Christchurch / Ōtautahi is a historic city in a state of flux and rebirth. It has some lovely heritage buildings, and a burst of new developments, post-quake. Set on the Avon River, the city has scenic surrounds, from the green spaces within the city, to the beautiful landscape of the Port Hills and beyond.
“The Garden City” is famed for its parks and gardens, so spend some time relaxing with a gentle stroll through the wide open space and woodlands of Hagley Park. You can appreciate the colours of the seasons with a leisurely punt along the meandering Avon River, and experience the beauty and tranquillity of the Botanic Gardens.
For a dramatic overview of the surrounds, try a scenic gondola ride, from Heathcote Valley to the top of Mt Cavendish, with vistas of Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains and Banks Peninsula.
Christchurch was devastated by the two earthquakes of September 2010 and February 2011, and as well as the tragic loss of lives, many historical buildings, including the Christchurch Cathedral and the Arts Centre precinct, were lost or badly damaged. Now the city centre has reopened, and rebuilding is under way. Try mixing a little of the old with the new.
Post-quake Christchurch is an exciting place to visit. The rejuvenation has begun, with previously cordoned areas like the Cathedral Square now accessible, so you get to experience first-hand some of the cultural and commercial Renaissance happening all over the city and witness the brave, determined and creative spirit of the Cantabrian people.
Outside Isaac Theatre Royal. Photo credit: christchurchnz.com
The beautiful Isaac Theatre Royal is the grand old lady of Christchurch theatre, and home to many touring arts companies and shows. First opened in 1908, the precious building was lovingly restored after the quakes, with a huge restoration of the iconic ceiling dome and its ornate paintings. The theatre reopened in late 2014, and now is a wonderful venue to catch everything from comedy, to ballet, circus and live music.
Transitional ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral exterior at night. Photo credit: christchurchnz.com
In late June 2013, the Cathedral Square was reopened to the public, with the remains of the Christchurch Cathedral still standing, fenced off. There has been much debate as to its future. In the meantime, the Anglican Church commissioned a Transitional ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral, designed by Shigeru Ban. This unique and innovative building is now fully functional and a popular place to visit, situated on the site of the former St John’s Latimer Square Church. The triangular window design includes images from Christchurch Cathedral’s original rose window.
The Commons is located at the corner of Kilmore and Durham Streets, central Christchurch, on what used to be the site of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which was demolished in 2012. Now the site is an evolving community space, with a food collective and other post-quake initiatives.
Big plans are afoot for many key areas of the city. Along the Avon riverfront and throughout the city, new “hubs” have evolved, such as the the Re-START Container Mall in Cashel Street and the cultural precinct of SoMo (south of Moorhouse Ave) in Addington. SoMo is where you’ll find great coffee, food and theatre.
For boutique shopping, restaurants and bars, head east to the Tannery, on the Heathcote River in Woolston. This old industrial precinct has been reinvented with an eclectic mix of shops and places to eat and drink. The graceful building has ornate detailing, with tiled floors, wrought iron and a historic feel, befitting its past as a Victorian Tannery. You’ll find craft beer and thin based pizzas at Cassels & Sons Brewery, or for good food and a very extensive wine list, try Gustav’s Kitchen and Wine Bar, with its beautiful William Morris wallpaper, dark tiles and wood. The Tannery Atrium is open late on Thursdays.
Eat and drink and be merry in Christchurch
For fresh local produce to sample, and take back to the bach, there’s the Christchurch Farmers’ Market every Saturday at Riccarton House and Grounds, 16 Kahu Road.
Photo credit: C1 Espresso
For coffee, drinks generally, and an all-day breakfast menu, try C1 Espresso, on the corner of Tuam and HIgh Street. It has cool decor, and sliders delivered by pneumatic chute…
Photo credit: King of Snake
King of Snake offers fresh, zingy Southeast Asian flavours and atmosphere in a popular and darkly glamorous bar and restaurant, at 145 Victoria Street
Tequila Mockingbird is a Latin American bar and restaurant, with shared plates, open late, at 98 Victoria Street.
Try Orleans, a Cajun and Creole restaurant and bar, for Southern style food - sit on bar stools and tuck into fried chicken or po’boys, with live music sometimes too. It’s at 89 Lichfield St, Christchurch Central.
