Things to Do in Christchurch
The Banks Peninsula is a side of Christchurch that too many visitors miss out on. This mostly-undeveloped, circular peninsula juts out from Christchurch like a swollen thumb, yet despite its obvious prominence on a map, a large majority of Christchurch visitors make the mistake of never exploring the area.
The lone exception is the town of Akaroa which is one of the most popular day trips from Christchurch. This charming outpost of French heritage is located a 90-minute drive from Christchurch, and the boutique shops and rose-lined cottages gaze out towards a protected harbor. The harbor itself is the flooded caldera of the volcano which formed the peninsula, and the calm waters are a popular place for boating and swimming with dolphins. Along the drive to Akaroa you weave through pastures and farmlands, and a handful of wineries and gourmet food stops are sprinkled along the highway.
Pegasus Bay Winery is a family-owned and run winery and restaurant located in the Waipara Valley, north of Christchurch. Pegasus Bay wines are made with estate-grown fruit from the Donaldson family’s vineyards.
The Donaldsons have been growing grapes and making wine since the early 1970s. A husband, wife and three sons team, the family uses natural methods, and the winery produces a sauvignon, Reisling, chardonnay, pinot noir, merlot and cabernet. The winery is also known for half a dozen reserve wines.
If you've ever seen a picture of Lake Pukaki, you can be forgiven for thinking there’s no way that this lake could possibly be real. After all, the color of the water—a shining, rich, deep shade of turquoise—has the same captivating and alluring effect as a pair of misty-blue eyes. The hue of the water seems to match the sky, and in addition to being surrounded by open plains, the towering spire of Aoraki/Mount Cook stands watch over most of the shoreline. Isolated, empty, and incomparably scenic, there are few places on the South Island of New Zealand which can inspire nearly as much awe.
Running north-to-south and glacially-fed, this narrow lake parallels the road which leads to Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. It’s the glacial silt from the Southern Alps which gives the lake its trademark hue, and on the clearest of days when the turquoise waters are backed by snowcapped Mount Cook, it’s a panorama that easily has the ability to drain your entire camera battery.
Hop aboard a vintage tram for a leisurely tour of central Christchurch. It’s the most relaxing, fun way to get your bearings and see the city's attractions and landmarks.The trams leave from Cathedral Square in downtown Christchurch. The route then crosses Worcester Bridge over the River Avon, loops past the Botanic Gardens and travels along past the shops of Armagh Street. All trams have an informative on-board commentary. Why not combine sightseeing on wheels with your evening meal, and take an evening ride on the Restaurant Tram? The colonial-style tram has every comfort, and the menu features local lamb and seafood.
The turquoise-colored lake set among a mountain backdrop will wow you by day, but when the sun sets, the stars come out and give you another reason to love Lake Tekapo.
Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it a fabulous spot for stargazing, so be sure to save time to visit the Mount John Observatory. Residents work to reduce light pollution and the astronomical rewards are clear. The high-powered telescopes can provide a view of the sky like you’ve never seen before. If the timing is right, Mount John Observatory is also a great place to see the Southern Lights, the southern hemisphere’s version of the Northern Lights, which is best seen from April through September. Tekapo Springs can warm you up after a chilly night of stargazing. With hot pools and spas, it’s all about relaxing, unless you are traveling with kids. Then it’s about the water slide, skating rink, tube park or a combination of them all.
Christchurch is known as the garden city, an Anglophile settlement of well-tended gardens and tree-lined streets. Pride of place in this flower-loving town goes to the Botanic Gardens, attractively set within a loop of the winding Avon River. The gardens are planted with thousands of exotic and indigenous plants, with particular note going to its lime tree walkways, inviting lawns and seasonal flowers such as magnolias, azaleas and roses.
A number of conservatories protect a range of species, including desert plants, tropical blooms, begonias, alpine plants and orchids. The gardens are an ideal location for a picnic, or to find a relaxing spot for an hour or two, away from the bustle of the city.
Praised as one of the most incredibly scenic train journeys in the world, the TranzAlpine chugs its way from Christchurch to Greymouth, via Arthur's Pass, daily.
Making its way from one coast of New Zealand to the other, from the Pacific Ocean to the Tasman Sea, the train crosses the broad expanse of the Canterbury Plains to climb the Alps via a series of four viaducts and 19 tunnels known as the Staircase.
The train journey reveals a stunning sequence of valleys, mountains and Southern Alps, including river valleys covered in beech rainforests, sky-mirrored lakes and snowcapped peaks.
The train carriages include group and individual seating, plus there’s an open-air carriage for top-quality photo opportunities. Food and beverages are available on board.
Torlesse Wines is one of the older wineries in the Waipara Valley and owns the title of being the first winery in Waipara to bottle with a screw cap instead of a cork. It started with one wine, and now all of Torlesse Wines have screw caps.
