what mood you are in, you may wander in the rose gardens, admire giant fern trees, look for the water features, take a native bush walk, play tennis or just chillax under an impressive oak tree.
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Visit the Quake City
The Quake City is a very informative place for anyone who would like to know more about the Canterbury earthquakes. It showcases lots of photos and videos taken before and after the earthquakes as well as stories from those who lived through the quakes and those who came to help.
We, Estralians are proud to say that back in 2014, we too had the opportunity to be a part of the rebuild. While Simon was putting in long hours on the appearance of the streets by removing graffiti, I was working as a TC in different earthquake rebuilt sites.
PS! If you are going to Christchurch for a holiday, then there is a high chance that you might experience a small earthquake yourself. When we used to live in Christchurch, we felt more than a few small ones as well as couple of bigger ones. (Luckily, nothing as terrifying as the one we experienced in The Philippines back in 2018.)
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Admire History and Art
Christchurch is a city that speaks in art. From historic buildings and modern art gallery’s to amazing murals and street art, this city gotcha covered. One of our favorite historic places is The Arts Centre -Te Matatiki Toi Ora. This category one heritage centre has galleries, a cinema, boutique retailers, artisan eateries, occasional events, stunning venues and much more. When there, make sure to also visit the Great Hall – this 130 year old hall has a stunning window that comprised of about 4,000 individual pieces of glass.
Not far from The Art Centre is Christchurch newest Art Gallery – Te Puna o Waiwhetū. This modern and artsy glass building is home to one of New Zealand’s most important public art collections.
If art gallery is not your cup of tea, then head to the colorful streets of Christchurch. Since the 2011 earthquake, Christchurch has earned a strong reputation as the home of street art.
There are colorful murals and interesting pieces of art as well as some old ruins all over the city 😉 Check out Watch This Space to see all the locations and artists.
The Bridge of Remembrance
Beside art, Christchurch also has many different monuments and statues. One of the most well know monument is The Bridge of Remembrance. This War Memorial honors the sacrifices made during the 1914–1918 Great War and it also serves as a memorial to those who participated in both World Wars and in subsequent conflicts in Borneo, Malaya, Korea and Vietnam.
The bridge is located in a beautiful area in the CBD – with the Avon River running underneath the bridge and a nice park next to it. PS! This is not a vehicle bridge.
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Check out Cardboard Cathedral and 185 Chairs Memorial
The artsy Cardboard Cathedral is an amazing temporary building in the CBD of Christchurch. As the original Christchurch Cathedral got damaged during the earthquake this temporary cathedral was constructed. Considering the fact that the construction only took 11 months and it’s built, among other materials, from cardboard tubes and shipping containers, it is not a bad looking cathedral.
Behind the Cardboard Cathedral, there is another earthquake memorial – The 185 Chair Memorial. This wonderful installation consists of 185 different kind of white chairs, each representing the individuality of those who died as a result of the Christchurch earthquake on 22nd February 2011.
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International Antarctic Centre
International Antarctic Centre is an amazing place to go and explore while in Christchurch. It has heaps of interesting experiences and displays to discover. For example, you can touch snow, see penguins and huskies and even experience an Antarctic storm in chilled -8C conditions.
It really is a fascinating place – just like one of their slogans says: It’s cold. It’s cool. It’s waiting to be discovered by you. The International Antarctic Centre is located next to Christchurch International Airport and is opened every day of the week.
