It’s a good time to visit Christchurch now. While there is still considerable damage from the earthquakes to be seen, you can witness the changing face of the city in all the reconstruction efforts. The red zone, which cordons off big parts of Christchurch’s city centre, is constantly changing, with more parts being made accessible all the time. So while there are more and more former highlights popping back on visitors’ itineraries, there are others that have never left, and new ones to discover!
Hagley Park and the Botanic Garden
Christchurch was and still is the Garden City. The Botanic Gardens are always worth a visit, and so is Hagley Park. So there you go, 164 hectares of lovely green open space in the form of Hagley Park, and 21 hectares of New Zealand flora in the beautiful Botanic Gardens. You’ll find plenty of people practising sports, walking by the Avon River, and admiring the art and horticultural displays.
Punting on the River Avon
If you feel like taking a break whilst taking it in, you might as well hop into one of the punting boats at Antigua Boat Sheds or Worcester Street. Two different tours are available, leading either through Hagley Park and the Botanic Gardens, or the red zone. It’s a well-rounded experience, with the velvety cushions and blankets to cover your legs on crisp days. And let’s not forget the wonderfully stylish punter, sporting a straw hat and striped blazer, navigating his guests along the calm Avon River.
Tours of the red zone
It is actually possible to enter the cordoned-off areas in the red zone, with the Red Bus company. The tour basically navigates through the central business district, including Cathedral Square, and guides provide insight into what happened during the two big earthquakes, the seismic activity in the Canterbury region, details about the state and fate of iconic buildings and new developments.
The Christchurch Art Gallery is still closed to the public, but it is expected to re-open mid-2013. Mark it in your calendar if you’re in NZ halfway through the year, because it really is a gallery not to be missed. The building as such is a fantastic piece of architecture, and chances are you’ll be walking past it anyway, as it is located on Worcester Boulevard on the way to Hagley Park, right next to the:
A great museum can be as attractive on the outside as on the inside, going by London standards, and the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch is no exception to this observation. The museum has plenty of artefacts on display to tell the stories of the Canterbury region, as well as exhibits from Antarctica expeditions, Maori culture and contemporary “kiwiana”.
You could go on a real treasure hunt through Christchurch and find the most amazingly creative ideas to fill the lots left vacant after the earthquakes – and there are quite a few. From the Dance-o-mat, that was tried and tested by His Royal Highness Prince Charles himself only a couple of months ago, to the re-purposed fridge now operating as an open book exchange, to the various murals.
This is perhaps THE place to meet people, in the absence of the old people and tourist hotspot that was Cathedral Square. The new container mall is where you find cafes, hip little boutiques, market stands, street food, street artists, live music and performances, and of course Christchurch’s retail icon, Ballantyne’s department store. Lonely Planet recently put together a list of things to do in Christchurch after the earthquake. Check it out here for further inspiration! And now for the practical part:
How to get around Christchurch
My recommendation is to rent a bike and explore the city for yourself. Or a car at least, to be able to navigate more ground, which comes in handy for when you need to look for a restaurant. Of course Christchurch is still walkable, there are busses and chances are your accommodation is fairly central, but to get to places of interest and having to walk around the red zone is fairly time consuming, so I would recommend getting some wheels. For those wanting to cycle around in style, consider The Vintage Peddler. Lovely old bikes that don’t just carry you, but also individual names! My blue beauty was called City Girl. How very apt.
Where to stay in Christchurch
As you can imagine, quite a few hotels, motels and backpacker accommodation have been affected by the earthquake and had to shut down completely or are still in disrepair. I stayed at Foley Towers (backpacker accommodation) on Kilmore Street, just a 15-min walk away from the red zone. I found Foley’s to be a perfect little retreat in walking distance from the centre. Other hostels I used before that are still operating, is Kiwi House, and YHA Christchurch Rolleston House has also just re-opened. An up-to-date listing of accommodation in Christchurch can be found here.
Where to eat out in Christchurch
Going out for dinner at night can be a challenge. Most hotels will have a new map of the city centre and surroundings that points out the cordoned-off red zone, where most of the restaurants, cafes and bars were, and the other restaurants and pubs outside of the very centre that are still open; there are few. And if you do find one that is still operating and there’s no space, it’s a challenge to reach the next one if you don’t have a car, as chances are it’s going to be on the other side of the red zone. I’d recommend to stay in a place that allows you to cook your own meals, or has a restaurant included. So don’t expect a bustling night life quite yet.