Kinji Japanese Restaurant, at 279b Greers Road, does wonderful sashimi and sushi.
The food at Thai Container gets excellent reviews. It’s a cheap and cheerful set up, in a caravan and painted container, phone in your order for takeaways, or eat there at shared outdoor benches, on Bealey Ave.
Certain areas are particularly good for coffee, food and drinks - have a wander around Addington or Lyttelton and you’re bound to find somewhere pleasing. For interesting and very reasonably priced Moroccan food, try Mosaic by Simo, a deli and restaurant at 300 Lincoln Rd, in Addington.
Pomeroys Old Brewery Inn, a local institution, is great for craft brewed beer and a Sunday roast. It has the warm atmosphere of an old English pub, and with 31 brew taps it’s a pretty outstanding place to try local craft beer. The pub is housed in the historic Wards Brewery, a heritage site, with the new Stainless Steel Brewery tucked behind, making their inhouse Four Aves and Beer Baroness Ales.
If you like burgers, beer and motorbikes, head to Smash Palace, now at 172 HIgh Street. You can sit in the middle of the quake zone, drink Canterbury beers and wines and appreciate the new Christchurch springing up, along with a bit of brilliant attitude. Irish Jam night is every Monday, and Bike Night is on Thursdays.
Photo credit: Smash Palace
Music and entertainment
The Court Theatre is one of NZ’s leading theatre companies, now located in Bernard Street, off the Hagley Park end of Lincoln Road in Addington. The Court Theatre is host to everything from Shakespeare, to edgy, modern works and children’s shows. Also in Addington, The Dux Live is a purpose built, music venue. Head along on Thursday nights for live music. Alternatively, Astro Lounge, at 23 Worcester Boulevard, has live music on Thursday to Sunday afternoons. You can check out what bands are playing at various Christchurch venues, on Under the Radar. The Christchurch Symphony Orchestra puts on a rich and varied programme of performances, at a range of venues. For films, Alice Cinemateque has been voted best independent cinema of NZ 2015. Set in the Old High Street Post Office, Alice’s Egyptian Picture Theatre is a deliciously, red velvety art house cinema.
Looking up at Til St art Photo credit; christchurchnz.com
Art and other attractions
A flourishing street art scene emerged in post-quake Christchurch, helping to uplift the community spirit during the recovery. Walk around the city and you will find installations, happenings, graffiti, book exchanges, pop-up exhibitions and performances.
The Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Waiwhetu, has a world-class programme of international and NZ art exhibitions. The gallery is currently closed for repairs, but the exhibitions continue at a variety of Outer Spaces, until the gallery reopens for summer 2015/16.
Canterbury Museum Photo credit: christchurchnz.com
Visit the Canterbury Museum, for a greater understanding of the history of Waitaha - Canterbury, from its first settlement by Maori tribes, through the period of European colonisation, to modern times. The seven key themes of the museum’s collections are Antarctica, Peoples of Waitaha/Canterbury, Iwi Tawhito: Aotearoa before European contact, Design in NZ, Our Land and Animals, Windows on the World, and Collector’s Collection. The museum’s lovely stone building was first opened in 1870, and today it is full of taonga - treasures of cultural and natural history.
East of the city, in Heathcote, Ferrymead Heritage Park includes an early 1900s Edwardian township, with a variety of exhibits and museums. There are steam train rides on the first Sunday of the month, and tram rides on all other days.
If you fancy penguins, a Hagglund ride and a bit of snow and ice, head to The International Antarctic Centre at the airport. It uses special technological effects to entertain and inform about Antarctic issues.
For something warmer, you could hire a bike and head out to explore the many, great mountain bike trails in the Port Hills.
Cyclists taking in the view from the Port Hills Photo credit: christchurchnz.com
Where to stay
What to do
- Spend an afternoon at Hagley Park - 150ha of inner-city parkland
- Learn about the history of Waitaha/Canterbury at the Canterbury Museum
- Eat, drink and shop a little at The Tannery
- Visit new SoMo precinct in Addington - for cafes and theatres
- Visit the Re-START Container Mall - in Cashel Street
- See the Transitional ‘Cardboard’ Cathedral in Latimer Square.
- Go punting on the Avon
- Try hot air ballooning over the Canterbury Plains
- Take a ride in the Christchurch gondola