"Shaken but not beaten: A city rising from ruins" Top 5 Page for this destination Christchurch by Kakapo2

Christchurch Travel Guide: 1,251 reviews and 2,676 photos


Christchurch was on the road to recovery from the 7.1 earthquake that had rattled the city on 4 September 2010 when a far more ferocious 6.3 quake reduced it to rubble on 22 February 2011, killing 182 people. Even ChristChurch Cathedral, the heart of the city, was severely damaged.

The second 6.3 quake on 13 June 2011 has caused further damage to already damaged suburbs and structures, so not a lot changed for tourists. The CBD is still cordoned off. But you can still fly in, stay here for a few days, there is plenty of accommodation. And quite a few attractions are open. See in the first tip in "Things to do" what is possible - as the city is getting back on its feet.

Christchurch was a peaceful place before the earthquakes. In most areas you would not even need traffic lights to cross the streets. Although Christchurch City has 375,000 inhabitants, relaxing on a seat in the sun on Cathedral Square felt like siesta time in a small country town.

Now the heart of the city is cordoned off. The (Anglican) Cathedral is a ruin. Most of it will be demolished, and the few remaining parts will be integrated into a modern new structure. The photo above was taken right after the February quake. In June the rose window collapsed, and the remains of the tower are now an open shell. It is a sobering sight.

Soon there will be bus tours available through the CBD. The problem is that there are still many unsafe high-rise buildings that have to be demolished before full access is possible.

Being a journalist, I have had the possibility to witness the changes in the city centre on media tours. It well and truly is shocking. There are so many empty and deserted spaces where once proud buildings were standing. So much has gone that I cannot remember which buildings once filled the voids. There are not just gaps to fill. The city centre needs a complete rebuild in many areas. Not a lot of historic landmarks have survived. To look at these ruins which once lifted your spirits with their outstanding beauty is heartbreaking, be it the Provincial Chambers or the Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament which has partially been dismantled. Every day more of it is going to disappear.

A new container business centre

But Christchurch is not dead. There is still - and again - a lot to see and do. The latest novelty and a step forward in the city's revival was the opening of City Mall (Cashel Mall) on the last weekend of October 2011. It is the first open area of the CBD. 27 shops, including two cafés, have been established in a colourful two-storey container precint. To my delight Johnson's 100 year-old grocery is one of the shops which will be there for at least six months. But they could be there up to two years while demolitions of high-rise buildings like the Hotel Grand Chancellor nearby are going on.

This mall (between the Bridge of Remembrance on Oxford Terrace and Colombo Street) feels like an oasis in a desert of destruction.

Another great re-opening was Canterbury Museum opening its doors to the public. Only a fraction of its exhibits were damaged. The museum has a fantastic bird collection and the fabulous Paua House. And it is even a greater delight that the earthquake-strengthened building has remained intact. The Museum is located at the entrance to the Botanic Gardens, the Antigua Boatsheds where punting tours on the Avon start are nearby. Some café have popped up nearby, on Worcester Bouleavard, along the sadly very badly damaged Arts Centre.

Some of my favourite places in New Zealand's most English city have remained unscathed and are still great places to visit.

St. Michael's and All Angels
Christchurch's best kept secret or most underrated attraction - however you might see it. This spectacular wooden Gothic parish church, just a few hundred metres from Cathedral Square, is the mother church of Canterbury, already founded in 1851, long before the foundation stone of the Cathedral was laid.

Favourite places

Hagley Park
A green haven in the middle of the city. A place to relax and to be active. Sit on a bench under the huge old trees, lie in the sun, feed the ducks. Or go jogging, walking, cycling, inline-skating, play golf, rugby, netball, cricket, tennis, football. Little, North and South Hagley Park are so huge that it never feels crowded.

Botanic Gardens
They are part of Hagley Park, surrounded by the Avon. There are two unique spots: the sheltered rose garden where you can inhale the scents of the flowers, sit on the benches for hours, watch people or read a book - and the Natives Walk where you can learn about some of NZ's unique plants. Check the undersides of the fern leaves - if they are silvery-white it's the silver fern.

Deans Bush, Deans Cottage and Riccarton House are the site of Christchurch's oldest pioneer cottage and its oldest trees. The kahikatea (white pine) are the only trees of this species remaining in the east of the South Island. They are the remains of an ancient forest. It is even more amazing that they have survived in the middle of a city.

