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Christchurch Area Guide


Christchurch tram leaving Cathedral
Square, city centre.
© Naturespic.com
Christchurch, known as the Garden City, is the largest city in the South Island, with a population of 344,000. Christchurch sprawls between the Pacific Ocean coastline on the east, and the patchwork quilt farmland of the Canterbury Plains to the west, with the Southern Alps providing a distant backdrop.

Christchurch was named after Oxford University's Christ Church College and planned as a model Anglican church settlement, with the cathedral at its heart. The colonists' aim had been to transplant a cross section of English social structure to make it 'just like home'. To a large extent this aspiration failed, but Christchurch is still regarded as the most English of New Zealand's cities. Today Christchurch acts more prosaically as a service town to the farming regions around it, but retains a genteel, sedate air.

Christchurch's historic tram, which takes a 2.5 kilometre 30-minute circuit of the central city, is a good way of orienting yourself on arrival. The city is laid out in a north/south east/west grid pattern, with the Gothic style stone cathedral in the centre. The cathedral gives its name to the central Cathedral Square, where the visitor information centre is located, and where the tram begins its circuit.

Christchurch's cultural precinct is within easy walking distance of Cathedral Square, and includes the modernist Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, which opened in 2003. The gallery features a dramatic 90-metre glass and metal facade and houses one of New Zealand's main public art collections. A short walk along Worcester Boulevard takes you to the Arts Centre, which houses artisan craft shops and a bustling outdoor craft and food market at weekends. Opposite the Arts Centre, and adjacent to the Botanic Gardens is the Canterbury Museum, which has displays on Antarctic exploration and on early Maori life and colonial settlement. For a sedate, meandering look at the Botanic Gardens, rent a row boat, or canoe from the Antigua Boat Sheds (a short walk along Rolleston Ave to Cambridge Terrace), or punt gently down the Avon River. The Botanic Gardens borders the massive 161-hectare Hagley Park, a beautiful place to cycle, particularly in spring and autumn.

Christchurch has many attractions outside the central city. To the east, bordering the seaside suburbs of Sumner, South Brighton, and New Brighton, lie large expanses of virtually deserted beaches, good for swimming, surfing, or long beach walks.

The Christchurch Gondola in the Heathcote Valley provides a panoramic view of Christchurch, the Lyttelton Harbour, and Banks Peninsula, taking visitors 500 metres above sea level to the top of the Port Hills for a 360-degree view.

On the way into, or out of, Christchurch, check out the International Antarctic Centre, just around the corner from the airport. The centre is located within a working Antarctic campus, the base for New Zealand, United States and Italian Antarctic programmes, and its aim is to allow visitors to experience the sights and sounds of the frozen continent.

Further afield, the wineries, an hour's drive north of Christchurch near the township of Waipara, are worth a visit for tastings and outdoor dining in the summer, or, in the winter, drive further afield to ski or snowboard at Mt Hutt, 104 kilometres west of Christchurch.