Over 150 years ago some hardy English settlers scrambled up the steep slopes of the
Nowadays few people arrive on sailing ships, most fly into . On a fine day they enjoy a panoramic view of the city, lying on the edge of the Canterbury Plains; bound to the east by the Pacific coastline, to the south by the hills of
Central Business District
The city's Anglican heritage is evident in
Taking a tram is a pleasant way to see the western CBD: see the Gothic stone buildings of the
Experience the spectrum of entertainment at the
Further south, you will discover an eclectic mix of restaurants, art galleries, bookshops, red light establishments, and a variety of churches, from the traditional to the more lively Pentecostals.
West of Cathedral Square
West of Hagley Park, Riccarton is best known for its large indoor shopping facility,
Hornby has cinemas and is the site of November's annual Agricultural and Pastoral Show where country comes to town for three days.
North of Cathedral Square
Merivale is a fashionable suburb with cafes, designer clothing and a growing reputation for antiques. To the northwest,
South of Cathedral Square
At Addington, the
East of Cathedral Square
The suburb of Linwood is a very old part of town, but sports fans will appreciate the rugby fields and cricket grounds of
The pick of the city's beach suburbs, Sumner is a favorite summer swimming spot with the landmark
Outside the City
Canterbury is renowned for its wines. A drive around Banks Peninsula to the early French settlement of
And in keeping with true Canterbury pioneering spirit, head towards the Southern Alps and check out the numerous ski fields and all the action adventure tours of the Southern skies, rivers and harbors.
Outwardly a genteel English town of meandering rivers and tasteful gardens, Christchurch's appearance belies its adventure-seeking heart. Conveniently nestled at the base of an outdoor adventure playground, you can travel from the beach to the ski fields in less than two hours! This city is a tourist's dream sojourn; cosmopolitan living, with easy access to spectacular harbors, rivers, hot springs, walkways and over a dozen ski fields in New Zealand's largest ski region.
Despite the surrounding hive of activity, the South Island's largest city exudes tranquility in the very best of English traditions, and is aptly referred to as the Garden City. From the expansive Hagley Park, with its tree-lined cycle paths and walkways, to the meticulous private gardens and endless flower borders, Christchurch is proud to be green.
Accommodation ranges from top-quality international hotels to bed and breakfasts (there are some real gems in Canterbury). Most places are located in the Central City, west of the CBD, or around 90 minutes drive from the city.
The Cathedral Square, dominated by the neo-Gothic Cathedral, is the heart of Christchurch, and a gathering place for locals and visitors. Two major hotel complexes, Millennium and the Heritage Christchurch, offer superior accommodation on the edge of Cathedral Square, and close to shopping malls and Hagley Park. The Square also houses the Christchurch and Canterbury Visitors Center which provides information about entertainment venues in the city. Heading along Worcester Street from the Square you will find 'Our City O-Tautahi', an exhibition and discussion space about Christchurch run by the City Council, on the corner of Oxford Terrace on the banks of the Avon River. Overlooking this historic river is Rydges Hotel. Here you can soak up the atmosphere of the string of trendy outdoor cafes and bars running the length of Oxford Terrace. Recent years have seen a myriad of new bars cafes and restaurants appear alongside the river, giving new life and sophistication to the city by day and night.
Over the bridge on Worcester Boulevard is the Arts Centre. These grand gothic buildings, once an institution of learning, now form the largest arts center in the country. Within its walls are numerous art galleries, craft studios, and unique shops, four cafes, restaurants and bars. Live entertainment ranges from performances by the Southern Ballet Dance Theatre to buskers on the street.
Near this cultural hotspot are the Canterbury Museum and the George, a superb location overlooking the park. For "Georgian-style" at a more moderate price, the Weston House is also located on Park Terrace. The Holiday Inn City Centre is close to the City Mall and the Spanish-colonial boutique shopping in New Regent Street.
Located right on Victoria Square, the Crowne Plaza Christchurch is close to Christchurch Casino and the Town Hall complex. The Christchurch Convention Centre forms part of the Christchurch Town Hall, which was designed by award-winning, local architects Warren & Mahoney. Heading south down Manchester Street is the Brooke Gifford Gallery and character hostel accommodation like the New Excelsior Backpackers.