The winery produces a dozen wines including sauvignon blanc, Gewurztraminer, rose and a cabernet. The Torlesse Cellar Door is open for tastings seven days a week, from 11am to 5pm.
Started in the early 1980s, the Waipara Springs Winery can brag about having some of the oldest vines in the Waipara Valley. Across more than 64 acres (26 hectares), the site grows Riesling, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, pinot noir and merlot vines.
Wine is produced from estate-grown fruit and is available to taste at the winery at the Southern Boundary Wines Cellar Door. Reservations are required for groups of eight or more. The winery also has a popular café that has a seasonal lunch menu focused on fresh local produce.
This superbly scenic national park is in Central Canterbury, rising out of the plains. A magnet for wintertime skiers and summertime hikers, Arthur’s Pass National Park is also a popular day trip from Christchurch.
Easy day walks fan out from the visitor information center, leading to vantage points affording panoramic views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks.
Providing an instant snapshot of New Zealand's legendary natural beauty, a day trip to the park also reveals glimpses of extensive beech forests, rainforest, mountain passes and soaring peaks.
If you're planning on experiencing a bit of New Zealand 'tramping' (the NZ word for hiking) take note that this is tricky territory, and for experienced hikers only. Tracks are not continuously marked, and they can involve river crossings, plus the weather is notoriously changeable.
More Things to Do in Christchurch
Wine and Waipara go hand in hand. Its proximity to Christchurch makes it an easy day trip, by wine lovers often decide to stay and sip a while.
The Waipara Valley is one of New Zealand's newest wine areas. Known for Pinot Noir and Riesling, the area is growing in size and popularity. And just like many other wine regions around the world, with good wine comes good food. Olive groves, nut farms and fields of lavender are popular stops visitors can add to their itinerary. Train lovers will want to ride the Weka Pass Railway. Using both vintage steam and diesel-electric locomotives, on scheduled Sundays, trains travel to Waikari, covering almost 13 kilometers of scenery. The Weka Pass Railway is run entirely by volunteers.
Built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of Mackenzie County, The Church of the Good Shepherd attracts visitors from around the world. The Church is set on the shores of Lake Tekapo. Framed by the lake and the mountains, you don’t have to be a photographer to appreciate its picturesque qualities.
When the Church was constructed, builders were given a very specific set of rules to follow. The site had to be undisturbed. No plantings or rocks could be removed. All stones used to build the church walls had to come from within five miles of the construction site and could not be chipped or altered. The church interior features an altar window with views of Lake Tekapo and the mountains. The cupboard in the Vestry was made with wood from the Tekapo Bridge. The bridge was demolished in 1954.
When first constructed in the 1930s, New Regent Street was famously lauded as “the most beautiful street in New Zealand.” Today, after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, the street has rebuilt its colorful façade—built in a Spanish Mission style—where colorful, two-story buildings host retailers, restaurants, coffee shops, and cafés. When the street was first built in the Great Depression, only 3 of the original 40 buildings were occupied by lease-paying tenants, due to the economic hardships of the time and the tenants’ inability to pay rent. Gradually, an increasing number of businesses were established, and the street was reconstructed as a pedestrian mall in 1994. When the fateful Christchurch earthquakes struck, New Regent Street was one of the first places to rebuild and reopen its doors—though many repairs were only temporary and are in need of a permanent fix.
Experience everything you want to know about the icy continent of Antarctica at the International Antarctic Centre, from indoor ice storms to ATV rides and penguins.
Feeding time at the NZ Penguin encounter is hugely popular, as is the Penguin Backstage Pass tour for an up-close view of these cute creatures. Go for a rough and ready ride on the Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, watch snow being made and throw snowballs, chill out in an ice cave and see the aquarium displays of Antarctic wildlife. Don’t worry about keeping warm: chillproof jackets and overshoes are provided.
Without a doubt, Hagley Park is the greenest, most relaxing, yet also most happening 1 sq. mile in Christchurch. On the relaxing side, this central park offers dozens of opportunities for leisurely moments in the city. Paddle the waters of the Avon River which borders the park on one side, or spend an hour sniffing through the botanical gardens which are completely surrounded by the park. Lay a blanket on the expanse of grass and enjoy a midsummer picnic, or photograph the wildflowers which famously bloom as the park comes alive in the spring.
For as mellow as Hagley Park can be, however, it can rapidly change into a pulsing gathering place during one of the numerous Christchurch festivals. At large events such as the World Buskers Festival or the Great Kiwi Beer Festival, tens of thousands of Christchurch locals can descend on the spacious grounds.
