A harmonious blend of historic refinement and contemporary culture, Christchurch is one of New Zealand’s must-visit cities. It is also a popular jumping off point for excursions to the South Island, though there is plenty to see and do here whether or not you are planning to venture further afield.
For the past few years, however, Christchurch has been in revival mode, after debilitating earthquakes in both 2010 and 2011 left much of the city in ruins. In response, Christchurch’s creative minds have worked over-time to return it to its vibrant best – and they have certainly succeeded, with the city once more awash with pop up restaurants and bars, contemporary art galleries, boutique shops, open-air markets and plenty more besides.
As for the more quirky and unusual side of life, there’s a healthy mix of landmarks, attractions and leisure pursuits that will keep you intrigued and entertained. Below are 12 of the best.
1. Jailhouse Accommodation
Jailhouse chic may be a somewhat niche hotel style, but this converted prison manages to pull it off with real panache. Originally Addington Prison, the Gothic Revival building is today one of Christchurch’s most unique accommodation options, offering a variety of dormitories and private rooms for back-packers and other budget travellers. The owners have tried to maintain the authentic prison atmosphere, with four cells, including the solitary confinement cell, still in their original condition, and prisoner artwork adorning the walls. It may not be your first port of call when looking for a hotel, but at least it’ll allow you to tick “spending a night in jail” off of your bucket list.
ADDRESS 338 Lincoln Rd, Addington, Christchurch CONTACT www.jail.co.nz PRICING Starting from $42.50 for a 2-bed dorm
2. Adrenalin Forest
Flanked by mountains and ocean, there are no shortage of activities for adventure-seekers in Christchurch to enjoy. But for a self-contained, action-packed day out in the great outdoors, there’s little to beat a visit to Adrenalin Forest. Providing a fun and challenging experience for all ages and abilities, the site contains a number of pathways comprising bridges, high wires and swings, all of which connect tree that you are required to navigate using skill, balance and judgement. It is a great day out for families and friends, and you can even hire a Go Pro HD camera for the day so you can depart with a fantastic visual reminder of your adventure that you can enjoy for years to come.
ADDRESS 105 Heyders Rd, Brooklands, Christchurch CONTACT www.adrenalin-forest.co.nz OPENING HOURS Seven days a week 10.00am – 2.30pm PRICING Adult, $43; Child under 18, $28 (whole course) $18 (first two pathways)
3. Hot Air Ballooning
The fertile Canterbury Plains back dropped by the Southern Alps offers some of the most scenic views anywhere in New Zealand and there’s no better vantage point from which to enjoy them than on a Hot Air Balloon ride. Offering courtesy transfers from Christchurch, Ballooning Canterbury are the only company offering hot air balloon excursions in the region, operating three modern balloons able to carry anywhere from 2 to 30 passengers at once. It is a hands-on experience, and you’ll be encouraged to help the pilot and crew with the pre-flight inflation and packing up. Once safely back on the ground you’ll be treated to a glass of chilled champagne, orange juice, seasonal fruit and muffins to see you on your way. Be sure to remember your camera and pilot photos are offered for free via Facebook or Weibo.
ADDRESS 2136 Bealey Road, Hororata CONTACT www.ballooningcanterbury.co.nz PRICING $395.00 for adults;
$320.00 for 12-year-olds & under
4. Re:START Mall
Spread across a two-block stretch of the old City Mall, this hotchpotch of pop-up shops and restaurants rebuilt out of cargo ship containers is a symbol of Christchurch’s success in rising from the dust following the 2011 earthquake. Constructed in under six months, at a time when most of the city’s historic downtown district was still completely inaccessible due to the risk of falling masonry from damaged buildings, the makeshift mall features Christchurch’s only surviving department store, Ballantynes, along with around 50 other retailers, including shops, cafes and eateries. There are also market stalls, street performers and buskers.to keep visitors entertained.
ADDRESS 118 Cashel Street Christchurch CONTACT www.restart.org.nz OPENING HOURS Mon-Fri 10am-5.30pm; Sat-Sun: 10am-5pm
5. The Dark Room
Despite a somewhat inconspicuous location in the brooding, atmospheric confines of a converted warehouse, The Dark Room has been at the epicentre of Christchurch’s live music scene since 2011, when it became one of the city’s first entertainment spots to open after that year’s devastating earthquake. Today it plays host to several gigs each week as well as regular comedy events. Vintage furniture and dark, moody walls add to the ambiance, providing a fitting aesthetic for local and touring musicians to perform indie rock, dance, metal and other popular genres. For refreshments, the venue offers a varied selection of beers and wines, while toasted sandwiches, pizzas, nachos and other light snacks keep revellers well fed between performances.
