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Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand with a population of over 300,000 as of 2001. It is located on the edge of the Canterbury plains and is a major stepping off point for touring the South Island.
Christchurch was established in 1850 by English settlers. Its English heritage shows in the older buildings, especially the Anglican Cathedral in the Square in the very center of the city. The Avon River flows through the central city and disrupts the regular rectangular layout of the city streets.
Christchurch is known as the Garden City, a well-deserved name. Looking from a few floors up, one is struck by the number of trees that grow like a forest throughout the suburbs.
International tourism, especially foreign-student education for the Asian market, is a growing sector of the Christchurch economy, as is electronics and software development. Because of this there is a high concentration of cyber-cafes here, particularly in the Asian tourist-friendly areas around the Square. English-as-a-second-language schools are also in abundance.
Christchurch International Airport (http://www.christchurch-airport.co.nz/) is a major transit airport for international and domestic travellers. There are international services to and from Australia, Japan, Singapore (and Los Angeles from 2005) as well as a frequent daily schedule to and from most New Zealand airports with direct flights to and from Auckland, Wellington, Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown, Nelson and Mount Cook by a number of airlines.
Flights to and from McMurdo Station in Antarctica also use the airport. This is one of the few international airports in the world where military and civilian aircraft regularly share the same runways.
There is a regular public bus service to the City Center. The 30 to 40 minutes trip costs 5 NZ$ pp and the buses operate half-hourly during the week and at least hourly on weekends. A door to door shuttle bus service to all parts of Christchurch is available for 12 to 18 NZ$ pp depending on the number of persons travelling. Taxi stands (about 25 NZ$ to City Centre) and rental car parks are also located close to the terminal building.
State Highway One passes through Christchurch (or more accurately, around the western extent of the city, past the airport). This is the main north/south arterial road in New Zealand. State Highway 73 goes to the west, over Arthur's Pass and on to the west coast. From SH73 you can also access Mount Hutt and other regional skifields.
There are daily bus services north to and from Picton and south to and from Dunedin
There is a daily train service to and from Picton timed to meet the afternoon ferry sailing to Wellington. Inbound passengers spend the morning sailing on the Picton ferry and the afternoon on the train, while outbound passengers are the opposite.
This is also the terminus of the TranzAlpine train service to Greymouth. This can be done as a day trip. The train departs from Christchurch daily at 8.15am returning at 6.05pm.
The railway station is in the middle of industrial Addington and has limited facilities.
The port town of Lyttelton is separated from Christchurch by the Port Hills. The early settlers had to walk over the Bridle Path - so named because the path was so steep that horses had to be lead by the bridle as they could not be ridden. Today there is a road tunnel that links the port to the city.
Christchurch is mostly flat, so many people get around on bicycles. Special-purpose bicycle lanes have been recently added to many streets to help promote cycling.
Navigation by car or bicycle is generally simple due to the grid layout, but watch out for one-way streets and bus-and-taxi-only intersections in the central city.
The bus service (http://www.ecan.govt.nz/buses-transport/index.htm) has been greatly improved in recent years. Buses interconnect through the enclosed airport-style Bus Exchange on the corner of Columbo and Lichfield Streets. A standard bus fare is $2 cash or $1.50 ($3 maximum charge per day, $10 minimum purchase) with a MetroCard smart card. There is also a free diesel-electric yellow Shuttle that orbits the inner-city area every ten minutes, but often it can be quicker to walk such short distances. It passes 2 malls and 3 supermarkets.
The restored Christchurch Tramway (http://tram.co.nz/) (ticket $12.50, valid for two days) also runs in a smaller loop around the inner city, 9am-9pm summer, 9am-6pm winter.
