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10 Things to Do in Christchurch, New Zealand

Published 19 December 2016

Angela Griffin

Angela Griffin

The largest city in New Zealand’s South Island, and a popular arrival point for those flying in from Australia or Asia, Christchurch is a lovely, peaceful city. More than a little reminiscent of a quaint English town, albeit one with a few tower blocks around, the city’s vibrancy and remarkable recovery after the devastating earthquake of 2011 have shot it straight into Lonely Planet’s Best In Travel lists. If you’ve been pre-earthquake, you’ll remember a laid-back, attractive place with plenty going on; go post-earthquake and you’ll find an optimistic, fun-filled city bouncing back after one of the worst periods in its history. Here are 10 of our favourite things to do here:

Christchurch Botanic Garden

Take a stroll through Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Christchurch’s centrally-located botanical gardens, found right next to the pretty Avon River, are over 150 years old. Covering 21 hectares, they are filled with local and international plants, and a pleasant café too. In the summertime, the blooming pinks and reds of the Central Rose Garden are particularly attractive, as is the Heritage Rose Garden. There’s a Victorian Conservatory to house the tropical plants and cacti, while the delightful Water Garden is a peaceful place to while away a sunny afternoon: relax and enjoy.

Ride the TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine Train runs daily from Christchurch to Greymouth, a 139-mile journey that crosses the Canterbury Plains and winds between the towering peaks of the Southern Alps. It’s a beautiful route, with spectacular scenery at every turn, and in our opinion ranks up there with some of the world’s best train journeys. It’s possible to do the round trip in one (rather long) day, departing at 08:15 and returning at 18:31, or you could travel one-way and pick up your hire car in Greymouth, home to the intriguing Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, to continue exploring the South Island.

Hagley Park, Christchurch

Have a picnic in Hagley Park

The largest urban open space in New Zealand, Hagley Park has added a touch of green to Christchurch since 1855. Its lawns and paths are perfect for a picnic, although there are plenty of nearby cafes to try if you don’t want to bring your own lunch. Come in spring for the blooming flowers, summer for various concerts and arts events, autumn for the gorgeous foliage colours and winter for twinkling white snowscapes, or if you fancy building a snowman.

Maori mask

Learn more about Maori history at the Canterbury Museum

The Canterbury Museum, established in 1867, tells the story of Christchurch and Canterbury from prehistoric times to present day, with exhibits including nature, wildlife, art and Maori culture. Children will love the Egyptian mummy and the dinosaur skeletons, but learning more about the Maori people, including the excellent examples of Maori art and pounamu (greenstone) jewellery, are the stand-out highlights.

Christchurch Gondola

Take in the views from the Christchurch Gondola

Let the Christchurch Gondola whisk you 1000 metres to the summit of Mount Cavendish, 445 metres above sea level. From the top, you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the city and the Canterbury Plains below and, on a clear day, you can see the snow-capped peaks of the Southern Alps in the distance. Make a day of it with lunch at the mountaintop Red Rock Café or, for extra thrills, hire a mountain bike and cycle back down again.

Punting on the Avon, Christchurch

Go punting on the Avon

Punting on Christchurch’s Avon River is one of the city’s most relaxing pastimes, and is especially enjoyable if you have a bright, sunny day to play with and are in no hurry whatsoever. With the help of a guide, you’ll glide past the Botanic Gardens and various historic city centre buildings as you take in the leafy riverbanks and overhanging willow trees. Punting is possible all year round, even in winter, when blankets and hot water bottles are provided to ensure you are extra cosy.

185 Chairs, Christchurch Earthquake Memorial

Pay your respects at the Earthquake Memorial

On 22nd February 2011, a 6.3 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, six miles southeast of the city centre. The tremor brought down Christchurch’s Cathedral, which had stood since 1904, as well as many other city buildings. In tribute to the victims, an art installation consisting of 185 empty chairs, one for each of those who died that day, has been erected on the site of the former St Paul’s Trinity Pacific Presbyterian Church, which was also destroyed. Although not your usual tourist attraction, it’s a quiet place for peaceful reflection.

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch

Check out the Cardboard Cathedral

When Christchurch’s beloved cathedral was damaged in the 2011 earthquake, city dwellers were left without their main place of worship. So as a temporary fix, the Cardboard Cathedral was built out of, yup, you guessed it, cardboard. Designed by architect Shigeru Ban, the A-framed structure incorporates 86 cardboard tubes rising 21 metres skyward and connected by a triangular mosaic of stained glass. The effect is impressive, and well worth a look, even if cathedrals aren’t usually your bag.

Re:START mall, Christchurch

Shop in the Re:START mall

Another symbol of Christchurch’s recovery from the 2011 earthquake, Re:START was built to replace the mostly destroyed City Mall, much of which was later demolished. Like the Cardboard Cathedral, Re:START was also meant as a temporary solution, but such is its popularity that it still stands over five years later. The shops here are located in brightly-painted shipping containers and include quirky gift shops, cosy cafes and funky boutiques – well worth a browse even if you’re not buying anything.

Angela in an Antarctic storm

Experience a snowstorm at the International Antarctic Centre

Out by Christchurch International Airport, making it a good pre-flight option, the International Antarctic Centre is very popular city attraction, in no small part due to its adorable family of little blue penguins. Home to the New Zealand Antarctic Programme, the centre allows non-polar explorers a glimpse of life at the South Pole, and includes a chilly recreation of an Antarctic snowstorm, plus the opportunity to ride in a Hagglund, a type of all-terrain vehicle.


Explore Christchurch with Round the World Experts’ Best of the South Island Holiday.


You might also like:

How New Zealand’s South Island Stole My Heart

Journey Insider: Introducing the TranzAlpine Railway

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