STA Travel Partnership Manager, and big New Zealand travel enthusiast, Neil Hassall knows a lot about New Zealand, here he is to tell us why he believes South Island city Christchurch is taking giant leaps to become New Zealand’s most exciting city to visit.
As a previous guest of New Zealand and a fan of all things ‘Kiwiana’ (I was lucky enough to live there for two years), I’m always keen to return and see how things have changed in the cities I used to know and love.
One such place where this is truer than most is Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island. Due to two recent large earthquakes in the last three years that devastated the central area, the city is experiencing somewhat of a rebirth, with its determined residents and businesses working hard to rebuild the city for themselves and to welcome tourists back.
Although much of the city is still to be rebuilt (although much of downtown’s tourist accommodation has now reopened), the city’s renaissance is in full swing, as duly noted by the likes of Lonely Planet (who voted it as one of their Top 10 cities to visit last year) and the New York Times (who ranked it No 2 in their 52 must visit places for 2014).
Here are some of the reasons (some of which may surprise you) as to why I believe Christchurch should be on your travel hit-list, either as a trip in its own right, or as part of a round the world itinerary.
6 Reasons Why Christchurch is New Zealand’s Most Exciting City
The Retail Rebirth
The Re:START shopping area is a unique shopping experience, providing downtown Christchurch with a wide variety of retailers operating out of reconditioned shipping containers, all of whom were previously located in regular shops within the city centre before the earthquake.
It has a range of great cafes, dining experiences and a vibrant mix of specialty gift stores and fashion boutiques. Since Re:START launched, London followed where Christchurch led, and now has its own version, BOXPARK in Shoreditch, East London.
The Cardboard Cathedral
To ensure a place for worship whilst they attempt to restore the ruined 19th-century cathedral in the main square, Japanese architect Shigeru Ban was commissioned to design a transitional church with sturdy cardboard tubes used for the roof, also affectionately known as the Cardboard Cathedral.
The unmissable, and completely unique, structure is made up of 100 cardboard tubes weighing up to 120 kilograms and measuring up to 20 metres long. It can seat up to 700 people and has been built to last for up to 50 years – so see it while you can!
*Architectural geek alert! For those interested in the construction, a time-lapse video of the entire process can be found here.
The Thriving Community Projects
The Gap Filler Programme first began almost immediately in the aftermath of the first quake in late 2010, whereby temporary vacant sites caused by the quake are turned into interesting creative spaces by members of the local community.
One recent example was the ‘Dance-O-Mat’ whereby people were encouraged to bring along any device with a headphone jack and plug it into a converted washing machine (yes, really) to hear the music and start dancing. Even Prince Charles was one of the many thousands to have tried it during his visit in 2012, (reports that he did The Macarena are still unconfirmed).
The Unique Bars and Restaurants
Although there are heaps of bars and restaurants to pick from, some of the more interesting ones with a story to tell include:
Revival. Of all the new bars in Christchurch, this is one that truly represents the rejuvenation of the city, opening up in a shipping container and mainly using recycled materials for the inner bar decor.
Tequila Mockingbird. A restaurant next door to Revival with Latin flair South American and Caribbean flavours. I’m including this purely for the ‘genius’ name.
Thai Container. After the Earthquakes, one restaurant managed to start up again as a takeaway with outdoor seating and making great use of a 40ft container, converted to a 40ft kitchen. Despite its humble origins, locals rave about the ‘crate’ food here and it currently features in Tripadvisor’s top 10 dining for Christchurch.
The Festivals and Cultural Events
As you’d expect, there are lots of festivals over the course of the year, with some of the more interesting ones including
- The World Busker’s Festival in January (21 years old & over 600 performance this year) – amateur artists from all over the world descend in Canterbury and perform both on the streets & in theatres & bars
- The Arts Festival – a celebration of bohemia & culture
- The New Zealand Ice Fest (which highlights New Zealand’s leadership in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean through creative & interactive experiences – n-ice!)
- The Wine and Food Festival every December – the finest South Island dishes paired with incredible wines. Enough said!
The Amazing Range of Activities and Experiences on the Doorstep
One of my favourite experiences just outside of Christchurch was the couple of days I spent in Kaikoura, known for its idyllic coast-setting and a world renowned place for spotting large whale colonies and the opportunity to go swimming with pods of wild dolphins.
Also well worth a visit is Hanmer Springs, just 90 minutes drive away, with its range of outdoor pursuits (such as incredible mountain biking) or for those more akin to pampering, try the thermal hot pools followed by a fine wine from the Waipara Valley vineyards.