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27 Free and Cheap Things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand

27 Free and Cheap Things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand

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Christchurch is one of my favorite cities in New Zealand because there’s so much to do here. Surprisingly, you don’t need to have a big travel budget to enjoy the city either, as a lot of the best things to do in Christchurch are either cheap or even completely free!

Think about it – New Zealand is known for its natural beauty so most of the best things to do in NZ involve the great outdoors. Christchurch is no different and the best free things to do in the ‘garden city’ (as locals affectionately call it) involve hiking and relaxing at the beach.

As for cheap things to do in Christchurch, in this blog post, I’ve listed over 10 budget-friendly activities too. So, whether you’re visiting Christchurch for just a night or a week you won’t go over budget if you read my savvy tips.

To help you plan your trip and convince you that Christchurch is one of the best places to visit on the South Island, here are 27 free and cheap things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand!

Free & Cheap Things to do in Christchurch 

1. Hike the Godley Head Trail

Bailey hiking along the Godley Head Trail in Christchurch, New Zealand
Such a beautiful spot for a walk!
Bailey on the Godley Head Trail in Christchurch, New Zealand
Godley Head Trail in Christchurch, New Zealand

Of course, one of the best free activities in Christchurch is hiking. Godley Head Loop Track is one of the top hikes in the area and one that you should definitely consider.

Godley Head Loop Track is a 9.3 km (5.8 km) walking track that should take 3 hours to complete. It’s one of the best hikes on the South Island because it boasts views of Christchurch, the Kaikoura Ranges, and the Banks Peninsula. There are also many WWII historical sites to be viewed along the track. 

The track starts at Taylors Mistake Carparkand near the beginning of the trail, you can witness what’s left of the old cave houses that are built into the cliffs here.

Did you know the coastal defense battery found on this track was built back in 1939 and is one of the top 10 coastal defense sites in New Zealand? The gun platforms feature interpretive graffiti that highlights the critical role of the Women’s Auxiliary Army in defending the area during WWII. 

As well as that, there’s an underground magazine here (a place to store gun cartridges and shells as well as having a motorized hoist that once lifted the ammunition to the guns). There are several information boards too which tell the story and history of the area.

After the Godley Head parking lot (FYI – there are toilet facilities here), continue on uphill to a stunning viewpoint of Breeze Bay – you may even see dolphins and seals in the ocean below! The track goes downhill from here to Breeze Col, follow the Black Rock walking trail for 15 to 20 minutes before coming to a sign for Pilgrims Way Track. You’re almost at the end – the finishing point is also the starting point at Taylors Mistake parking lot.

Worth noting – you can stay overnight here at the Godley Head Campsitewhich has 25 non-powered tent sites (that you can drive to.) Advance booking is essential, and it costs $15 NZD per adult per night.

2. Explore Christchurch by tram

A tram travels through Christchurch, New Zealand
A tram travels through Christchurch, New Zealand

Have you ever ridden a historic tram? It’s a cool and unique way to explore a city. Would you believe that you can explore Christchurch on-board a tram for as little as $30 NZD per adult! Yep, it’s one of the best cheap things to do in Christchurch in my opinion! 

The tram is similar to hop-on-hop-off bus tours because you can hop off along the route at one of the 17 stops and hop back on again once you’re ready. Stops include Canterbury Museum, Botanic Gardens, and New Regent Street- many of the best things to do in Christchurch!

Along the way, the tram driver will tell you all about the city’s historical sites as well as the general history of the city. A fun fact I learned was that the tram line in Christchurch was built back in 1880.

If you want a more inclusive tour, you can this Discover Christchurch Tour, which includes an all day pass for the tram where you can pass by famous Christchurch sights like the Avon River and Botanic Gardens. It also includes tickets for the gondola as well as the chance to ride in a punting boat down the river. This option is reasonably priced at $362 NZD considering it also includes pick up and drop off.

Worth noting is that children up to age 15 travel free. A ticket for the hop-on-hop-off tour costs $30 NZD per adult.

3. Bridle Path Track

Views on the Bridle Path Track
The Bridle Path Track is one of the best hikes in Christchurch!

The Bridle Path Track is a 2.4 km (1.5 mi) walking track that should take an hour each way. It follows the footsteps of the first European settlers to the area and was constructed back in 1850. The track starts at the car park at the base of the Christchurch Gondola in Heathcote.

This track is recommended for those with a reasonable level of fitness as it is quite a steep climb to the summit. On your walk, you will see evidence of the devastation the Christchurch Earthquake of 2011 caused, with huge boulders covering the hillside here.

