Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand and the seat of the Canterbury Region. The city is bordered by rolling hills and the Pacific Ocean, right on the edge of the Canterbury Plains that stretch into the Southern Alps. The urban area sits on the east coast of the South Island, just north of the wonderful Banks Peninsula.
After Auckland and Wellington, Christchurch is the third most populous city in New Zealand.
Christchurch was made a city by Royal Charter on July 31, 1856, thus making it the oldest established city in New Zealand. However the area has been settled for hundreds of years, with archeological evidence indicating that the Waitaha tribe first settled there as far back as 1250 CE.
Christchurch is situated in a particularly geologically active area, with the urban area having suffered a number of significant earthquakes in the recent past. However, the city has rebuilt itself and remains a desirable attraction for visitors from all over the globe.
Christchurch: International Antarctic Centre
Located in Christchurch, the International Antarctic Centre is a very popular destination for visitors. Christchurch has long been considered one of the gateway cities to the Antarctic for visitors, and the International Antarctic Centre allows visitors to learn about, and experience the Antarctic without having to leave New Zealand. Visitors can take part in “Antarctica”, the snow and ice experience, survive an Antarctic storm, learn about life in modern day Antarctica and Scott Base, and spend some time with Little Blue Penguins.
There is also a very popular Hagglund ride (the Hagglund is an Antarctic vehicle that is used for getting around in Antarctica), a simulated 4D cruise, Happy Feet 4D, and a variety of other attractions, exhibits, and experiences that are great for the whole family. The International Antarctic Centre has been voted one of the premier tourist attractions in the Canterbury Region and is a must for those visiting Christchurch.
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is located within Christchurch itself. The reserve is responsible for showcasing public displays of various local animal speices, as well as carrying out conservation efforts of native species, such as the tuatara, kiwi, brown teal, and duvaucel’s gecko. The reserve has the only pair of takahe on display anywhere on the South Island outside of a Department of Conservation facility.
Here, visitors are guaranteed sightings of these iconic New Zealand creatures. Additionally, visitors can feed the wild eels. If it is a more educational experience you are looking for, Willowbank has that too. Visitors can learn about the impact of introduced species on the native species to New Zealand in the, “Wild NZ,” exhibit.
They can also meet and learn about old livestock breeds in the, “Heritage NZ,” exhibit. The native wildlife is showcased in the, “Natural NZ,” exhibit. All visitors can enjoy Willowbank’s positive hope for the future of conservation in New Zealand. Willowbank is located five minutes by car from Christchurch Airport and fifteen minutes from Christchurch City Centre.
Christchurch Botanical Gardens
Located in the heart of Christchurch City Centre, the Christchurch Botanical Gardens were founded in 1863 when an English oak was planted to commemorate the solemnization of the marriage of Prince Albert and Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Now, the gardens stretch for an area of 21 hectares adjacent to the look of the Avon River next to Hagley Park.
The gardens are filled with a variety of exotic and local plants native to New Zealand. The gardens has a very informative visitor centre, which has a café, gift shop, and an interactive exhibition featuring the history of plants and gardening in Canterbury. Gardening enthusiasts will find this exhibit fascinating. The gardens are also home to the Herb Garden, which is located by the Curator’s House.
The Herb Garden has a variety of plants of culinary and medicinal value. Rose lovers will enjoy the Central Rose Garden, which has more than 250 varieties of modern cultivar roses. There is also the Heritage Rose Garden, which houses a selection of rambling heritage roses that are particularly beautiful in the summer. Various portions of the gardens also house plants from all over the world, including Asia, North America, Europe, South America, and South Africa.
Then, there is the conservatory complex. The conservatory complex includes the Cuningham House, a large Victorian glasshouse with a variety of tropical plants, the Townend House, with large flowering plant displays, the Garrick House, which is home to an impressive cacti collection, and finally, the Gilpin House, which is home to an orchid/carnivorous plant collection. There is a section of the gardens known as the Fernery is filled with a variety of native, New Zealand Ferns. Other smaller gardens within the larger Christchurch Botanical Gardens are:
1) The Rock Garden: The Rock Garden contains plants that remain in flower year-round.
2) The Erica Garden: Houses a variety of Ericas and Callunas, which both remain in bloom year-round.
3) The Water Garden: This garden is filled with lilies, irises, and a variety of mature trees and shrubs.
4) A small section of the gardens is filled with Rhododendrons and plant hybrids that are rather interesting.
On top of all the wonderful plant life in the botanical gardens, there is ample opportunity for birdwatching as many different types of bird call the gardens home.
Christchurch Cathedral is the centre-piece of the Christchurch City Centre. The church is a deconsecrated Anglican cathedral that was originally built between 1864 and 1904. Surrounded by Cathedral Square, the church has a wonderful setting and it a very popular attraction for visitors to Christchurch.
Currently, the cathedral is in a bit of a rough state as it sustained significant damage in the earthquakes that hit Christchurch in 2010 and 2011. The February 2011 earthquake destroyed the spire and part of the tower, while also severely damaginig the structure of the building. The remainder of the tower was destroyed in March of 2012. The west wall also suffered collapses in the June 2011 and December 2011 earthquakes. Now, the Anglican Church has decided to demolish the building and replace it with a newer version.
This was a very controversial decision, obviously, and it is currently tied up in legal battles as the city of Christchurch is fighting the decision. Currently, the Anglican Church is reconsidering its decision. As the future of the cathedral is still up in the air, visitors interested in the cathedral better get to Christchurch quick because who knows how much longer the cathedral will be there!
Victoria Clock Tower
The Victoria Clock Tower, also known as the Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower, is a heritage-registered clock tower located in Christchurch. The tower was designed by Benjamin Mountfort and is registered as a, “Historic Place – Category I,” by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust.
The clock was constructed in Coventry, in the United Kingdom before being shipped to New Zealand. It arrived in December of 1860 in 147 boxes but it was quickly determined that the building structure would not be able to support the clock’s weight. The clock was subsequently placed in the stone tower of the Provincial Council Buildings on Armagh Street. Here, the clock face could not be seen, but the chime could be heard for a distance of two miles.
The clock only remained in this tower for a short time while the iron tower originally intended to hold the clock sat idle for several years.
When the provincial government in New Zealand was abolished in 1876, the clock tower became the property of the Crown before being transferred to Christchurch City Council. After being stored for around 30 years, the government decided that the tower would be used a monument for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee.
A competition was held for the stone tower to hold the clock face during which time, the clock was sent back to the United Kingdom for restoration. In 1897, it was erected on a stone base on the intersection of Manchester Street, Lichfield Street, and High Street, where it remained until 1930. The clock, which had been deemed a traffic impediment, was moved to its current location at the intersection of Victoria and Montreal Streets.
More recently, additional renovation has taken place to ensure that the structure earthquake safe. With that being said, the structure was damaged during the February 2011 earthquake, which lead to another wave of restoration that was completed in 2014. The clock has a wonderfully unique history, which, when coupled with the elegant beauty of the structure, makes it a must see for visitors to Christchurch.
As you might imagine, Christchurch has a wide variety of accommodation options, ranging from the more affordable, to the luxurious. No matter your budget or your tastes, there is something for you in Christchurch.
Travelling from Abroad?
Christchurch is home to an international airport that is serviced from a variety of international airports. As such, it is very easy for visitors from abroad to travel to Christchurch.