The South Island’s largest city sits at the eastern edge of the Canterbury Plains behind the Banks Peninsula.
Known as “The Garden City”, Christchurch boasts some beautifully sculpted parks and gardens reminiscent of Victorian England. While much of the city has a decidedly British feel, it also houses the country’s largest marae, and you can learn about Māori culture in the museum. The bold new Arts Gallery is a modern architectural masterpiece, and it is juxtaposed with the neo-Gothic colonial remnants of the city centre.
Cathedral Square marks the centre of the city, which is laid out in a grid plan with the Avon River flowing through the middle.
The city was shaken by a series of earthquakes between 2010 and 2012. These earthquakes had a massive impact to the city with much of the city centre, including its iconic cathedral, was destroyed during this period. The city centre was not fully re-opened to the public until June 2013 and much of the city is still in ruins; however, seeds of a renaissance are starting to sprout including the Re:START shopping precinct on Cashel Street, which is constructed from colourful shipping containers.
Christchurch has one tram route and an extensive bus network, but most people find the city compact enough to walk around.
Although Christchurch is a pretty easy city to walk around, you may need to take a bus or two if you want to get across town or go to the train station, airport or the good hitchhiking spots. Christchurch’s public transport system is surprisingly efficient and many services run every 10 to 15 minutes.
The city’s most frequent bus routes are the Metro Lines, the colour coded routes (the blue, purple, yellow and orange lines) plus the suburban Orbiter route that run every 10–15 minutes. The City Connector services (bus routes with two-digit route numbers) run from outer suburbs into the city centre and the Suburban Link services (bus routes with three-digit route numbers) run between suburbs without entering the city centre.
Most buses leave from the new bus interchange on Lichfield Street, although the bus network is less centralised post-earthquake with some bus routes (including the Orbiter route and all routes with three-digit numbers) running from one suburb to another without entering the city centre.
Local buses are essential if you’re staying at one of the hostels outside the city centre. The yellow route is best if you’re staying at MacKenzie’s Backpackers or Point Break Backpackers in New Brighton and the purple route and route 29 are best if you are staying at Jucy Snooze near the airport.
Fares are based on a zone system with two fare zones (plus a separate zone just for the airport). Virtually everything you need to see is in zone one and it is not unreasonably to get off the bus one stop before the airport to save some money. Bus fares – particularly to the airport – are cheaper if you pay using the Metrocard (a stored-value smart card, similar to London’s Oyster card).
A cash fare in zone one is $4 ($2.55 with the Metrocard) and a trip to zone two costs $5.50 ($3.75 with the Metrocard). A cash fare between the airport and the city centre is $8.50 (only $2.55 with the Metrocard).
A Metrocard costs $10 and you must load a minimum of $10 credit on it. It is not always worth buying a Metrocard if you’re only visiting Christchurch for a couple of days, but the savings on the bus ride to and from the airport mean that it is worth it if you are arriving and departing from Christchurch Airport.
Christchurch also has a limited tram service that runs along a 2.5km loop past the main sights. It’s a bit touristy and compared to the bus it is pretty expensive at $25 for a one-day pass, although an annual pass is better value at $65.