At the top, there’s a historic stone building that was built to remember the pioneer women of Christchurch. But, the views from the summit are really what you came for – you can see Lyttleton Harbor, Mount Herbert, and Diamond Harbor from your prime vantage point.

You can walk back via the same track you took to get to the summit or walk the Crater Rim Walkway towards Lyttleton, this track does eventually join up with the Bridle Path Road. An easier way to do it is to catch the Christchurch Gondola up to the top of Mount Cavendish and walk back down.

4. Brockworth Street Art Gallery

The Brockworth Street Art Gallery
The Brockworth Street Art Gallery

One of the most interesting art galleries I’ve ever visited is the Brockworth Street Art Gallery in Christchurch, which is essentially a collection of street murals that runs along the Brockworth walkway. Plus, it’s free admission! The project is the creative brainchild of artists Damian Holt, Courtney Brown, and Zac Harding. 

The murals are quirky and colorful, and I spent over an hour walking beside the train tracks and taking lots of photos of the murals. There are murals of scenic beach scenes, graffiti-style slogans, and weirdly wonderful caricatures. Art lovers will love this part of Christchurch! 

Brockworth Street Art Gallery can be reached from between 33 – 35A Riccarton Road (between Nandos restaurant and the Mobil gas station).

Note: Brockworth Street Art Gallery isn’t the only place to enjoy street art in Christchurch. In the CBD there are lots of murals to also enjoy. The Riverside Market is home to a huge mural commemorating the earthquake victims, and there are 8 giant model spray cans on the intersection between Manchester and Lichfield Streets in the city center which have been decorated by local artists. Keep exploring and see just how much art you can find! 

5. Visit a local craft brewery 

A pizza and beer at Brew Moon Brewery, Christchurch, New Zealand
Mmm beer and pizza! Photo credit: Brew Moon Brewery

If you’re a craft beer fan then Christchurch is the city for you because it’s home to lots of micro-breweries as well as the Great Kiwi Beer Festival. At the Festival, the best breweries in the country showcase their beers and even offer free tastings. As well as that, there’s live music, DJs, and seminars that will tell you all about the craft of brewing. This festival is held at the end of January in Hagley Park annually.

As for local breweries in Christchurch, Cassels & Sons’ Brewerylocated in Woolston just under a 10-minute drive from Christchurch CBD, is a local favorite and is famous for its milk stout, which has won numerous awards! Also worth tasting is their Lager, Pale Ale, IPA, and Dunkel. There’s even a restaurant on-site which serves up excellent wood-fired pizza and a breakfast menu (until 3 pm).

Another favorite brewery of mine in Christchurch is Brew Moon Brewery which is located in Amberley, a 40-minute drive from the CBD. Here, they both brew and can their own beer. Try their New England IPA, Hazy Pale Ale, and APA among others. They are constantly releasing new flavors so be sure to ask what their seasonal beer is!

6. Self-guided LOTR tour to Edoras

Mount Sunday in New Zealand
Mount Sunday landscape, aka Edoras from Lord of the Rings on a tour from Christchurch!

Did you know that most of the scenes from the Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movies were filmed on the South Island? From Christchurch CBD you can easily explore ‘Edoras’ which is the capital city of the Rohan people in the Lord of The Rings Two Towers movie.

‘Edoras’ is located at the summit of Mount Sunday in Hakatere Conservation Park. It’s a narrow gravel road up to the summit (aka Edoras) that starts from the small town of Mount Somers. If you’ve rented a vehicle in Christchurch, the drive up is an experience in itself! It will take 1.5 hours of driving from Christchurch CBD to reach Edoras. If you don’t have a 4WD, you may have to park your car before the summit and hike about 30 minutes to the top. There is no entrance fee to Mount Sunday (aka Edoras).

If you want to pay for a guided tour this tour from Christchurch is highly recommended. On the tour, your guide will show you exclusive photos of how they transformed this rural mountaintop into Edoras – the before and after photos will leave you in awe – it’s truly amazing what they accomplished! Pick up and drop off at your hotel in Christchurch is included in the price, which is $300 NZD per person, as well as a picnic lunch with wine.

7. Visit the Sign of the Bellbird for a great view of Christchurch

View of Christchurch from Summit Road, New Zealand
What a view!
Bailey at Ohinetahi Viewpoint next to Sign of the Bellbird in Christchurch, New Zealand
At Ohinetahi Viewpoint next to Sign of the Bellbird in Christchurch, New Zealand

Easily the best view in all of Christchurch city can be seen from the Sign of the Bellbird viewpoint. You can see as far as Ohinetahi Reserve, Lyttelton Harbour, and Canterbury Plains from here. 

