Don’t expect London-style super clubs here, but there’s something for everyone – and it’s a whole lot friendlier than the British capital. If you’re after a good feed and decent watering hole, you can’t go past “The Strip” – Oxford Terrace. Packed with good restaurants-cum-bars, once the sun goes down, this is where the party’s at.
A night out in Christchurch is merely a matter of deciding what you fancy. Sports bar filled with beer-fuelled rugby fans? The massive Holy Grail on Worcester St is popular. A place to down a pint or six of the black stuff? The Guinness is good at brilliantly-named The Bog on Cashel St, but there are several other Irish pubs around too. Dance the night away? Christchurch has venues to suit most clubbing needs. They even have a Ministry, on Litchfield St, where you’ll find other good boogey options.
Too cold to surf? There are still enough alternative activities to keep outdoor types busy for days. Raft the grade-five rapids of nearby Rangitata River. Go skydiving. Take a jetboat ride and of course, take advantage of Canterbury’s skifields. Sometimes open from late May to early December, they boast the longest season in the country. If those options sound a bit too exciting for you, there’s always the more sedate hot-air ballooning, horse-riding, fishing or plenty of plain old walking to keep you out of trouble.
The Canterbury Museum is home to the interesting Iwi Tawhito-Whenua Hou (Ancient People-New Land) gallery with displays on the early Maori settlers, and the Nga Hau E Wha National Marae, the largest marae in the country. The Arts Centre, housed in the gorgeous old gothic buildings of the former University of Canterbury, is also bloody fantastic; a haven of art, craft, and entertainment.
And then there’s sporting culture. In this country, that can mean only one thing: rugby. Whether they’re playing for the local park team, cheering for regular Super 14 champs Canterbury Crusaders, or supporting the All Blacks, their passion for this game is infectious. If your stay in Christchurch coincides with a Super 14 game or All Blacks game go along for a quintessential Kiwi experience.
Most of Christchurch may be flat as a tack, but there are a few places to absorb the town’s glory. Take the gondola up to the top of Mt Cavendish. It’s 15 minutes out of town, but the 360 views of Christchurch and Lyttelton Harbour make it worth the extra effort.
If you can’t be bothered to leave town, fork out a few bucks and trek the 134 steps to the top of the 63-metre cathedral tower.
Christchurch has a couple of superb get-out-of-town options, the most famous being the TranzAlpine railway, which takes you across the Southern Alps, via Arthur’s Pass, to the west coast’s Greymouth and back again in the one day.
A cruise out to see Hector’s dolphins, blue penguins and co is rewarding.
If you’re into your penguins three hours drive south brings you to the wonderful Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony.
The colony started when some blue penguins began nesting in a rock quarry in the early 1990s. At peak season (Nov-Dec) they have over 130 breeding pairs in the colony and an additional 130 couples in a reserve nearby.
For a shorter daytrip make the journey to the port of Lyttelton – take the scenic road over the Port Hills for some superb views. Once there, we recommend an afternoon of relaxing over a coffee or three, or take one of the dolphin-spotting cruises on Lyttelton harbour.
While not really a comfortable there-and-back-in-a-day type trip, Lake Tekapo and Mt Cook National Park to the south are two of the most spectacular spots in the whole country; all glowing glacier lakes and dashing mountains. If your camera battery isn’t charged you’ll be sorry. Oh yeah.
Christchurch is probably best known as the gateway to the South Island, but this laidback, terribly English-feeling city has a whole lot more to offer.