Exploring Ōtautahi Christchurch

With a buzzing city centre and more adventures to be found on its fringes, Christchurch lives up to its reputation as the New Zealand basecamp for exploration. Here are 26 new experiences we’ve mapped out for you.

Words Carolyn Enting


Looking for accommodation? Crowne Plaza (764 Columbo St) impressed with its service and extra touches like providing lavender pillow spray and city running maps. Its CBD location means it’s close to everything including New Regent Street and it’s opposite Tūranga, the new $92 million library. Eco Villa (ecovilla.co.nz) is also central and off Latimer Square. This thoughtfully renovated villa is super comfortable, serves a healthy dairy-free breakfast, has a shared kitchen and two outdoor baths. Breakfree on Cashel is close to the new $140 million shopping precinct, The Crossing. Rooms are snug but prices reasonable. Great location. All have free wifi.


Bread & Circus – World Buskers Festival is an annual summer event that in 2019 spanned 25 days and featured leading acts, including Limbo, and played host to 527 performances at various venues dotted around the city.


C is for Cardboard Cathedral. The Transitional Cardboard Cathedral (234 Hereford St) designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, is made of cardboard tubes, local wood and steel. It’s a truly beautiful thing.


At Dance-O-Mat (Cnr St Asaph and Manchester Streets, CBD), a coin-operated ex-laundromat washing machine powers four speakers which surround a custom-made dance floor. Insert your $2 coin, plug any device with a headphone jack, such as an iPod, phone or MP3 player, into the converted washing machine, and get dancing. Another great Gap Filler initiative.


Evolution Square is home to shops and cafes including popular Little High Eatery (littlehigh.co.nz), which is a great place for a cheap eat with atmosphere plus. The busy eatery offers a myriad eating choices including Japanese, Mexican, Argentinian barbecue, wood-fired pizza and burgers, all enjoyed at shared tables. Outdoor bar and burger joint Smash Palace (172 High St) is also in the vicinity – its Thursday Bike Nights are legendary as are its bodgieburgers. A great place to socialise in the sun in summer, or around drum fires in winter. Nearby C1 Espresso (185 High St) is also worth a visit for the pure quirk factor. Meals are delivered to your table via pneumatic tubes repurposed from department store Ballantynes, and there’s free sparkling water on tap. To get to the bathroom you need to walk up to a wall disguised as a library, which slides open on approach. C1 is also a leader in sustainability. The café is heated using waste energy from the coffee roastery and kitchen; six solar panels on the roof generate electricity for lighting and water heating, a 5000-litre water tank keeps it self-sufficient. C1 also runs a sustainable planting programme in Samoa.

Not Without You, another nearby establishment, has an impressive local wine and craft beer selection. Even the ingredients on its cheese boards and antipasto platters are sourced from New Zealand artisan producers. Their side hustle is NZ-made denim brand, Dual.

At Evolution Square look out for upstanding wooden piles recovered from the Lyttelton Port, which nod to the area’s industrial past.

One block away EntX, a new central city cinema complex and eatery, is a great place to enjoy one of the latest flicks with your feet up on a comfy recliner.


Christchurch is spoilt for choice for farmers’ markets. Christchurch Farmers’ Market (held on the historic grounds of Riccarton House, 16 Kahu Rd, every Saturday from 9am to 1pm) is a great place to eat as well as buy local, quality, fresh produce – well worth a visit. Lyttelton Market (London St every Saturday from 10am to 1pm) cuts through the main street. While there, wander up to the newly restored Lyttelton Time Ball for great harbour views and to learn about maritime history. Riverside Market is soon to be opened in the CBD near the Bridge of Remembrance.


Gis for Good Spot. If, like me, you book a rental car on your visit (we recommend Touchdown Car Rentals) and need parking in the CBD, seek out a Good Spot. At a Good Spot parking area (facilitated by creative urban regeneration initiative Gap Filler) your parking fee is channelled into something good with funds raised supporting community projects.


If you love hiking, head to the Port Hills where there is a network of wonderful trails including an easy circuit with rewarding views around Sugarloaf Hill (begins at Sign of the Kiwi, Summit Rd). Trek the historic Bridle Path from the city to Lyttelton, or take a guided walk with Crater Rim Walks. Another great hike is Taylors Mistake to Godley Head.


Explore the new identity of the city which is emerging through cultural narratives woven into new public spaces such as Victoria Sq. Download the Matapopore walking tour and explore integrated design and artworks representing Ngāi Tūāhuriri/Ngāi Tahu values and stories. This includes Ngā Whāriki Manaaki, a series of 13 weaving patterns by Reihana Parata and Morehu Flutey-Henare that feature within Te Papa Ōtākaro/Avon River Precinct.


Live music venue Fat Eddie’s is the place to go if you love jazz.


Christchurch fashion label Kilt is one of many quality stores at The Tannery. Other stores worth checking out include Alchemy Equipment, Bolt of Cloth and Recycle Boutique. Cassels & Sons Brewery and live music venue Blue Smoke are also here.


Tūranga, Christchurch’s new central library, is a modern living library space, with interactive touch screens and an onsite café on the ground level.


Tākaro ā Poi – Margaret Mahy Family Playground (named after the much-loved Canterbury author) is a sprawling playground for kids of all ages. It has a four-metre-wide slide and double flying fox, plus sand play, swings, crawl tunnels for toddlers, and a barbecue area. Rauora Park is a new inner-city park that runs five blocks from Margaret Mahy Family Playground, offering green spaces, cycle paths, picnic areas and a basketball court. This space will eventually be surrounded by 900 new residential apartments and townhouses.


