I had heard mixed things about Christchurch before going there. The most common trend was that it still had not recovered from the horrific 2011 earthquake that devastated the city killing over 185 individuals. Honestly on initial inspection I thought it was nice, certainly not as bad as everyone else had said but I wasn’t overly impressed with it either. There was still a huge amount of construction underway and some buildings were still cordoned off, however, my opinion completely changed when I went to Quake City.
Make this museum ($20 per adult) the absolute first thing you do when you get to Christchurch because it will help you understand what the city and its people went through in February 2011. Richie had been in the city in November 2011 and distinctly remembers the eerie feeling lingering in the air. Back then the CBD was a red zone with strict restrictions in place such that you could not enter the area alone, without a fully charged phone or for longer than periods of 40 mins. He saw first-hand the physical destruction that the city underwent, however Quake City goes so far beyond that.
The Museum brings you through the infamous day as well as the preceding earthquakes that locals endured. It is interactive and includes footage of the moment the quake hit, the science behind the phenomena and how the city has rebuilt itself. The most profound part of the exhibition for me was the 1-hour documentary that runs on a continuous loop which can you can dip in and out of for as long as you want. It’s a simple single person film that allows the locals whose lives were completely transformed that day to tell their story. It’s emotional, raw and truly hits home the horror of the disaster. But what it also manages to capture is the incredible strength of humans and how unselfishly the entire community and country rallied together; from people dropping everything to help search through the rubble for survivors, local school children assisting in the delivery of food and water, to complete strangers opening up their homes, hotels and offices as shelter. You will hear chilling, inspirational and devastating accounts from people who lost loved ones, helped rescue strangers and individuals who lost limbs. We were in Christchurch on the anniversary of the earthquake and this museum, along with first-hand accounts from our HelpX hosts, truly made me realize that this is one of the most united communities I’ve ever seen.
Can you even call yourself a city without some sort of botanic garden? Seemly not. The gardens in Christchurch are free to enjoy and open from 7am till 9pm (early closing in winter). The Avon river runs along the gardens and you’ll often see kayakers going along the water. You can also go punting along the Avon which is a historic boat tour through the gardens.
There are plenty of gardens to wander around and some of the trees scattered throughout are really impressive. There are also several conservatories full of flowers if that’s what you’re into. Here you’ll also find New Zealand’s only Peace Bell which was gifted to Christchurch in 2006.
Wall of Remembrance
This memorial was unveiled to the public in 2017 on the sixth anniversary of the 2011 earthquake in honour of those who lost their lives and were seriously injured. It serves as a constant reminder of the power of nature, the devastation the community endured and the strength locals have shown one another in rebuilding both their lives and their city. We passed the memorial on the anniversary and saw the notes, flowers and teddies left by members of the public.
The bridge was erected in 1923 as a war memorial to those who lost their lives in WWI. It’s an incredible structure and is definitely worth seeing on your walk throughout the city. Despite the 2011 earthquake the memorial has stood the test of time and has not endured any damage.
This place was on our list and recommended to us by the HelpX family we were staying with. Located about an hour from the center this is a great day trip. This is the only French settlement in New Zealand and the town pays homage to its history in a multitude of ways from the French street names to the French cuisine-based cafes and restaurants. The town sits on the waterfront where you can bask in the Banks Peninsula. For some great views of the bay be sure to take a drive along the Tourist Summit Drive which is about 30 mins long and brings you across the mountains surrounding the town. On your way home stop in at the Hilltop restaurant for food, a drink and one of the best viewing spots in the area.
There are plenty of boat trips, helicopter rides and water activities to do here. One of the most popular attractions is the boat ride to the pohatu penguins or to see some of the schools of dolphins that have made their home in the bay.
The penguin colony here is the largest Australasian colony on mainland New Zealand. In order to see the birds you’ll need to do a tour, prices for the tours start at $55 depending on whether you do a kayak or boat tour, the time of day you complete the tour and whether you need to be picked up or not. While here we also checked out The Giants House which is a living piece of art created over the years by artist Jose Martin.
Entry is $20 per adult which initially seemed steep however once you go through the gardens and see the extraordinarily intricate detail then you soon can see where your money is going.
Another great place near the city center to visit is Lyttleton. This is the cutest most hipster part of Christchurch I came across and is a great little village to come for a Sunday afternoon. It’s filled with the quirkiest shops and cafes that you can easily pass a couple hours wandering in and out of.
I (of course) made a bee line into the London Street Bookshop.
From here you can also catch the ferry to Quail Island for $30 for an adult and $15 for a child. This now uninhabited island was originally used as a quarantine station and leprosy colony and is now home to a number of native birds, fish and a little penguin colony.
Not far from Lyttleton is the Christchurch gondola. This cable car experience costs $30 for an adult and brings you 500 meters up to Mt Cavendish.
Up here you can bask in the incredible 360◦ views of the city below, grab some food or drink in the Red Rock café or jump on the Time Tunnel Experience. This is a short 10-minute ride that is included in your ticket which talks about the history of the area over the ages. There are also several walks you can do up here including:
- Cavendish Bluff Lookout (30-minute return walk)
- Pioneer Women’s Memorial (50-minute return walk)
- Crater Rim Trail (3-4 hour return walk)
- Bridal Path (1 hour easy, but steep track from the Summit Station back to the Base)
Finally Christchurch has some really great beaches that are only a short drive from the city center. Be sure to check out Sumner Beach and New Brighton Beach. While at New Brighton Beach be sure to check out the famous pier – standing at 7m tall and stretching 300m this is an iconic landmark in Christchurch. This is also a fantastic spot to go fishing or try your hand at surfing. Otherwise there are some great restaurants and cafes in the area to sit back, relax and enjoy the views.
Although I don’t think I would like to live in Christchurch as much as Wellington, I did really enjoy our time there. This may also be because we completed a HelpX stay while there and got to stay with some great locals who made us feel completely at home. Yes the city still has a ways to come in terms of rebuilding and there are several more years of construction ahead but it has come such a long way and I think it will be a truly incredible place to live before long.