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Christchurch is the main city in the South Island and the second largest city in New Zealand.

It is easy to get to and close to most other places in the South Island, and almost inevitably will form part of your New Zealand itinerary.

 
 
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All About Visiting Christchurch

Key information for the intending visitor to Christchurch, New Zealand


click image for a larger map

Christchurch is the second largest city in New Zealand, with a population of 386,100, the same as Wellington (the nation's capital).

Part of a series on travel to and in New Zealand - click the links in the right hand column for more articles.

 

 

Chances are that you'll be traveling through Christchurch as part of your New Zealand travels, whether you want to or not, because of its central location and connectedness in the South Island.

The good news is there's a lot to like, to see, to do, and to experience in and around the Christchurch area.

In this first part of a two part article on Christchurch we talk about how to get to Christchurch, why you should visit, and where to stay.  Please also visit the second part of the article, which considers many of the interesting things to see and do in Christchurch city and the surrounding Canterbury region.

Why Visit Christchurch

Christchurch has been New Zealand's second city for many decades, although that position is now being threatened by Wellington which has grown to equal Christchurch in size and seems likely to continue growing at a faster rate and to overtake Christchurch in size.

But Christchurch remains as a major NZ city, and is the largest city in the South Island (Dunedin is a distant second with 115,700, then Nelson at 59,200 and Invercargill at 48,300 - all numbers as of June 2009).  NZ's largest city remains Auckland, with an unchallengeable lead at 1.33 million.

Christchurch is in the Canterbury province, and on the Canterbury plains, to the west of which are the magnificent Southern Alps, running north/south for almost the entire length of the South Island.

Christchurch has some history to it and indeed was the first place in New Zealand to be designated as a city by Royal Charter (in 1856).  It is one of the places originally settled by the English, and perhaps because of that, claims to be the most English of NZ's cities (by contrast, Dunedin claims to be the most Scottish of NZ's cities).  It has an English style cathedral in its city square, and a river (the Avon) on which one can punt, much the same as at Oxford or Cambridge.

A pleasant climate, with the Southern Alps framing the view to the west, and the sea to the east adds to the appeal of the city.

Another reason to visit Christchurch is just because it is 'easy' and somewhat central to most people's NZ itineraries.  Which leads on to the next section.

Getting to and from Christchurch

Christchurch has a major airport in New Zealand.  Some international flights - primarily to/from Australia - fly in to Christchurch, and there are good domestic services, particularly from the other main population and tourist centers in New Zealand such as Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua and Queenstown.

Due to its major airport status, what little airline competition there is in New Zealand will sometimes apply to travel from eg Auckland or Wellington to Christchurch, and as a result, sometimes air fares will be wonderfully low.

So Christchurch is an easy and good place to fly in and out of.

Adding a flight to/from Christchurch to your international ticket

Talking about air travel, international air fares to New Zealand, which typically have flights going to/from Auckland will often have an option to extend on to Christchurch for not much more money, and potentially (but not always) less than the cost of buying a domestic air ticket in New Zealand.

It can often be a good strategy to fly in to Auckland and out of Christchurch (or vice versa) so as to save the day or two that would otherwise be spent less productively driving all the way back to Auckland.  Most international airfares will allow you to fly in or out of Auckland one way and Christchurch the other, and for that you would pay half the Auckland fare and half the Christchurch fare.

Other ways to get to/from Christchurch

There are three other ways you can get to Christchurch, and one way in particular you can't get there.

You can not take a passenger ferry to Christchurch these days.  That used to be the case until the mid 1970s, but since then there has been no ferry service between Wellington and Christchurch.

The other three ways of getting in and out of Christchurch are by rental car, bus or train.

Daily trains go between Christchurch and either Picton or Greymouth - see our page about traveling in New Zealand by train for more details.

Due to its central location, if you are traveling by car, you will find it an easy day's journey to get to Christchurch from just about anywhere else in the South Island, and not too difficult to start your travels in Wellington, take a ferry to Picton, and then drive on down from there to Christchurch (or vice versa).

See also our section on self-drive touring around New Zealand for more comments/suggestions about how to plan a driving tour around the country.

Traveling around the Christchurch area

Depending on how long you're in Christchurch, you might benefit from having a car to get around the local area, and to go a bit further afield such as to Akaroa and Lyttleton (and maybe even further out of town.

