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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrNew Zealand’s second-largest city, and the largest city in the South Island, Christchurch is known as the ‘Garden City’. Called “Otautahi” in the indigenous Māori language , the city combines the beauty of historic colonial buildings with natural wonders, including beaches and mountains within a couple of hours of each other.
Tragedy struck in early 2011, when a 6.3 magnitude earthquake ripped through the city center, killing 185 people. After a slow start to the reconstruction, the city is springing back to life, with a revitalized city center and thriving and innovative startup business and tourist attractions.
HistoryAccording to Maori oral history, the Canterbury region was first inhabited about a thousand years ago by Maori tribes who hunted moa (a large bird native to New Zealand, now extinct). It is thought that these tribes were followed by the Waitaha , from the North Island in the 16th century. This was followed by the arrival of the Ngati Mamoe and Ngai Tahu tribes in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Captain James Cook was the first European to see the region, sighting Banks Peninsula in 1770. The first European landed in Canterbury in 1815, and by 1840, the first Europeans settled on the Canterbury Plains. By 1850, whaling ships were operating out of Lyttleton.
During 1850-1851, the first organized groups of English settlers, the founders of Christchurch, arrived on the “first four ships” into Lyttelton Harbor. These ships were the Randolph, Charlotte Jane, Sir George Seymour, and Cressy. The pioneering Cantabrians aspired to construct a city around a cathedral and college, following the model of Christ Church in Oxford, England.
A steep foot and pack horse track was constructed, connecting Lyttelton Barbour and Christchurch City. The path became known as the “Bridle Path”, because it was so steep, horses had to be led by their bridles. The difficulty of the Bridle Path led to the construction of a railway tunnel, bored through the Port Hills from Lyttelton. The tunnel opened in 1967.
In 1947, New Zealand’s worst fire disaster occurred at Ballantyne’s Department Store in the inner city, killing 41 people.
On the 31st July 1856, Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter, making it the oldest established city in New Zealand. Canterbury’s economy was built on primary products, such as sheep, dairy and beef.
2011 Earthquake and RecoveryOn Tuesday 22 February, 2011, Christchurch was rocked by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake. The intensity and violence of the ground shaking was among the strongest ever recorded globally in an urban area. In total, 185 people were killed, including nationals from more than 20 countries.
The quake caused widespread damage across the city, especially to buildings weakened by a sizeable quake 6 months earlier. Over 1,000 buildings in the central business district were demolished following the earthquakes. The total cost to insurers of rebuilding has been estimated at $20-30 billion NZD.
Following an initial decline in population after the earthquakes as many shifted out of the city, Christchurch has experienced growth with the central city rebuild, and significant growth in the residential sector. A number of urban regeneration initiatives emerged in the city following the earthquakes, filling vacant spaces with artwork, gardens, and even performing arts.
SightseeingA huge attraction of Christchurch is its close proximity to both beaches and mountains. In the same day you can ski on spectacular slopes and surf in the Pacific waters off the coast.
The Central City was closed off following the 2011 earthquake. It was fully reopened in June 2013, although some streets remain closed off due to repair work. At the center of the city is Cathedral Square, home to the landmark Anglican Christ Church’s cathedral, which was severely damaged in the 2011 earthquake.
The Transitional “Cardboard” Cathedral occupies the site of the former St John’s Latimer Square Anglican Church. Designed by Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban, the Cathedral is constructed from cardboard tubes, timber beams, structural steel and concrete. The triangular window design incorporates images from Christchurch Cathedral’s original rose window. This colorful and unique building is host to concerts, exhibitions, and civic and community events.
The expansive Hagley Park is located at the heart of Christchurch. Comprising 165 hectares of green space, the park includes sports fields, walking paths lined by century-old trees, and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Access to the gardens is free, and gates are open between 7AM and 9PM (in summer months).
The Canterbury Museum is situated in a beautiful historic building in the center of Christchurch. Home to outstanding Maori and early European exhibits and interactive learning for children, learn more about the history of the city. Located on Rolleston Avenue, the museum is open 9AM-5PM. Admission is free.
Christchurch is also known as the gateway to the Antarctic. Christchurch International Airport serves as the major base for the New Zealand, Italian and United States Antarctic programs. The United States Navy and the New Zealand and Australian air forces use Christchurch Airport as the take off point for the main supply route to McMurdo and Scott Bases in Antarctica.
