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Christchurch Travel Guide: How to Plan a Trip to Christchurch

Christchurch Travel Guide: How to Plan a Trip to Christchurch

Christchurch, the biggest city in the South, is a fun place to spend a few days. You can enjoy the big city life, catch views from the Port Hills and wander along the Avon River, and if that’s not enough there are countless places to explore on day trips. We’ve been visiting Christchurch for over five years now and have plenty of tips — hopefully this post will make planning your Christchurch trip a little easier!

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Getting to Christchurch

Christchurch Airport is the largest in the South Island and you can fly there from various places around the world, including Australia and Singapore. It’s more common to fly to Auckland and then take a local flight to Christchurch though.

If you’re travelling by ferry from the North Island to the South you’ll arrive in Picton, which is around five hours from Christchurch. Christchurch is centrally located and it won’t take too long to drive to the popular spots. From Christchurch it’ll take around five hours to drive to Dunedin, six hours to Queenstown, three hours to the West Coast (Greymouth) and four hours to Mount Cook.

Christchurch History

The first inhabitants of the Christchurch region were Māori moa hunters (moa were giant flightless birds that became extinct in the 15th century). Soon after that some of the north island tribes moved south, with Ngai Tahu eventually becoming the dominant player in the region.

That began to change in the late 1700s after New Zealand was discovered by Europeans. Whalers soon moved in and small settlements were established in the 1830s and 40s. In 1848 Christchurch was given its name, and the city thrived for over 150 years before dual earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 devastated the city.

The City

Since being destroyed by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, Christchurch’s city centre has gone through a massive transformation. It took years before the city lost its “construction site” feel, but these days you’d barely notice the turmoil it went through. The Avon River is the defining feature of the city centre. You can stroll by the river for miles, or if you’d rather put your feet up you can do some punting down the river. Check out New Regent Street — one of our favourite streets in New Zealand!

Avon River, Christchurch, New Zealand

There are some good museums scattered around the city, as well as the famous Christchurch Gardens. A popular way to explore Christchurch’s city centre is with a hop on / hop off tram tour. The historic trams run throughout the city and really add to the atmosphere (I wish Dunedin still had its trams). Here’s where you can book the Hop-On Hop-Off Tour by Vintage Tram.

There are also some great places to eat (Riverside Market and Little High Eatery), but more on that later.

Walks

There are heaps of nice walks in Christchurch, mostly in the Port Hills area. The Crater Rim Track is around 30 km long and is easily accessible, meaning there are lots of places where you can do short sections of the track. Check out Sugarloaf Scenic Reserve and Mount Vernon Park for some awesome short walks.

The Godley Head Track, just past Sumner, is probably the best walk in the city. It starts at Taylors Mistake, but you can also walk all the way from Sumner. You could also walk through the city by the banks of the Avon River.

If you’re willing to drive, head to somewhere like Lake Coleridge, Arthurs Pass or Rakaia Gorge for mountain views. So many walking options in and around Christchurch, whether you have your own transport or not.

Beaches and Viewpoints

If you’re not keen on walking then Christchurch still has you covered. You can see a lot of the best views (Lyttleton Harbour, the city and the Southern Alps in the background) a few metres from where you park your car pretty much anywhere on Summit Road.

The Christchurch Gondola takes you to another stunning viewpoint above Lyttleton Harbour. Here’s where you can book some of the Christchurch City tours and activities: Gondola Ride | Gondola and Tram City Tour Combo | Vintage Tram, Punt and Gondola Ride Combo

Christchurch is home to several nice beaches including New Brighton, Sumner and Taylors Mistake. Sumner is the best one to visit — there are cool places to eat and drink by the beach and there is heaps to see both at the beach and the nearby hills (check out Nicholson Park for views over Sumner).

Other Things to Do

There are activities to suit everyone in Christchurch. If you’re into animals Orana Wildlife Park is the place to go, and if you want to learn about Antarctica you’ll want to head for the Antarctic Centre. Here’s where you can book admission to the other attractions in Christchurch: Christchurch International Antarctic Center Orana Wildlife Park Admission | Willowbank Wildlife Reserve.

Other things to do in Christchurch include rock climbing, surfing, scenic drives (check out the drive to Akaroa) and pretty much anything else you can think of doing in a big city.

READ MORE: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Christchurch

Christchurch Weather

The weather in Christchurch is pretty decent by New Zealand standards.  It gets quite hot in summer though and winters can be cold and grey. If you’re planning out your time in Christchurch it’s a good idea to check the weather and be prepared to shift things around to take advantage of the best conditions.

Nearby Towns

Whether you’re exploring Canterbury in-depth or just doing some day trips from Christchurch, there are heaps of small towns to seek out. Lake Tekapo (two hours from Christchurch), Akaroa (90 minutes), Kaikoura (two and a half hours), Timaru (two hours) and Hanmer Springs (two hours) are all good places to visit (spending a night or two would be ideal though).

Christchurch Itinerary

I published a Christchurch itinerary recently — it gives you an idea of what you can see on a three – seven day trip. This is the extremely short version: Day 1: Explore the city (walk around town, Avon River, museums, food, gardens). Day 2: Sumner Beach and the Port Hills. Lots of viewpoints, beaches and walks to suit all fitness levels. Day 3: More of the same or a day trip to the mountains or Akaroa.

Where to Eat and Drink

Riverside Market is our favourite place to eat in Christchurch. There are dozens of different places to eat in there and it’s a nice spot to have a long, relaxing meal. Little High Eatery is a smaller version of the same premise — we highly recommend checking out both.

Little High Eatery

There are plenty of other places to eat throughout the city. The Terrace is where some of the most popular bars and restaurants are located and there are heaps of places to eat and drink in Sumner and Lyttleton.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

Staying near the city-centre is ideal if you’re wanting to explore Christchurch. From five-star hotels to boutique hotels, check out The George | Fable Christchurch | Quest | Sudima Christchurch City |The Muse Christchurch Art Hotel
There are some slightly cheaper accommodation options near the city-centre including BreakFree on Cashel | JUCY Snooze Christchurch | The Bealey Quarter | Colombo Lodge – the latter two offer free parking. 

Sumner and New Brighton are two great areas to explore while you’re in Christchurch. Check out Sumner Bay Motel |South Brighton Holiday Park | The Pier Lodge Bed and Breakfast.

Shopping

Christchurch is one of the best places to shop in the South Island. It’s got the biggest mall on the island as well as lots of shopping in the city centre. If you’re looking for a deal head to Dress Mart (outlet shopping mall) — we go there whenever we’re in Christchurch!

Christchurch Events

There are interesting events happening year-round in Christchurch. The city attracts some decent bands (check out the Veils in February 2023 — best NZ band in my opinion!) as well as plays and comedians.

Sport is huge in Christchurch and it’s home to one of the most successful rugby franchises in the world, the Crusaders.  They play a half dozen (at least) home games in Christchurch, with the Super Rugby season running from February to June. The All Blacks and Black Ferns play in Christchurch most years too. If you’re into cricket you’re in luck — Hagley Oval hosts several internationals each year.

That brings our Christchurch travel guide to a close — hopefully it has helped plan your trip. If you have any questions or need any details clarified send us an email or leave a comment below!

Are you planning a trip to New Zealand? Check out our South Island travel guide!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.