Exploring Christchurch & Canterbury

Cardboard Cathedral, Christchurch | Image: Casey Horner

Exploring Christchurch & Canterbury

The largest city in the South Island and the second-largest in New Zealand, Christchurch is a cosmopolitan and cultured centre. Founded on the wealth of 19th Century high country sheep farmers, Christchurch was carefully planned by city forefathers and many of the buildings were built in stone, leaving a legacy of architecture – although much was damaged in the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

Christchurch Today

On 22 February 2011, Christchurch was struck by an earthquake that damaged many of the city’s best-loved heritage buildings. Damage from the earthquake has been extremely localised, however, and it’s life as usual in most neighbourhoods. Hagley Park, with its old oak trees and green lawns, is still the city’s beautiful heart. Some areas, such as the shopping district of Riccarton and the bars of Merivale, are busier than ever. And in the central city, Project Re:START has seen a pop-up shopping precinct built out of shipping containers in Cashel Mall. It’s a must-see new ‘icon’ of Christchurch: the shipping containers have been lovingly transformed into bright boutiques complete with chandeliers and lots of floor-to-ceiling glass. The CBD isn’t the only place where shipping containers have been put to good use: look for pop-up ‘container bars’ dotted around the city. The Porthole in Lyttelton (the South Island’s main port) is one example; another is Cargo Bar in Addington.

You’ll find that some iconic Christchurch businesses and activities are reappearing in new locations. Much-loved, The Court Theatre – once a stalwart of the Arts Centre – has found a new home at ‘The Shed’ in Bernard Street, Addington, while the popular Arts Centre restaurant and bar Dux de Lux has reinvented itself with a split identity as Dux Live in Addington (Lincoln Road) and Dux Dine in Riccarton. Outside the city, other activities are also operating as per usual. Wildlife is still on show at Orana Park and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, and the International Antarctic Centre still offers an unforgettable glimpse of life on the southern continent. The Air Force Museum and Tanks for Everything are open, and visitors can still play golf, go white-water rafting or swim with dolphins in Akaroa. Further afield, an easy day trip from Christchurch to Hanmer Springs, Kaikoura, Methven or Arthur’s Pass can have you soaking in a hot pool, spotting whales, dolphins, seals and albatrosses, skiing or hiking in a national park.


Downtown The Container Mall on Riverside (formerly Re:START) in Cashel Mall has served to draw many visitors back into the CBD after the quakes. It’s colourful, fun, and well worth a visit. Other iconic attractions are still open for business as usual, including Canterbury Museum, the Botanic Gardens and the Antigua Boat Sheds.

Addington On the southwest edge of the CBD, Addington is shrugging off its industrial heritage to become the new ‘it’ district of Christchurch. Bars, restaurants and cultural institutions such as The Court Theatre have migrated from the central city and taken up residence here.

Merivale North of the city centre is the suburb of Merivale. There is a row of shops on the high street, and the small mall is home to designer fashion and homeware. Merivale is also popular as an after-dark eating and drinking spot.

Riccarton West of the city centre, Riccarton is a busy suburban area with high street shopping and indoor shopping centre with cinema and food courts. There are many motels along the main road, particularly on the street blocks facing the mall.

Sumner Seaside Sumner feels quite distinct from Christchurch and with a number of good cafés, restaurants and shops, it makes for a worthwhile visit.

Around the Region

Akaroa New Zealand’s only French settlement is an enticing getaway of white picket fences, cottage gardens and French bakeries in a stunning natural setting. Accommodation is plentiful – look for boutique hotels and B&Bs – as are good quality eateries. But it’s not all about laid-back indulgence. Akaroa Harbour is home to the world’s smallest dolphin, the Hector’s Dolphin, and visitors can take a boat trip to swim with them. Highlights: Stock up on delicious French patisseries and picnic by the sea. Join a boat trip to swim with the tiny Hector’s Dolphins. Wander around a fragrant herb farm or cottage garden. Take a penguin colony safari to Pohatu Bay. Enjoy a relaxing boat cruise to spot the local wildlife on Akaroa Harbour.

