A Local's Guide to Christchurch: 4 Unique Experiences

When Christchurch got hit by a devastating earthquake in 2011, leaving 80% of the city in ruins, locals saw the chance to reshape the city the way they liked it. Liselot lets us in on local secrets in and around Christchurch.

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Community efforts and lots of construction work have helped Christchurch emerge from the rubble and turn into a vibrant and creative city. Whether you prefer adventure, dining, shopping or art, Christchurch has something for everyone.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island and located on the east coast. Many visitors arrive in, or leave from Christchurch’s International Airport, without spending time in the city.

Here’s why you should stick around a while before setting off to see the rest of the South Island.

1. Street Art & Creativity

Gap Fillers Project

Christchurch locals are a creative bunch, which shows in the many unique projects and art around the city.

The Gap Fillers project started as an urban regeneration initiative to showcase a range of projects, events, and things to see and do around Christchurch, and literally fills up the gaps left behind after the earthquakes.

Check out the outdoor Dance-O-Mat, book exchange corners, and a giant-size Super Street Arcade on the corner of Tuam Street in Christchurch Central.

Street Art in Christchurch

Street art is also a big part of Christchurch, and a way to bring the city back to life. Local and international artists have created vibrant murals throughout the city. Go on a graffiti-hunt and be amazed by what you find.

Check out Cathedral Square, the corner of Manchester and Welles Street, Colombo Street, Tuam Street, the top end of High Street, and Madras Street. This map shows where to find street art.

Street art can be seen throughout the city. Photo credit: Pixabay

Cardboard Cathedral

One of Christchurch’s main attractions is the Cardboard Cathedral, which was built when the original one got destroyed in the earthquake. It’s called the ‘Cardboard Cathedral’, because the foundations are made out of cardboard, and it’s a must-see when you’re there.

The Cardboard Cathedral. Photo credit: Pixabay

Museums and Art Exhibitions

Art-lovers can discover the newest exhibitions at the public Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu (free entry), or learn more about the earthquakes at the Quake City Museum. The CoCa gallery on the other hand showcases contemporary art to provoke conversation among visitors.

2. Adventure All Around Christchurch

Christchurch is sometimes overlooked as an adventure destination, but actually has a lot to offer.

Hiking Temple Basin, Arthurs Pass. Photo credit: Lieselot De Brauwer

Water Sports

If you’re into water sports, you can go surfing in Sumner, rafting on the Rangitata Gorge or jet boating on the Waimakariri River just outside of Christchurch.

Hiking in the Port Hills

If you prefer to stay on land, there’s great climbing in the Port Hills, with easy to difficult routes. 

There are also many short and rewarding hikes with beautiful views, like the steep Rapaki Track. Taylors Mistake is a great walk along the coast, and also good for fishing!

For longer walks and overnight huts, the Banks Peninsula is the place to be.

Hiking on the Banks Peninsula. Photo credit: Lieselot De Brauwer

Difficult Tracks in Arthur’s Pass

If you’re looking for some more intense hikes, Castle Hill and Arthur’s Pass will be worth the two-hour drive from town. Try out local favorites, Castle Hill Peak, Avalanche Peak, or the Bealey Spur. Castle Hill is also great for bouldering and climbing.

Thrill-seekers will love Cave Stream, where you follow a river through a cave. You don’t need to be experienced, but don’t go by yourself!

Tip: Always check the weather and water level, and take a head torch with you, because it’s pitch black inside.

Climbing to the top of Castle Hill Peak in winter. Photo credit: Lieselot De Brauwer

Mountain Biking

Christchurch is also great for mountain biking. Rent a bike and ride one of the many tracks in the Port Hills or in Bottle Lake Forest. For a more leisurely bike ride, cycle the Little River Trail.

3. Check Out the City Center

Christchurch is home to many unique cafes and restaurants – a real treat for your taste buds. After the earthquake, a wave of young, creative entrepreneurs started up their own hospitality businesses, making the city more vibrant and delicious.

For Foodies

Some food favorites in Christchurch are Pot Sticker Dumpling Bar, Burgers & Beers, Hello Sunday, Park Ranger, and C1 if you’d like to see your food delivered at your table through pneumatic tubes. New Regent Street is the place to be for cocktails, authentic bars, and fine dining.

Garden City

Christchurch is also known as the ‘Garden City’, because of its many fragrant gardens. A great way to see this side of Christchurch is by visiting the Botanic Gardens or Hagley Park – especially in spring. Or take a stroll along – or canoe ride on – the Avon River.

Nightlife

More of a night person? There’s a lot going on in the evenings. Check out trendy bars, like The Last Word or funky outdoor bar SMASH Palace, the Theatre Royal, or one of the many independent, little cinemas, like Alice Cinematique or Academy Gold.

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4. Rewarding Day Trips from Christchurch

The ocean and the mountains nearby make Christchurch the perfect base to explore surrounding places. Hop in the car or bus and check out these rewarding trips.

Lyttelton

Close to Christchurch, you’ll find the portside town of Lyttelton. Stroll around the artsy main street, have a beer in the funky bars, and check out the waterfront.

If you’re there on a Saturday, check out the Farmers Market. With organic food and live music, it’s a must-do. 

Akaroa

Take a one-hour drive to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula. Akaroa is a quirky, historic village with a French influence, so don’t be surprised by all the French flags and street names.

Take your time to drive there, as it’s one of the most beautiful roads in the area. The picturesque town is also home to penguins, alpacas, and dolphins.

Tip: Stop at the Hilltop Tavern for a drink with a panoramic view.

Views of the Bay of Akaroa. Photo credit: Lieselot De Brauwer

Castle Hill

Exploring Castle Hill makes for a great day out. For LOTR fans out there, this is where the fellowship were filmed running through the valley of rocks in The Fellowship of the Ring.

The strange limestone rock formations look like the ruins of a castle (hence the name). Walk around the rocks, or pack a picnic to take to the top of one. The rocks also offer world-class bouldering and climbing. 

A bit further down the road, you’ll reach Arthur’s Pass National Park, with impressive mountains and beautiful walks.

The views from the top are worth a short, steep hike. Photo credit: iStock

Wine in Waipara Valley

Hankering for a wine? It’s always wine time in Waipara Valley, which is great for wine tasting. Visit multiple vineyards, enjoy cellar door tastings, and try some of the delicious food. Often, they’ve got live bands playing!

As you can see, Christchurch clearly isn’t dead and has re-established itself as a unique place to visit in New Zealand.

Want to know more about New Zealand? Check out our podcast. We talk world-class diving, blood-pumping adrenalin, and road-tripping in a camper van.

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