Christchurch New Zealand
The South Island’s largest city, Christchurch feels like a slice of England by the ocean, amongst agricultural plains. Despite major earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 that destroyed many historic buildings in the city, Christchurch still has a historic feel with brick, cobblestone, tramcars, and Victorian architecture. Boats carrying starry-eyed couples glide along the Avon River. Christchurch Botanic Gardens present a civilized way to enjoy outdoor public space. In all, visitors are often drawn to cosmopolitan Christchurch as a bustling outpost of culture, dining, entertainment, and sports in a place that’s otherwise quite wild and rural.
Naturally, due to its size, Christchurch is a transportation hub for the South Island of New Zealand. Home to an international airport, it has daily flights from Australia as well as most domestic New Zealand airports. The world-famous Tranz Alpine train begins in Christchurch and crosses the Southern Alps through Arthur’s Pass all the way to Greymouth on the West Coast. Another train travels north up the coast from Christchurch to Picton, connecting to North Island ferries. Other visitors prefer to self-drive to Christchurch, either from the West Coast via Arthur’s Pass, from Mt. Cook, from Dunedin, or from Blenheim via Kaikoura.
Where to Stay in Christchurch, New Zealand:
While some travelers simply overnight in Christchurch en route to another destination, we think it’s definitely worth spending a couple of nights here. Stay at least two nights if you want to get out and about to some of the gorgeous wilderness outside the city.
With over 350,000 inhabitants, Christchurch is big enough to offer plenty of places to stay. There are independent inns, chain hotels, charming historic B&Bs, full-service resorts, and more than one luxury lodge right nearby. Stay downtown if you want to enjoy nightlife, dining, and shopping. Downtown Christchurch is compact and easily walkable, with most major sights accessible by foot or tramcar.
If you prefer your accommodations to be a little less urban, then stay a short drive outside town at a luxurious five-star historic homestead nestled in gardens or an isolated, exclusive rental home with full amenities out on the Banks Peninsula. The dining and service at these top accommodations cannot be beaten — see our blog post on luxury lodges of New Zealand for more on what these places are about.
When to Visit Christchurch, New Zealand:
Like elsewhere in New Zealand, Christchurch is suitable for tourists at any time of year. Its climate is temperate with relatively mild changes between the four seasons. It also receives less rainfall than other parts of New Zealand.
There are a number of major events on Christchurch’s annual calendar that are tons of fun for international visitors. The World Buskers Festival is in January each year, and thousands of street musicians descend on Christchurch to give their finest public performances in a lively summer festival atmosphere. Another popular event is the Garden City Festival of Flowers, which occurs annually in February when the city comes alive with color. New Zealand’s largest farm (A&P) show draws 100,000 visitors in November each year — kind of like a county fair on steroids.
In April 2018, Christchurch is the home to the Golden Oldies Sports Celebration, a fun, friendly, and prestigious event for international players of rugby, basketball, cricket, football (soccer), golf, hockey (field hockey), lawn bowls, netball, softball, and squash.
Best Places to Visit as a Day Tour from Christchurch:
If you have a full day or more in Christchurch, then we recommend leaving the city to enjoy the gorgeous, unique and diverse wilderness right nearby. The easiest and most informative way is to hire an expert guide, though self-driving is always an option.
Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula:
The Banks Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean southeast of Christchurch. Formed by extinct volcanic peaks, there are two harbors and a pock-marked coastline that create plenty of opportunities to enjoy the water, as well as scenic views from high. On the Banks Peninsula, you can swim with rare Hector’s dolphins, see fur seals as well as white-slippered and yellow-eyed penguins, and enjoy the natural beauty that nature has created. The old French town of Akaroa is the largest and most charming town on the peninsula, located a 90-minute drive from downtown Christchurch.
Most travelers only take a brief glance at Arthur’s Pass while passing through the Southern Alps, either by car or by train. However, we think it’s definitely worth staying overnight or at least taking a full-day trip from Christchurch to enjoy the area. Arthur’s Pass is a high mountain pass over the Southern Alps, home to the world’s only alpine parrot as well as numerous hiking, fishing, and wilderness opportunities. Our favorite day tour starts with adventurous four-wheel-driving out of Christchurch, through the Canterbury Plains, and into the Alps. Next, there’s a jet boat ride on a remote mountain river and walking in nature. The day ends with a ride on the Tranz Alpine train from Arthur’s Pass back to Christchurch, so you get the best of both road and rail.
Located about a three-hour drive north of Christchurch, Kaikoura is a destination in and of itself. We typically recommend you stay here at least two nights, but for those short on time, a day trip from Christchurch is not only possible but could be the highlight of your trip. Kaikoura is a quiet, small town with a vibrant fishing and crayfish community.
Its biggest claim to fame lies just a few hundred meters (or yards) offshore. A continental shelf has created a canyon almost two kilometers deep (over one mile) running in a U-shape near Kaikoura. This means that massive pods of dolphins and whales, as well as other marine life, migrate in deep ocean currents just offshore. From Kaikoura, you can easily swim with wild dolphins or go whale watching.
You’ll find some whales and dolphins year-round, but for Humpbacks, visit between June and August. For Orca, travel in summer between October and March. Our other favorite activities in Kaikoura are a fun half-day hike and excellent Maori cultural experiences.
More Activities in and around Christchurch, New Zealand:
In addition to the other great sights and activities we’ve already mentioned in Christchurch, here are some more to round out your stay:
- Vineyards and wine tasting in the Waipara Valley
- Canterbury Museum in downtown Christchurch, including Quake City which tells the story of the region’s earthquakes and resilient locals who recover and rebuild
- International Antarctic Centre near the airport
- Adventure sports, such as sky diving, canyoning, jet boat riding, heli-hiking, skiing, and snowboarding in winter
- Lord of the Rings day tour to the filming location of Edoras
- Earthquake stuff
- Kiwi birds and other wildlife at Orana Wildlife Park and Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
Ready to visit Christchurch, New Zealand? Contact your New Zealand travel specialist today to get started.