A Quick Overview of the Christchurch area

Christchurch is located in Canterbury province, an area of flat fertile plains stretching as far as the eye can see.

It enjoys warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters, but you'll never see snow on the ground (although you'll see lots on the Southern Alps framing the distant views to the west).

A piece of Christchurch trivia for you - it is one of only eight cities in the world to have a nearly exact antipodal city, and half of these cities are in New Zealand.  Christchurch's antipodal city is A Coruņa on the northern coast of Spain.

The Wizard of Christchurch

One of the more unusual things which you might possibly encounter in Christchurch is its official Wizard, a gentleman who these days is not only Christchurch's official wizard but also the official Wizard of New Zealand.  He has also been deemed a 'living work of art' by the NZ Art Gallery Director's Association.

An eccentric - and these days elderly - gentleman, he is regarded affectionately and fondly by people throughout New Zealand, and somehow managed to elevate himself from simple street busker to national icon, and became perhaps the most unusual recipient ever of the Queen's Service Medal, in 2009.

He performs on most weekdays between about 1pm - 2pm, from November through Easter of each year.

Needless to say, he has his own website.

Where to Stay in Christchurch

If you have a rental car, consider staying in a motel.  These will offer you the most comfortable and convenient accommodation, and the best value as well.

There are probably hundreds of motels to choose from; we suggest you look for a motel that is Qualmark rated with four stars or better (although the 3.5 star units are fine too), and then choose based on cost and location.

We won't mention any specific motels because, after allowing for the factors we discuss below - and, of course, any other specific issues that might be particularly important to you, they are truly close to generic.

In terms of location, there's not really any such thing as a good or bad location, just locations that are closer in or out of the center of the city.  Most reasonably nearby locations will only be 10 - 15 minutes drive from the center of downtown, and most of the day, traffic will be moderate rather than heavy, making it easy to get around.

In addition to the rate itself, you should also understand whether or not the motel provides free parking, any sort of free continental breakfast, and whether the internet access is free or not (and whether you are limited to a certain amount of bandwidth or not).

One other point of differentiation.  Weather can get very hot in the summer - if that might be an issue for your comfort, you should find out if the motel has in-room air-conditioning or not.

We also stayed at a motel in the winter of 2010 where we needed lots of heat rather than cooling.  The good news was the unit had a great efficient heating system.  The bad news was it was on a two hour timer.  This was okay during the day, when we just had to remember to re-switch it on when we noticed the room getting cold, but two hours after going to bed, the unit would start to get colder and colder as the night progressed, with no-one keen to get out of bed every two hours to continue resetting the timer switch.  Fortunately the beds had plenty of blankets including electric under-blanket heaters.

Click image to open a larger downtown map of Christchurch in new window

Christchurch City Hotels

If you decide to stay in a central hotel instead, be sure that the hotel is indeed truly central - ie, within half a mile or so of the city/cathedral square so you can walk around the downtown area and over to the river and Hagley Park, all without needing a car or taxi.

This tiny map is linked to a larger one which gives you more of a feeling of the core downtown area of Christchurch.

Perhaps Christchurch's most distinguished hotel is The George.  Another high quality - but much less expensive - hotel is The Millennium, right on Cathedral Square.  The Novotel is on another side of Cathedral Square, and is comparable to The Millennium.  Another hotel to consider is the relatively new (May 2010) Marque Hotel, also in a good central location.

Other hotels worth considering would be the Hotel Grand Chancellor, the Holiday Inn City Center, the Heritage, Rydges, and for something a little less generic and institutional, the Hotel Off the Square.

How Long to Stay in Christchurch

The amount of time you'd choose to stay in Christchurch needs to be adjusted to reflect the total time you have in New Zealand and how you wish to spend it.

At a minimum, you might want to spend one day in Christchurch.  As for a maximum, perhaps three days (including at least one day spent touring to places such as Akaroa and Lyttleton) - or even more if you find enough things to see and do to fill up your time.

Note that you'll probably arrive into Christchurch sometime during the afternoon of your first day/night, and so if you are staying three nights that would give you two full days plus the balance of the day you arrive and some of the morning you depart to enjoy the area.

Continued in part 2

Visit our second page in this series that suggests what to see and do in Christchurch and the nearby area.
 

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Originally published 24 Sep 2010, last update 28 Nov 2012

 
 
 
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