Welcome to the South Island’s largest city and an awesome place to visit whether it’s for a holiday or the start or end point for an epic New Zealand road trip. Many people choose Christchurch as the starting point for a trip around the South Island – it’s relatively central location (top to bottom) makes it a great place to start whether you’re heading north to Nelson and the Abel Tasman, west over to the glaciers and the rugged West Coast or south to the adventure capital of Queenstown or further still to Stewart Island.
Despite it being such a good place to start your South Island adventure, don’t be in too big a rush to head off – there’s plenty to see and do in Christchurch and the Canterbury region from exploring the beautiful city sitting on the Avon River to the stunning Banks Peninsula and the French town of Akaroa. With so many things to see and do in and around Christchurch, we thought we would pull together our top 5 things to do to give you a head start.
Top 5 things to do in Christchurch
1. Antigua Boatsheds
From Cathedral Square, located at the heart of the city, take a walk down Worcester Street passing by the statues of famous historic figures Robert Falcon Scott and John Robert Godley. You will also pass by the Canterbury Club, a long established gentleman’s club built in 1873.
Built in 1882 for the Christchurch Boating Club, the Antigua Boatsheds are the only survivors of a number of similar boatsheds that once lined the Avon River. You can hire a vessel from the boatsheds and explore the river or relax in one of the fully upholstered punts and enjoy the scenery while a boatman does all the work. We recommend hiring a punting boat and giving this a go without falling in! It’s a lot of fun as you try and steer and propel yourself along using a giant pole that you shove into the riverbed whilst trying not to topple over. We have seen a few people get wet down there so probably best to take you phone and wallet out of your pocket before you give it a go!!
2. Banks Peninsula
This is a stunning scenic drive that will take you out of Christchurch to explore the Banks Peninsula and finish up in Akaroa, New Zealand’s only French colony with its quaint streets and boulangerie!
Heading out of the city, you will first come across historic Lyttleton with its fascinating collection of Victorian buildings clustered around the waterfront and the hillsides overlooking the harbour. From here take a drive out on the scenic route to Governors Bay and on to the Banks Peninsula. In Governors Bay you can visit the historic St Cuthbert’s Church which dates back to 1862 and a time when the original settlers arrived in New Zealand.
From Governors Bay you will then head on to Akaroa. There is plenty to do and see in Akaroa including many of the original buildings from this early French settlement as well as an old wooden lighthouse and all the street names are French despite the French settlers arriving shortly after the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed with the British. The town retains a very French feel and the Akaroa festival each year celebrates the town’s history and French roots. Definitely pop into the bakery (or boulangerie!) for a tasty croissant or crusty French stick!
3. International Antarctic Centre
The award-winning International Antarctic Centre has outstanding displays including a fantastic snow and ice experience in the indoor polar room, chilled to -5 degrees Celsius, where you can slide down an icy slope, shelter in an ice cave and brave the wind chill machine at -18 degrees Celsius. If you’re feeling brave, the 40 km/hr winds of the Antarctic Storm complete with lighting and audio effects can be experienced every 30 minutes. There is a replica of the present Scott Base and the Antarctic Aquarium displays some of the actual specimens from the Antarctic Ocean floor in McMurdo Sound.
Little Blue Penguins and the Hagglund Ride
The New Zealand Penguin Encounter features indoor and outdoor penguin viewing areas providing a rare opportunity to see the normally nocturnal, Little Blue penguins. Most of the penguins were rescued from the wild and some have been cared for since they were chicks. Another really unique experience you can enjoy at the centre is an exciting ride on board an authentic Hagglund all-terrain vehicle. This amphibious tracked vehicle will take you across a rough terrain course similar to what the scientists operating the Hagglund have to negotiate when crossing the icepack.
This is great fun for people of all ages so bring out the big kid in you and give the ice slide a try – it’s a lot of fun!!
4. Christchurch Trams
Christchurch Trams are a bit of an institution round these parts and date back to the days of horse drawn trams which started in 1880. These were soon to be replaced by slightly cleaner and more predictable steam trams and then in 1905 new electric trams were introduced and operated through until 1954. There were also some double-decker trams imported from the USA but most of the trams were made in Christchurch by Boon and Co. A number of these historic trams were brought back into operation in 1995 and now operate on a 2.5 km route around the city. On the Tram Tour you can get off at any of the stops and get back on again later, making it a great way to get around the central parts of Christchurch.
There is something romantic about the trams and they only add to the charm of downtown Christchurch and add to the ‘English’ feel of the city. If you manage to catch a tram and then head for a day out punting on the river, you could be forgiven that you had landed in Oxford or Cambridge – just with the sunshine!
Following on from the devastating earthquake to hit Christchurch on 22 February 2011, the city needed new life breathing into it. Many of the old, historic buildings had suffered damage or worse in the earthquake that shook the city to its core and so Re:Start was born.
The brainchild of the city’s Property and Development Owners, Re:Start has grown steadily over the past three years increasing from 27 businesses when it opening in October 2011 to well over 50 businesses by the end of 2015. The City’s Property and Development Owners recognised the need to get people back into the CBD as soon as possible but knew that to repair and rebuild the damaged buildings would take too long. Utilising shipping containers and thanks to a generous grant from the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust, the business owners were able to bring business back to the CBD within months rather than years of the earthquake which damaged up to 80% of the city’s CBD.
Re:Start is now a thriving business district and a cool place to go and hang out, shop, drink coffee and reflect on the resilient nature of the city who chose to fight back against nature and this time, gained a small victory.
The Best of the Rest
Christchurch has so much going on that it is tricky to fit it all into a top 5 list. As you know, everyone loves things for different reasons; these are just five of our favourites but we are always keen to find out what our GO Rentals customers think and get your opinions. Here are a few of the suggestions that you can add to your own list of things to do in Christchurch and if you have any more, let us know via our GO Explore Facebook page:
- Cathedral Square
- Arts Centre
- Christchurch Art Gallery
- Christ’s College
- Edmonds Band Rotunda
- Kaikoura Coastline
- The Airforce Museum
- The Port Hills
- Ferrymead Historic Park
- Cob Cottage
- Christchurch Gondola
Let us know what your favourite things to do in Christchurch are via our GO Explore Facebook page.
New Zealand Road Trip Itineraries from Christchurch