- Christchurch Cathedral, Cathedral Square, +64 3 366 0046. Open daily for viewing with regular services during the week. Completed in 1904, the Cathedral is Christchurch's most prominent landmark and the Square to which it gives its name brings color and life to the heart of downtown. Check out the excellent Visitors Centre in the old Post Office building, and keep an eye out for concerts, protesters, eccentric street preachers or even the world-famous Wizard of New Zealand (http://www.wizard.gen.nz/) haranguing the lunchtime crowds. During the day food and craft stalls are available. http://www.christchurchcathedral.co.nz/
- Arts Centre, Worcester Boulevard, +64 3 366 0989. Information centre open daily 9:30AM-5PM. Gothic stonework of former University campus converted into complex of over 40 specialty art and craft businesses and performance venues. Don't miss the weekend craft and produce market 10AM-4PM with live bands noon-2PM. http://www.artscentre.org.nz/
- Art Gallery, Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street (one block east of Botanic Gardens). +64 3 941 7300. Daily 10AM-5PM, W 10AM-9PM. Spectacular new $47 million facility opened in 2003, the largest in the South Island with over 5000 items and visiting exhibitions. http://www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz/
- Air Force Museum, former Wigram Airfield, Main South Road, +64 3 343 9542. Daily 10AM-5PM. Opened in 1987 before the closure of the Christchurch RNZAF base, this museum has full-size replicas of fighting planes and dramatizes the history of New Zealand's Air Force from World War I to Vietnam and beyond. $15 adult, $5 child. http://www.airforcemuseum.co.nz/
- Botanic Gardens, Rolleston Avenue, car park entrance Armagh Street, +64 3 941 7590. Gates open daily 7AM-5:30PM winter, 7AM-9PM summer, check exact posted times on gates or website. Information centre open daily 10:15AM-4pm summer, 11AM-3PM winter. 30 hectares of exotic and indigenous plants and trees wrapped in a loop of the picturesque Avon River and linking to the 160 hectare Hagley Park, these put the Garden in the Garden City. http://www.ccc.govt.nz/parks/BotanicGardens/
- Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Avenue at end of Worcester Boulevard (adjoining Botanic Gardens), +64 3 366 5000. Daily 9AM-5:30PM summer, 9AM-5PM winter. Includes colonial, Maori and natural history sections, Antarctic exploration display, and visiting exhibitions. Admission free to main exhibits (but donation appreciated), $2 for Discovery children's section. http://www.cantmus.govt.nz/
- Ferrymead Heritage Park, Ferrymead Park Drive (Ferry Road east from city, or take Sumner 30 bus from Bus Exchange and stop at Heathcote River Bridge, then first right down Bridle Path Road), +64 3 384 1970. Daily 10AM-4:30PM. A recreated Edwardian township and museum with horse and carriage (daily), tram (weekends and school/public holidays) and train (first and third Sunday) rides. Due to the voluntary nature of the historical societies managing Ferrymead, not all attractions may be running at all times. Special events are often held and the park has been used to film the TV One reality show 'Colonial House'. Admission price is based on whether trams/trains are operating or not, and include unlimited rides if available. $10 adult, $5 child with trams/trains, $6 adult, $3 child without. http://www.ferrymead.org.nz/
- International Antarctic Centre, Christchurch Airport, +64 3 353 7798 (toll free 0508 736 4846 within NZ). Daily 9AM-8PM summer, 9AM-5:30PM winter. A world-class Antarctic experience with simulated polar weather, Hagglund All-Terrain Vehicle ride, and gift shop. $20 adult, $10 child. http://www.iceberg.co.nz/
- Orana Wildlife Park, McLeans Island Road (10 minutes drive west of airport), +64 3 359 7109. Daily 10AM-5PM, last entrance 4:30PM. New Zealand's largest wildlife sanctuary and conservation project featuring endangered animals from around the world. The park's design minimises fences and cages in favour of natural boundaries and habitats. $14 adult, $6 child. $12 for 2:30PM Lion Encounter (limited 20 tickets per day, participants must be above 1.4 metres in height). http://www.oranawildlifepark.co.nz
- Science Alive, 394 Moorhouse Road (former Railway Station building, shares lobby with Hoyts 8 cinema), +64 3 365 5199. Daily 10AM-5PM. An interactive science education centre with gift shop. Themed exhibitions are on display and change three times a year. $10 adult, $7 child 5-16yrs, $4 child 2-4yrs. http://www.sciencealive.co.nz/
- Southern Encounter Aquarium & Kiwi House (formerly Aquarium of Discovery), Cathedral Square (adjoins the Visitors Centre), +64 3 359 0581. Daily 9AM-4:30PM. Walk-through aquarium showcasing native fish and sea creatures. There is an interactive rock-pool for kids and viewing of nocturnal brown kiwis. $11 adult, $5 child. http://www.southernencounter.co.nz/
- Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, 60 Hussey Road (off Gardiners Road), +64 3 359 6226. A smaller park than Orana, with a focus on New Zealand species including kiwi in a natural environment. Daily 10AM-10PM, kiwi viewing from 11AM. $16 adult, $8 child. http://www.willowbank.co.nz/
- Yaldhurst Museum of Transport and Science, Main West Road (near the airport, first right past Yaldhurst Hotel), +64 3 342 7914. Daily 10AM-5PM (5PM-9PM by arrangement for groups of 10 or more). Mostly interesting for its collection of over 100 classic and vintage vehicles. $7.50 adult, $3 child. http://yaldhurstmuseum.co.nz/
- The Summit Road, drive it or bike it or take a bus then walk it. Breathtaking views over Christchurch City, the Southern Alps, Pegasus Bay, Lyttleton Harbour and the Banks Peninsula - often all from the same vantage point. Don't miss it.
