This things to do in Christchurch post was originally posted in September 2017 and was updated after my recent trip the city.
Upon entering the centre of the city for the first time since the 2010 / 2011 earthquakes, it became obvious what a long shadow those natural disasters still cast over Christchurch. This city is still in ruins. Men in orange vests and hard hats greatly outnumber camera wielding tourists. It’s a bit of a mess, but is it still worth visiting? I’ll attempt to guide you in that decision while outlining the best things to do in Christchurch.
The city centre
Search for old buildings
Christchurch was founded way back in 1848 by English settlers, who commissioned grand buildings such as the Christchurch Cathedral and the Canterbury Museum. A lot of these heritage buildings were either damaged or destroyed in the earthquakes, but there are still plenty to seek out. Cathedral Square used to be the focal point for central Christchurch but it’s in ruins at the moment. The cathedral is still interesting to see though, and there are plenty of other old buildings scattered around, including the Isaac Theatre Royal and the Christchurch Art Centre.
Walk by the Avon River
A walk along the banks of the Avon River is one of the best things to do in Christchurch on a sunny day. You can walk through part of the leafy Botanic Gardens, past the Antigua Boat Sheds and cross historic bridges, including the Bridge of Remembrance. There are some detours due to construction but it’s one area in central Christchurch where you’re not constantly reminded that there’s a massive rebuild going on around you. You can also go punting or kayaking on the Avon.
Ride the Trams
One of the coolest things about Christchurch is the fact that trams still rattle their way through the central city. You won’t find this anywhere else in New Zealand and it makes for an interesting way to get around. It’s a hop on hop off service meaning you can explore Central Christchurch at your own pace and in some style! The trams make 16 stops around the centre city and you never have to wait too long before another one comes along.
New Regent Street
This pedestrian mall in the heart of Christchurch was constructed in the 1930s and is one of the city’s coolest historical spots. You won’t be hit by a car while walking between the brightly painted shop houses, but watch out for trams! There are lots of cafes and restaurants on New Regent Street — it’s probably the nicest place in the city centre to hang out at.
Christchurch has been paraded as one of the best places to see street art in New Zealand, but in my opinion it’s nowhere near as good as Dunedin. There are some cool murals to seek out though. They are mostly found in the inner city and there’s a bit of a quantity over quality situation going on. Due to the centre of the city essentially being one big construction site, murals are often painted over, hidden or otherwise “decommissioned”. You’ll pass by heaps of street art murals while walking around central Christchurch, none jumped out as being unmissable though so you probably don’t need to see them all.
If you want to learn more about animals, Japanese tattoo art, Antarctica and early New Zealand history (and lots more), you’ll be satisfied with a trip to Canterbury Museum. My favourite part of the museum would have to be “Christchurch Street”, a recreation of a street scene from the days of the early settlers. Canterbury Museum is housed in a huge, 135 year old building — there’s also a nice fountain outside and the Botanic Gardens / Avon River walk are nearby.
The Restart Mall
The Restart Mall no longer exists, so there’s probably no point reading the next couple of sentences. It was a cool place though!
Dozens of colourful shipping containers combine to make one of New Zealand’s most unique shopping malls. Even if you’re a minimalist who laments our society’s consumerist obsessions, it’s worth stopping at the Restart Mall for lunch. There are several food trucks selling delicious (and cheap) meals, drinks and snacks. I tried a green curry and a kebab — both were really good.
There are lots of vacant lots in downtown Christchurch, and some of them have been turned into artistic hang out spots. I stumbled across The Commons when walking around the city. There are lots of places to sit, some quirky artworks, food trucks and even a portable grandstand. It’s good to see people using these derelict spaces creatively.
The Cardboard Cathedral
This hastily thrown together replacement for the earthquake damaged Christchurch Cathedral isn’t entirely made of cardboard — they also used steel and wood as well as cardboard tubes. It looks interesting from the outside, with its large stain glass windows, but it was closed when I visited.