Hanmer Springs & Hurunui The alpine spa resort of Hanmer Springs is home to a landscaped thermal pool complex in a beautiful alpine setting. It offers a range of therapeutic treatments for a complete spa experience. Other activities include hiking, mountain biking and 4WD adventures. South of Hanmer Springs, Waipara is the centre of Canterbury's wine-growing. Highlights: Enjoy a luxurious soak in the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa. Sample local wine at the cellar door. Brave a jet boating adventure in a rugged gorge. Horse trek in the North Canterbury foothills

Methven Methven (also known as Mount Hutt Village) is a peaceful rural village that’s an ideal base for experiencing outdoor adventures from jet boating and skydiving to mountain biking and fishing. It’s popular year-round, but particularly in winter when it transforms into a busy après ski centre for skiers and snowboarders. Nearby Mount Hutt boasts the longest ski season in the country and is one of New Zealand’s most popular ski areas. Highlights: Go jet boating in a rugged river gorge. Ski or snowboard during the winter months. Experience the thrill of white-water rafting. Try skydiving with the mountains as a scenic backdrop. Mountain bike in the foothills of the Southern Alps.

South Canterbury South Canterbury is a predominantly rural region tucked between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. It’s home to a series of small towns, each with its own unique flavour. Geraldine is a pretty country village well known for its gourmet food producers and craft shops, and Timaru is a larger centre with a range of accommodation and eateries, and a landscaped piazza. Highlights: Indulge in gourmet local food products in Geraldine. Browse craft studios and art galleries dotted around the region. Discover ancient Maori rock art. Brave the white water of the Rangitata River on a thrilling rafting expedition.

Technically part of Canterbury, with so much going on in Kaikoura and Mount Cook & Mackenzie, they have been given their own sections.

Do & Discover

Get back to nature, soak up the culture, tackle a white-knuckle adventure or simply investigate a city on the rebuild in Christchurch. Culture vultures are in for a treat, head to Air Force Museum, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch Art Gallery [Currently closed but due to reopen 2014] and Ko Tane at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve for an impressive display of Maori Culture set among a wildlife park. Other options include renting a canoe from the historic Antigua Boat Sheds and Café and exploring the Avon River, embracing the chill factor at the International Antarctic Centre, working on your swing at the Russley Golf Club or browsing for a bargain at the bustling Sunday Riccarton Markets. Test your nerves and raise the heart rate with a visit to Adrenalin Forest in Spencerville or join a cycling tour with Mountain Bike Adventure Co, tackle the whitewater with Rangitata Rafts, get behind the wheel of a tank at Tanks for Everything or skim over rivers in a jet boat with Alpine Jet. Meet the local wildlife with Black Cat Cruises and (with some imports besides) at Orana Wildlife Park and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. Those looking to take in the sights with a tour should look out for Christchurch Sightseeing Tours, Hassle-free Tours and KiwiRail. For a night out, try Christchurch’s much-loved theatre company The Court Theatre, which relocated from the Arts Centre to new it-district SOMO [South of Moorhouse (Avenue)] or the Christchurch Casino in the CBD.

Discover Akaroa Harbour's myriad wildlife with Akaroa Dolphins, Black Cat Cruises and Pohatu Penguins/Plunge NZ, or see the French-themed sights with Destination Akaroa and Eastern Bays Scenic Mail Run. Explore by foot with Banks Peninsula Track and Tuatara Tours, or on horseback with Onuku Heights Horse Treks. Swing by Okains Bay Maori & Colonial Museum before catching a movie at Cine Café. In the adventure township of Methven, you can hit the slopes with Methven Heliskiing and Mt Hutt Ski Area, go jet boating with Discovery Jet, freefall with Skydivingnz.com or go golfing, hunting and/or skiing at Terrace Downs Resort – indulge in some pampering at their Spa at Terrace Downs Resort or take in a movie at Cinema Paradiso. Get cultured in South Canterbury at the Aigantighe Art Gallery, South Canterbury Museum, and at Te Ana Maori Rock Art. Explore by saddle with Peel Forest Horse Trekking or brave the whitewater with the team at Rangitata Rafts. Sample local produce in Geraldine at Barkers food store, the Geraldine Farmers' Market and The Tin Shed, and catch a movie in the delightfully retro Geraldine Cinema. For centuries the thermal pools at Hanmer Springs were used by Maori travelling through the area. The first bathhouse was built in 1883. Today, the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa is a lovely landscaped complex and day spa. For something more active try Hanmer Adventure and Thrillseekers Adventures. During winter hit the slopes at Hanmer Springs Ski Field and Mt Lyford Alpine Resort.

