Although ravaged by earthquakes that have devastated the city from 2010, Christchurch is slowly rising from its knees and once again becoming a must-see city. Even the folks at Lonely Planet have recognized its potential, naming it number six out of ten top cities to visit in 2013 for its “breathtaking mix of spirit, determination and flair”.
Christchurch has become a city to watch as residents have the rare opportunity to completely redesign how their city will look, and they have had the chance to give input on plans for the rebuild. The plans are to incorporate even more green space, with Christchurch potentially becoming a very unique and eco-friendly city.
As the gateway into the South Island and the third largest city in New Zealand, tourists will be surprised by what Christchurch still has to offer.
International Antarctic Centre: One of the biggest tourist attractions in Christchurch is the International Antarctic Centre which is located near the Christchurch airport. Visitors can spend a few hours learning about the icy continent and watching the little blue penguins. Check out the demonstration of an Antarctic storm and experience sub-zero temperatures, or take a ride in a Haggalund - the vehicle used in Antarctica. More details here: www.iceberg.co.nz
Into wildlife? Head to Orana Wildlife Park. This is the largest wildlife park in New Zealand, and it's definitely not a typical zoo. Animals live in huge enclosures, and you can either walk around the park or take the hop-on hop-off shuttles. Visitors can get up close to the animals, with the chance to hand feed giraffes, and watch the cheetah's as they sprint after their food.
An afternoon spent punting down the Avon River is a great way to see what Christchurch has to offer, while people who are more active may like to head ten minutes north of Christchurch to Spencer Park. Here you'll find Adrenalin Forest, a multi-level aerial obstacle course, with challenges for all age-groups and abilities.
Those who like improvised entertainment should head to the Court Theatre. The theatre has relocated to Addington but 21 years later “Scared Scriptless” is still running on a Friday and Saturday night. This show is big on audience interaction and very reasonably priced.
Visitors to The Garden City must check out the restart mall on Cashel Street, where innovative business owners have built stores, cafes, and restaurants out of shipping containers. A perfect example of Kiwi ingenuity, grab a coffee here and people watch before hitting the shops.
The Christchurch Farmers market runs every Saturday in Riccarton from 9am to 1pm and it's a great place to wander for a few hours. With local produce and food stalls, as well as handmade goods and knick-knacks, the market is well worth a visit.
Foodies will be pleasantly surprised to find a vast array of international restaurants in Christchurch. Got a craving for Italian? Check out Tutto Bene on Papanui Road. You may have a bit of a wait, but the pizza and pasta are both worth it.
In the mood for Burmese? Try the Bodhi Tree in Fendalton, which has now reopened. Vegetarians will love Lotus Heart, where the food is both meat-free and organic. With gluten-free and vegan options as well, there's something here for even the fussiest eaters.
Those with a sweet tooth will want to stop by Strawberry Fare. This restaurant has a huge dessert menu, with many people skipping the main course all together in favor of the cheesecake, or triple-chocolate brownie.
Whatever you're hungry for, Christchurch is bound to have it, with more and more restaurants reopening monthly.
It can get chilly in the South Island, and it's not unusual to see a thin layer of frost on the ground in winter in Christchurch. The city shines in summer, although Hagley park in Autumn is a gorgeous array of colors, and the Botanic Gardens come to life in Spring (take a walking tour around them to see some of New Zealand's native plants).
The best time to visit Christchurch is between October and May, when it'll be warm enough to walk around, and really soak up the city. Christchurch is also only 90 minutes away from Mount Hutt, making it a good base for ski and snowboarders in winter.
The World Buskers' Festival is in January, with entertainers from all over the world captivating their audiences. With shows on the streets during the day and in the venues at night, it's a good chance to interact with the locals and have some fun.
Mid November is the New Zealand show week, so head to the Canterbury Agricultural Park to see some of the South Islands rural heritage. With rides, farm animals, horseracing and more, as long as the weather holds up it's guaranteed to be an interesting day.
If you happen to be in Christchurch in December check out the Coca-Cola Christmas in the Park. Half of Christchurch ends up in Hagley Park, where Christmas carols are sung with entertainers from around New Zealand. Santa makes an appearance later on in the night, and fireworks are let off for the kids who manage to stay awake. Take a picnic and a bottle of wine to help soften the blow of 100,000 people singing out of tune around you, and enjoy the festivities.
The main thing visitors to New Zealand should know is that Christchurch is still very much open for business. Aftershocks are becoming very rare and while some parts of the central city are closed, the majority of Christchurch is very tourist friendly. Don't forget to stop by this charming city for at least a few days the next time you visit New Zealand.
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