Things to do in Christchurch after the earthquake

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

Hagley Park in central Christchurch

Hagley Park in central Christchurch

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

Punting on the River Avon in Christchurch

Punting on the River Avon in Christchurch

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

Cathedral Square after the earthquake

Cathedral Square after the earthquake

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.

Art Gallery

Christchurch Art Gallery, which is still closed to the public until mid-2013

Christchurch Art Gallery, which is still closed to the public until mid-2013

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:

Canterbury Museum

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”.

Gap fillers

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.

Re:Start Mall

Re:Start container mall in Christchurch

Re:Start container mall in Christchurch

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

Vintage bikes at the Vintage Peddler in Christchurch

Vintage bikes at the Vintage Peddler in 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

Foley Towers hostel in Christchurch

Foley Towers hostel 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.

Have you been to Christchurch recently? What would you recommend to go see and do?

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  16 comments for “Things to do in Christchurch after the earthquake

  1. 14 January, 2013 at 22:15

    As I was staying in the area, I found a makeshift trailer at the corner of Beasley & Caledonian (a block west of Colombo; north of the CBD), and these guys made phenomenal Thai- and Viet-noodle dishes. I think I went to these guys just about every night I was in town: they were local, and I was happy to give them a piece of my monetary pie in exchange for the noodles. For the noodles they were tasty.

    • Christina
      15 January, 2013 at 21:03

      Those must have been some fab noodles, Henry. Thanks for sharing the tip!

  2. 14 January, 2013 at 22:35

    We started and finished a campervan trip in Christchurch a few months ago – Hagley Park was really nice, and we drove out to … Sumner? Where the beach by the cliffs are? Beautiful, but so sad to see the grand houses there in ruins. But I must say, Christchurch drivers are holy terrors – worse than Aucklanders.

    • Christina
      15 January, 2013 at 21:07

      Sumner, yes – I’ve been there too, but only before the earthquake. I heard there was quite some destruction over there. They had such a lovely little main street with a pizza place; wonder if that’s still there.
      TBH, I didn’t notice anything different about ChCh drivers, but then again I was probably too focused on keeping left than anything else! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. 15 January, 2013 at 03:20

    I spent about 4 nights in Christchurch before Christmas and it’s certainly clear the heart has been ripped out of the city which was sad to see. I didn’t actually make it to the container mall but loved the park and gardens. We spent hours looking for an Indian or Thai restaurant (that was affordable) and as a consequence walked the majority of the city so it was well worth while!

    • Christina
      15 January, 2013 at 21:09

      Agree with walking everywhere being the best way of seeing Christchurch, next to biking. The cordon around the red zone forces you to go ways you hadn’t planned, and that’s how you stumble upon the greatest little works of street art, murals, gap fillers, etc. It can be difficult finding a restaurant – I had the same problem you had.

  4. 15 January, 2013 at 08:16

    I love your passion for New Zealand and efforts to bring tourists back to Christchurch again. New Zealand is very high on my list after reading all your posts.

    • Christina
      15 January, 2013 at 21:12

      Thanks Laurel! Glad to have inspired you! With all the outdoorsy stuff you get up to, you’d love NZ!

  5. Karen
    15 January, 2013 at 20:31

    We did a bike tour with Christchurch Bike Tours (from Antigua Boat Sheds) and saw some lovely parts of the city away from the centre as well as the edge of theRed Zone. We had such a great time we were sorry when it ended. As we had a free evening, our guide recommended a trip to the newly re-opened Alice Cinema, which was lovely and intimate.

    • Christina
      15 January, 2013 at 21:12

      I hadn’t heard about the Alice Cinema – sounds great! Thanks for the tip, Karen. Like you, I had a great time biking as well. Isn’t it fun exploring ChCh that way? It’s a beauty, even now.

  6. 16 January, 2013 at 00:18

    Great highlights of what the beautiful city has to offer. Love hanging out in the gardens (especially the rose garden) and Hagley Park. It’s so great to see places reopening and new places popping up. Christchurch is making it’s way back and will be better than ever. 🙂

    • Christina
      29 January, 2013 at 22:19

      Love Hagley Park as well. So much fun cycling through it, or running… ah well. You’re right, I also think that ChCh is coming back even better. Really looking forward to seeing the city again in a while.

  7. 17 January, 2013 at 07:01

    It’s so nice to see that Christchurch is rebounding nicely from the earthquakes. Those parks are beautiful! We never made it to Christchurch – only to Auckland and have always wondered what I had missed many years ago. That container mall looks so interesting and looks like a neat place to hang out.

    • Christina
      29 January, 2013 at 22:21

      The container mall was my little oasis in ChCh. Having a mall as a social heart sounds awful because you think it’d be the shops and consumerism that would be in the forefront. But it’s not… it’s really where people hang out and have a coffee and not have to look at rubble at the same time. It’s colourful and so full of life. And there happen to be some pretty cools shops too 🙂

  8. 15 February, 2013 at 01:32

    On a cool but bright winter Sunday last July, many people had flocked to the Re:START mall, because it was a convenient and available place to converge. It was a beautiful day, and Re:START was full of people, families, couples, young and old. It was like some unspoken understanding: we will gather here, we support local businesses here, and we will survive here.

    • Christina
      17 February, 2013 at 13:40

      Very poetic, Henry! And so true. I loved that space.

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