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Orana Wildlife Park
One of the best wildlife parks we’ve been so far is the Orana Wildlife Park. It’s set on 80 hectares of land and is home to over 400 animals. The wildlife park literally provides the ultimate animal adventure as you can get up close with some of the most amazing animals. The experiences you could participate in vary from feeding magnificent giraffes and meet rhinos to more extreme activities like traveling through the Lion reserve 😛
When we visited this amazing park, we managed to get there on time to feed the giraffes and witness a bunch of people being peed on while they were driving through the Lion reserve in a cage 😁. As the park is huge, we recommend you take your time and allow yourself 4-5 hours there. Also, it’s highly recommended to have a look at the daily animal presentation schedule prior to your visit. This way you can be sure not to miss anything 😉
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Air Force Museum of New Zealand
Air Force Museum of New Zealand holds the national collection of the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). The collection includes objects covering the early days of New Zealand military aviation from prior to World War One to the present day. You’ll be able to see most of the planes from up close as well as read about the history of these plans. There are also a number of cockpits where you can actually sit in and experience flight simulator.
This museum is fairly large, covering 37 hectares of land with a total of approximately 5,000m2 of display area. If you get a bit tired you can take a break at their little onsite Cafe or browse around in the small gift shop.
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New Brighton Beach
One of the most well know beaches on the outskirts of Christchurch is New Brighton Beach. This beach has an impressive pier, a long stretch of sandy beach and it offers some of the best surfing in the area.
In case you don’t like to “starfish” at the beach and are not into surfing then go for a walk along the beach and discover interesting sculptures in South Brighton Beach Park and enjoy beautiful views over Sumner at the Southshore Spit Reserve.
If the weather is too cold for swimming but you still want to go for a dip in the water, or in some unexplained reason you don’t like to dip your feet to the sand then one of the newest additions to New Brighton Beach is the He Puna Taimoana. This seaside hot pools complex has five heated pools, a separate cooling plunge pool, sauna, steam room and a café.
On top of all these exciting options, New Brighton Pier also used to host the annual Guy Fawkes fireworks display. We have seen the show twice and they have delivered an amazing show both times. As this show is very popular, thousands of people gather on the beach to watch it so make sure to be there early to grab the best spot. PS! As of 2020, the Guy Fawkes fireworks has been replaced by the celebration of Matariki.
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An alternative option for New Brighton Beach is Sumner Beach. This sandy beach is located in the cute and vibrant seaside suburb of Sumner. The ~2 km long beach lies in between Shag Rock and Cave Rock and continues onto Scarborough beach.
The ~2 km long stretch has areas for kite surfers, great breaks for beginners and advanced surfers as well as calmer waters for swimming and wider sandy area for “starfishing”. The area also has a long 1.25 km promenade, heaps of restaurants and cafes as well as playground picnic areas and plenty of parking.
PS! If you would like to explore the Cave Rock, we recommend doing it during low tide.
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If it’s amazing views that you’re after, then a joyride with the Christchurch Gondola is a must. The gondola ride is 1000 meters long and it takes you to the summit of Mount Cavendish. The ride up as well as the summit offers stunning 360-degree views over Christchurch, Lyttelton Harbor, the magnificent Port Hills and Pacific Ocean. If you are lucky you can even see the impressive snow-capped Southern Alps.
Beside the views, the summit station also offers many walking tracks, has the Shop at the Top gift shop and a Red Rock Café to enjoy a glass of wine or grab a quick snack 😉 PS! If you don’t have a car then a shuttle bus runs from the city to the base.
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We understand that taking a Gondola ride just to see amazing views can be a bit expensive as well as scary for people who don’t like heights or enclosed spaces. So, an alternative option for the Gondola could be a hike, Sunday drive or bicycle ride to the Port Hills.
This range of hills are located on the outskirts of Christchurch. It was formed from the remains of the Lyttelton volcano, which erupted millions of years ago.
The Port Hills covers a lot of land and offers many different activities from climbing, hiking to mountain biking. The tracks differ from gentle strolls to more challenging treks between several summits ranging from 300 to 500 m above sea level.
A Sunday drive at the Port Hills is 110% Estralians most favourite thing to do in Christchurch. Our fav roads include Governors Bay Rd, Summit Rd, Sumner Rd and Godley Head Rd.
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Start Again! Don’t be afraid of #change as it will lead you to a #NewBeginning. And one day, just like the #CityOfChristchurch, you will #bloom again.