The viewpoint is accessed via a 4 km (2.5 mi) walking track, or if you want, you can drive right there via Summit Road. If you want to hike, the track starts from nearby The Sign of the Kiwi (more on that below) and will take approximately 3 hours. Worth noting is the track is considered moderate in difficulty as it’s quite steep in sections.

The Sign of the Bellbird is actually a historic tea room that was built by Harry Ell in 1914. However, it fell into disrepair over the following years and remains in a run-down state to this day. The roof was replaced in 2015 following a fire, but that’s about the extent of the renovations there.

There is a parking lot under construction at the viewpoint, which should be completed soon.

Top Tip – on a sunny day, the water in the harbor is a cloudy turquoise color, making it even more photogenic.

8. Enjoy a coffee and view at Sign of the Kiwi Café

Bailey at the Sign of the Kiwi Cafe in Cashmere, Christchurch
Sign of the Kiwi Cafe!
View of Christchurch from Sign of the Kiwi Cafe in Cashmere, Christchurch
The view while I enjoy my coffee! Oh and I’m not even sitting outside!

High up off Summit Road with stunning views of Port Hill and Lyttleton Harbour is a local favorite the Sign of the Kiwi Café. This is a cute cafe with delicious food and drinks…and even better views!

The drive to get there is very steep with lots of sharp corners – so drive with care. If you don’t want to drive, you can also hike to the Sign of the Kiwi via the Crater Rim Walkway, which starts from the Sign of the Takahe – this trail is 3.3 km (2 mi) each way.

The Sign of the Kiwi Cafe is located in a historic stone building. The coffee here is excellent, which will be much appreciated if you’ve walked up. They also offer freshly baked goods (try the scones!) and even hot breakfast and smaller lunch items. My top recommendation is their Kiwi Stack from the all-day breakfast menu, which is served with poached eggs, avocado, spinach, and bacon on a crostini. 

There’s plenty of seating both indoors and outdoors, and during the summer months, there’s an ice-cream shop, which the kids will love. The view from here is one of the best in Christchurch so as you can imagine it can get very busy, especially at weekends. 

Hot Tip: One of the best ways to combine getting around with accommodation is in a campervan. There are some awesome campervan rentals in Christchurch that are well worth checking out.

9. He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools

Bailey relaxes in the He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools in Christchurch
It’s too hard to get out!
Bailey enters the He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools in Christchurch, New Zealand
On a windy day, the warm pools are amazing!

Surprisingly, one of my favorite hot pools in New Zealand are located in Christchurch. He Puna Taimoana Hot Pools are located right on the edge of the ocean in the suburb of New Brighton, so you can enjoy a soak with ocean views!

On top of that, they are cheap to visit! In fact, it’s only $18 – $20 NZD per adult, depending on if you go during peak times or not, and Christchurch residents can save $4. Plus, you also get access to the steam room and sauna, so basically, you get a really nice spa-like experience for a fraction of the cost!

But since these hot pools offer so much bang for your buck, they book up fast. Reserve a time slot in advance via their website to make sure you’ll get to soak in the soothing mineral waters. They have 4 90-minute slots available per day between 10 and 5:30 pm. 

For me, the cherry on top of my whole experience at the hot springs was that one of my favorite cafes in Christchurch, Saturdays, is right next door so you can grab one of their tasty, Insta-worthy brunch plates before or after your soak and enjoy yet more ocean views while you eat.

10. Riccarton Bush Walk

Riccarton Bush is the only area of podocarp forest left in Christchurch. There are two walking tracks that you can take here; the first is just a 15-minute return walk (460 meters/1,509 feet) and starts at Riccarton House and then follows around historic Dean’s Cottage. There are a few information boards along the track which tell about the plants and birds found in the area. You may even spot some of the birds the forest is famed for such as fantail, kereru, silvereye, and grey warbler.

A slightly longer walking route is to add on the boardwalk which is a turn-off from the shorter track described above – this will take 30 minutes to complete and is 900 meters (2,953 feet). On your return to Riccarton House be sure to check out the many exotic trees planted here such as oak, eucalyptus, and conifer trees.

11. Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park

Bailey surounded by ducks at Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park in Christchurch
It was so wet when I went!
Bailey looks through a lookout at Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park
Just looking for birds!

Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park is the last remaining freshwater wetland in Christchurch. In fact, Christchurch was built on a swamp, so this Heritage Park is a very important part of the city’s history. As well as that, Maori tribes of the past used this area as a mahinga kai (a food gathering area).

