After driving around the South Island coming into Christchurch can be somewhat of a shock as this is by far the largest city on the South Island and it can be a bit crowded – especially in comparison to the empty roads that you find on most of the rest of the South Island. This is not a large city by global standards but is large by New Zealand standards – at a little more than 300,000 people total.
Be sure to notice the neat Gothic type buildings and churches which dominate the architecture of Christchurch. Unfortunately Christchurch was massively hit with several earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 resulting in the loss of many historic buildings. Rebuilding has occurred in their places – tragically and remarkably as of 2017, the Christchurch Cathedral – one of the city’s iconic landmarks still remains closed and in a state of disrepair, years after the earthquakes.
Downtown Christchurch is centered around Cathedral Square area – this is a great place to people watch; during the summer they are often vendors selling a variety of prodcts here.
The Cathedral anchors this square and is worth a visit. If you have a camera you will be charged to use it inside the church – however you can walk in with the camera and as long as you don’t use it, there is no charge. A small gift shop greets you and you leave the church.
Note, that since the earthquake the cathedral is now closed and the congregation has moved to a temporary location – a building made with a significant amount of cardboard! Known as the Cardboard Cathedral. Visit: www.cardboardcathedral.org.nz
Also note that there is cheap and fast Internet access in the building across from the church near the large bank.
An excellent restaurant which can be very crowded on weekends or Friday nights in the summer, is Dux de Lux located at 10 Poplar Street. The great earthquake of 2011 destroyed their location at the Christchurch Arts Centre, so they had to move and find a new location. In the subsequent years following the earthquake, they were not able to find one location to house all of their services. Originally founded in 1978, they are still going strong!
Excellent food, salads, soups and fish dishes. They specialize in preparing fresh produce from the “land and the sea.” Hip atmosphere – order your food inside. Plenty of outside dining is available although it does fill up on busy days. As with many restaurants in New Zealand they will uncork your own bottle of wine for a small corkage fee. They also maintain an award winning brewery. Visit their website for more information: www.duxcentral.co.nz
The Avon river flows through the heart of the gardens and there are several small lakes/ponds. The glass Botanic Gardens Visitor Centre opened in 2014. For those who prefer not to walk, guided tours are provided in the “Caterpillar”, a solar powered electric vehicle.
Plenty of roses, daffodils (when in season) and fall foliage that displays the colors of the changing of the seasons in March and April. Visit: www.ccc.govt.nz/parks-and-gardens/christchurch-botanic-gardens
Arts Center is well worth visiting. Its located in the old Canterbury college Gothic looking buildings, which are impressive in and of themselves. Since the earthquakes, the buildings have been fully earthquake-strengthened, renovated and refurbished. Admission to this area is free and take some time to walk in and among the buildings.
There are arts and crafts outlets located throughout this complex as well as shops, galleries & several theatres. This is the center of arts, culture, education and creativity in Christchurch. Visit: www.artscentre.org.nz
The famous scientist Ernest Rutherford who first split the atom studied at this college – and visitors can pop into Rutherford’s Den, an interactive science museum named in his honor – visit: www.rutherford.org.nz
Occidental Backpackers is an affordable guesthouse located only a few blocks from the Cathedral Square at 208 Hereford Street. Rooms come with single or double beds – also dorm available. Breakfast is served for free in the kitchen area upstairs. Near the kitchen is an entertainment room with a TV and a coin operated Internet station.
The staff is very friendly and welcoming at this hotel. An outside wood deck is available for eating or relaxing on. Some of the rooms upstairs have an outside balcony which runs the length of the upstairs – so you can easily visit with dorm mates from nearby rooms. NOTE: the terrible earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 resulted in this building being torn down. We leave this mention and photo for nostalgia sake.
A wonderful restaurant located in the small bucolic town of Darfield (on main street) – about 30 minutes outside of Christchurch is the Terrace Cafe & Bar. They are open for lunch and dinner and serve excellent meat and seafood dishes. A very friendly staff. Call (03) 318-7303 for more information or for reservations. Visit: www.terracecafe.co.nz
More information about Christchurch in general can be found at: www.christchurchnz.com