West of the Cathedral Square
If you want to stay close to the airport, there is plenty of entertainment, including a flight of a different kind, in a hot air balloon cruising over the vast Canterbury Plains. The Antarctic Centre is opposite the Sudima Hotel Grand Chancellor; and one of New Zealand's premier golf courses, the Russley Golf Club, is near the Commodore Hotel.
Riccarton Avenue runs from the city center to the nearby suburb of Riccarton and divides the 200 hectare park into South Hagley (Sports Grounds) and North Hagley (Golf Course and Botanic Gardens). Riccarton is just a few minutes from the city centre, yet it takes you away from the inevitable noise and traffic. One of the best hotels is the peaceful Chateau on the Park. Riccarton is also only 10 minutes from the airport and is home to Christchurch's largest indoor shopping complex—Riccarton Mall.
North of Cathedral Square
Merivale is a stylish suburb with loads of trendy shopping and eateries. It offers a range of accommodation, within walking distance to the well-known Merivale Mall on Papanui Road. The Pavilions Hotel and Camelot Motor Lodge are just a few minute's walk from the Christchurch Casino on Victoria Street.
Outside the City
If you wish to escape the city and enjoy clear mountain air, head to Methven, only 90 minutes from Christchurch. Lying at the foot of Mt Hutt, it boasts a long snow season and offers some of the best skiing/snowboarding in the Southern Hemisphere. Lodges, B&Bs and holiday homes abound in this once-quiet rural town.
Also 90 minutes out from the city on the Pacific coastline is the town of Akaroa, settled by French in 1840 and still a true village Francais. The spectacular harbour views are worth the arduous trip along winding roads over the hills of the Banks Peninsula. Visit French Farm Winery or stay at a bed and breakfast nearby. For waterfront accommodation there is the Akaroa Criterion Motel or the Akaroa Village Inn & Conference Centre.
The Waipara Wine Region, 48 kilometers north of Christchurch hosts several wineries. A sample of accommodation in the area include the intimate, yet spacious, Winery Cottage and Bredon Downs, near the Waipara Springs Winery. Another option is Heritage Hanmer Springs, nestled in a valley surrounded by mountain ranges, with natural hot thermal pools.
Christchurch (Otautahi) is a paradox. Spreading outwards from the brown shoulders of the Port Hills, with the sea to one side and the Southern Alps in the distance, it is a typically colonial city of wisteria-decked verandahs and wide streets. Its many old stone buildings, tree-filled parks and meandering streams give Christchurch the air of an English town—just as the city's founders had intended. Indeed, the London-based Canterbury Association envisioned Christchurch as an English utopia in the South Pacific. They planned an orderly, tiered society (the first settlers had to brandish a reference from an English vicar attesting to their "sobriety and respectability"), with an aristocracy and the Church of England as its head, and an underclass of artisans and minions to serve them. They named their fledgling city after an Oxford college (Christ Church) and laid it out like an English city, complete with a Cathedral, University and a boys' school, Christ's College, modeled on Eton.
This orderly existence was a far cry from the ravages of the Maori civil war in the early 19th century. Maori people (chiefly the Ngai-tahu tribe) had occupied the Canterbury area for several centuries prior to the European arrival. However, by the time European settlement began in the 1840s, around 500 Maori remained in Canterbury. Their numbers had been decimated first by the tribal wars and then by raiding parties from the North Island. Most notably the army of Te Rauparahan, who ransacked Kaiapohia Pa (village), north of present-day Christchurch, and Onawe Pa, in Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula in 1832.
In Maori legend, Banks Peninsula is a pile of mountains heaped by Maui, upon a marauding giant. But when Captain James Cook sighted this curiously-shaped landform from the Endeavour on February 17, 1770, he famously mistook it for an island, which he named after the ship's botanist, Joseph Banks. Sealers and whalers frequented the deep harbours of the peninsula during the following 70 years, but it was not until 1839 that the first settlers began hacking a living out of its rough hill country. A French colony was established at Akaroa in 1840. But the British, sensing the impending loss of the South Island to French interests, sent a frigate into Akaroa Harbour to hoist the Union Jack over Banks Peninsula. When French settlers aboard the Compte-de-Paris arrived at Akaroa on August 19, 1840, they discovered that the British had pre-empted them by seven days. The British, however, granted them the right to stay in Akaroa where they flourished, creating a community which still retains its French flavor.