There’s an easy loop walking track here that starts at the Beach Road parking lot, it’s mostly flat and gravel-covered and is suitable for strollers or wheelchair users. On your walk, you may be lucky enough to see wildlife like eel, fish, and kereru as well as lots of birdlife such as pukeko, fantail, swallow, kingfisher, and the white heron. 

In fact, the wetlands here are home to the second-largest population of birds in Christchurch, behind The Estuary. Also, keep an eye out for interesting trees and plants like manuka, the tall baumea reed, and the spider orchid.

The Travis Wetland Nature Park is open from 8 am to 8 pm. It’s completely free to visit.

12. Check out the local markets

Fresh fruit and veg at the Lyttelton Farmers Market
Fresh fruit and veg at the Lyttelton Farmers Market

A great activity to try if you’re after a cool cheap activity in Christchurch is to hit up one of the many markets throughout the city. Below I’ve listed some of my personal favorite markets:

Held each Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, Christchurch Farmers Market on the grounds of Riccarton House and Bush has been serving the locals of Christchurch since 2003. There are loads of food stalls (over 60 to be exact) to choose from so be sure to come with an empty stomach. You can try all types of food here from pancakes to dumplings to handmade chocolate, there’s even freshly caught salmon on offer.

Lyttelton Farmers Market is one of the biggest farmers markets on the South Island, it is held each Saturday from 10 am – 1 pm on London Street, Lyttleton. You can certainly do your weekly food shop here if you wish with fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, meats, cheeses, and more all on sale. Lyttleton Farmers Market opened in 2005 and is a not-for-profit business.

On a Friday night, one of the best places to go in Christchurch is to Food Truck Friday held in the New South Brighton area of Christchurch. Held each Friday in the spring and summer months (September to March) from 5:30 pm – 8 pm, here, some of Christchurch’s best food trucks and stalls come together to delight both locals and tourists. There’s food from around the world available here.

All of the markets are free to visit, but you’ll want to bring at least some cash to buy food – I really doubt you’ll be able to leave empty-handed!

13. Taste wine in Waipara Wine Region

Grape vines in the Waipara Wine Region
This is one gorgeous place to taste wine!

Just an hour’s drive from Christchurch is the Waipara Wine Region. It’s considered one of the best wine regions in the country because the weather here is ideal for wine growing – it has the highest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall of any of New Zealand’s wine regions. Most commonly grown in the Waipara is Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling. Some of my favorite wineries in Waipara include Waipara Springs, Waipara Hills, and Terrace Edge Winery. 

In fact, this is New Zealand’s “fastest-growing wine region”. It’s hard to believe that the first vines were only planted in the Waipara in 1975, and now there are over 1300 hectares of vines! 

A great cheap way to explore the Waipara is to drive here yourself. As I mentioned, it’s just an hour’s drive from Christchurch, so it’s easily doable – just make sure you have a designated driver! Pegasus Bay on Stockgrove Road offers free wine tastings, but buying a bottle of their wine is encouraged – I love their Riesling. While Waipara Hills offers a tasting flight of several of their best wines for the cheap price of $10 NZD – advance booking is required for this.

If you have a bigger travel budget you can join a guided winery tour (so you don’t have to drive). Most tours depart from Christchurch and are between 4-5 hours in duration. These boutique wine tours typically include a light lunch like a sharing platter to be enjoyed at one of the scenic wineries. 

Did you know – the Waipara is one of the most popular stops on the drive from Picton to Christchurch!

14. Visit Sumner Beach

Bailey stands on a rock overlooking Sumner Beach in Sumner, Christchurch
Sunmer Beach!
Bailey out the front of the Bohemian Café in Sumner, Christchurch
The Bohemian Café is one of the best!

Sumner Beach, just a 20-minute drive from Christchurch, is a gorgeous 400-meter-long (1,312 feet) white sand beach. It is typically safe to go swimming at Sumner Beach, and lifeguards are on duty between November and March. But there are strong currents at times from Avon Heathcote Estuary, so be careful and only swim between the flags.

Sumner Beach also has a busy boardwalk promenade that runs the length of the beach and is home to excellent restaurants, cafes, and even some boutique stores. One of the best free things to do in Christchurch is to head out here and walk the promenade on a warm summer day – the place is usually bustling and vibrant!

Scarborough Beach, at the east end of Sumner Beach, is a popular local surf beach especially. Be warned though, the breaks are big here, and it’s not usually advisable for swimming.