- Punting on the Avon, punts depart from cnr Worcester Street and Oxford Tce, make bookings at Visitors Centre in Cathedral Square, +64 3 379 9629. Glide down the river in British style with a uniformed boatsman.
- Antigua Boatsheds, 2 Cambridge Terrace, +64 3 366 5885. Boat hire from historic British boatsheds for a hands-on water experience. Daily 9:30AM-5:30PM summer, 9:30AM-4PM winter. $7/hr canoe, $12/half-hr rowboat, $14/half-hr paddle boat. http://www.boatsheds.co.nz/
- Christchurch Casino, 30 Victoria Street, +64 3 365 9999. Open 24 hours except Christmas, Good Friday, ANZAC Day. Dress code (Jeans now allowed). You get a free meal (breakfast, lunch or dinner) if it's your birthday (booking essential, e.g. by phone). http://www.chchcasino.co.nz
- Christchurch Gondola, base station 10 Bridle Path Road (or take Best Attractions Express Shuttle from Cathedral Square, $5 adult, $3 child, or Leopard No. 28 Lyttleton Bus from Bus Exchange), +64 3 3840700. (+64 3 384 0707 for restaurant reservations). Daily 10AM-late. $18 adult, $8 child (summer), $17 adult, $8 child (winter). Ride in the enclosed gondola car up to the summit of the Port Hills then view the Heritage Time Tunnel, take an outdoor nature walk, or dine at the restaurant. Three-course meal $60 including ride. http://www.gondola.co.nz/
Christchurch has the busiest programme of annual festivals of an New Zealand city.
- Summertimes runs from December through to late February and includes a number of major free events in Hagley Park, which attract audiences of up to 100,000
- The World Buskers Festival runs for two weeks in January and usually features about 30 acts from around the globe.
- The Festival of Romance lasts for 10 days leading up to Valentines day and includes a range of romantic activities.
- The Christchurch Garden Festival takes place in March
- Kidsfest is on during the midwinter school holiday.
- The Christchurch Arts Festival is the second-largest in the country and takes place every two years (alternating with the International festival in Wellington).
- Carnival Week is centered around a number of events taking place in November - Guy Fawkes night (a major public firework display at New Brighton Pier), the two New Zealand Cup (trotting and galloping) horse racing meetings, and the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral show, which is the largest in the country.
- Carols by Candlelight is a longstanding tradition on Christmas Eve, now held in Victoria Square.
Ballantynes (http://www.ballantynes.co.nz) (cnr Colombo and Cashel) is the major upmarket department store. Adjacent to it is Cashel Mall with a mixture of boutiques cafes and bars. Closer to Cathedral Square you will mostly find duty-free and tourist shopping.
High Street is probably the most interesting in the central city, with an intoxicating mixture of historical buildings and spaces inhabited by young cutting edge local designers - clothes, art galleries, cafes & cake shops, furniture and architects.
Manchester Street (which is the nearest Christchurch gets to a red-light district) has an interesting collection of antique shops including the three floors of Smith's Bookshop.
