New Zealand Travel Guide: Christchurch

April 14, 2009

Days 9, 10 and a little 11

Cathedral Square

Cathedral Square

After a week on my own in New Zealand’s North Island, hopping buses, reading maps and sleeping in bunk beds, I was very ready to relax and let someone look after me for a bit.

From Wellington I flew to Christchurch (just US$35, one-way, on Pacific Blue) to meet up with Elizabeth, a friend of mine from college who moved to New Zealand after graduation. Her mom’s a Kiwi and Elizabeth already had citizenship there, making it simple to get a job and apply to do her master’s degree in Christchurch.

I don’t think there’s anything I like more than being met at the airport by someone I know. Seeing a friendly face, getting a hug and having someone ask me, “Can I grab your bag for you?” is heaven. Prying my bag off of my body, out of the permanent indent it had formed in my shoulder, is even more heavenly. Then getting into a real car, without having to sort through change and figure out the price of a ticket? Civilization has never been so satisfying.

Aside from the pampering, the other benefit to staying with a friend is that they can take over the planning, and can show you more of what real life is like where they are, with some sightseeing sprinkled in.

I’ve been to Christchurch once before, so I wasn’t too concerned about seeing all of the sights in the day and a half I was there, but here are the things you should be sure to catch:

  • Have lunch, do some shopping, and catch a lecture in Cathedral Square. It’s not huge, but there’s a lot going on in the middle of town. You have the famous landmarks (Christchurch Cathedral and Chalice, the torch sculpture thing), a local celebrity (the Wizard gives regular soapbox speeches on everything he thinks is wrong with the world), and lots of vendors selling clothing, pottery, bags, souvenirs and bone and jade carved jewelry. There’s also a visitor’s center here if you need any maps or brochures.
  • For a combination of history, shopping and a trendy pub stop, take a walk around the Arts Centre. It used to be Canterbury University, and now is home to artist studios, markets, cafes and the Dux de Lux, a very cool vegetarian cafe/bar. They have a very interesting take on a Mexican pizza.
The Botanic Gardens

The Botanic Gardens

  • Christchurch is The Garden City, so you need to visit the Botanic Gardens, if only to take some pictures to show your mom. She’ll think you spent your whole trip seeing the most wholesome sights, and will never have to know about the English backpackers you picked up in cheap bars. It is a beautiful park though, and a good place to nurse a hangover or write some postcards.
  • For an art stop, you can take your pick from the Centre of Contemporary Art, the Christchurch Art Gallery and the Canterbury Museum. The first features modern works, the second has a lot of local and Maori pieces and the third includes geology, zoology, Maori, Asian and European collections.
  • Punt your way down the Avon. No, it has nothing to do with football. You hire a punter to steer you serenely down the river in their boat. It feels very English and is far cheaper than the gondolas in Italy.

If you still have some time on your hands, here are a few more options:

  • Find a TV and watch the worst morning show ever. TV is never essential to travel, but if you’re in a place for a while and want to get a better feel for how the locals live, it doesn’t hurt to listen to their radio stations and watch their TV shows. Elizabeth let me know that the morning show was beyond bad, and since I had a morning to prop my feet up and rest, I had a look, and it was dreadful to the point that I now consider Matt Lauer to be a hosting genius.Honestly, a woman named Astar spend 15 minutes trying to teach people how to glue buttons on canvas to make art when all she had to say was, “Glue some buttons on a canvas to create your own art.” Oi.
  • Right in Cathedral Square there’s the Southern Encounter Aquarium where you can see all sorts of fish, sharks, snakes and buggy things, plus kiwi. They have two in a dark habitat that you can sneek into and watch (as long as you stay silent so as not to scare them). This isn’t the biggest or best animal-watching place in New Zealand, but if you haven’t had a chance to see a kiwi anywhere else, it’s not bad. Try to go early though, as the kiwis get lazy after lunch and you might not see them at all.
The Cupcake Parlour: Perfect for an afternoon snack.

The Cupcake Parlour: Perfect for an afternoon snack.

  • Stop for a snack at the Cupcake Parlour. Cupcakes have been the new black in the States for a while now, but the trend has spread all over. At this place you can try some regional favorites, like Passionfruit Lovelies or Ginger Goddess.

While I didn’t feel like Christchurch was as energetic as Wellington, it still has far more charm than Auckland, and I’d recommend that you spend at least two days there.

I was sad to leave, but very excited that Elizabeth was joining me for my next destination:  Sydney, Australia!


  1. […] Next stop: Christchurch […]

  2. […] photos I saw of Christchurch were heartbreaking. I was there just two years ago, although it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long because my memories are still very […]

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