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Christchurch is a top destination in New Zealand and the largest city on the South Island, known for its cultural attractions and outdoor adventures. Unfortunately, it has been hit with several tragedies in recent years, including four major earthquakes during a 15-month period, with the last in 2011. Luckily, many of its original attractions still stand, offering plenty of things to explore while in the city. Check out these top things to do in Christchurch.
Admire the view at Christchurch Gondola
Start your exploration of the area in a spectacular way with the gondola ridecable car ride up the slopes of Mount Cavendish in the Port Hills. It offers stunning 360-degree views, 1,640 feet above sea level. To the west you’ll see out across the cityscape of Christchurch, over the Canterbury Plains and the high peaks of the Southern Alps. Look north and you’ll see beautiful beaches and the Pacific Ocean, while south and east are jaw-dropping views of Banks Peninsula, Lake Ellesmere and Lyttelton Harbour. At the top you’ll also find a dramatic reconstruction of the area’s history offered through an immersive time tunnel ride.
Ride the TranzAlpine Train
If you want a closer look at those stunning landscapes, you may want to hop on the TranzAlpine train which travels from Christchurch to Greymouth. The five-hour rail journey travels through the Canterbury region and the Southern Alps toward the South Island’s west coast. One of the world’s most scenic train rides, it brings passengers from the fertile farmlands of the Canterbury Plains through 16 tunnels and more than five viaducts with views of snow-capped peaks, icy rivers, forests, gorges and river valleys.
Check Out the Street Art
When so many buildings were destroyed during the quakes, the city really needed some brightening up, so local artists decided to do just that, filling it with eye-popping street art. You can even follow an interactive guide to hunt for the finest pieces. You’ll see all sorts of creativity and masterpieces adoring building walls, from inspiring large murals right through to small, inspirational paintings. There are hundreds of them, so you can easily enjoy an afternoon of fun capturing photos and figuring out which are your favorites.
Head to the Beach
Sumner Beach is the most popular beach among the locals, just a short drive southwest of the city. It draws many to swim or surf, and the sandy beach itself is ideal for relaxing in the sun. There’s also a wonderful promenade alongside it that’s ideal for a stroll. There are lots of other options if you’d prefer to find a more secluded stretch. Camp Bay, near Diamond Harbour, is less than an hour from the city and has sandy alcoves nearby for enjoying seclusion. Further away, drive through the Banks Peninsula to Le Bons Bay where you’ll find an expansive stretch of sands bordered by rolling hills and a river where seals are often spotted.
Stroll Through the Botanic Gardens
The Botanic Gardens is a wonderful place for a stroll, to beat jet lag and enjoy the lush greenery. It boasts one of the finest collections of native and exotic plants in New Zealand. Behind the original curator’s house which was converted into a restaurant is an edible garden and beehives. The Memorial Rotunda is a well-known landmark that sits within Harman’s Grove overlooking the Primula Garden, surrounded by daffodils, erected to commemorate bandsmen who died in World War I.
Embark on a Coastal Walk
The Godley Coastal Walk is a breathtaking walk along the coast that stretches for a little over four miles, passing pretty harbors, historic military buildings and surf breaks. You’ll marvel at the wild surf on Taylor’s Mistake, and if you visit between August and December, a penguin colony. There are also views of soaring mountains, rolling hills, cityscapes and beaches like New Brighton as well as the dramatic Southern Alps on a clear day.
Hop on a Heritage Tram
The city offers heritage trams that will bring you to many of its top landmarks and attractions. Just some of the sights you can take in include the Avon River, Cathedral Junction, Canterbury Museum and popular New Regent Street. The knowledgeable drivers also share details about the city and its history, as well about what you’re seeing, along the way. If you buy a full-day ticket you can hop on and off as you please, boarding at any one of the 17 stops along the route.
Browse the Christchurch Art Gallery
The Christchurch Art Gallery is housed within an impressive building that’s considered a work of art itself with its glass facade that resembles the flow of the Avon river. It’s home to one of the country’s most important public art collections, including everything from classics to modern works from New Zealand to internationally-based artists in a light and airy space spread across two floors. Its ground floor also hosts a gallery shop and the Universo Brasserie & Bar.
Experience New Regent Street
One of the most attractive spots in the city is this especially picturesque outdoor pedestrian mall that follows New Regent Street. It was built in Spanish Mission style in the 1930s and is lined with some outstanding bars and eateries, including a fabulous gelato shop. Enjoy a coffee at The Caffeine Laboratory, considered one of the city’s best spots to fuel up for the day, a cocktail at The Last Word and fine dining at Twenty-seven steps.
Quake City is a compact museum that will reveal the impact the earthquakes had on Christchurch and the Canterbury area through video footage, photos and artifacts. A must-visit for anyone interested in understanding the impact of the Canterbury earthquakes, this compact museum tells stories through photography, video footage and various artifacts, including the remnants of the famous rose window that was in the Christchurch cathedral and other poignant pieces. The film featuring survivors who recount their own experiences is particularly moving.