The International Antarctic Center hosts a museum and visitor center showcasing Antarctic activities. Learn more about the importance of Antarctica to the rest of the globe, and take an exciting ride on Antarctic transport. The center is open 9AM-5:30PM, prices start at $39 NZD for adults.
FestivalsThe World Buskers Festival is held each year in January and includes a variety of comedy, theater and even burlesque acts. Shows are held around the central city in indoor and outdoor locations. For shows held outside, bring a picnic rug, a drink or two, and some food to enjoy as you laugh.
Activities around ChristchurchThe Canterbury region is home to the stunning Southern Alps mountains, patchwork plains with braided rivers, and lush vineyards. Whether you’re an adrenalin junkie or a wine-lover, there is something for you when you head out of Christchurch city.
The TranzAlpine train journey is one of New Zealand’s most famous, and provides a beautiful way to see the scenery of the South Island. The train track traverses the South Island from east to west, passing through the incredible Southern Alps. The train arrives in Greymouth on the West Coast. The TranzAlpine departs each day at 8:15AM from Addington Station in Christchurch, and returns at 6:05PM.
Another stunning day trip by train is the Coastal Pacific. This takes you up along the East coast to the seaside town of Kaikoura. Drink in the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean, and the plains of north Canterbury. During the summer months (October-April) the Coastal Pacific departs daily at 7:00AM from Addington Station in Christchurch, returning at 6:21PM.
ShoppingCashel Street features the Re:START Mall, constructed of colorful shipping containers that have been converted into retail stores. Grab a takeaway coffee from Hummingbird coffee or something delicious to eat from one of the food caravans, and make your way along the pedestrian mall while checking out the more than 40 retailers, including fashion, shoes, books, and pick up some New Zealand memorabilia and gifts to take home.
Also in the Re:START is Quake City, a multi-media attraction that tells the stories of the Christchurch earthquakes. Entry $20 NZD per adult, and opening hours are 10AM-5PM, 7 days a week.
In the heart of the city, New Regent Street is a stunning place to get in some retail therapy. The 40 individual shops were designed in the Spanish Mission Revival style and built in the 1930s, with beautiful colors and tiles.
DiningYou are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating in Christchurch. Indulge in the central city, or try the offerings out in one of the suburbs.
For a treat in the central city, Saggio di vino is a Christchurch institution. At the pricier end of the scale, Saggios offers delicious Italian and European cuisine.
Saggios is found on Victoria Street.
For a more relaxed atmosphere, try CBD Bar & Pizzera for delicious wood fired pizzas and craft beer (Madras Street), Tequila Mockingbird for Caribbean and South American flavors (Victoria Street), or St Asaph Street Kitchen & Stray Dog Bar for Kiwi favorites and great coffee (St Asaph Street).
Head out to the suburbs for Addington Coffee Co-op, offering delicious coffee and a casual meal (Lincoln Road, Addington). The Cornershop Bistro is perfect for brunch (Nayland Street, Sumner), or No. 4 Bar & Restaurant is a never fail for good food and a vibrant atmosphere (Mansfield Avenue, Merivale).
LodgingA wide range of accommodation is available in Christchurch and Canterbury. At the budget end, backpackers and motels are available for reasonable rates, while at the luxury end, hotels and boutique accommodation provide a touch of comfort to your stay.
For more options, check out this website
Tourist TransportationChristchurch is serviced by Christchurch International Airport, New Zealand’s second largest. It offers direct flights from New Zealand centers, and 10 international airports. The airport is located just a 15-minute drive from the city center. You can make the trip by car, taxi, or by public bus. The Purple Line and Route 29 buses connect the airport to the city center. All buses depart from outside the far end of the international arrivals terminal.
Intercity, the national bus carrier, offers services to Christchurch from a range of destinations.
ClimateChristchurch has a temperate climate with moderate rainfall. Summers are mild with the average high is around 22°C, although it can feel a lot hotter due to the warm northwesterly wind. Winters can be cold, and it is common for the temperature to fall below 0°C at night, with ground frosts. Snow falls more or less three times a year.
SafetyWhile crime rates in Christchurch are reasonably low, as always, use your common sense. Take simple steps like not walking alone at night and locking away your valuables.
More InformationThe Christchurch Visitor Information Center (iSITE) is located in the Botanic Gardens on Rolleston Avenue (next to the Canterbury Museum). The center is open 7 days from 8:30AM – 7:00PM.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Feb 03, 2015