Known as the “gateway to the south”, Christchurch is the largest city on New Zealand’s South Island. The city was severely damaged during the earthquakes of 2010-2012; approximately a third of the buildings in the city centre were demolished as they were damaged beyond repair and unsafe. Although the effects of the earthquakes are still very prominent around the city, restoration and reconstruction work is present and new businesses are opening quickly.
While James and I were in Christchurch, we were not very focused on seeing the tourist sights as our main intention was to buy a car. We didn’t spend any money on tourist attractions, choosing to visit the free sights. Here’s what we got up to whilst in the city.
The Botanic Gardens are really pretty and are a lovely way to spend a sunny afternoon. Christchurch is known as NZ’s Garden City and I believe it lives up to this name with the beautiful flowers and wildlife in this park. The river Avon winds through it, on which you’ll often see people kayaking or on rowboats (available to rent at the Antiga Boat Sheds near the hospital). We only saw a small part of the Gardens; you could spend a full day there exploring the numerous sections and greenhouses.
Free to everyone, the museum has many different exhibitions – there is something for people of all ages to enjoy. You can learn about Maori history, Canterbury’s heritage, Antactic discoveries, historic costumes, animal, reptile and bird galleries, Asian and Egyptian history and much more. James particularly enjoyed the Room of Mirrors (most likely an exhibit for children)…
The city centre of Christchurch is still mostly in a state of repair. Skeletons of damaged buildings stand next to brand spanking new businesses. Restoration and reconstruction in the city is progressing quickly, despite consistent roadworks, makeshift pavements and a backdrop of construction cranes, and there are some really beautiful parts to the city – you just have to look a little harder for them!
The Cathedral stands solemnly in the town centre. I have been told that there is still a lot of controversy over whether now-uninhabitable heritage buildings, such as the cathedral, should be completely demolished or attempted to be repaired.
We really loved the concept of the Re:Start Mall. The quakes caused the destruction and demolition of a number of buildings, many of which belonged to businesses. In order for the businesses to continue, they were temporarily set up in old shipping containers. The novelty stuck and these businesses continue to operate in this opportunist setting. There are clothes shops, tourism gift shops, eateries, banks, coffee shops – plus an area to sit and enjoy the sun. Containers are actually a really sensible idea for businesses – they are a decent size, can be securely locked, and can be decorated with advertisements easily. Perfect!
We felt that the people of Christchurch are making the most of the situation; the Re:Start Mall has become both a tourist hotspot, and an enjoyable place to grab lunch and sit in the sun.
Around the city, you notice numerous eye-catching, colourful pieces of street art by very talented artists. I’m not quite sure why or how street art has become such a phenomenon, however the pieces are truly striking in amongst the setting of rubble and construction. This has become an attraction in itself and you can do a tour of it with a specialised map.
As well as exploring the city, James and I also managed to spend some time on the Banks Peninsula. Fun fact: it was originally called Banks Island, as Captain James Cook mistook it for an island when he sighted New Zealand in 1769. Here’s what we got up to there.
A twenty minute drive from the city is a fairly easy hike which goes along the coast of Governor’s Bay. On your right you can see a beautiful view of the bay, and to your left are the stunning Canterbury Plains, the mountain range in the region. Note: Some of the following photos (including the next three) were taken by our friend Nicholas Chee.
A ten minute drive along the road from the Crater Rim Walkway car park leads you to a llama farm, suitably situated on Llama Lane. We think the house there is privately owned, but we approached the gate and the llamas who ran down the hill to see us!
Once we had bought our car, we took a trip to Akaroa for the day. The Banks Peninsula was settled by the French in 1840, and still retains much of its French heritage; many road names are in French and much of the architecture is distinctly European. We visited Akaroa on Saturday 10th October, when there was a French festival and market on!
It seems a pretty sleepy town, where not much happens without a group of tourists or city dwellers in search of the weekend sun. A place for holidaymakers, but still charming nonetheless.
We had overpriced fish and chips (mais sans le poisson pour moi), before strolling through the township and taking a look at the market stalls on the green, which were selling clothing, food and there was also live music. We sat by the sea and enjoyed the afternoon sun until it began to set.
By air – Christchurch has an International airport with flights arriving daily from around the world, as well as from other cities in New Zealand. We flew from Auckland with Jetstar for around $50 each (excluding baggage). I recommend using Skyscanner to get a cheap deal. To get to the city from the airport take the purple bus for $8 per person one way.
By car – Highway 1 runs into the from the north and south; from the west you could take Arthur’s Pass and join highway 73 via Darfield. Download the free Nokia Here app and download the maps for New Zealand – a free satnav that works offline.
Both kiwis and other fellow backpackers have been very interested to know what we thought of Christchurch. To be perfectly honest, I’m unsure. The mood in the city is a mix of determined positivity to rebuild the township and regret over the effects of the earthquake. So many precious buildings and connections to the city’s past were lost, and a number of residents have still not received compensation from their insurance company (apparently there was just so much damage that the Insurers simply couldn’t afford to pay out). I know I shouldn’t have, but I found myself comparing it to Auckland, which has heaps of bars, restaurants and where the vibe seems a lot more exciting – whereas in Christchurch there doesn’t really seem a lot to do. I found myself feeling very sorry for the city dwellers and regret for the effects of the quakes. This said, whilst much of the city is in a state of repair, the people of Christchurch do seem positive about the future of their city. I reckon in a few years time, it’ll be thriving – as it used to be.
Thanks for reading,
Note: All photos are my own unless otherwise stated. All opinions are my own, of course.