Named by Lonely Planet as one of the top 10 cities to visit in 2013, Christchurch is a city whose spirit of resilience and functional creativity is hard to miss. Life goes on in the backdrop of destroyed and damaged structures and restoration works that serve as harsh reminders of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Its open spaces, bare walls, parking lots and otherwise insignificant corners are peppered with the creative works and expressions of incredibly talented street artists. To me, it’s mostly these masterpieces that give the city its unique identity today and are a sign of the eagerness to move on.
We arrived in Christchurch from Nelson, our base to explore the Abel Tasman National Park, not knowing what to expect. We only had 24 hours in the city before we took the TranzAlpine Scenic Journey to Greymouth early the next morning. On the recommendation of our lovely B&B host, we headed to CBD for breakfast and planned the day as we went. The great thing about doing this in New Zealand in general is that it has an excellent tourism infrastructure and all the information and help you need to book a visit or an activity is almost always available just around the next corner! Here’s what we did in 24 hours in Christchurch.
Breakfast in Re:START Mall
Re:START Mall in CBD, is a collection of stores, restaurants, cafés and food carts housed in brightly colored shipping containers that were set up to resume retail activity in the area in the aftermath of the earthquakes. The mall has many eateries to choose from; take your pick from Greek food to Bavarian style Wieners. We sat down at Hummingbird Café which was buzzing with people when we visited.
Explore Cathedral Square
Much of Cathedral Square, the historic district of the city at the heart of CBD was destroyed by the earthquake. Today the remains of the Christchurch Cathedral and the 18m high metal Chalice erected in 2001 stand in the square. Around and in the square are restorative art works and hope inspiring projects and displays.
Take a Hassle Free Tour
There are plenty of city tour options to choose from and all information is easily available at the i-SITE kiosk, right outside the Canterbury Museum. We went with the Hassle Free Tour because it was the next one leaving and we liked the idea of an hour long bus ride in a 1960s style London Double Decker bus. The bus took us through earthquake hit neighborhoods and rebuilding projects in central Christchurch. Points of interest were Hagley Park and Antigua Boat Sheds (where we would later go punting on the Avon), Christchurch Art Gallery, Catholic Basilica, Cashel Street, Art Deco New Regent Street and the Cardboard Cathedral among others. Our guide was knowledgeable and friendly and we liked the convenience of seeing the highlights of the central part of the city in an hour.
Ride in a Historic Tramway
Pretty heritage tramways run through the city center and are very popular with tourists. A day pass allows flexible travel for a day with the freedom to hop on and hop off as you please. We loved the live commentary, listening to the stories and accounts of the city’s eventful past and friendly banter of the drivers. All of the stops covered in the Hassle Free Bus Tour can also be reached by a tramway. As we’d already seen the sights, we only rode a few stops by tram but loved it nevertheless.
Punting on the Avon
This was easily my favorite thing to do in Christchurch. Established in 1882, the Antigua Boatsheds offer 30 minute boat rides on the Avon in handcrafted flat bottomed boats. The punting tradition came to Christchurch from England and punters are dressed in traditional Edwardian punting attire, which quite adds to the experience. The ride covered a short distance through the incredibly beautiful Botanic Gardens and was a good way to see the flora and the scaup that are resident in the river. This experience made for a very relaxing afternoon in the city.
After having had a glimpse of the beautiful gardens from our boat, we knew that we wanted to spend a few hours just exploring the area. Spread over a vast area of 30 hectares, the gardens are home to unique indigenous and introduced specimens of plants. Interesting features are the Rose Garden, the Blind Garden, the World Peace Bell and the conservatories. Some noteworthy artistic displays are the Hunter Sundial, a brass Gnome sculpture and the Stevenson Sundial, among many others.
We spent the rest of the day, exploring the walking tracks in the Gardens, eventually venturing out to Hagley Park, often stopping for a rest at the benches by the Avon. The Gardens are truly the most beautiful I have ever seen and it’s easy to see why Christchurch is also called the ‘Garden City’.
There are a number of events that take place in the Gardens, all information can be found on the Botanical Gardens website.
A walking guide recommending 8 routes and a map can also be found here.
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