By 1848, preparations were underway for the arrival of the first four ships of the Canterbury Association at Lyttelton Harbour. Land in Canterbury had been purchased from local Maori, a site for Christchurch, with quarter-acre sections available at £25 each. This land was surveyed and a Bridal Path over the Port Hills was constructed.
Though the lofty ideals of the Association, and its talented, rather despotic, leader John Robert Godley, foresaw an Anglican promised land peopled by an English elite, they were pragmatic about the need for practical, self-reliant people in the new colony. Presbyterians had already been farming at Riccarton Bush for six years, Scottish shepherds were at work in the hills and many of the settlers arriving from Australia had cast off the class system, and in some cases, their chains!
The first of the four ships, the Charlotte Jane, sailed into Lyttelton Harbour on December 16, 1850, followed a few days later by the Sir George Seymour, the Randolph and the Cressy. The scattered buildings, muddy tracks and lone jett—where Pilgrim's Rock now stands—presented a less than romantic impression to the settlers. Further, having crossed the Bridal Path and descended to Ferrymead, where a ferry crossed the Heathcote River, the first settlers found little in the way of civilisation at Christchurch.
But in less than a year, Charlotte Godley was able to write of "tidy and weather-tight" houses, and "gardens and cultivation all the way along" Riccarton Road. Christchurch was becoming a town. Long streets intersected with the Avon River which was widened and straightened to enhance its beauty. The first Anglican church, where St Michael's and All Angels stands today, was opened in July 1851, and New Zealand's first railway, the Christchurch-Ferrymead line, began operations in 1863.
Settlers flooded into Canterbury and the economy boomed. The Estuary and the Heathcote and Avon rivers provided navigable waterways into the city. Between 1850 and 1867, 240 vessels plied the river trade. In 1860 alone, goods worth £700,000 entered the Estuary. Fuelled by produce, especially wool, from the vast farmlands of Canterbury, Christchurch grew into a prosperous commercial city. Municipal architects such as BW Mountfort and FW Petre set about designing a city built to last. Stout stone buildings—the Provincial Council Chambers, Canterbury University (now the Arts Centre), the Canterbury Museum, Christ Church Cathedral and St Luke the Evangelist—constructed of stone hewn from Hallswell Quarry, began to replace the wooden structures of the early town. Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens were also formed. Along the Avon, the Antigua Boatsheds were one of several commercial enterprises catering for the city's leisure time. The Christchurch Tramway Company began operations in 1893, providing public transport to the suburbs, including Sumner.
Throughout the 20th century Christchurch grew and thrived. The city's founders may have dreamed of a conservative community, but in recent decades Christchurch has matured into a relaxed, cosmopolitan city. A stroll through Cathedral Square or along Worcester Boulevard is confirmation of Christchurch's growing sophistication and diverse population of over 300,000 people.
One symbol of Englishness that will endure is the Avon. Originally christened The Shakespeare but re-named after the Scottish Avon, the river flows through the city, Christchurch's English heart.
It is not surprising that Christchurch is called the Garden City; one third of its public land is devoted to reserves and parks. It was Anglican ideals that instigated this lavish spread of greenery, yet New Zealand's third largest city remains firmly rooted in the Antipodean soil. The city lies on the coastal hem of the vast, patch-worked Canterbury Plains, and is tantalizingly close to the adventure playground of the Southern Alps. Christchurch is regarded as one of the friendliest cities in the world. It is an easy place to get to know, just ask the locals!
Tour One: Orientation
To get your bearings, take a ride on the City Loop Tramway, or hop aboard the free Shuttle bus which circumnavigates the central city—you can get on and off both services as often as the mood takes you. From the bus terminus in Cathedral Square, buses run to every corner of the city. For an overview of the city, ride the Christchurch Gondola to the summit of Mt Cavendish on the Port Hills. For a unique view of the city, try a hot air balloon ride with Aoraki Balloon Safaris or a flight in a classic DC10 aircraft with Pionair.
