Things to Do in Christchurch
Across the road from New Zealand’s Christchurch International Airport lies the next best thing to visiting Antarctica itself: the International Antarctic Centre. Here the whole family can experience a simulation of the harsh Antarctic climate, learn all about the icy continent, and meet the center’s cutest residents—little blue penguins.
A glacial lake on New Zealand’s South Island, Lake Tekapo is an adventurer’s playground by day—and a stargazer’s heaven at night. On a clear night, southern hemisphere constellations, plus the Milky Way and the southern lights, shine spectacularly in the UNESCO-listed Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve.
Christchurch, coined the Garden City, is an Anglophile settlement of well-tended gardens and tree-lined streets. Its crowning jewel is the 52-acre (21-hectare) Christchurch Botanic Gardens, attractively set within Hagley Park alongside the winding Avon River. The gardens are planted with thousands of exotic and indigenous plants and trees including seasonal blooms such as magnolias, azaleas, and 250 varieties of roses.
Bright turquoise Lake Pukaki is one of the most beautiful—and most photographed—bodies of water in New Zealand. Many travelers make a quick stop by the lake en route to Mt. Cook, New Zealand’s tallest mountain, but it’s worth spending a bit more time there to hike, bike, or just savor the views.
The TranzAlpine Train is New Zealand’s most spectacular train journey, one which winds its way through the dramatic gorges and alpine forests of the Southern Alps, over staggering viaducts and dizzying mountain passes. From Christchurch on the East Coast to Greymouth on the West Coast, this almost 5-hour trip serves up endless photo opportunities as it runs through the heart of the South Island.
The Christchurch Tram combines leisurely transportation with narrated city sightseeing aboard a restored vintage tram. Visitors learn about historical landmarks in central Christchurch as well as the Garden City’s revival efforts following the earthquake damage of 2011. With 17 hop-on hop-off stops, it’s an easy and fun way to get oriented to New Zealand's third-largest city.
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 of the Christchurch cityscape set against a scenic backdrop of the Canterbury Plains, Southern Alps, and Banks Peninsula. It’s a not-to-be-missed experience for visitors of all ages.
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. Either way, it remains as one of downtown Christchurch’s most popular venues for shopping, with the pastel colored, lightly hued buildings contributing an architectural charm.
Take a break from the cars and crowds of Christchurch without leaving the city. Covering 407 acres (165 hectares) of central Christchurch, Hagley Park is a tranquil park full of green, open spaces. Take a paddleboat down the Avon River, play a match of soccer or rugby, or explore the flower beds and glasshouses of the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Pegasus Bay Winery and Restaurant 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.
More Things to Do in Christchurch
In the heart of New Zealand’s Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass National Park is a sprawling landscape marked by soaring mountains, lush valleys, and powerful rivers. It offers adventurous visitors of all levels varied hiking tracks, open ski fields, and remarkable natural wonders such as forests, caves, waterfalls, glaciers, and more.
The Banks Peninsula is the bulbous thumb of land that juts out into the Pacific Ocean south-east of Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. The town of Akaroa has an interesting French heritage, which is rather unusual in a country colonized by the British, and the rest of the peninsula is a nature-lover’s paradise, offering outdoor and nature-oriented activities.
The Avon River (Otakaro) flows from its source in the western suburbs of Christchurch and through the central city, making it a focal point for recreation. Leaving the central city, the Avon flows west and out to the Avon Heathcote Estuary. A popular destination with locals and tourists alike, you can walk along the Avon’s banks, relax in Hagley Park or the Botanic Gardens with a view of the river, or go on an English-style punt boat.
Built in 1935 as a memorial to the pioneers of Mackenzie County, the Church of the Good Shepherd is set on the scenic shores of Lake Tekapo, framed by snow-capped mountain peaks. In addition to being a popular tourist attraction, this heritage building continues to serve as a place of worship.
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 and Cafe 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.
Meandering from the majestic Southern Alps through the Canterbury Plains to the Pacific Ocean, the Waimakariri River is known for its scenic beauty. It is also the hub for a number of popular water sports and outdoor activities, from beech forest–lined canyon hikes to jet boat rides that take you spinning around rugged Waimakariri Gorge.
Christchurch is bursting with independent artists, artisans, and storytellers producing vibrant and cutting-edge work, and many of them call the Christchurch Arts Centre (Te Matatiki Toi Ora) home. Redeveloping and reopening in stages following the damaging 2011 earthquake, the center is an exciting, creative hub full of studios, stores, galleries, and museums.
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a family-friendly reserve on the outskirts of Christchurch. Meet both native animals and creatures from all over the world while supporting and contributing to Willowbank’s conservation efforts. Get close to all kinds of critters, from kiwi to kunekune pigs and everything in between.
This range of green, rumpled hills divides Christchurch from the harbor community of Lyttleton to the southeast. Walking and cycling trails crisscross the landscape, making the hills an outdoors playground. Now that there’s a 1.25-mile (2-kilometer) tunnel linking Christchurch and Lyttleton, the trip over the hills is the long way around. The extra time pays off in great scenery and gorgeous views.
The Transitional Cathedral opened in 2013, after the city’s iconic ChristChurch Cathedral was severely damaged in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011. In contrast to the 19th-century stone church it replaces, the cathedral has a very modern, A-frame design supported by dozens of cardboard tubes, lending it the nickname the Cardboard Cathedral.
The face of Cashel Street is ever-changing—from the heart of Christchurch’s once-bustling downtown to its post-earthquake Re:START mall. Today the city mall, also known as Cashel Street Mall, is rebounding as a thriving pedestrian thoroughfare offering shopping, a farmers market, and top-grade people watching.
Stretching across the Avon River, the Bridge of Remembrance was unveiled in 1924 to honor the servicemen and women who bravely fought in World War I. Hundreds of soldiers have since marched on its stones. Today, the bridge and monument arch are viewed by many as the center of downtown Christchurch.
Covering three floors of a stunning neo-Gothic building in heart of Christchurch, the Canterbury Museum tells the stories of the region and the world around us. Walk down a re-created 19th-century Christchurch street, see the skeletons of dinosaurs and extinct native birds, and marvel at the vehicles Antarctic explorers once used to get to the South Pole.