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Christchurch travel guide
Christchurch travel guide
Christchurch travel guide

Christchurch travel guide — best free things to do & see

Do you think that Christchurch is simply a gateway to the ski fields?

Christchurch should not just be an airport hop to the South Island, rather it is a destination in its own right. Christchurch offers a snapshot of New Zealand history and culture. Gothic architecture, acres of gardens, contemporary architecture in reconstructed museums and markets will pack your days with plenty of choice.

Enjoy picking and choosing what and where to go.  

Māori oral history and archaeological evidence points to people inhabiting the Canterbury area since the 12th century. Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter in 1856, making it the oldest city in New Zealand. Many of the city’s original Gothic buildings dated from this period. Christchurch, bordered by the Port Hills and the Pacific Ocean, is situated on the Canterbury Plains with the Southern Alps as a majestic backdrop. You have a city framed by mountains and the ocean.

Known traditionally as “The Garden City”, the Avon River flows through the centre of the city and urban parks. The river is home to an iconic visitor attraction punting on the Avon.

More recently however, Christchurch has been rebuilding and revitalizing itself following the Canterbury Earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 and making way for some of the most innovative and creative projects in the world. This is a chance to visit a city on the brink of reimagining itself alongside history and heritage.

Punting in the raiin, River Avon, New Zealand

It is important not to forget about Christchurch’s backyard of Canterbury. You can ski at a world-class alpine resort, play golf, bungy jump, raft, mountain bike, hot-air balloon, wind surf, whale watch and visit internationally-acclaimed wineries and gardens – all within a short drive of the city.

Best time to visit:

Year round

Weather:

Christchurch Central Weather Forecast and Observations

Highlights:

  • Vintage tram tour
  • Christchurch Art Gallery and Shop
  • Canterbury Museum and Shop
  • Christchurch Arts Centre shops and cafes
  • International Antarctic Centre 
  • Botanic Garden caterpillar tour
  • Punting River Avon
  • Gondola trip up the Port Hills

Christchurch: what to see & do

Must do orientation tour

Vintage tram: Tram – Interactive Tour of Christchurch. The tram is a must do activity. The 2.5km route encompasses  city highlights. With seventeen stops there is access to most main attractions. The train stops adjacent to the Visitor Information Centre, recently relocated to the refurbished historic Arts Centre precinct. Your first stop is the Christchurch Arts Centre. The ‘i’ Site can provide guides to street art installations, pop up exhibitions as well as commercial galleries. I went around twice before deciding where to hop off. I purchased a combined ticket for a caterpillar garden tour and the Port Hills gondola as well as the tram ride. Tickets can be directly purchased from the tram conductor or the Visitor Information Centre. 

Definitely a transport option for families.

Punting – Iconic Avon River Tour. Experience life the way it should be – relaxed, tranquil and thoroughly enjoyable! Sink back into the velvet cushions of your boat as the Edwardian style punter glides you down the Avon River, passing the trailing willows and leafy banks of the stunning Christchurch Botanic Gardens. This is an iconic Christchurch experience.  I felt majestic being punted on the river,  I floated past the gardens and simply soaked up the atmosphere of a quiet, silent river trip.   

Punting, of course, is all about people power,  not an engine in sight.

TIP: Punting is popular, booking is essential to ensure you do not miss out. Boat trips are either 30 minutes or 45 minutes. Private punting is available.

Museums

Canterbury Museum

Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

Oi Manawa Canterbury earthquake national memorial

Montreal Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

International Antarctic Centre

38 Orchard Road, Harewood, Christchurch 8052, New Zealand

Rutherford's Den

2 Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

Yaldhurst Museum of Transport & Science

26 School Road, Yaldhurst, Christchurch 7676, New Zealand

Teece Museum of Classical Antiquities

3 Hereford Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

Ferrymead Historic Park

Ferrymead, Christchurch 8022, New Zealand

Quake City

299 Durham Street North, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

Transitional Cardboard Cathedral

234 Hereford Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

Ko Tane

60 Hussey Road, Redwood, Christchurch 8051, New Zealand

Air Force Museum of New Zealand

45 Harvard Avenue, Wigram, Christchurch 8042, New Zealand

Art Galleries & Theatres

Christchurch Art Gallery

Montreal Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

CoCa contemporary art gallery

66 Gloucester Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

The Physics Room

Registry Building, 301 Montreal Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

The Court Theatre

Bernard Street, Addington, Christchurch 8140, New Zealand

Gardens

Christchurch Botanic Gardens

City Centre Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand

Mona Vale Gardens

Riccarton, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

Deans Bush

Fendalton, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand

Riccarton House

16 Kahu Road, Riccarton, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand

Broadfield Estates

250 Selwyn Road, Weedons, Christchurch, New Zealand

Markets & Shopping

Riccarton Market

165 Racecourse Road, Broomfield, Christchurch 8042, New Zealand

Christchurch Farmers' Market

16 Kahu Road, Fendalton, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand

Canterbury Farmers' Markets

16 Kahu Road, Fendalton, Christchurch 8041, New Zealand

New Regent Street Shopping

New Regent Street, Christchurch Central City, Christchurch 8011, New Zealand

Beaches

Brighton Mall: New Brighton offers a choice of beach or paddling pools. The pools are open from mid November to early March. Well known beaches such as Woodend involve either a half hour drive. 

