Christchurch is inevitably part of any 7-day itinerary around New Zealand South Island, especially if you need to take an international flight. We rented a car and drove a lot, keen to discover wonderful places and secret spots. The journey started in Christchurch.
Christchurch is New Zealand’s second-largest city. Bordered by hills and the Pacific Ocean, it is situated on the edge of the Canterbury Plains that stretch to the Southern Alps. Internationally famed ‘The Garden City’, Christchurch’s well-established expansive parks and public gardens owe much to the planning and foresight of the city’s founding fathers.
The 2011 earthquake left Christchurch devastated, killing 185 people. It caused widespread damage across the city, especially in the central spots and eastern suburbs.
Many offer rebuild tours, which are a unique guided experience through the past, present and future of the city. Although we appreciate their efforts in trying to educate the public on how things happened and what’s next for Christchurch, we found this idea incredibly depressing to take advantage of.
The centre of Christchurch doesn’t have much to offer. A few shops scattered around, a few cafes and restaurants, but mostly construction sites noise. You can find a little bit of quiet by the River Avon whereby you can enjoy the sun. It is understandable how much Christchurch has to work on itself to rise again from its ashes.
On our short visit to Christchurch, we went to Vicky’s cafe where we had breakfast and a couple of coffees. The place is nice, has been recommended to us by the receptionist at the Tuscana Lodge Motel.
Tuscana Lodge Motel has been the first place we stayed in. It was clean, with a really comfortable bed and super friendly staff. The price was acceptable too, so we recommend you try this one, although is about half an hour away from Christchurch's city centre.
Christchurch becomes interesting when you get to its outskirts. The American looking wide streets and cure bungalows create a completely different ambiance. We loved walking around, learning how people from the other side of the world do things. To be honest, I expected more of a British influence on New Zealand, but instead, everything seemed very American suburb like.
Although we initially only spent one night in Christchurch, we had to return before our departure back to England. That's when we spent two days in the city and we got to explore a little more.
We stayed in Abbella Lodge Motel. This accommodation is really far away from the city centre, but we wanted to be close to the airport so it made more sense to pick something in the area. Same as pretty much everywhere else in New Zealand, the price per night was decent, the apartment was clean and the staff very friendly and helpful.
On the last two days before our departure, we visited Christchurch’s Botanical Gardens which are an absolute must if you are a nature lover. We particularly enjoyed their fern forest and the rose garden. Canterbury museum which is just next door was another point of interest for us.
Christchurch has a history of involvement in the Antarctic exploration–both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton used the port of Lyttelton as a departure point for expeditions, and in the central city there is a statue of Scott sculpted by his widow, Kathleen Scott. Within the city, the Canterbury Museum preserves and exhibits many historic artefacts and stories of Antarctic exploration. Christchurch International Airport serves as the major base for the New Zealand, Italian and United States Antarctic programs.
As Europeans, used to a variety of dishes, we found the food in New Zealand quite a let down. We expected lots of seafood and interesting twists, but unfortunately, we were left...well...hungry. In the end, we managed to finally find a good restaurant: Costas Taverna, a Greek restaurant with really tasty dishes, wonderful cocktails and incredibly good service.
Tipping is not customary in New Zealand. However, if you feel someone has provided an exceptional service, feel free to reward them. You will get a nice surprised look and appreciative smile. A 10% tip is average for worthy service.
In need of something more upbeat to do, we drove to some malls located towards the suburbs. We found them to be quite lively, busy and full of totally different brands we are used to.
Overall, we didn't grow too fond of Christchurch. I guess this was in a way expected, as the South Island's capital is in the process of re-establishing itself. Despite the 2011 devastation which left Christchurch in ruins, the wonderful people of Christchurch are motivated, friendly, easy going and super approachable.
Christchurch is most certainly an experience and like any other city on this planet, you should visit it at least once.