A visit to revamped New Regent St is a must. Admire the pretty pastel-coloured, renovated historic buildings that give this quaint central city enclave much of its character. Here you will also find craft brewery The Institution and whiskey/cocktail bar The Last Word – both have streetside and upstairs balcony views – great possies for sitting on a pint or dram and watching the world and Christchurch tram go by. New Regent St is also home to Rollickin’ Gelato. It’s not unusual to see a line out the door here. This cool cafe with hipster vibes serves incredible homemade organic milk gelato and sorbets, which are variations on Kiwi classics, such as its hokey pokey – a sweet vanilla gelato smashed through with dark chocolate honeycomb chunks #dothehokeypokey. It’s also a local success story, starting out in a mobile cart on a vacant site and with a second cafe now open in the Arts Centre. All of these spots provide blankets for customers when the temperature takes
a dive.


Ōtākaro Orchard is set to be Christchurch’s first public edible park and urban food hub. Fruit trees have already been planted.


Peddling around the city on a pushbike with Chill Urban Tours is a very enjoyable way to explore the city and get your bearings. These two-hour guided tours take you along the Ōtākaro/Avon River and through Hagley Park, along the way stopping at places of interest and significance, including the Christchurch Art Gallery, the Arts Centre and SALT district. The city embraces the Ōtākaro/Avon River threading through its centre, with easy pedestrian and cycle access along the new 2km City Promenade. After the tour you can keep the bike for more exploring if you want to, seek out a shady spot beneath one of the many weeping willows, or head to riverside café Miro (176 Oxford Terrace) for lunch (it’s across the bridge from Chill Urban Tours). Miro has several open fireplaces if you are visiting in winter, outdoor seating in summer, serves lunch favourites with a twist and claims to serve the best Bloody Mary in town. It also won Best Café at the 2018 Hospitality Awards for Excellence.


Quake City (299 Durham Street North) is a permanent exhibition charting the aftermath of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. A must visit, however, is Oi Manawa, the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, which has been designed as two distinct areas either side of the gentle curve of the Ōtākaro/Avon River. A park space on the north bank, with trees, seating and gardens looks across the river to the sunny memorial wall area on the south bank. The 185 people who lost their lives are forever remembered. It also pays respect to those who were seriously injured and survivors of the 2010/2011 quakes. Oi Manawa means ‘tremor of the heart’, providing another layer of meaning to this special place.


R is for Red Light District (123 Victoria St), a fabulous bar that is central yet off the beaten track. Its décor is modelled on a Chinese opium den and the bar is hidden behind a laundromat. The hallway entrance takes you past washing machines before entering its softly lit interior. Great cocktails and bar snacks.


Wandering along the edge of Hagley Park you might wonder why the street lamps are all different. Each lamp is part of a Solidarity Grid based on the act of giving and the positive symbolism of light. Over a period of three years, a single street lamp was gifted to the city of Christchurch by 21 cities around the globe as a gesture of solidarity with the city during its recovery and rebuild.


The Terrace sits on the new City Promenade on Oxford Terrace, boasting a row of bars and eateries including Amazonita, with its tropically inspired interior and fail-safe menu of favourites, such as house-rolled pappardelle, goat’s cheese cigars and tiramisu. Vegetarians will love the cauliflower cheese steak. Or bring a picnic and sit riverside in a shady spot and enjoy live musical performances.


Urban art is a dominating feature in the city. Lonely Planet has ranked Christchurch as one of the street art capitals of the world. Murals, artworks and poetry by leading and emerging artists enliven many of the city’s spaces. One of our favourites is an Oi YOU! installation by Australian street artist Rone, fashioned from bricks near OGB on Worcester St. You can join a street art tour with local guides


There are many wonderful vineyards to visit in Canterbury including two-hatted Black Estate, and Pegasus Bay Winery (named best winery restaurant eight times in the past 11 years). Start things off with a free tasting and a stroll around the beautiful grounds. If wine isn’t your thing, head to new bar Gin Gin on Victoria St for a pretty gin cocktail.


Dinner on wheels, Christchurch Tramway Restaurant offers a uniquely Christchurch experience in NZ – dining on a moving tram. Gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegetarian options are available on the three-course menu. Bookings are essential.


XCHC (Exchange Christchurch – 376 Wilsons Rd N) is a place of community and connection. It’s a great place to stop for a superb breakfast and then set up your laptop (there’s free wifi) and absorb the creative collaborative vibe. XCHC provides four unique yet connected areas: makerspace, showcase space, accommodation, and the café/bar. Part of the post-earthquake creative explosion in Christchurch, XCHC is a multi-purpose venue that hosts workshops, performances and film exhibitions that are resident and guest-led, providing an opportunity for creative practitioners to share their work with a wider audience.


The yucca is just one of the many tropical species found in paradisiacal Cunningham House, our favourite conservatory garden at Christchurch Botanic Gardens. Other species in this lush conservatory include dieffenbachia, peperomia, hoya, anthurium and dracaena.


The zipline tours at Christchurch Adventure Park boast New Zealand’s highest zipline at 150 metres and New Zealand’s longest zipline at over 1.1 kilometres. It is dual-lined, which means you can race others through the heights and widths of the park. A chairlift takes you to the top and tours are approximately two-and-a-half hours.

Getting there

Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Christchurch from Auckland, Wellington, Queenstown and Dunedin, plus nine regional airports, with connections available from all Air New Zealand-serviced domestic airports. For more information visit airnewzealand.co.nz

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