Christchurch is a lovely garden city located on South Island in New Zealand. It sits on the east coast on the Canterbury Plains. The Avon River runs through the city center and upon its banks are cycling paths, the wondrous Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. Unfortunately two major earthquakes one in 2010 and one in 2011 destroyed many city-center buildings and restoration work is still going on.
It’s easy to get around the city just take the tram. The tram goes around a 17-stop loop and leaves every 15 minutes. By tram you can take in many of the city highlights and you can hop-on and hop-off all day.
Take a delightful stroll through the Botanic Gardens. There are 30 amazing riverside hectares of arboreal and floral wonder. These gardens are lovely at any time of the year but especially in the spring when the rhododendrons, azaleas and daffodils are in bloom. You can explore thematic gardens and relax on the lawns. Next to the Botanic Gardens Information Center children will find a great playground. Guided walks are available or you can ride through the gardens aboard the Caterpillar train.
Even though it was damaged in the earthquakes the Christchurch Art Gallery has reopened and offers a great mix of NZ exhibitions.
At the Canterbury Museum the Maori galleries have some lovely pounamu or greenstone pieces, while the Christchurch Street offers a walk through the colonial past. There is the reproduction of Fred & Myrtle’s Paua Shell House and children will enjoy the interactive displays in the Discovery Center. Guided tours are available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
The International Antarctic Center is a huge complex that was built for the administration of the NZ, US and Italian Antarctic programs. It allows visitors to see penguins and learn about the icy continent of Antarctica. Some of the attractions include the Antarctic Storm Chamber, where you can experience a -18C degree wind chill. The Xtreme Pass includes the 4D theater where you can experience a 3D film with moving seals and a water spray and you can ride on a Hagglund all-terrain amphibious Antarctic vehicle.
Historic Riccarton House dating back to 1856 is located on 12 hectares of lovely parkland and forest beside the Avon River. It hosts the popular Christchurch Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. Guided tours of the house are available from Sunday to Friday.
Enclosed by a vermin-proof fence you’ll find the last stand of Kahikatea floodplain forest in Canterbury. The Kahikatea is NZ’s tallest native tree which can grow to a height of 60m. In the forest the tallest trees are 30m tall and about 300 t0 600 years old. A short loop track takes visitors through the heart of the forest.
Hagley Park surrounds the Botanic Gardens and is Christchurch’s biggest green space stretching for 165 hectares. It’s split in two parts by Riccarton Avenue and the Avon River flows through the north half. It is a fantastic place to stroll in any season but in the spring you can delight in the blooming cherry trees that line Harper Avenue. Joggers love the tree-lined avenues in any season.
Cathedral Square is the city’s main square. It is prominently dominated by Christchurch Cathedral which unfortunately was badly damaged in the earthquakes. The quake in 2011 brought down the 63m spire and destroyed the stained-glass rose window. One modern landmark was untouched and that is the 18m high metal sculpture known as Chalice, designed by Neil Dawson. It was erected in 2001 to commemorate the new millennium.
The Arts Center dates back to 1877. It found its home in Gothic Revival buildings that were originally Canterbury College. The college’s most famous alumnus was the father of nuclear physics Lord Ernest Rutherford, the NZ physicist who first split the atom in 1917, At present you can only view the center since it was damaged by the earthquakes but some parts are opening up in 2016 and the whole project will be completed by 2019.
Orana Wildlife Park is an “open range zoo” and for some extra money the most daring can jump in the cage for a real lion encounter. Visitors can walk-through the native bird aviary, a nocturnal kiwi house and a reptile exhibit that features tuatara. Most of the 80 hectare grounds feature Africana which includes giraffes, rhinos, zebras, cheetahs and gorillas.
For awesome views that the 945m cable car to the top of Mt. Cavendish (500m). At the top you can relax at the cafe and there for children there is the Time Tunnel ride through historical scenes. You can also take a walk to Cavendish Bluff Lookout or the Pioneer Women’s Memorial.
At the top of the Bridle Path, overlooking Lyttelton is the Pioneer Women’s Memorial. This is a stone shelter commemorating the courage and hard work of the region’s pioneer women.
If you are interested to know more about the Canterbury earthquakes then you must head for the Re-START Mall. This is a compact museum that tells the story of the quakes though photography, video footage and various artifacts such as bits that fell off of the Cathedral. There is a film featuring locals recounting their experiences.
Transitional Cathedral is universally known as the Cardboard Cathedral due to the fact that it was constructed with 98 cardboard tubes. This is an Anglican cathedral and a concert venue. It was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and took only eleven months to build.
About 10km north of the city you’ll find Willowbank Wildlife Reserve which focuses on native NZ creatures including kiwi, heritage farm animals and hands-on enclosures with wallabies, deer and lemur. Here you’ll also find a recreated Maori village, the setting for the evening Ko Tane (an interactive performance and a Hangi dinner).
The Bridge of Remembrance is an intricately carved monolith bridge that stretches across the Avon River. It is a memorial to those who lost their lives in two world wars and conflicts in Vietnam, Borneo, Korea and Malaya.
The Victoria Clock Tower was originally designed by Benjamin Mountfort and erected on top of the first wooden section of his Canterbury Provincial Council Chambers. However the tower was too heavy and was taken down and placed in the courtyard until 1864. Afterwards it went into storage and thirty years later was taken out to be used as a monument for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It was erected on a stone base in 1897 and place at the corner of Manchester High and Lichfield Streets. When looked upon as a traffic hazard it found its new and present home on Victoria Street in 1930 at which time a new clock was installed.
The Anglican church of St. Michael and All Angels stands on the site of the first church that was built by the Canterbury Association settlers on the Canterbury Plains in 1851. The church was constructed entirely of matai or native black pine. The impressive timber interior has a significant collection of Victorian and Edwardian memorial stained glass windows. Many things in the church like the stone font were brought to Christchurch in the first four ships in 1850. It remains as one of the largest timber churches of its kind in the world.
The St. Michael belfry is a Christchurch landmark, erected in 1861. Its bell was also brought on the first ships and is still rung for services today.
Other historic buildings on the site include the Gothic Revival inspired school hall, designed by the first Education Board architect Thomas Cane in 1877 and the stone school building built in Collegiate Gothic style, designed by noted Canterbury architect Cecil Wood in 1913.
Be really adventurous and go Dolphin Swimming. Swimming with friendly dolphins is a favorite activity among both residents and visitors. You can swim with dolphins all year round. Dolphins are large, gentle creatures who like to look for human company to play, frolic and communicate with. There is the common dolphin and the large bottle-nosed dolphin as well as the smaller, dusky dolphin which is less than 2 meters long but very playful. You might encounter the Hector’s dolphin, one of the world’s smallest and rarest dolphins found only in NZ waters. There are many dolphin watching and swimming tours available. The cruise operators take great care to be sure no dolphins are harmed and part of the tour price goes toward dolphin conservation.