Things to Do in Christchurch: The Coastline and Suburbs
Orana Wildlife Park
If you’re looking for the best things to do in Christchurch with kids look no further than Orana Wildlife Park. There are heaps of exotic animals to look at and you’ll also get to feed a giraffe, which is a lot of fun. We got up close to a kiwi, a few gorillas and lots of other animals. It’s probably best to go in the morning to avoid the heat (and see the animals when they’re a bit livelier.
Taylor’s Mistake Beach
This little slice of volcanic sand marks one end of (probably) Christchurch’s best coastal hike. The beach is worth a visit even if you’re not hiking — it’s far prettier than nearby Sumner Beach and the drive there offers up some great views. Check out this post for more awesome New Zealand beaches!
Hike to Godley Head
The hike from Taylor’s Mistake to Godley Head (you can also do it in the opposite direction) is, in my opinion, the best thing to do in Christchurch. Coastal hikes don’t get much better than this. There are heaps of viewpoints overlooking different parts of Banks Peninsula and there are also some WW2 relics to explore. The hike takes a couple of hours and is fairly straight forward. Another good hike is from the gondola car park over the hill to Lyttleton — I haven’t done it yet but I’ve heard good things.
FURTHER READING: Check out my post about the Taylor’s Mistake to Godley Head hike on my other blog!
The Christchurch Gondola
For a great view over Christchurch and Banks without having to walk for hours take a trip on the Christchurch Gondola. The views from the top are great and there are some tracks up there to explore. Or you could just relax in the cafe and appreciate the views! The Bridle Path, one of Christchurch’s most iconic hiking tracks, is close by and you can save some time by taking the gondola up and then walking down to Lyttelton.
Sumner is a seaside suburb with a decent beach on its doorstep. It’s a popular place for locals on sunny weekend afternoons. There are some nice places to eat and drink, making it a good option for a bit of beach side relaxation.
New Brighton Beach and Pier
New Brighton Beach and Pier is another coastal Christchurch highlight. The massive pier extends out into the ocean and provides some nice views back towards the port hills and also down the beach which stretches for miles in either direction. There are some nice bars and restaurants in the small village across the road from the pier.
Riccarton House and Bush
If you need some time away from the building site vibe of Central Christchurch a trip out to Riccarton is a good idea. The main attraction is the mall (surely the biggest in the South Island), but nearby sits Christchurch’s last remaining tract of native forest. It’s a nice place to walk around (it only takes around 20 minutes) and you can also check out Riccarton House, one of Christchurch’s coolest old buildings. You can take a tour of the house or just check out the ground floor and have a coffee or something to eat.
A day trip to Akaroa
If you only have a couple of days in Christchurch and aren’t planning on visiting Akaroa, you should reconsider! It’s only an hour and a half away and is one of the most picturesque small towns in New Zealand. There are heaps of things to do in Akaroa, including harbour cruises (where you’ll likely see Hector’s Dolphins), and drives around the scenic hills. There are lots of colonial era buildings in Akaroa and some excellent cafes and restaurants (it was founded by the French after all). It’s best to spend a couple of days there (like we did recently), but if you’re short on time a day trip will do.
FURTHER READING: A Romantic Weekend in Akaroa
So, is Christchurch worth visiting after the earthquakes?
Yes and no. I really enjoyed my recent trip to Christchurch. There’s more than enough to keep most busy for a few days, but it really depends on how long you’re planning on being in New Zealand. If you only have a couple of weeks and you want to see the highlights you can definitely skip it (but maybe do the Taylor’s Mistake to Godley Head hike if you’re passing through). As far as South Island cities go, Dunedin is much more interesting, so if you’re torn between the two it really is an easy choice.
Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Which places are you most excited to visit? Let me know in the comments below!
Disclaimer: I was hosted by Christchurch Attractions (Christchurch Gondola and the City Tram Tour) and Orana Wildlife Park during my recent visit to Christchurch. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
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