With a population of over 300,000, CHRISTCHURCH is the largest city on the South Island and capital of the Canterbury region. It exudes a palpable air of gentility and a strong connection with the mother country. After all, it was founded as an outpost of Anglicanism by its first settlers, was named after an Oxford college, and has some of the feel of a traditional English university town, with its neo-Gothic architecture and gently winding river. To some extent it pursues an archetype – the boys at Christ's College still wear striped blazers, and punts slide along the Avon – but the Englishness is largely skin-deep. In recent years the traditional conservatism of the settlement has developed a youthful, bohemian edge, with an explosion of lively bars and restaurants and a burgeoning visual arts, theatre, music and street entertainment scene. These urban and cultural pursuits are balanced by relaxed beach life at the Pacific Ocean suburbs of New Brighton and Sumner. On the southern skirts of the city, the Port Hills provide a playground for hikers and mountain bikers, or a great destination for an evening drive.
The city can be used as a base for exploring further afield, with a plethora of city-based companies offering activities such as rafting, paragliding, ballooning and mountain biking, all in the surrounding countryside. Christchurch is also within a two-hour drive of several good ski-fields to the west, making it possible to combine a day on the pistes with an evening in the city's restaurants and bars.
Over 150 years ago some hardy English settlers scrambled up the steep slopes of the Bridle Path to the summit of the Port Hills and looked down on their new home, a vast stretch of unattractive muddy swampland. It must have been a discouraging sight after such an arduous journey. Those early settlers would be amazed if they were to stand at the same vantage point today. The swamps have been drained and the water now runs to the sea through two orderly rivers, the Avon and the Heathcote, while houses have filled vast flat areas and are steadily climbing the hills.
Nowadays few people arrive on sailing ships, most fly into Christchurch international airport. On a fine day they enjoy a panoramic view of the city, lying on the edge of the Canterbury Plains; bound to the east by the Pacific coastline, to the south by the hills of Banks Peninsula , and to the west by the mountains of the Southern Alps. As the plane circles lower, newcomers can see the expansive Hagley Park , and the reason why Christchurch is lauded as the 'Garden City' is evident with a view of trees, parks and gardens, but very few high-rises.
Central Business District
This wonderful district is still recovering from the February 2011 earthquake, and tourists should be aware that some sections have been blocked off for renovation. However, most of the district has recovered and remains as charming as ever!
The city's Anglican heritage is evident in Cathedral Square , the heart of the city. One block west of "The Strip" follows the Avon River along Worcester Boulevard , offering visitors cafes by day and clubbing by night. Cuisine styles range from Egyptian to Asian to Pacific Rim.
Taking a tram is a pleasant way to see the western CBD, including the Canterbury Museum and Christ's College and the expansive Botanic Gardens next to Hagley Park 's golf course and various sports fields.
Experience the spectrum of entertainment at the Christchurch Casino , with nearby specialist shops and restaurants. The tram journey ends under the Spanish facade of New Regent Street .
Further south, you will discover an eclectic mix of restaurants, art galleries, bookshops, red light establishments, and a variety of churches, from the traditional to the more lively Pentecostals. South City Centre offers upmarket clothing and department stores, footwear, wine, antiques and other specialty stores.
West of Cathedral Square
West of Hagley Park, Riccarton is best known for its large indoor shopping facility, Westfield Riccarton . Two early settlers' homes and some original native forest can be seen here at Deans' Bush. The upmarket Fendalton has Christchurch Boys' High School, built on land purchased from the Deans family, and Christchurch Girls' High School, erected on a former mill site alongside the Avon River. Further west is the University of Canterbury's Ilam campus with its world-renowned rhododendron gardens that flower in October and November.
Hornby has cinemas and is the site of November's annual Agricultural and Pastoral Show where country comes to town for three days.
North of Cathedral Square
Merivale is a fashionable suburb with cafes, designer clothing and a growing reputation for antiques. To the northwest, Jellie Park Aqualand offers waterslides and picnic facilities. Golfers can visit Russley Golf Course and Pirate's Island Adventure Golf . To the northeast, Christchurch Golf Club Inc claims to be among the best in New Zealand and borders on Horseshoe Lake Reserve.
South of Cathedral Square
At Addington, the CBS Canterbury Arena offers a multi-sport facility and Addington Raceway hosts the prestigious New Zealand Trotting Cup. Head up through Cashmere on to the Port Hills where you can walk and mountain bike along various tracks, or hang-glide. The Christchurch Gondola gives 360 degree views of the Southern Alps, Canterbury Plains, down to the thriving port of Lyttelton and across to Diamond Harbour . Christchurch's premier science museum, Science Alive , has new digs in this area as well, after their city center facility was destroyed in the earthquake.
East of Cathedral Square
The suburb of Linwood is a very old part of town, but sports fans will appreciate the rugby fields and cricket grounds of AMI Stadium (formerly Lancaster Park) near Eastgate Shopping Centre .
The pick of the city's beach suburbs, Sumner is a favorite summer swimming spot with the landmark Cave Rock and popular restaurants. On Clifton Hill, the Gethsemane Gardens look out to the Kaikoura mountains. Further east, Taylor's Mistake offers surfers a superb point break. Various walks begin in the area, notably to the old WWII gun emplacements on Godley Head , while Ferrymead Historic Park provides graphic insights of life in a bygone era.
Outside the City
Canterbury is renowned for its wines. A drive around Banks Peninsula to the early French settlement of Akaroa brings you to French Farm Winery , as well as a variety of cafes, accommodation, walks and harbor attractions. West of Christchurch are the vineyards Giesen Wine Estate and Sandihurst . Forty minutes north is the Waipara district and a cluster of wineries with dining facilities including Pegasus Bay Winery & Restaurant and Waipara West . Award winning wines proliferate in the area, so be sure to make time to enjoy them.