The white beaches behind huge sand dunes stretch over 25km from South Brighton to the mouth of the Waimakariri River, so they are never crowded. New Brighton is no flash living area but the beach is just fantastic. Further north are the beaches of the Bottle Lake Reserve (good MTB, walking and jogging tracks) and Spencer Park (wetlands walks).

Sumner Beach is rather crowded on summer weekends but the big plus is that there are many nice cafés and restaurants nearby.

Be cautious with swimming and stepping into the water. Since the earthquakes a lot of sewage has flown into the rivers and from there straight into the Estuary and the sea. E.coli infections are always possible. Avoid putting your hands into the water when you go punting on the Avon.

The Scenic Hill Side of the Canterbury Plains

The Port Hills South of the city are another world. Just a short drive from the city centre but so very far away. When you sit anywhere along the Summit Road or Crater Rim Walkway you feel a little bit like on the altiplano in South America, only that here it starts at sea level and not at 2500 to 4500 metres. With a little bit of imagination Christchurch feels like the small version of Santiago de Chile (in winter we even get the smog here...) with the Southern Alps in the background.

Best access to the Summit Road is from Colombo Street (South), always straight ahead to Cashmere, there Colombo Street becomes Dyers Pass Road after a roundabout and then winds uphill past the Sign of the Takahe. You reach the Summit Road at the Sign of the Bellbird. If you turn to the right you get to the Sign of the Bellbird and via Gebbies Pass to Banks Peninsula. If you cross at the Sign of the Kiwi you get straight down to Governors Bay and Lyttelton Harbour.

Since the earthquakes it is impossible to turn to the left towards historic Bridle Path, the Gondola, Evans Pass, Godley Head, Sumner and Lyttelton.

The dry tussock grass landscape and the rough volcanic rocks give the Port Hills a touch of lonesome desert. You can drive along a part of the Summit Road and enjoy the views on one side to the city and the mountains and on the other side over the turquoise blue waters of Lyttelton Harbour to the equally fantastic Banks Peninsula. In fact Lyttelton Harbour is a former crater which has been filled by the water of the sea, and the Port Hills and the hills of Banks Peninsula are the crater rims.

The Port Hills - up to 500m high - are a fantastic area for long and short walks. As the Summit Road and the Crater Rim Walkway meet every some kilometers you can drive up the hill and walk as long as you please in either direction and then walk back to the car. But you can also make loop walks from several Christchurch suburbs - right now limited due to the risk of rockfall.

The most perfect view of Lyttelton Harbour is from the Sign of the Bellbird in the afternoon; it is also the perfect spot for a magic sunset.

Special encounters with NZ Wildlife

The Willowbank in Christchurch (see special chapter in "What to do") is a perfect place for an introduction to NZ wildlife (and Maori culture). Orana Wildlife Park also has a great range of endangered birds in its aviaries, they are also very engaged in kiwi breeding programmes and have tuataras, NZ's living fossil, geckos and wild animals from other continents.

A lot of water and wading birds are residents of the estuary in Heathcote and along the shallow waters along the road to Sumner, also in the wetlands in Bexley and Spencer Park. Apart from all kinds of seagulls you will see a lot of oystercatchers (black birds with red legs and long red beaks) running around on the beach, as well on "The Spit" - that is the south end of the New Brighton peninsula.

Since September 2006 the Antarctic Centre has real little blue penguins swimming around in their basin. Absolutely cute!

A Day in Christchurch
Even now after the earthquakes it is still hard to visit all the fabulous places in Christchurch that are accessible and open - or just there - in one day. The saddest thing is that you cannot get up to the Gondola and enjoy the breaktaking 360° view that includes the Pacific Ocean, the endless coastline up to Kaikoura, the Southern Alps, the Canterbury Plains, Lyttelton Harbour, and Banks Peninsula.

My top tips

1. to 3. Without promoting disaster tourism I think it is hugely interesting to walk around the cordoned-off CBD and have a look at the destruction these earthquakes have caused. You will not be rubbernecking or disturb the locals' privacy if you keep to the city centre.

The best place to get an idea of liquefaction and lateral spreading is to go to Porritt Park (home of Canterbury hockey) and Kerr's Reach (rowing club).

On the wobbly road to Sumner you pass the cliffs that have crumbled, with the remains of houses clinging to the top of the cliffs, and rows of containers along the road keeping you safe from being hit by more falling rocks. Sumner is still great, with nice cafés (my favourite is the dot.com), restaurants, and the Hollywood Cinema.