Shopping & Style

Boasting everything from suburban malls and department stores through to designer boutiques, quirky collections and pop-up offerings, you can literally shop till you drop in Christchurch and Canterbury. The Colombo: This stylish Sydenham boutique mall in the SOMO (South of Moorhouse Avenue) precinct has brought a new level of cool to the older suburb of Sydenham, and houses chic fashion, homeware and beauty offerings, as well as some trendy eateries. The Tannery: The new 'it' destination in Christchurch shopping is a former (wait for it) tannery building in Woolston magnificently restored as a wrought-iron wonderland arcade with plentiful helpings of old-world glamour. The Tannery is home to a wide range of boutique retailers including fashion outlets, design stores, health shops, and gourmet food makers, and also houses a popular brew-bar and acclaimed restaurant. Merivale Mall: This style-conscious shopping plaza in the upmarket suburb of Merivale, close to the city centre, is home to over 40 designer boutiques, lifestyle stores, and chic restaurants and bars, and has plenty of offerings to tempt any shopaholic. The mall itself and the wider Merivale area immediately beyond collect together some of the city’s most prestigious and exclusive fashion boutiques, including the designer European women’s wear of Victoria Black, NZ fashion label gurus Plume, exclusive footwear specialists Issimo, fine shoes, bags and accessories from Briarwood, mens’ style at Working Style and Sergios, as well as Robin Pierre (shoes), and Rouche (women’s fashion) within Merivale Mall itself. Re:START: A unique post-quake Christchurch attraction on Cashel Street in the city centre, this upmarket mall full of quality retailers is a colourful cavalcade of shipping containers. Anchored by the Ballantyne’s department store, a Christchurch icon, it also contains gift stores, gourmet food, books, several leading fashion retailers and plenty of great food offerings, and has become a hub of weekend activity in the central city.

Food & Drink

Kiwi ingenuity abounds as Christchurch rebuilds; here you’ll discover quirky shipping container bars and cafés alongside fine dining eateries and trendy bars and clubs. In the CBD, the popular Antigua Boat Sheds and Café is situated in the historic Antigua Boat Sheds. Order a picnic basket and eat al fresco in the Botanic Gardens. There are new cafés popping up all over town, but some to try are: the highly acclaimed Addington Coffee Co-op (named one of the top 12 places in New Zealand to visit by Lonely Planet), Three Six Three Café & Bar at The Colombo, C1 Espresso, Café Lumes, Black Betty, Oddfellows Cafe, Under the Red Verandah, Beat Street, Ris’Tretto and Vic’s Café. In seaside Sumner, try Joe’s Garage or Underground Sumner. For casual dining Tutto Bene Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria is very popular with locals, and another Christchurch Italian favourite is Café Valentino. Other places for relaxed, low-key dining include Bodhi Tree, Burgers & Beers Inc, Lone Star and Winnie Bagoes. For more upscale dining, try Edesia, contemporary Asian cuisine at King of Snake, Cook‘n with Gas, and Saggio Di Vino. Sumner's Clink and The Cornershop Bistro also enjoy excellent reputations.

The SOMO district is the city's new hotspot for after-dark action. Look for Cargo Bar, Dux Live, The Pedal Pusher and Morrell & Co. in Addington. Further north in the CBD, Victoria Street has been an area of major rebirth, and offers a wide range of establishments with different characters including Smash Palace, Revival, Mexicano’s, Tequila Mockingbird and Harlequin Public House, the latter three of which also offer excellent dining. Elsewhere in the recovering CBD are the Italian charms of Baretta, the sophistication of the The Monday Room, craft beer capital Pomeroy’s Old Brewery Inn and, naturally enough, CBD, while Vespa is leading the charge back into a redeveloping High Street. In Riccarton, look for the popular Fox & Ferret, as well as craft beer lounge Volstead Trading Company. Merivale is another popular nighttime district. Look for The Brewers Arms, No. 4 Bar & Restaurant and other bars around Merivale Mall. Over the hill in Lyttelton, Civil & Naval exudes effortless cool, and no-one should leave the port without investigating the famed quirkiness of the legendary Wunderbar.