The locals tend to inhabit the many suburban malls, the largest of which are Westfield Riccarton, Northlands and The Palms in Shirley (continual expansions see them leapfrogging in the rankings of the country's largest malls).
- Buy from a local supermarket, the yellow coloured "Pak'n'Save" are probably cheapest if you are prepared to go for whatever brand they have a special on at the time.
- Fish'n'Chips are still the cheapest meal out. Ask for the crumbed fish rather than batter.
- Perry's Cafe, 145 Madras Street (opposite Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology). M-F 8AM-5PM. Surprisingly good cafeteria-style food with touches of cafe class, gets crowded around lunchtime. $5-$7.
- New Zealand Salmon is good stuff. Yum. Smoked, very yum. There is a tiny little sushi place called Shinsengumi - The Sushi Revolution, 169c Wairakei rd, Brynwr. Generous "lunch boxes", quiet, clean cool, pleasant, nice people. Does lovely fresh salmon / avo sushi.
- Dux de Lux, corner Hereford & Montreal Sts, +64 3 366 6919. Restaurant, bar and boutique brewery with vegetarian options and live bands four nights a week. Favorite hangout of the student set but can get a bit crowded and noisy. $15-$20. http://www.thedux.co.nz
- Main Street Cafe & Bar, 840 Colombo Street, +64 3 365 0421. 10AM-late. Warm and friendly vegetarian cafe plus bar with regular live music. The cafe closes just as the bar is warming up so make sure you get in early in the evening if it's the delicious food you want. $15-$20. http://www.mainstreetcafe.co.nz
- The Santorini, corner Gloucester Street & Cambridge Terrace, +64 3 379 6975. T-Sa 6PM-late. A Greek restaurant with live music and dancing. $24. http://santorini.co.nz/
- Sign of the Takahe, Dyers Pass and Summit Roads (top of the Port Hills), +64 3 332 4052. Daily 10AM-late. Formal dining in a big Gothic stone castle set on a hilltop. Hosted President Clinton's Christchurch visit for the APEC summit in 1999 and some scenes from Peter Jackson's film 'The Frighteners' were shot here. Reservation essential. $35.
- George's Swiss Coffee Shop in New Regent St
- Hummingbird Coffee of Victoria street roasts own coffee daily.
- C1 Cafe on High Street has a cult following, with excellent coffee (roasted at the back of the shop), bites and skiddies - aka chocolate milk!
Backpackers are safe, cheap and cheerful. Motels are a notch up. Low end around NZ$79/per night. The
http://www.aaguide.co.nz lists, as far as I can tell, literally every commercially available accommodation provider. Charlie B's has been a staple hostel for many years, and is reasonably central.
There are also many good quality B&Bs in Christchurch and surrounding district, such as http://www.orpington.co.nz.
Christchurch has a problem with smog during the winter. Take care venturing out on calm frosty evenings if you have a breathing-related medical condition.
Basically it's one of the safest places I have been to. Main danger, "hoons", or "ricers" as the Americans would call them late Friday, Saturday nights.
An irritating level of petty theft, but violent crime very rare.
Christchurch is often the starting or finishing point for touring the whole South Island.
You might want to visit:
- Arthurs Pass for a bush getaway
- Dunedin to cheer the NZ rugby team at Carisbrook, the House of Pain
- Hanmer Springs to soak in the hot pools
- Hokitika to catch the Wild Foods Festival
- Invercargill for Bluff oysters
- Kaikoura for crayfish and whale watching
- Nelson for sun, wine and art
- Picton to take the ferry to Wellington
- Queenstown for high-octane prepackaged adventure tourism
- Banks Peninsula is literally on the edge of the city, and offers a quieter a beauty than the Alps, but quite lovely.
- Akaroa is beautiful, quaint and packed with good eateries. I'm dying to try out the "Swim with the Dolphins in the sea" trip.
- christchurch.org.nz (http://www.christchurch.org.nz/) Official promotional guide to Christchurch City
- bethere.org.nz (http://www.bethere.org.nz) Calendar of upcoming city events
- ccc.govt.nz Official Christchurch City Council website