ADDRESS 336 Saint Asaph Street, Christchurch CONTACT www.darkroom.bar OPENING HOURS Weds-Sat 7pm-2am
6. Punting on the Avon River
For those keen to experience Christchurch from the water, punting on the Avon River is a delightful activity. Popular with canoodling couples and small groups of friends or family, the tours are run by expert guides who dress up for the occasion in traditional Edwardian attire before propelling your handcrafted flat-bottomed boat gently along the water. Along the way you’ll get to admire some of Christchurch’s most scenic landmarks and attractions, including the beautiful Christchurch Botanic Gardens teeming with spectacular flora.
ADDRESS Antigua Boat Sheds, 2 Cambridge Terrace OPENING HOURS Summer 9am–6pm, Winter 10am–4pm PRICING Adults $28 Children $12
7. Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House
One of the most quirky attractions in Christchurch is this shell-adorned living room that now takes pride of place in Canterbury Museum. Recreated in painstaking detail, the original lounge belonged to an eccentric couple called Fred and Myrtle Flutey who, for 40 years, collected thousands of paua shells from a nearby beach, turning their home into a veritable tourist site. Clocks, telephones, picture frames, and various other knick-knacks were all incorporated into the shell motif, creating one of the most enchanting and visually striking living rooms you could imagine. When the Fluteys died in the early 2000s, their grandson purchased the house and loaned the shell collection to the Canterbury Museum who proceeded to reconstruct the room in its entirety using photos.
ADDRESS Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Ave, Christchurch Central, Christchurch OPENING HOURS 9am–5pm (Apr–Sept); 9am-5.30pm (Oct–Mar) PRICING Free
8. Quake City
Also located within the Re:Start Mall complex is this fascinating interactive exhibition that takes you on a journey through the double tragedy of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Curated by Canterbury Museum, the exhibition is designed to educate and inform visitors on the geographical traits that led to the terrible quakes hitting this part of New Zealand, as well as the personal stories that emerged from the two events. You’ll also see significant objects, photos and film of the quakes and hear the stories of residents who lived through them. The exhibition ends on a positive note by focussing on the creative solutions that led to the rebuilding and recovery of the city.
ADDRESS Re:START Mall, 99 Cashel St, Christchurch OPENING HOURS 10am-5pm Seven Days, except Christmas PRICING Adult $20; Children under 15 (accompanied by an adult) Free
9. The Bridle Path Walk
For outstanding views over Christchurch and the surrounding region, the Bridle Path Walk certainly hits the spot. The ambulatory path takes around 3 hours to navigate, including the return journey, and offers a more challenging alternative to a gondola ride up the mountain. Quite steep at various points, the walk to the top is a challenging but rewarding one, with incredible panoramic vistas waiting to greet you when you reach the summit. For amateur walkers who may not be confident using a walking map, the track is well marked throughout, giving you peace of mind and allowing you to enjoy your adventure to the maximum.
10. Brockworth Street Art Gallery
This impressive hotchpotch of street art is one of Christchurch’s most original and unusual cultural venues. Unlike conventional graffiti that so often blots the urban landscape, the eye-catching murals that flank a small path running alongside a railway line feature professionally created artworks that can be enjoyed by the public, whether they are actively seeking it out or are simply a passer-by. It’s a hugely popular spot where you’ll find a constant smattering of visitors who come to enjoy this open-air demonstration of Christchurch’s creative spirit.
11. The Court Theatre
When it comes to theatre in Christchurch, there’s only one place to go – literally. The city’s only theatre company, The Court Theatre plays host to a rich programme of performances throughout the year, meaning that whenever you visit you’re almost guaranteed the chance to catch a show. For fans of big belly laughs, the theatre stages New Zealand ’s longest-running comedy show, Scared Scriptless, every Friday and Saturday night. As well as regular theatre productions, they also run regular workshops for school-age to adults.
ADDRESS Bernard St, Addington, Christchurch CONTACT www.courttheatre.org.nz
12. Vespa Bar
Among the losses suffered during the Christchurch earthquakes were a number of the city’s commercial outlets. Sadly, the quirky and hugely popular Vespa Bar was one of them, but in 2013 it rose once again in a new High Street location. The bar’s signature features have accompanied the move, with the walls once again adorned with colourful Vespas and motorbike helmets. The result is that Vespa Bar mark II is once again one of Christchurch’s most eye-catching and vibrant entertainment spots, featuring exotic cocktails, delicious tapas and a visual treat for fans of the iconic Italian scooter.
ADDRESS 225a High Street, Central Christchurch CONTACT www.vespabar.co.nz OPENING HOURS Mon-Fri 9am-Late; Sat-Sun 12pm-Late