Alert: To ensure a fun and safe day is spent at the beach, please be aware of the beach rules in New Zealand. Find out more about NZ water safety tips

Child friendly activities

  • Must do activity young at heart regardless of age. The Margaret Mahy park is a must go destination. An imaginative use of space created by demolished earthquake damaged buildings is a space welcoming all ages to participate in double slides, tunnels for toddlers or balancing acts on posts, pillars and trampolines. 
  • Christchurch Public Library is a place to while away a rainy day.  
  • If the weather is good, how about a picnic in Hagley Park? Grab a sandwich and feed the ducks in Hagley Park.

Wildlife parks

Orana Wildlife Park

793 Mcleans Island Road, Harewood, Christchurch 8051, New Zealand

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

60 Hussey Road, Northwood, Christchurch 8051, New Zealand

Day Trips

  • Lyttelton spend a day browsing the quirky shops, exploring the local museums and art galleries. And then there is Lyttelton with its quirky shops, second hand trading stores, local artisan stores. Lyttelton is easily accessible with either a gondola / bus and crater rim walk transport choices. You can spend several hours exploring the walks using the gondola to avoid a steep hill climb. The descent to Lyttelton is approximately 45 minutes. There is a regular bus service between Christchurch and Lyttelto
  • Akaroa is a historic French settlement 75km from Christchurch. Your journey winds its way up and over Banks Peninsula. The town trades on its heritage links and for some visitors it is perhaps a little too contrived and reconstructed tourism.  
  • Methven and the winter ski season with its access to the Mt Hutt ski fields

Getting around

Walking tours, Christchurch is a city built for walking tours. You are not faced with steep hills and valleys. It is a city of squares, grids and signposts. Your walking tour can be self-guided or with local guides. Self guided walks are recommended to use in conjunction with the Christchurch Tram heritage trail as a base to explore the city. 

I enjoyed the interaction of Walk Christchurch which is managed by volunteers. The walks are not ‘free’ a donation is encouraged.

Hop on and hop off bus is a classic way to get to know a place. Step on board to the classic 1960’s London Open Top Double Decker buses for a fun and informative tour of Christchurch. Learn about Christchurch’s fascinating history from the pioneering days through to modern day times and learn how Christchurch is recovering from the Canterbury earthquakes which has now become a major event in New Zealand’s history.

FACTS

The experience includes a 1 hour Tour around central Christchurch on New Zealand’s only Open Top Double Decker and a 2 hour Tour on a closed top Double Decker visiting places of interest in greater Christchurch.

A Hop-on, Hop-off option is available at Sumner Beach and The Tannery Retail Emporium.

The Tour begins with tuition on riding a Segaway before gliding through the Cultural Precinct which includes the Art Gallery, the Arts Centre, the Botanic Gardens and the Museum.  You are encouraged to continue through Hagley Park, before heading out to the suburb of Fendalton and the historic Mona Vale Homestead and then onto Riccarton House & The Deans Cottage. 

Christchurch is flat as well as a relatively compact city. It is a great place to cycle your way around. There are various companies renting both electric and pedal power wheels. The visitor Site will have up to date information on guided tours if this is your preference.  

City Cycle Hire is very efficient. The company will meet you at pre-arranged sites for delivery and collection of bicycles.  

Check out Christchurch cycle map published by Christchurch local government.

Gondola – Christchurch’s Top Activity. Suspended above the suburbs of Christchurch, the Gondola (otherwise known as a cable car) whisks you nearly a kilometer to the Crater Rim of the Port Hills. Perfect panoramic photo moments while you float above the Port Hills. The hills include favourite local walking trails along the ridge lines dividing Christchurch from the Lyttelton Port. Remember to experience the Time Tunnel, a dramatic reconstruction of the history of the Port Hills and Christchurch.

Do you need a rental car?

Not necessary for a city focused exploration. Christchurch is a compact city with an excellent public transport network, a well established taxi service as well as paths and maps to guide walkers around the newly rebuilt Christchurch.    

TIP: Christchurch Airport | Christchurch – Canterbury If you decide on out of town explorations in a rental car bookings are recommended due to the high demand for vehicles.

Travel Pack

The journey is worth it.

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