4. The Botanical Gardens are a must. It's up to you to decide if you want to go punting on the Avon or not, or perhaps do some kayaking. The coffee at the Antigua Boatsheds is fantastic.

5. The Paua House at Canterbury Museum. It is the perfect introduction to the Kiwiana culture.

The bird collection is a great introduction to NZ's wildlife, and you also get an insight into Maori settlement in the region.

An additional day in Christchurch

Trip to Banks Peninsula/Akaroa via Lyttelton Harbour/Summit Road

Or: Willowbank in the morning (highest chance of seeing kiwi), drive to Akaroa at about lunchtime.

- New Brighton beach
- Int. Antarctic Centre
- Summit Road; have coffee or a meal at the Sign of the Kiwi
- Take the ferry from Lyttelton to Diamond harbour, walk to the summit of Mt. Herbert

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Like A Little Country Town With A Big Green Heart
  • Cons:Smog in Winter, easterly winds and earthquakes (since 4 September 2010)
  • In a nutshell:Two Worlds in One Place
  • Intro Updated Mar 2, 2013
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Reviews (244)

Comments (28)

  • charlesmotley's Profile Photo
    Mar 13, 2013 at 8:10 AM

    I lived in the Avoca Valley of Chch Banks Peninsula about 35 years ago and understand that it was the epicenter and people are still not allowed to return to their houses. My son drown and was buried there while we lived there, and was told his tombstone has sunk half way into the ground. Before the earthquake there was always water running down the curbs from pressure of the aquifer from the Southern Alps behind. This caused "liquefaction" of the soil causing structure foundations to sink. We hear of other earthquakes in the world, but this effect ranks it one of the world's worst.

    • Kakapo2's Profile Photo
      Mar 13, 2013 at 9:32 AM

      Hi Charles, there has not been any liquefaction in the Avoca Valley. The reason for zoning properties red and not letting residents go back into their houses is the rockfall risk. There is no cemetery in the Avoca Valley. Your brother is highly likely to be buried at a cemetery in the east like Linwood or the Ruru cemetery where liquefaction has occurred. The aquifers in the hills have not caused liquefaction. Only swampy land was affected, and houses and gravestones built on such unstable land sank.

  • Stine620's Profile Photo
    Aug 15, 2012 at 1:04 PM

    Really good page, and ur pictures is awesome!

  • nickandchris's Profile Photo
    Mar 22, 2012 at 2:31 AM

    Wow, this is a fantastic page! So informative and up to date - my son is in Christchurch for a friend's wedding and has been touring. He has seen a lot of South Island and retiurns to Christchurch this weekend for the wedding. I hope he has seen your page and followed some of your tipe.

  • angiebabe's Profile Photo
    Jan 26, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    great page you have put together here on a popular destination that makes a visit to NZ....very sad what Chch and NZ has been enduring with such a loss of life and buildings esp the beloved cathedral - but will be interesting to see what can be incorporated into a new structure - love the colourful pic of New Regent street! will have to come back for a more lengthy visit to your page here! ps very interesting to see your travelogue on the iconic Paua house move to Chch!! didnt know that! took my Mum to visit here in the 80s - while ive been away from NZ shes even even sent me clippings of Myrtle and cos magazine updates but didnt know about the whole house move!

  • tiabunna's Profile Photo
    Nov 24, 2011 at 2:33 AM

    I shall have to return later to read more. This really is an excellent page and you've made a great effort on updates to cover all the ongoing changes since the earthquakes.

  • taigaa001's Profile Photo
    Sep 4, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Thank you for your detailed report on the status of Christchurch. I hope the beautiful city will be back as before.

  • easterntrekker's Profile Photo
    Nov 30, 2010 at 4:55 PM

    We loved our visit to Christ Church...too bad we didn't see the Wizard!!

  • Nov 23, 2010 at 10:12 PM

    You said The building was first used as a solicitor's office and then continuously housed professional offices until it was converted into a shop in 1977, By any chance do you have any idea why the professional offices moved and it turned into a shop ?

  • Kate-Me's Profile Photo
    Oct 29, 2010 at 2:24 AM

    Thanks a lot for the history info - I'll be in Christchurch next Tuesday and can't wait to see it again!

  • Sep 24, 2010 at 5:03 PM

    Sir Stewart paid $200000 tw/the fountain which was taken down by the CCC.Stewart Plaza was named after him.His family mostly paid for the 'Flower' in mem. of his life and his fountain. christchurchcitylibraries.co...

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