Without a doubt New Zealand has become a popular destination for tourists over the past few years. The natural beauty and rich culture of the country has been showcased through movies such as the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, The Piano and Whale Rider. Tucked away in a corner of the world that not all that easy to get to, it is well worth spending a good chunk of time seeing the country and the diverse offerings that it has for its visitors, should you feel inclined to traverse the globe.
Starting in the South Island, no trip is complete without a visit to Christchurch, New Zealand’s oldest city. Christchurch has been in the news over the past few years due to the devastating earthquake. In the quake 185 people lost their lives and much of the central business district (CBD) was destroyed. The city is making a come back thanks to its dedicated residents and is still very much worth visiting for any visitors to New Zealand.
So if you have a day in Christchurch what should you see and do?
What to see?
The City Itself
Having a wander through Christchurch is one of the best ways to see the city. For those who are not inclined to exercise don’t worry, the city is flat and many of the beautiful landmarks are situated close together. Much of the city is still devastated especially in the CBD where there are blocked off roads and piles of rubble. Every now and then walking in residential areas a house will be missing or boarded up. It is clear the level of devastation that the city suffered.
The city council have now decided to declare Christchurch a “garden city”. This means that during the rebuild the size of the CBD will be reduced and more space given over to parkland. Buildings will be limited to seven floors or less to make best use of sunshine. Walking around Christchurch you can already see this plan in action. Flower beds, baskets and boxes are everywhere adding splashes of colour to the streets. The river walk is particularly lovely and you can also hire boats and bikes if you would like to go further afield than the city centre.
Memorials to visit include the Bridge of Remembrance which is a war memorial to the New Zealand troops who fought in wars around the world. A Category I heritage structure, it is decorated in an ornamental style with Latin inscriptions honouring the soldiers. The main inscription asks “Quid non pro patria” (“What will a man not do for his country”). Another is Christchurch Cathedral which is guilt in the Gothic Revival style and gave the city its name. Both structures are currently swaddled in scaffolding and supports as they were damaged but not destroyed in the earthquake.
The earthquake brought out the creative and resilient part of the residents and this cannot be seen clearer than in the Re:Start shopping mall. Based in the CBD it is a shopping area beside the tram lines, which are not currently running. It is now a buzzing centre of food, culture and day-time music that is made up entirely of colourfully decorated shipping containers and street trader stalls. There is a great atmosphere and it was great to the creative shops, cafés, restaurants and even banks make the most of the containers.
But Re:Start isn’t just about big projects, there are many smaller, random ones which are brightening up the city. Some of the ones we came across included an old fridge full of books which you could borrow or swap out for free. There was also an impromptu pitch and put course which had a club and ball for you to use.
While you are doing all this walking make sure to pick up a coffee. Christchurch prides itself on the number of independent coffee houses selling some really good, storing quality stuff.
Based in the city centre, the Botanic Gardens are unmissable for any visitor. Founded in 1863, it is situated by the river Avon. The gardens boast a fine selection of plants and wildlife, both native and non-native species including trees that are 120 years old. They are all spread over 21 hectares of land right beside Hagley Park, another beautiful urban green space.
There is really something for everyone here. For fans of produce there is a great fruit and veg section bursting with ripe goodness, bees and butterflies. The Heritage Rose Garden displays roses that have been around since 1867 and who only bloom once a year. Rock and Heather Gardens display some of the robust imported plants that thrive in Canterbury’s environment. Mr Walter Brockie, a famous New Zealand plant collector was involved in the design and collation of these gardens.
One of my favourite gardens was the Cockayne Memorial Garden. Dedicated to Leonard Cockayne one of New Zealand’s most famous botanists, the garden was designed to showcase native New Zealand shrubs and alpine plants. Cockayne was an avid supporter of studying plants in their native environments so this garden was a fitting tribute.
A fun feature of the walk was the Water Gardens. City developers dug out the land for gravel to make roads in the booming city. These pools gradually filled from underground aquifers and now are nutrient rich pools full of water-lilies.
Fans of colour were spoilt by the Azelia and modern rose gardens, herbaceous and maple boarders which were all in full bloom. Fragrant and vivid they were designed beautifully.
An ingenious feature of the gardens is that if you liked a particular flower arrangement from some of the beds, the information centre will provide the bedding plan that you can take it home and try to replicate the gorgeousness. They even give tips on how to drought-proof your garden, and no, certain Irish people that I have seen, that does not mean hosing it down in the middle of the day during a water shortage!
If plants don’t interest you there are some great sculptures which fit right into the scenery of the gardens. The one below seemed particularly popular with the ducks. If you are a fan of more traditional fountains, the Peacock Fountain is really stunning and has become a bit of a symbol for Christchurch.
However the impact of the earthquake was felt here too as the conservatories and greenhouses were closed for repair. It was a real shame but thankfully the buildings have been saved and will eventually be restored.
If that isn’t enough part 2 is coming soon!
If you would like to know more about the history of Christchurch try “The Story of Christchurch New Zealand” by Henry Wigram or more about the earthquake try “Christchurch 22.2: Beyond the Cordon” by the New Zealand Police.
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