And in keeping with true Canterbury pioneering spirit, head towards the Southern Alps and check out the numerous ski fields and all the action adventure tours of the Southern skies, rivers and harbors.
Bursting into culinary life in the late 1980s, Christchurch is fast developing a reputation for the dazzling range and sophistication of its cuisine and locally-produced wines. From the rolling hills of the Banks Peninsula to the vast central plains and small valleys of the north, the Canterbury region boasts award-winning vineyards, innovative cafes, restaurants and bars, specialty cheese producers, chocolate makers, and a burgeoning array of boutique breweries.
For a city that flaunts its Englishness, the food styles are supremely far-ranging and there is something to enliven even the most jaded palate. Choose from Mediterranean, Italian, Indian, French Continental, Vegetarian and South American cuisines. With the Asian migration to this region there has also been an explosion of flavors and styles from the East-Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian and Korean. In the hands of the many talented chefs, these flavors and influences are culminating in a unique cuisine often referred to as "Pacific Rim." And as every chef will confirm, no visitor should leave town without tasting some the region's specialty of lean, tender Canterbury lamb.
Overlooking the Avon River, along Oxford Terrace, is "The Strip" - a major part of Christchurch's cafe and restaurant scene. By night, "The Strip" transforms as DJs and local bands pump it up in Christchurch's hottest nightspots.
A modest budget is no obstacle to great and innovative cuisine. There is the European-styled Cafe Valentino offering award-winning Mediterranean-inspired food or Topkapi with its special brand of authentic mouth-watering Turkish fare. Christchurch is brimming with every flavor and style from around the world.
For the ultimate in choice, however, the food stalls at the Arts Centre Weekend Market are difficult to beat. Choose from an enormous variety of offerings--Thai, Czech and Lebanese—all very tempting.
The coffee connoisseur is also well catered for, with cafes such as Coffee Culture which roasts their own special blends on the premises.
While the heart of the culinary scene beats within the confines of the inner city, some of the best dining can be had in and around the suburbs. In the delightful seaport of Lyttleton, the kitschy Wunderbar is a great place to relax over a drink while enjoying excellent views of the harbor. Five minutes drive north from the city center is Merivale, an upmarket shopping district with a good range of cafes and bars to match. Brigettes Restaurant & Bar is an award-winning coffee specialist and serves a scrumptious brunch. However, if 19th-century charm is the order of the day then the romantic ambiance and authentic Indian cuisine of Little India is difficult to beat.
On the Wine Trail
With its long dry hot summers, Canterbury has developed a flourishing wine industry. The heart of the winemaking area is here, in the Waipara Valley, where vineyards such as Pegasus Bay which has received international recognition for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties. Other grapes grown in the region include Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon. Further South you can visit Giesen's —wineries that put Canterbury on the winemaking map back in the 1980s. Most of Christchurch's restaurants include a good selection of New Zealand and local wines.
It is not surprising that Christchurch is called the Garden City; one third of its public land is devoted to reserves and parks. It was Anglican ideals that instigated this lavish spread of greenery, yet New Zealand's third largest city remains firmly rooted in the Antipodean soil. The city lies on the coastal hem of the vast, patch-worked Canterbury Plains, and is tantalizingly close to the adventure playground of the Southern Alps. Christchurch is regarded as one of the friendliest cities in the world. It is an easy place to get to know, just ask the locals!
Pancake-flat, Christchurch lends itself to exploring by foot or by cycle. Take a stroll down Worcester Street, past the still closed Arts Centre, the Canterbury Museum and the striking Peacock Fountain , and end up at the Botanic Gardens . Several short central city walks (around 45 minutes) are outlined in a brochure available from the Visitor Information Centre .
Do-it-yourself explorers will find a wealth of walking tracks on the Port Hills— Godley Head Walk , Major Hornbrook Track, the Bridle Path —and on Banks Peninsula, Southern Bays Walkway, and Banks Peninsula Track .
The best way to explore the Avon River is to hire a bike, pack a lunch and set off downstream along the riverbank. A good starting point is Hagley Park where the river bends around the Botanic Gardens and past the Antigua Boatsheds , where you can take a break and grab a bite to eat. Take a Punt in the Park while you are passing time, before beginning the long, gentle meander to the Estuary .
Sumner Beach & Lyttelton
It is worth hiring a car for an excursion to the east coast, and over the Port Hills, where you will be introduced to some of the landscapes and historic places which have defined Christchurch, from the central city drive to Sumner Beach along the southern shore of the Estuary. Sumner is worthy of a day trip by itself, but before you begin the ascent of the Port Hills, take a detour to the top of Scarborough Hill. From the cliff top, one of New Zealand's great vistas unfolds, across the clustered houses of Sumner to Southshore Spit and the long northern sweep of Pegasus Bay leading away toward the distant Seaward Kaikoura Range.
For a change of scene, take the Evans Pass Road to the summit of the Port Hills and down the other side to Lyttelton. Stop here for a view of Lyttelton Harbour at Windy Point then carry on down to the town. Lyttelton is full of interesting historic buildings—outlined in the Historic Walk brochure available from the Information Center—and is a colorful working port.
You can return to the city via the Road Tunnel or carry on along the edge of Lyttelton Harbour , past Corsair , Cass and Rapaki Bays, to Governors Bay then take Dyers Pass Road back up to the Crater Rim.
Lyttelton to Akaroa
Canterbury Sea Tours offers a boat tour of Lyttelton Harbour while Christchurch Wildlife Cruises will introduce you to the harbor's unique marine fauna. You can swim with dolphins in Akaroa's Harbour or take a cruise out to the Akaroa Heads with Akaroa Harbour Cruises.