Your initial impression of Christchurch will likely be one of a genteel, green city. Joggers loop through shady Hagley Park, and punters ply the narrow Avon River, which bubbles between banks lined with willows and oaks. With a population approaching 350,000, Christchurch is the largest South Island city, and the second-largest in the country. It is also the forward supply depot for the main U.S. Antarctic base at McMurdo Sound. The face of Christchurch is changing rapidly, fueled by both internal and international immigration. The Māori community, although still below the national average in size, is growing. Ngai Tahu, the main South Island Māori tribe, settled Treaty of Waitangi claims in 1997 and have been investing in tourism ventures. Old wooden bungalows are making way for town houses, the arts scene is flourishing, and the city's university attracts cutting-edge technology companies. In short, there's plenty of fresh energy percolating underneath the English veneer.
Lyttelton. Because of its relative isolation from Christchurch—the road tunnel connecting the two was built only in 1964—Lyttelton has developed its own distinctive feel, attracting creative types who like the small-town atmosphere. Renovated wooden villas now rise halfway up what was once a volcanic crater. The main local sight is the castlelike Timeball Station. In the days before GPS and atomic clocks, ships would make sure their chronometers were accurate by checking them when the large ball at the Timeball Station was lowered. The ball is still raised above the tower five minutes before 1 PM and then dropped exactly on the hour. 2 Reserve Terr.
Out in Lyttelton Harbour sits Quail Island, which was used by the early European settlers as a quarantine zone and leper colony; it's now being restored as an ecological reserve. The Black Cat ferry from Lyttelton can zip you out here for a hike; stop by the interpretive center near the wharf. Jetty B, 17 Norwich Quay. Admission charged.
Christchurch. Once cultivated Māori land, Hagley Park was developed by Pākehā settlers in the mid-1800s, with imported plants given trial runs in what would become the Botanic Gardens. Now the park is divided into four sections, which together include walking and jogging tracks,cycling paths, and self-guided historic tours. Armagh St. at Rolleston Ave.
The Deans, a Scottish family, beat even the Canterbury Association settlers to this region. Riccarton House and Bush, their home, is now run by a trust. The property also includes the last remnant of the original native forest in Christchurch, with its 600-year-old kahikatea trees. 16 Kahu Rd., Riccarton.
Think big. The superb Christchurch Botanic Gardens are known for the magnificent trees that were planted in the 19th century. Many are the largest specimens found in the country— or even in their native lands. Be sure to go to the New Zealand plants area, where you can see plant life that you won't find in other countries. Rolleston Ave.
When the Canterbury Museum was founded in 1867, its trading power with national and international museums was in moa bones (these Jurassic birds roamed the plains of Canterbury and are believed to have been hunted to extinction by early Māori). The museum still houses one of the largest collections of artifacts from the moa hunting period; the Hall of Antarctic Discovery charts the links between the city and Antarctica. Rolleston Ave.
The Gothic Revival stone buildings that house the Arts Centre were formerly home to Canterbury University. Today there are more than 40 specialty shops and studios here, as well as art galleries, theaters, and art-house cinemas. Beside the center's information desk in the clock tower you'll find Rutherford's Den, where Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ernest Rutherford (1871-1937), the university's most illustrious student, conducted experiments in radioactivity. Worcester Blvd. between Montreal St. and Rolleston Ave.
On sunny days, count on seeing students on punts and families in canoes messing about on the river. Join them by renting a boat at the Antigua Boatshed and taking a champagne picnic into the Botanic Gardens. 2 Cambridge Terr. Admission charged.
The tall, wavy glass facade of the Christchurch Art Gallery—Te Puna O Waiwhetu was inspired by Christchurch's Avon River and the shape of the native koru fern. Outside the building is a growing collection of sculpture. The museum's Māori name refers to an artesian spring on the site and means "the wellspring of star-reflecting waters." Worcester Blvd. and Montreal St. Admission charged.
The Suffrage Memorial commemorates New Zealand's September 19, 1893, decision to grant all women over 21— including Māori women—the right to vote. Oxford Terr.
Arching over Cashel Street, the Bridge of Remembrance was built in memory of the soldiers who crossed the river here on their way to the battlefields of Europe during World War I. Avon River at Cashel St.
At the Southern Encounter Aquarium & Kiwi House, you can watch divers feed giant eels or carpet sharks, cod, skate, and other rarely seen deepwater fish. Move on to get a glimpse of the kiwi; the shy, nocturnal national symbol is now hard to see in the wild. Cathedral Sq. Admission charged.
The Provincial Council Chambers, a complex of Gothic Revival stone buildings beside the Avon River, was once the seat of Canterbury's government, which ran from 1853 to 1876. The wooden buildings date from 1859. The elaborate decorations include a painted ceiling, stone carvings, and stained-glass windows. It now houses a small museum devoted to the building's history. Durham St. at Gloucester St.
The dominating Christchurch Cathedral was begun in 1864, 14 years after the arrival of the Canterbury Pilgrims. Though consecrated in 1881, it wasn't completed until 1904. For a view across the city to the Southern Alps, climb the 133 steps to the top of the bell tower. Cathedral Square, the city's focal point, buzzes with an arts-and-crafts market on Thursday and Friday, complete with food stalls and street musicians. Local artist Graham Bennett used crooked girders from the collapsed World Trade Center in the Firefighters Memorial.Kilmore and Madras Sts.
East of the city in the Port Hills, the Christchurch Gondola is the best vantage point from which to overlook Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains, and Lyttelton Harbour. At the Summit Café, you can sit with a glass of local wine and enjoy the view. The adventurous can walk or mountain-bike back down. 10 Bridle Path Rd., Heathcote; 2 km (1 mi) from city center. Admission charged.
Akaroa & the Banks Peninsula. On the southern side of Banks peninsula, in a harbor created when the crater wall of an extinct volcano collapsed into the sea, nestles the fishing village of Akaroa (Ma-ori for "long harbor"). The Akaroa Historic Area Walk ambles along the narrow streets past quaint little cottages and historic buildings which reflect the area's multi-cultural background; a free map is available from the information center. Akaroa Information Centre, 80 Rue Lavaud.
Major branches of music and clothing chains make up most of the frontage at City Mall (Around Cashel and High streets), but there are also some one-offs worth stopping at. Graduates from the polytech fashion school only have to cross the road to show their wares on High Street, a shopping strip lined with early-20th-century buildings. Distinctive blue-and-yellow art deco-era facades line the pedestrian zone of New Regent Street (Between Gloucester and Armagh streets), constantly buzzing with window-shoppers and strollers. Victoria Street, which cuts diagonally across the city center's usual grid pattern out from Bealey Avenue, has a good mix of clothing and decor shops interspersed with cafés.
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