15. Quake City

A display at Quake City in Christchurch, New Zealand
One of the touching displays at Quake City.

Quake City is an emotional exhibition in Christchurch that remembers those that died during the devastating 2011 earthquake. It also aims to educate its visitors about earthquakes and teach them how to prepare for them. 

At Quake City, you can view lots of items that were discovered during the clean-up after the earthquake, including the “jaws of life” aka the hydraulic spreaders used to rescue people from the rubble. You can also listen and read about the stories of those who witnessed the earthquake first-hand.

Educate yourself on the science behind earthquakes through interactive boards throughout the museum. You can also learn all about the fascinating process of liquefaction (when soil is reduced by the earthquake, leading to buildings and other objects sinking into the ground.) 

Quake City is very family-friendly, and kids especially love the interactive boards. It is located at 299 Durham Street North, Christchurch Central. The entrance fee is just $20 NZD per adult and children under 15 are free!

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16. Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial

Bailey walks along the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial
So sad!

The Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial is the official area of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the devastating 2011 earthquake. On the dark day of 22nd February 2011, 185 people lost their lives!

The memorial follows along both sides of the Avon River in downtown Christchurch and can be accessed from either Cashel Mall or the Bridge of Remembrance.

The Earthquake National Memorial was opened in 2017, which was the 6th anniversary of the earthquake. The design of the memorial is poignant as it contains the names of all the victims of the earthquake. It is also purposefully located to get sunlight most of the day.

There are several steps down to the river where you can sit and reflect. So, even though it’s a place of remembrance, it’s also a lovely place for you to sit by the Avon River and reflect on the earthquake. 

Like many of the activities in this blog, the memorial is completely free to visit.

Did you know – the design was commissioned by artist Grega Vezjak who won the bid over hundreds of others.

17. Visit the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Bailey walks through the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
So beautiful!
Bailey with a huge tree in the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
This tree is huge!

One of the largest public gardens in New Zealand (at a huge 52 acres!) is The Christchurch Botanic Gardens. You can easily spend a few hours wandering through the different sections here, each section is dedicated to a different season. For example, in the summer section, there are hundreds of roses in bloom, while in the spring section, you’ll be treated to lots of bright daffodils. It is one of my favorite places in Christchurch to go for a walk!

You can also visit one of the many conservatories on-site, which is a great place to escape the cold during New Zealand’s winter. Walking around the gardens you will notice there’s lots of unique art on display too. For the kids, there’s a playground and a paddling pool – which is open in the warmer months from November to March!

The Botanic Gardens Visitor Center, which is where you will enter the gardens on Rolleston Avenue, has a cafe and gift shop plus an interesting exhibition that tells the history of Christchurch through plants and flowers.

Entrance to the Christchurch Botanic Gardens is free and they’re open from 7 am until late (this changes depending on the season.)

18. Check out New Brighton Pier

New Brighton Pier in Christchurch, New Zealand
Sunset!

Just a 15-minute drive from the CBD in the suburb of New Brighton, you can’t but miss New Brighton Pier, which is the longest ocean pier in Australasia at 300 meters (984 feet) in length. The pier was constructed in 1894, but it was a wooden pier. That wooden pier was demolished in 1965 and the new concrete pier you see today opened to the public just under 25 years ago in 1997.

There’s a very photogenic library (that has won many awards), a cafe, and a restaurant at the beginning of the pier.

But what makes New Brighton Pier such a popular spot for photographers are the hundreds of LED lights installed underneath the pier, which transform the many concrete pillars holding up the pier into a range of colors from green to blue to red. At night, these colors are then reflected on the water below, which is a very cool photo opportunity!

This is one of the most famous free things to do in Christchurch – especially amongst photographers!

19. Air Force Museum of New Zealand

Air Force Museum of New Zealand
Air Force Museum of New Zealand!

Another one of the most interesting free things to do in Christchurch is to visit the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. It is the national museum for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and is home to the force’s largest collection. It’s situated in a former airbase in Wigram, which is a 10-minute drive from Christchurch CBD.

There are over 100 years of aviation history on display here, including objects pre-WWI, WWII, the post-war period, and up to the present day. The museum holds regular “Museum hunts”, which is a great way for the family to explore the museum together and learn all about the air force’s history. 

There’s a shop and cafe on-site as well.

20. Christchurch Art Gallery

Bailey inside the Christchurch Art Gallery, New Zealand
Most of the exhibits are no phots!
A display at the Christchurch Art Gallery in New Zealand
There are a few you can take photos of!