Explorer Tourline and Christchurch Sightseeing Tours offer introductory bus tours of the city and surrounding areas, while Canterbury Leisure Tours also offers excursions to Kaikoura for whale-watching, pelagic bird-watching, and swimming with seals; Mount Cook/aoraki, the alpine thermal resort of Hanmer Springs; and the historic French settlement of Akaroa. A railway journey not to be missed is the TranzAlpine Experience, taking you across the mountainous spine of the South Island to the rain forest's of the West Coast.
Tour Two: Bike or Hike
Pancake-flat, Christchurch lends itself to exploring by foot or by cycle. The Historic Christchurch Walk takes you through some of the city's magnificent architectural heritage, while the Writers' Walkway lets you indulge in a more literary ramble of such famous local scribes as Ngaio Marsh. Take a stroll down Worcester Street, past the Arts Centre, the Canterbury Museum and the striking Peacock Fountain, and end up at the Botanic Gardens. Several short central city walks (around 45 minutes) are outlined in a brochure available from the Visitor Information Centre.
If you prefer an organized walk, Walkaway Tours offer several walks around the city and further afield to Banks Peninsula and the Southern Alps. Do-it-yourself explorers will find a wealth of walking tracks on the Port Hills—Godley Head Walk, Major Hornbrook Track, the Bridle Path—and on Banks Peninsula, Southern Bays Walkway, and Banks Peninsula Track - or far beyond the city limits at Geraldine, Peel Forest and Woolshed Creek.
The best way to explore the Avon River is to hire a bike, pack a lunch and set off downstream along the riverbank. A good starting point is Hagley Park where the river bends around the Botanic Gardens and past the Antigua Boatsheds. Take a Punt in the Park while you are passing time, before beginning the long, gentle meander to the Estuary.
Tour Three: Over the Hill
It is worth hiring a car for an excursion to the east coast, and over the Port Hills, where you will be introduced to some of the landscapes and historic places, which have defined Christchurch, from the central city drive, to Sumner Beach along the southern shore of the Estuary. Sumner is worthy of a day trip by itself, but before you begin the ascent of the Port Hills, take a detour to the top of Scarborough Hill. From the cliff top, one of New Zealand's great vistas unfolds, across the clustered houses of Sumner to Southshore Spit and the long northern sweep of Pegasus Bay leading away toward the distant Seaward Kaikoura Range.
For a change of scene, take the Evans Pass Road to the summit of the Port Hills and down the other side to Lyttelton. Stop here for a view of Lyttelton Harbour at Windy Point then carry on down to the town, past the Timeball Station. Lyttelton is full of interesting historic buildings—outlined in the Historic Walk brochure available from the Information Centre—and is a colorful working port.
You can return to the city via the Road Tunnel or carry on along the edge of Lyttelton Harbour, past Corsair, Cass and Rapaki Bays, to Governors Bay then take Dyers Pass Road back up to the Crater Rim. From the Sign of the Kiwi either descend to the city through Cashmere or turn right along the Summit Road which will bring you, eventually, back to Sumner.
Tour Four: Proud to be Green
Along with the formal gardens of Mona Vale, Millbrook and the Botanic Gardens, there are literally thousands of private suburban gardens to be admired in Christchurch. Garden aficionados can pick up a Garden Drive leaflet from the Visitor Centre and tour the city's plots, including the city cemeteries. Private gardens and heritage homes can be visited with Christchurch Sightseeing Tours.
Tour Five: Maritime Escapades
Canterbury Sea Tours offers a boat tour of Lyttelton Harbour while Christchurch Wildlife Cruises will introduce you to the harbor's unique marine fauna. You can swim with dolphins in Akaroa Harbour or take a cruise out to the Akaroa Heads with Akaroa Harbour Cruises. Aspiring mariners can even learn the ropes with the Jack Tar Sailing Co.
Tour Six: Thrills & Spills
Adventure buffs are well catered-for in Christchurch with activities to suit every adrenaline-charged whim. You can jump out of an airplane, be hurled skyward via a bungee cord, or take a ride on the Waimak Alpine Jetboat. Staunch thrill-seekers can experience terror and exhilaration at the same time rafting the Grade 5 rapids of the Rangitata River with Rangitata Rafts. Anglers will find fish aplenty in the turquoise waters of the Rangitata, Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers. Whether you are looking for adventure, a cultural experience or simply a place to unwind, you will likely find something to your liking in Christchurch. As the locals promise, there is something "fresh each day."