Arrived in Christchurch a few days before your tour and looking for things to do? We’ve got you covered. Whether you are here for several days or just one day early, we have lots of ideas to get you out exploring.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island and is home to great food and coffee (and cocktails), museums, galleries, beautiful parks, and loads of activities. The key to discovering the heartbeat of any city is to walk it as much as you can. Christchurch has many different places to visit all within walking distance of your tour hotel, so here are just a few to consider:
If you’re hungry or thirsty (or both), you’re going to want to head straight down to Riverside Market for a meal, a snack, some amazing cheese or sweet treats, with plenty of options for beers and wine too. A bona fide institution in Christchurch – and now located at Riverside Markets - is Dimitri’s Greek Food – no visit here is complete without one of their amazing souvlakis. Or pick up a takeaway coffee and pastry and wander down to the river, a few minutes’ walk away and sit on the huge stone steps where you can watch the fish and eels swimming about below. You will find several excellent eateries here along the riverfront – bookings are always recommended so jump into one and reserve your place for the evening. If you still have a hankering for something sweet, head down to Victoria Square where you will find an unassuming little ice cream van selling vanilla ices (called Ice Cream Charlie) – would strongly recommend the OG classic of a plain sundae with the raspberry sauce. Absolute perfection (and they have been using the same recipe since 1903. You don’t want to miss this!)
If you’re looking to burn off all of that food, then take a walk down to the beautiful Botanic Gardens which is a glorious way to spend a few hours. They don’t call Christchurch the Garden City for nothing! Here you will also find the Canterbury Museum at the main entrance on Rolleston Ave, which is also well worth a visit. Hagley Park is just behind the Botanic Gardens and is a very popular park for locals and visitors alike. Located close by are the iconic Antigua Boatsheds, where you can jump on a punting tour, or hire a boat and power yourself down the river in a kayak or canoe. The Arts Centre is definitely worth visiting as well. Formerly used by Canterbury College (now the University of Canterbury), and Christchurch Boys’ and Christchurch Girls’ High Schools. There are 23 buildings on site, of which 22 are listed by Heritage New Zealand with 21 categorised as Historic Place Category One. It’s a stunning area now housing terrific cafes and wine bars, (plus an awesome fudge shop) and galleries and retail spaces to visit too. Heading back into town you can walk past the Christchurch Art Gallery, which is worth visiting if you’re looking for a little additional culture in your day.
Another great way to see Christchurch city is to jump on a tram and enjoy a 50-minute circuit of the city, complete with live and informative commentary from the drivers. It’s a fantastic way to see how the city is moving forward with the rebuild after the devastating 2011 Earthquake. You will be able to see first-hand just how resilient and vibrant Christchurch is.
Not to be missed, is a visit to the newly built Tūranga Library. The largest library in the South Island, it has been beautifully designed in discussion with Ngāi Tahu and the Ngāi Tūāhuriri rūnanga. Terraces and openings on the upper floors face culturally significant points in the Canterbury landscape and beyond, and it is a wonderful place for some tranquillity and peace.
If you fancy a stroll at the beach, then jump on a bus from the Bus Interchange out to Sumner, where you can check out Cave Rock, grab an ice cream, or treat yourself to the quintessential kiwi dinner of fish and chips on the beach.
The Christchurch Gondola is located in Heathcote Valley and you can reach it by public transport from the city (approx 15-20 minute bus ride). For stunning views of the city and Lyttleton Harbour, you can’t beat it. There are lots of walking tracks at the top (plus a cafe) and it’s a fantastic and unique way to get a great feel of Christchurch. There are views for days in good weather!
For those looking for a day trip out of town, then you can’t go past an excursion to Akaroa. Approximately 90 minutes out of Christchurch, you can catch a return shuttle out there for the day, where you can spend your time strolling through the gorgeous French-inspired shops, sampling the local cheese and wine, and soaking up the history of this little French town (a visit to the little museum is highly recommended). Truly nature’s playground, you can book yourself into a Hector’s Dolphin cruise (where you may also spot penguins and fur seals) visit an alpaca farm or the Artist’s Garden at the Giant’s House, or take one of the many gorgeous hikes in the area. A firm local favourite for a day trip out of Christchurch, the drive out there alone is enough to take your breath away.
Another full-day trip is a visit to Quail Island – an island with a big history including being used as a quarantine station during the Spanish Influenza epidemic, a small leper colony, and a place where the ponies and dogs of Scott and Shackleton’s Antarctic expeditions were trained. Reached by Black Cat Cruises from Lyttleton, it’s a terrific and interesting day out in Christchurch. (You can catch a bus to Lyttleton from town and then jump on the ferry from there).
But of course, the ultimate day adventure out of Christchurch is a ride on the Little River Rail Trail. (Yes, we are biased and yes this is a shameless plug.) We can transport you to/from the start of the trail, set you up with your bike, and give you lots of tips and tricks. And a day on the bike means you will have a head start on the rest of your tour group when your E-bike tour kicks off! You’ll be able to show them all how it’s done.
For those of you with a bit of extra time and choose to hire a car, there are lots more options to explore too: a trip to Orana Wildlife Park, The Christchurch Adventure Park (not just mountain biking here – there are great hikes, a beautiful café, and even a zipline if that is your thing), The Tannery Boutique Shopping Centre, a drive out to Orton Bradley Parkfor some beautiful walks or lunch at Otoromiro Hotel in Governor’s Bay. The options are endless!
So, we hope this gives you a few ideas of how to while away a few hours or days in Christchurch when you are waiting for your tour to kick off. It’s a great little city – filled to the brim with culture, outdoor adventures, fun, and interesting history. There’s something here for everyone. The question shouldn’t really be ‘should I come to Christchurch before my tour’, but ‘how many days should I spend in Christchurch before my tour’? We know you will love it. Have fun!