Christchurch’s extreme southerly location, just 3,000 kilometers from the Antarctic, has earned it the title of Penguin Capital of the World; nine of the world’s sixteen penguin species breed here and at least four more species visit throughout the year.
Located on New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch has a long history of involvement in Antarctic exploration. While the city enjoys dry, temperate weather most of the year, its proximity to the South Pole makes it a departure point for numerous explorations and the main supply route to the McMurdo and Scott bases in Antarctica.
The largest city on South Island and home to the country’s highest point, Aoraki/Mount Cook, Christchurch is a good place from which to explore the length, breadth, and height of New Zealand. Christchurch is also an excellent departure point for the many remote islands of the South Pacific.
Christchurch has experienced a flurry of construction since the earthquake of February 2011, which devastated many of its much-loved landmarks, including the Christchurch Cathedral and The Arts Centre. Rebuilding work is ongoing; however, there is still plenty to keep you entertained in New Zealand’s second-largest city.
Start your tour at the Canterbury Museum, where you’ll find the world’s greatest assortment of artifacts from Antarctica’s age of discovery, alongside some superb Māori collections. Next to the museum is the park-lined River Avon, which bisects the city. The river leads into the heart of Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens, which are flanked on either side by the vast North and South Hagley Park; it is this abundance of greenery that has given the city its other nickname, the Garden City. Here, you can catch an Edwardian punt for a scenic ride through the gardens, a gentle reminder of Christchurch’s British heritage.
Since the earthquake, there is a newfound culture for temporary structures throughout the city. A fine example is the Re:START development, a hip new shopping center in Cashel Street fashioned out of shipping containers. And as a temporary replacement for Christchurch’s famous cathedral, an iconic "cardboard cathedral" designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban is to grace the city. The "transitional church," which is being built from paper and cardboard tubes on a timber and steel frame, will hold around 700 people.
A more permanent addition to the city’s landscape is the new Christchurch Stadium, home of the Canterbury Crusaders rugby team.
Following the earthquake, many restaurants and venues have been forced to relocate, leading to a new pop-up venue scene that is testament to Christchurch’s resilience. Caravan cafés, shipping container bars, tent wineries, and marquee gigs can all make for an evening of quirky fun.
For those who prefer bricks and mortar, up-and-coming hotspots where you’ll find a decent range of bars and restaurants can be found around Victoria St. in the Central Business District, or try Addington or Merivale if you feel like exploring a little further out of the city center.
New Zealand’s volcanic South Island is home to mountains, glaciers, beaches, and oceans and attracts nature lovers from across the world.
Climb the 3,754 meters of the country’s highest point, Aoraki/Mount Cook, to discover for yourself why its Māori name means "Cloud Piercer." Just below the mountain is Lake Tekapo; its incredible turquoise color is created by the "rock flour" that the glacier grinds into the waters. Here you can fly fish, jet ski, mountain bike, ski, heli-ski, snowboard, ice skate, golf, or even relax in the thermal hot pools.
Those looking to remain closer to sea level can travel 150 kilometers northeast of Christchurch to Kaikoura. This picturesque coastal headland is ringed by snow-capped mountains and is one of the best whale-watching venues in New Zealand.