The Christchurch Art Gallery originally opened in 1932 but it was almost completely ruined by the 2011 earthquake. It just opened its doors to visitors once again in 2015 after it underwent extensive renovation works. I think it’s one of the most beautiful buildings in Christchurch – it catches your eye with its stunning glass and metal exterior. In fact, its design is said to mirror the flow of the nearby River Avon.

There are nine exhibition areas within the art gallery featuring both local and international artists, and the gallery also runs lots of events throughout the year.

And the best part? It’s completely free to visit! The Gallery is located at the corner of Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street. It is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm and open late until 9 pm on Wednesday.

Did you know – the Christchurch Art Gallery was an Emergency Operations Center in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. It housed hundreds of city workers up until the end of August 2011.

21. Take a walk down New Regent Street Precinct

A tram travels down New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand
A tram travels down New Regent Street in Christchurch, New Zealand

Named time and time again as New Zealand’s prettiest street, Regent Street Precinct is located in the center of Christchurch and is pedestrianized. There are over 40 shops on the street, most of which are restaurants and cafes but there’s also a jeweler, an eye-wear store, and a dance supply store. On a sunny day, there’s no better place to be than sitting outside at one of the many cafes with a cup of coffee and watching the world go by!

As for where to grab a bite to eat on New Regent Street Precinct, check out Twenty Seven Steps, one of the best restaurants in Christchurch, is located here. Ally & Sid is a great coffee shop that also serves up some delicious toasts and smoothie bowls perfect for a light lunch. Grizzly Baked Goods is always a great shout for fresh bread or something sweet. Gin Gin is the place-to-be, serving up 80 different types of gin it’s a gin-lovers idea of heaven!

Did you know – Regent Street is the only remaining heritage street in Christchurch. It is considered to be Spanish Mission style and was constructed in the 1930s. The street did suffer huge damage in the 2011 earthquake and was reopened to the public two years later in April 2013.

22. Check out cafes around the city 

Bailey enjoys brinch at a cafe at the New Regent Street Precinct in Christchurch
Brunch at Belle (cafe & micro roastery)
Bailey with brunch at Saturdays Cafe in Christchurch
Bailey with brunch at Saturdays Cafe in Christchurch

The coffee culture in New Zealand is one of the best in the world, in fact, some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted has been right here in New Zealand! So, it comes as no surprise then that Christchurch, the second-largest city in the country, has some of New Zealand’s best cafes.

First up, and a must-try in my opinion, is C1 Espresso on 185 High Street. Your food is delivered by pneumatic tubes, which you can watch overhead. It’s one of the coolest coffee shops I’ve ever been to (P.S. the coffee is fantastic too)!

Table At Monk’s at 282 Madras Street is a local favorite, with locals flocking here every weekend for their famed Lemon Ricotta and Blueberry Waffle. A great vegetarian option is Monk’s Veggie Breakfast. Besides the food, the interior is so cozy that you’ll find yourself wanting to spend a few hours here. In Summer or on warmer days try to nab a table on their patio.

Also, worth-visiting in the CBD is Child Sister on 277 Manchester Street for arguably the best brunch options in Christchurch.

Slightly further afield and well worth a mention is Saturdays Cafe, which has an awesome waterfront location and serves up excellent coffee as well as delicious food items like their Banoffee Pie Waffles or Smashed Avocado Bagel.

23. Drive Arthurs Pass

Bailey walks Castel Hill on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Castel Hill on Arthurs Pass, New Zealand
Bailey looks out at the Devils Punchbowl Waterfall on Arthurs Pass
Devils Punchbowl Waterfall on Arthurs Pass

One of the best and most scenic drives in New Zealand is the journey from Christchurch over Arthurs Pass. The Arthurs Pass drive itself is only 45 km (148 ft) long, but it takes around an hour to get to the starting point from Christchurch and another hour to drive it, so I advise spending the night in Arthurs Pass if time allows. It’s considered a difficult drive too because the road climbs up to 900 meters (2,953 feet) in height and there are lots of narrow bridges along the route.

One of the best places to photograph on Arthurs Pass is the Otira Viaduct, an impressive 440-meter (1,444 feet) long bridge. Stop at the car park just off Highway 73 for the best photo of the bridge (pictured above.) 

One of the other must-see stops on Arthurs Pass includes Bridal Veil Falls, a stunning waterfall that’s 108 meters tall (354 feet). It’s a short 10-minute walk from the car park to the falls, so it’s a good quick stop. If time allows, a stop at Devil’s Punchbowl is also a must! This 131-meter tall (430 feet) waterfall can be reached via a 20-minute walking track that begins at the car park. These are both among the best waterfalls in New Zealand!