In Selwyn refuel at Original Sheffield Pie Shop, The Wobbly Kea Café & Bar or Arthur’s Pass Café & Store. En route to Akaroa be sure to call into Barrys Bay Cheese, and once you're there brush up on your culinary skills at The Akaroa Cooking School. Good coffee is easy to find in Akaroa; L’Escargot Rouge is a good first stop, while good restaurants include Bully Hayes, The Little Bistro and Vangionis Trattoria & Bar. Methven's Arabica Licensed Café joins cosy dining options Mt Hutt Restaurant & Bar, The Blue Pub, The Brown Pub and The Last Post Café, Bar & Restaurant. When is South Canterbury look for Arthur Street Café in Timaru, an atmospheric café with a cool soundtrack and a variety of dining spaces, Legends Café in Pleasant Point, original home of the famous Denheath Custard Squares, and Geraldine's Verde Café housed in a restored historic villa amidst cottage gardens. While away the evening at Ginger & Garlic Restaurant, Monteith’s Bar or ZEST in Timaru. Over in Geraldine, try Taste Restaurant & Bar or Village Inn Sportsbar. When travelling to Hanmer Springs & Hurunui from Christchurch, stop for lunch at the acclaimed Nor’Wester Café in Amberley. For a winery lunch, explore the cellar doors at your own pace (with a designated sober driver, of course) or join a wine tour at Pegasus Bay Winery or The Mud House Winery & Café in Waipara. In Hanmer Springs try Powerhouse Café & Restaurant, Monteith’s Brewery Bar and No 31 Restaurant & Bar, while Jollie Jacks, recipients of the New Zealand Beef & Lamb Award on several occasions, has established itself as an eatery of note in Hanmer Springs. Renowned for great service, fine food and a selection of Canterbury and Marlborough wines. Situated in the heart of Hanmer Springs, with garden bar and fine views of the Alps. Both lunch and dinner menus available.


Christchurch accommodation options ranging from luxury lodges and 5-star hotels through to B&Bs, backpackers and holiday parks. For the ultimate escape a stay at Sir Heaton Rhodes' former manor – now ultra-luxe Otahuna Lodge at Tai Tapu – offers an indulgent break. For notable hotel stays make reservations at Ashley Hotel, Copthorne Hotel Commodore, Peppers Clearwater Resort, Sudima Hotel Christchurch Airport, The Chateau on the Park and The George Hotel. For a B&B break try Airport Guesthouse, B&B on Rattletrack, Lavender Towers, Orari Bed & Breakfast and Thistle Guest House while motel lodgings include 298 Westside Motor Lodge, Airport Gateway Motor Lodge, Amross Court Motor Lodge, Avonhead Lodge Motel, Best Western Camelot Motor Lodge, Country Glen Lodge, Purple-Der House Accommodation, Tower Junction Motor Lodge and Tudor Court Motel. Budget-friendly stays include Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park – Meadow Park and Rangiora Holiday Park while backpacker options include At The Right Place, Jailhouse Accommodation, Kiwi Basecamp and YMCA Christchurch.

When staying in Selwyn check in at Arthur’s Pass Alpine Motel, Bealey Hotel, Flock Hill Lodge, Mountain House YHA Backpackers & Cottages and Springfield Hotel & Backpackers. Akaroa offerings include Akaroa Dolphin Backpackers, Akaroa Top 10 Holiday Park, The Grand Hotel and Tresori Motor Lodge. Looking for a place to stay in Methven? Try Alpenhorn Chalet, Big Tree Lodge Methven, Brinkley Resort, Mount Taylor Lodge and Terrace Downs. In South Canterbury you'll find lodgings in Timaru at Avenue Motor Lodge, Panorama Motor Lodge and Timaru Top 10 Holiday Park, with Rawhiti Backpackers in Geraldine. When in Hanmer Springs look for Alpine Garden Motel, Hanmer Springs Scenic Views Motel, Heritage Hanmer Springs, Mountain View Top 10 Holiday Park, Tussock Peak Motor Lodge and Village Lake Apartments.

Local Knowledge

Christchurch International Airport offers flights to numerous domestic destinations throughout the North and South Islands, as well as direct international flights to Australia, the Pacific Islands and Asia. Christchurch is a 5-hour drive from Picton and a 5-hour, 10-minute drive from Dunedin. There are regular coach and shuttle services, and there is a comprehensive metropolitan bus service within the city. KiwiRail operates the Coastal Pacific train service from Christchurch to Picton and the TranzAlpine service from Christchurch to Greymouth. Swing by i-SITE Visitor Information Centres at Christchurch Airport, Botanic Gardens on Rolleston Avenue and Kaiapoi at Raven Quay. Otherwise you can find out more at the Akaroa Visitor Information, 120 Rue Jolie, Hanmer Springs i-SITE at 42 Amuri Avenue West, Methven i-SITE, 160 Main Street, Ashburton i-SITE on East Street, Geraldine i-SITE at the corners of Cox and Talbot Streets, Timaru i-SITE at 2 George Street or DOC Arthur’s Pass Visitor Information Centre on State Highway 73.

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