I’d heard mixed things about Christchurch so wasn’t quite sure what to expect and whether we’d have enough to do to fill our time there. As it was, our time there was cut short in order to spend extra time in Kaikoura but I easily could have spent longer in Christchurch and really liked the city. It is very much still in recovery from the 2011 earthquake but I found it to be a positive city which seems to be looking to the future. It’s actually a really exciting time to be there while the city rejuvenates.
We had an afternoon in Christchurch before heading up to Kaikoura which was a good opportunity to get our bearings. We went to the art gallery which was interesting… I hope one day I’ll walk into an art gallery and understand the artwork but at the moment I’m sadly at the point where it all still baffles me. We saw some sculptures which were performed at certain times and I’m sad to say I found them an awful lot funnier than I think they were meant to be, but they did make an interesting use of resonance.
We next headed to the Re:Start Mall which was a mall made out of shipping containers after the earthquake. The mall is now a lot smaller and less impressive than it apparently used to be but that’s quite good as it means that the actual shops are reopening again. We also saw the cathedral which is still in ruins and was quite sad to see. However when we were there a National Geographic photography competition was on display in the square which was really good and gave us the opportunity to see some amazing photos which had been taken in New Zealand.
We ended our short tour (very randomly) on the top of a car park. We’d been attracted by the music and party atmosphere on the roof – it turned out that a bike race was due to take place. Whilst I didn’t stay to watch the race, it was actually a really good vantage point to look out over the city. From here you could see the large empty spaces where there clearly used to be buildings, but also the amount of building work taking place.
On our return from Kaikoura we stayed in some unique accommodation spending two nights in the old jailhouse (pictured above) which has now been converted into a hostel. Staying in an old cell was certainly different but it wasn’t the best accommodation we’d stayed in. It’s good for the novelty value but it is a little way out of the city centre.
Hagley Park is one of the largest city parks in the world and a great place to spend some time on a sunny day. It’s home to the Christchurch Botanical Gardens which were absolutely beautiful. The rose garden was particularly noteworthy as all the flowers were in full bloom.
On the edge of the park is the Canterbury Museum which is well worth a visit and it’s free to go in. The exhibition on early Maori settlers was particularly interesting and covered a lot of information that hadn’t really been covered elsewhere – most places have focused on the early settlers and then the arrival of the European settlers rather than anything in between. I also enjoyed the exhibition on Antarctic exploration, especially as we didn’t have time to go to the actual Antarctic centre.
I really liked a lot of the gap-filler projects which have sprung up since the earthquake as it made it feel like there was still plenty to see and added to the spirit of rejuvenation. We didn’t manage to go round them all but we had a go on the dance mat, James played on a giant arcade style game and we both had fun on the family playground. It was really good fun and a fantastic play area – I was jealous there wasn’t anything similar where I grew up. We also made it to see the “cardboard” or Christchurch Transitional Cathedral.
Christchurch was definitely the most English of all the cities we’d been to – you can even go punting on the river! I could have easily spent a bit longer in the city and also exploring the surrounding area. It would have been good to get to Akaroa and the Banks Peninsula which is meant to be another fantastic spot for wildlife. We also didn’t have time to go to the Antarctic Centre or the gondola. A lot of people seem to use Christchurch for the airport but spend no time there whereas I’d advise at least spending a day here.