Bailey at the Otira Viaduct Lookout on Arthurs Pass, NZ
Otira Viaduct Lookout on Arthurs Pass, NZ

If you’re a keen hiker, then there are loads of excellent hikes on the drive through Arthurs Pass. Some of my favorites include Avalanche Peak, which will take 5-6 hours to complete it’s rated as a difficult 6 km trail (3.7 mi). There’s an easier walking track, called the Arthurs Pass Walking Track, that starts from Arthurs Pass Village and passes waterfalls and mountain scenery along the way.

All of the attractions on Arthur’s Pass are free to visit, so you can drive there from Christchurch for cheap – you’ll only need to pay for fuel!

Related Read: Continue on from Arthur’s Pass to visit the small town of Hokitika! There are a few fun things to do and see in Hokitika.

24. Visit Otamahua / Quail Island

Another cheap activity that you can easily do from Christchurch is to hop on the ferry from Lyttleton to Quail Island, which costs just $15 NZD each way for an adult and $7.50 NZD for a child.

To use its Maori name, Otamahua, the island is named after the Quail (known locally as the koreke), which is now extinct. The island is filled with unique native flora and fauna as well as many native birds like the kingfisher and fantail. You may even spot the cute little blue-eyed penguins at one of the beaches on the island.

A day trip from Christchurch to Quail Island is the perfect way to spend a sunny day. The waters here are ideal for swimming (although a little cold at just 13 Celsius/55 Fahrenheit) and the beaches are stunning and uncrowded.

You can book your ferry tickets to Quail Island online in advance.

Did you know – early European settlers used Quail Island as a quarantine island for lepers? It was even used by explorers Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton, who used Quail Island to train their huskies and ponies before exploring Antarctica.

25. Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Monkeys at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
My favorite is the monkeys! Photo credit: Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Wildlife lovers will thoroughly enjoy this fun, but cheap, activity in Christchurch! The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is home to plenty of animals that you can observe. The reserve is huge and is divided into 3 categories: farmyard, New Zealand, and Zoo/Exotic animals. 

You can see alpacas, llamas, miniature horses, Clydesdale horses, peacocks, and more in the farmyard section. While, the New Zealand section is home to possums, tuatara, and native birds like kaka, kea, and the morepork. The New Zealand section is also where the North Island Brown Kiwi Sanctuary is. Finally, in the Zoo/Exotics section, there are emus, iguanas, gibbons, and a ring-tailed lemur.

Willowbank was the first place in the world to open a glass-free nocturnal house for kiwis. The Nocturnal House is open from 10:30 am every day. As mentioned, there’s no glass-like in other kiwi sanctuaries across New Zealand, and you are guaranteed to see the elusive kiwi!

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is just a 20-minute drive from downtown, it’s open daily from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. Visiting costs only $32.50 NZD per adult, $12 NZD per child (but children under 5 are free) – which is great value for money because you can easily spend the whole day here!

26. Ride the Christchurch Gondola

Views from the Christchurch Gondola
Views from the top of the Christchurch Gondola!

The Christchurch Gondola may not be as famous as the Queenstown or Rotorua Gondola, but it’s one of my favorite sights in Christchurch. You will be surprised by the views from the top with Christchurch City, Canterbury Plains, Lyttelton Harbour, and even the Southern Alps, all to be seen from the top of the summit, which is 1460 meters (4790 feet) above sea level. 

Once you hop off the gondola at the top, why not hop on the Time Tunnel Ride (a firm favorite with kids). On this 7-minute ride, you can learn all about the history of the area. What’s great is that entry to the Time Tunnel is free with your Gondola ticket. There’s also the famous Red Rock Cafe and a Gift Shop located in the building.

The Christchurch Gondola is famous both for sightseeing and as a way to transport hikers up to one of the many walking tracks on Mount Cavendish. One of the most popular short walks at the summit is the Cavendish Bluff Lookout, which is a 1 hour and 20 minute (4.5 km/2.8 miles) return walk. This hike enjoys mostly native forest views but also has views down to the town of Lyttleton in certain sections. It is considered a moderate track as there are a few tough uphill sections and narrow cliff edge corners.

The Crater Rim Walkway is another popular walking track that averages 4 hours in duration. This walk can be done in sections, for example, from Sign of the Takahe to Sign of the Kiwi, which is 3.2 km each way (2 miles). This track follows through native forest with great views over Lyttleton Harbour in the clearings. 

