Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, and the third largest in the country. Its silent demeanor has changed drastically since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, but an enduring transitional nature has ignited this destination with a new kind of energy. Come along on a three-day journey of this city’s remarkable features.
Day 1: Getting your bearings
Central Christchurch is compact and reasonably flat, making it ideal for walking and cycling. As you immerse yourself in urban landscape, make sure to check out these main attractions.
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Cathedral Square is the historic, geographic and symbolic heart of Christchurch city. Traditionally, this was the main area for commercial operations, markets, community events and artistic showcases. The area suffered immensely during the earthquakes, and had to be cordoned off until 2013 out of safety concerns. Since then, however, the square has slowly been finding its place back into the community life and spirit.
Hagley Park, Canterbury Museum and the Botanic Gardens
Hagley Park is Christchurch’s largest public space, with a good 165 hectares (407 acres) to play with. A walk around this beautiful parkland will introduce you to the exquisite Botanic Gardens, the lovely Avon River, and the incredibly diverse Canterbury Museum. Holding true to the Christchurch’s affectionate nickname (the Garden City), Hagley Park is also a dynamic events venue, so it pays to be on the lookout for upcoming festivals and celebrations too.
The Cardboard Cathedral
Created out of a need to replace one of Christchurch’s most important landmarks temporarily, the Cardboard Cathedral has since become an essential component community life. Along with housing the Anglican parish after the Christ Church Cathedral was severely damaged, Shigeru Ban’s innovative cathedral also hosts a variety of social events. Architecture lovers will marvel at this sustainable structure, which relied on a cardboard tubes, shipping container facades, polycarbon roofing and stained glass windows in its construction.
Street art in the city
One of Christchurch’s most remarkable transformations recently was its adoption of street art in the aftermath of the earthquakes. Since 2011, the city has hosted its own street art festival, and many areas have been adorned with murals by artists from across the globe. Lonely Planet even named Christchurch as one of the world’s best street art destinations. A walk around the city will expose you to a number of treasures, including the open-space Brockworth Street Art Gallery.
Day 2: Going the distance
Of course, there’s more to Christchurch than the downtown area. Buses and shuttle services will take you across a number of must-visit places — here are some you should definitely opt for.
The Port Hills connect Christchurch to the port town of Lyttelton. The area is quite popular among locals and visitors alike who want to get active. There are a series of walking and mountain biking tracks to explore, including the Bridle Path, the Rapaki Track and Kennedy’s Bush Track. If you’re wanting something more mellow, take the Christchurch Gondola up to the top of the hills and soak up the marvelous views of the Banks Peninsula.
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a great place to learn about nature, wildlife and history. Catch a glimpse of the nocturnal kiwi bird, see more than 50 different animal species from New Zealand and abroad, and make sure to verse yourself in local tradition by spending some time at Ko Tane, an authentic Maori cultural tour that gives visitors full insight into life pre-European settlement.
If you’re heading along to Christchurch in the warmer months, Sumner is definitely a top contender. The beach is a favourite among locals, particularly because it feels like a getaway not too far away from home. Sumner Beach is especially popular among families, swimmers and surfers. An unusual volcanic formation, known as Cave Rock, is a prime attractions of the area.
The International Antarctic Centre
The International Antarctic Centre was created to showcase why Christchurch is considered to be the ‘gateway to Antarctica‘. A series of interesting experiences for all ages has made this one of the city’s absolute must-sees. Penguin encounters, husky zones, interactive exhibits and an amphibious vehicle (aka the hagglund) ride are some of the highlights in this Antarctic themed museum.
Day 3: Exploring the wider Canterbury region
The Canterbury region has a compelling backdrop that seamlessly contrasts coastlines with alpine ranges. A one or two hour drive from Christchurch will bring you up close and personal to these fantastic day trip destinations.
Akaroa & Banks Peninsula
Head along on an hour and half drive along the Banks Peninsula to discover the lovely settlement of Akaroa. The charming seaside town is lined with historic cottages and an interesting showcase of its French and British roots. Marine wildlife is one of the area’s prime attractions — visitors flock to Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula to try and catch a glimpse of penguin colonies as well as the rare Hector’s Dolphin.
A two and a half hour drive from Christchurch will lead you to the eco-tourist wonder that is Kaikoura. Dolphins, albatrosses, fur seals, and sperm whales are among the critters you might spot along Kaikoura’s rugged coastlines. The area is also a good spot for hiking: key routes include the Kaikoura Coast Track, the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway, and several mountain treks along Mt Fyffe.
The Waipara Valley
New Zealand is world famous for its viticulture, and the Waipara Valley is the cream of the crop in the Canterbury region. Located just north of Christchurch, the Waipara Valley home to a cluster of wineries and vineyards, which can be explored and experienced at one’s own leisurely pace. Get a map of the region’s wine trails online, or from a nearby i-Site, to make the most of this destination. Then, sample some wines, get a taste of the local cuisine at the various vineyard restaurants and relish the scenic surroundings.
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