With 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 around the South Island, though there are plenty of unique things to see and do in the city too.
Christchurch has gradually emerged from revival mode following the debilitating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 that left much of the city in ruins. It is now very much back up to speed due to the spirited response to the disasters. Christchurch’s creative minds worked over-time to return the beautiful city to its vibrant best, and they have certainly succeeded; it is once more awash with pop up restaurants and bars, contemporary art galleries and boutique shops.
As for the more quirky and unusual side of life, there is a healthy mix of landmarks, attractions and leisure pursuits that will keep most guests intrigued and entertained. Nearby are stretches of stunning landscapes, with mountains and coastline both offering captivating excursions. Below are 12 unique experiences in Christchurch.
Sail around the breathtaking Akaroa Harbour
Just to the south of Christchurch is Akaroa, one of the region’s many large bays surrounded by undulating mountains that overlook the sheltered sea. Pretty boats bob in the gentle waters at small port towns and dolphins and whales are abundant. Small group cruises are a great way to encounter this scenic region, and of the tours available, many offer a chance to swim near pods of wild dolphins, without disturbing them in their natural environment. To explore the range of excursions and tours available on Viator, click here.
Spend the night in 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 backpackers 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 without the regret.
338 Lincoln Rd., Addington
Get active in the Adrenalin Forest
Flanked by mountains and ocean, there is 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 trees that you are required to navigate using skill, balance and judgement. 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.
105 Heyders Rd., Brooklands
Oct-Apr daily 10am-2.30pm, May-Sept daily 10am-2pm
Adult, $44, children under 18, $29
See the world from above with Ballooning Canterbury
The fertile Canterbury Plains, back-dropped by the Southern Alps, offer some of the most visually stunning scenic views anywhere in New Zealand and there’s no better vantage point from which to enjoy them than in a hot air balloon. With transfers from Christchurch, Ballooning Canterbury operate three modern balloons that are able to carry anywhere from 2 to 30 passengers. It’s 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, although the pilot’s photos are offered for free via Facebook or Weibo.
2136 Bealey Rd., Hororata
$395.00 for adults; $320.00 for 12-year-olds & under
Explore the city on the Christchurch Tramway
The first trams began to operate in Christchurch in 1882, powered by steam or pulled along by horses. Trams continued to run in the city until 1954, when buses replaced the system. However this quaint and historic form of city centre exploration was luckily brought back in 1995 using roughly 3.4 kilometres of heritage track, along which the pretty burgundy and beige trams trundle. There are plenty of unique ways to experience the trams too, with hop-on, hop-off services as well as evening dinner tours. To see a list of the various tramway experiences available, please click here.
Listen to live music at The Darkroom
Despite a somewhat inconspicuous location in the brooding, atmospheric confines of a converted warehouse, The Darkroom 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 the venue plays host to several gigs each week as well as regular comedy events, with one stipulation, that the music be original. Vintage furniture and dark, moody walls add to the ambience, providing a fitting aesthetic for local and touring musicians to perform indie rock, dance, metal and other 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.
336 Saint Asaph St.
Go punting down the Avon River
For those keen to experience Christchurch from the water, punting on the Avon River is a delightful activity. Popular with couples, and small groups of friends and family, tours by Punting on the Avon are run by expert guides who dress up for the occasion in traditional Edwardian attire before propelling the handcrafted flat-bottomed boats gently through 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, which teem with spectacular flora.
Antigua Boatsheds, 2 Cambridge Terrace
Summer daily 9am–6pm, Winter daily 10am–4pm
Explore Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House
One of the quirkiest attractions in Christchurch is the 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.
Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Ave.
Oct–Mar 9am-5.30pm, Apr–Sept 9am–5pm
Hike along the Bridle Path
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 from 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.
Observe alternative art at the Brockworth Street Art Gallery
This modest amalgamation 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 here feature professionally created artworks that can be enjoyed by the public, whether they are actively seeking it out or are simply a passer-by. You’ll find a constant smattering of visitors who come to enjoy this open-air demonstration of Christchurch’s creative spirit.
Starts at 33 Riccarton Rd.
Catch a performance at The Court Theatre
When it comes to theatre in Christchurch, the Court is one of the city’s only companies, with the venue playing host to a rich programme of performances throughout the year. 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 students through to adults.
Bernard St., Addington
Find stable ground at Quake City
Also curated by the Canterbury Museum at a different site is this fascinating interactive exhibition that takes you on a journey through the aftermath of the tragic 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. 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 focusing on the creative solutions that led to the rebuilding and recovery of the city.
299 Durham St. North