Christchurch Travel Guide
Introduction to Christchurch
February 22, 2011, is a day residents of Christchurch would love to forget, as it was on this day six years ago when a devastating earthquake shook the South Island’s biggest city to its core. 185 people died, and more than $500 million NZD worth of damage was done. Two of its cathedrals were claimed in the intense shaking, adding insult to injury.
Six years of rebuilding has made this city habitable again, with most pieces of civil and tourist infrastructure fully operational at the writing of this article. The emotional wounds have yet to heal fully, though, so take care when bringing up the events of the past during your visit.
Cultural Attractions in Christchurch
Learn more about the history of the Christchurch area by exploring the Canterbury Museum. Within, you’ll find displays that show off rare Maori artifacts, uncover New Zealand’s role in exploring the Antarctic, and depict the pioneering days of Christchurch.
Highlights you won’t want to miss include Paua House, a structure which houses some of the best shells ever recovered from New Zealand’s shores, and the Quake City exhibition, which explores in depth the details surrounding the tragic tremors of 2010-2011.
Pay respects to those who passed away during that time by visiting the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial. Opened in February of 2017, this serene but sombre place is situated on both sides of the Avon River.
Along its polished concrete walls, the names of the 185 victims are engraved, with benches along its entire length to allow friends, family, and strangers to reflect and remember the dead in their own way.
Before this government-funded and constructed memorial was opened earlier this year, an informal monument known as the 185 Empty White Chairs served as the space where city residents and visitors could go to pay their respects.
Installed by local artist Peter Majendie on the site of the destroyed Oxford Terrace Church for what was originally intended to be up for a three week period; it has remained ever since, attracting visitors for its simple, yet poignant way of remembering those killed in the disaster.
It has since moved to the former site of St. Paul’s Church (which also succumbed to the quake); despite the opening of the official memorial, public demand has led Peter to move to make this installation permanent.
The location may move yet again due to the pending construction of the new Christchurch Stadium on the St. Paul’s site, so ask local authorities about the display’s current location shortly after your arrival.
Other Attractions in Christchurch
The same destructive forces which brought tragedy to Christchurch are also responsible for crafting the region’s magnificent landscapes. The Banks Peninsula is perhaps the best example, as this finger of land shaped by volcanic processes rises sharply from surrounding coastal lowlands.
A short drive from the centre of Christchurch, you’ll find picturesque villages along its coast, will contain hip coffee houses and art galleries. If you are looking to get more active, there are no shortage of hikes which will lead you up into the hills above the villages and the sea, and there are tours available that will take you out to swim with dolphins. Fancy yourself a foodie? Go on a tour of a cheese factory at Barry’s Bay – samples are available for tasting after your time here.
Looking for one of the best views of the entire region? Head up the Christchurch Gondola. With the peak elevation of the top station being situated at 1,640 feet above sea level, you’ll be privy to amazing views over the city, the Canterbury Plain, and the front ranges of the Southern Alps.
After getting all the amazing shots you can grab, end your time here at their cute cafe. Get a coffee and cake, and admire some of the best scenery this corner of New Zealand has to offer before heading back down to the base.
Finish off your stay by spending an hour or so walking through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Founded in 1863 with the planting of an oak tree to commemorate the marriage of Prince Albert to Princess Alexandra of Denmark, this green space is home to plenty of old trees, giving it an outstanding atmosphere.
The rose garden is a highlight worth checking out, as are the solariums, so take your time here if you are visiting on a beautiful day in Christchurch.