There was a time when busy Cashel Street was the thumping heart of Christchurch; the devastating destruction of the 2011 earthquake, however, left the once bustling downtown in pieces. Aching for a center of commerce and activity to boost the morale of residents, the iconic Re:Start Mall opened for business only eight months after the quake. With colorful shipping containers in lieu of buildings, the structure got Christchurch outdoors and smiling again. Today, the city mall (also known as Cashel Street Mall) is a pedestrian thoroughfare of shopping, cafes, and top-grade people watching. Browse the department stores of high-end fashion or kick back with an afternoon tea in the open-air square to enjoy the spirit of downtown Christchurch as it literally emerges from the rubble. For a fascinating multimedia attraction, tour the Quake City exhibit in the mall, where you’ll hear stories of the Christchurch earthquakes and in many ways feel you were there.
Enjoy a bird’s-eye view from more than 1,640 feet (500 meters) above sea level on the Christchurch Gondola. Take in 360-degree views as the Christchurch cityscape competes for your attention with views of the Canterbury Plains, the Southern Alps and the Banks Peninsula. The trip takes 10 minutes each way.
The Gondola Base Station is located in Heathcote Valley. Parking is available if you’re coming by car, and the summit Station is at the top of Mt Cavendish. There’s a café and shop in case you need some souvenirs. There are also walking and biking tracks nearby, so come prepared to spend time outside.
To the native Maori, the Avon River was an area of swampland which was used as a seasonal fishing spot. The area around the rivermouth was mostly uninhabited, and fresh water which trickled from springs was used for sacred healing purposes.
Today the Avon is a meandering river which weaves its way through Christchurch, its mellow waters bringing a calming presence to the urban bustle of the city. The river bisects the western suburbs such as Riccarton and Fendalhead, and then passes directly through the center of Christchurch and sprawling Hagley Park. To the east of the city, the Avon finally spills into the Pacific not far from the beach town of Sumner.
In downtown Christchurch, punting on the Avon River from Hagley Park is a popular visitor activity. Sit back and relax as expert steersmen push the flat-bottom craft along the river, and watch as peaceful scenes of Christchurch drift along on the banks.
Even though a scant eight miles separate Sumner from the city center of Christchurch, this coastal suburb set right on the beach may as well be its own island. Sumner Beach is the de facto “beach town” that is associated with sprawling Christchurch, where bikini-clad sunbathers and wetsuit-clad surfers mingle on the golden shores. Sleepy in winter but pulsing in summer, Sumner is a hangout of sun-seekers and sportsmen who flock to the beach and the hills. Joggers and walkers stroll on the boardwalk which parallels the popular shore, and paragliders and mountain bikers play on the hills which rise just behind town.
A relaxing, slow-paced, agreeable outpost, when the large earthquake of 2011 triggered landslides in the surrounding hills, Sumner Beach and its associated community were almost completely cut off from the city. Though the road has been fixed and Sumner is accessible again, evidence of the earthquake is still evident in the massive rock piles by the coast.
Separating Christchurch from Lyttleton Harbor, the Port Hills are a playground for Christchurch outdoors-lovers who are looking to work up a sweat. Rising to height of nearly 1,800 feet, the Port Hills are located a short distance from downtown and are criss-crossed by multi-use trails. Hit the hillside on a rented mountain bike or go for a scenic hike, or watch as paragliders leap from the slopes overlooking the beach town of Sumner. Many of the trails were closed as a result of landslides in the 2011 earthquake, but most of the trails have since been reopened and are a refreshing getaway from the city.
In addition to the trails, the Port Hills are known for the native birds which make their homes on the hillsides. Catch a glimpse of a New Zealand wood-pigeon as it floats above the hills, or hear the call of a native bellbird as it rustles about the bush.
Traveling from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean, Waimakariri is a Maori term meaning “cold water.” Known for its scenery, the Waimakariri River is also the hub for a number of popular water activities.
Jet boating offers a fun and fast way to explore the Waimakariri River's lower braided river system. Fishing is also a popular way for visitors to get their feet wet in the area. Walking, horseback riding and cycling along the river is a good choice for those who want more of a guarantee to stay dry. Full day high country explorer style tours offer a fun escape from Christchurch.
Located at the center of town in what many are deeming the “New Christchurch”, the Bridge of Remembrance is a historical monument that holds significance for numerous sets of people. Initially, this arcing bridge over the Avon River was erected as a public war memorial. Commemorating the soldiers who lost their lives in the battles of World War I, the bridge also remembers the brave soldiers who fought valiantly in ensuing wars. Located on Cashel Street, the bridge was turned into a pedestrian mall in 1976. Then, in February of 2011, the bridge endured a terrible beating during the earthquake that devastated Christchurch. Battered but not broken, the bridge managed to still stay standing amidst the piles of surrounding rubble. Though access to the bridge will once again be available in 2015 (with certain sections re-opening in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the Great War), the fact it remains standing have made it a memorial for lives which were lost in the earthquake.