The original site of the University of Canterbury has been transformed
into Christchurch's Arts Centre, opposite the Botanic Gardens. The Gothic
Revival buildings now house galleries, craft studios and shops, theatres
and cinemas. There is also a selection of cafes, restaurants and bars,
a weekend market and ethnic food stalls.
Science groupies will get their kicks from a visit to the former lab
of 'Father of the Atom', Ernest Rutherford. The Arts Centre also contains
an annex of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery (the main site is across
the road near the entrance of the Botanic Gardens), housing its contemporary
New Zealand collection.
Banks of the Avon
The Avon is a delight to simply stroll along, or, if you're up for its
watery delights, find the historic Antigua Boatsheds and hire a boat,
or better still a punt. The river meanders right through the unmissable
Botanic Gardens, which has an amazing collection of exotic and indigenous
plants. Hagley Park lies on the other side and is a draw for the sports-loving
locals on weekends. More gorgeous gardens can be found on the other side
of North Hagley Park, at Mona Vale, a Tudor-style homestead with extensive
gardens, fountains and ponds.
Cathedral Square, at the heart of Christchurch, is the best place to start
exploring the city. Although attracting its fair share of tourists, it's
also well used by locals. The Cathedral, built in Gothic Revival style
and symbolising the Church of England bedrock of this city, dominates
the square. There's a visitor centre-cum-souvenir shop and cafe, and you
can climb the spire (for a small fee). Look out for the Wizard, a famous
eccentric who takes up a soapbox most fine afternoons somewhere in the
square. An enduring, if more temporal, Christchurch landmark, he's been
coming here for over 25 years.
Nga Hau e Wha
Visiting a marae (a traditional complex of Maori buildings) is one of
the best ways to gain an understanding of Maori culture. Experienced guides,
employed from local tribal groups, explain the culture, customs, history
and traditions represented by the marae, which features two of New Zealand's
most spectacularly carved whare (meeting houses).
Sign of the Takahe
For scenic views and a sense of history, the s-shaped Summit Rd offers
a great ride, walk or drive. To the south of the city, it follows the
ridge of what were once volcanic craters. Liberal thinker Harry Ell fought
against the closure of various walking tracks scattered across this area
as early as 1900, believing the preservation and appreciation of natural
heritage was intrinsic to local identity. He envisaged a network of scenic
reserves along the Port Hills, connected by a specially built road, with
walker's rest houses at regular gaps.
The last rest house to be completed (in 1949, after Ell's death), and
by far the grandest, is the Sign of the Takahe. This Gothic-style building,
sited at what was once the last tram stop from the city, now houses tearooms,
a restaurant and a function centre. The simpler sandstone shelters - the
Sign of the Bellbird, Sign of the Kiwi, and Sign of the Packhorse - were
built from 1914 to 1917 and designed to blend with the natural landscape.
The walk is accessible by bus from Victoria Square, near the Town Hall.
Off the Beaten Track
Sited on a scenic harbour, this oh-so-pretty town is 82km (50mi) from
Christchurch, on the Banks Peninsula. As the site of the first French
settlement in New Zealand it offers a glimpse (albeit slight) into what
might have been. Akaroa was claimed by the British just days before a
ship of French colonists arrived in 1840. They stayed regardless, and
left their Gallic mark via street and house names and historic wooden
villas. The good restaurants came later, but help with the Francophile
image. There are some beautiful swimming beaches nearby at Le Bons Bay
and Okains Bay. Several coach lines make the 1.5 hour trip.
International Antarctic Centre
Not as far off the beaten track as the name might suggest, this huge complex
is located (sans ice) near the airport. Visitors can experience Antarctic-type
stuff such as being very cold (the 'Snow and Ice Experience', lets you
explore a sub-zero snow cave and slide down a tunnel swept by freezing
winds) and rides on a Hägglund Snowmobile.
Christchurch has been the base for the USA's Antarctic programs since
the 1950s, and this is also where the New Zealand and Italian operations
are administered. It's all very well presented and hands-on, with the
added bonus that most of the staff have lived and worked on the great
Although only 12km (7.5mi) from Christchurch itself, the town of Lyttelton
has a distinct personality and a harbour setting framed by the pretty
Port Hills. Fans of Lord of the Rings' director Peter Jackson may recognise
Lyttelton as the setting for his earlier film The Frighteners. As it's
still a working port, expect noisy docks and lively bars as well as historic
buildings. If you're looking for something more salubrious than seedy
waterfront pubs, there are some good drinking and dining options nestled
in the streets that fan up across the hills. The Timeball Station is a
rare piece of maritime history for which the town is famous - it's fabulously
restored and boasts a spectacular view. There are regular buses from Cathedral
Square, but as they go via a tunnel, you'll have to drive to appreciate
Mt Hutt, which offers one of the longest ski seasons in the southern hemisphere,
is just over an hour's drive from Christchurch. There are slopes to suit
all levels of ski experience, with open faces also ideal for snowboarding.
Although off-piste facilities are limited, the stunning setting more than
makes up for it, with a patchwork of Canterbury farmland stretching away
to the sea below. Most skiers opt to base themselves at the resort town
of Methven, which lacks any particular alpine charm but is well serviced
for accommodation, pubs and places to eat. The Mt Hutt Forest and Rakaia
Gorge, good for walking and fishing respectively, are close by.