Walking along the Summit Ridge as part of this hike is a great way to see evidence of the area’s volcanic past, with uniquely formed hills to be seen all around.

A gondola ticket costs $35 NZD per adult and you can book your ticket online in advance to save time. The gondola is located a 15 minutes drive from Christchurch CBD in Heathcote Valley.

27. Eat your way around Riverside Market 

Bailey walks through the Riverside Market in Christchurch, New Zealand
There are so many vendors!
View from the second floor looking down at the Riverside Market, Christchurch, NZ
It’s a vibrant place to visit!

The Riverside Market is a HUGE indoor market in the CBD, and there are more vendors here than I can count! But in a nutshell, you can expect to find fresh local produce, unique arts and crafts, and lots of yummy eateries.

The market stalls close at 5 pm on Sundays and 6 pm during the week, but the restaurants stay open much later, so you can grab dinner here. I recommend coming just before 6 so you get a chance to check out all of the vendors, and then sticking around to enjoy an evening meal. There are also several bars to choose from, and the Kaiser Brew Garden has over 20 beers on tap, so it was basically my idea of heaven! 

For dessert, head to the Moustache Cookie Bar, which serves giant, super decadent cookies. You can’t go wrong with the chocolate and peanut butter filled cookie, but they’ve also got flavors like s’mores, nutella, and cookies ‘n’ cream.

Riverside Market is free to visit, however you’ll want to bring some spending money – I doubt you’ll be able to leave empty handed!

Where to Stay in Christchurch

Crowne Plaza Christchurch
The Crowne Plaza Christchurch is a beautiful centrally located hotel. Photo credit: Crowne Plaza Christchurch

Although not a large city by international standards, Christchurch is big for New Zealand. As with any large city, picking the right place to stay is really important.

There are lots of different areas to choose from when deciding where to stay in Christchurch. To help you narrow it down, I’ve included my top choices near the airport, in the city center, and just outside the city.

By the airport

One of the best places by the airport is the Lylo Christchurch. It’s actually within walking distance of the airport! It’s also 2 minutes from a retail center and the International Antarctic Center. They have luggage storage, laundry, and a communal area with a kitchen. There are a variety of rooms with prices starting at $117 NZD. You can book this super convenient hotel through Booking.com.

Another cool hotel close by is the Commodore Airport Hotel Christchurch. Although a short drive away, it has a free shuttle, free parking, and amazing reviews. Rooms come with a balcony or garden access to get that fresh air before a flight. They also have a restaurant, bar, and indoor pool. You can expect to pay between $250-$350 NZD per night. For luxury right by the airport, reserve a room at the Commodore Hotel online.

City center

In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for a luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. You can grab a coffee at the on-site cafe or cozy up by the bar’s fireplace with a cocktail. It has a gym, restaurant, and spacious rooms. You can snag prices as low as $209 NZD when you book in advance online.

For budget travelers, the social but comfortable Urbanz is a good option. Although cheap, it’s located in the heart of the city and only a couple of minutes from Hagley Park and New Regent Street, which is full of bars and restaurants. It’s a trendy, modern space with a pool table, kitchen, laundry, and on-site bar. Dorm rooms cost about $41 NZD, and private rooms are $109 NZD. You can book this budget-friendly hotel on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.com.

Just outside the city

If you don’t mind staying a few minutes outside of the city center, I recently stayed at Tasman Holiday Parks Christchurch and loved it! It’s a holiday park, so perfect for those with a campervan or motorhome, but they also have newly renovated rooms and apartments available for a great price! There are plenty of facilities, including kitchens, BBQs, and a pool. Stays start at $114 NZD and can be booked online here.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey enjoys the view from Ohinetahi Viewpoint
Thanks for reading!

I’m sure after reading this you’re filled with lots of excitement for your upcoming trip to Christchurch. As you can see, there are loads of amazing things to do in the city – most of which are either free or cheap!

Thanks so much for taking to time to read my blog! I really hope you found this guide to Christchurch helpful. If you did, then don’t run away just yet. Plan more of your upcoming trip by browsing My Queenstown Diary or checking out these blogs:

Best stops between Christchurch and Kaikoura

Best stops on the drive between Christchurch and Dunedin

Things to do in Lake Tekapo

Max

Friday 22nd of September 2023

Thanks for such a comprehensive post on what to do in Christchurch. I have recently moved to Christchurch and want to get to know the city but on a budget. I now have a great fun list of things to do to keep me busy for many weekends.

Vy

Monday 7th of November 2022

Thanks for sharing your Christchurch recommendations!