Christchurch is one of the largest cities in New Zealand and a common place for people to visit on any road trip around the South Island. Thanks to its international airport, for many travelers Christchurch will be the beginning or end of your epic New Zealand adventure. That means visiting the city is unavoidable and to be honest, that’s a good thing!
As someone who’s lived on the South Island for quite some time, I’ve been lucky enough to visit Christchurch more than a few times. From Queenstown, Christchurch is only 3 hours away via one stunning drive, so it only makes sense. The best part is, I love Christchurch!
Christchurch is a city worth exploring, filled with impressive things to see and do. Better yet, even if you hate big cities, take a short drive outside the city limits and visit some of the South Islands’ best natural attractions. It’s true what they say. Christchurch is just full of activities!
To help you plan your trip and convince you to stay a little longer, here are the 31 best things to do in Christchurch, New Zealand!
- Things to do in Christchurch
- 1. Ride the Christchurch Gondola
- 2. Hike the Godley Head Trail
- 3. International Antarctic Centre
- 4. Wander the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
- 5. Christchurch Adventure Park
- 6. Visit the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial
- 7. Head to Sign of the Bellbird for a great view of Christchurch
- 8. Go Jetboating
- 9. Visit Sumner Beach
- 10. Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
- 11. Enjoy a coffee and view at Sign of the Kiwi Café
- 12. See the city by tram
- 13. Take photos of New Brighton Pier
- 14. Ride the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth
- 15. Christchurch Art Gallery
- 16. Enjoy retail therapy at New Regent Street Precinct
- 17. Bungy Jumping
- 18. Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park
- 19. Go on a wine tour
- 20. Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course
- 21. Go whale watching
- 22. Swim with dolphins
- 23. Coastal Pacific Journey – Christchurch to Picton by Train
- 24. Drive Arthurs Pass
- 25. Check Out Brockworth Street Art Gallery
- 26. Air Force Museum of New Zealand
- 27. Quake City
- 28. Go on a scenic flight
- 29. Lord Of The Rings Tour
- 30. Visit Otamahua / Quail Island
- 31. 185 White Chairs
- Thanks for reading!
Things to do in Christchurch
1. Ride 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 above sea level.
The views on the journey up the gondola are pretty spectacular as you’re awarded 360-degree views of the Pacific Ocean and Pegasus Bay. It’s a kilometer from the base station to the top of the summit, and the whole journey in the cable car should take 10 minutes. FYI – each gondola fits four people.
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) 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. 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.
2. Hike the Godley Head Trail
Godley Head is the perfect place to escape the city in Christchurch and explore nature. It’s stunning, and one of the best hikes on the South Island is located here – the Godley Head Loop Track.
Godley Head Loop Track is a 9.3 km moderate walking track that should take 3 hours to complete. The track boasts views of Christchurch, the Kaikoura Ranges in the distance, the Banks Peninsula, and many WWII historical sites. The track starts at Taylors Mistake Carpark, and near the beginning of the trail, you will see the remains of old cave houses built into the cliffs.
Gun platforms, observation posts, and the Godley Head coastal defense battery are highlights of this track. In fact, did you know the coastal defense battery found here is one of the top 10 coastal defense sites in the country and was built in 1939. The gun platforms are engaging because they feature interpretive graffiti that highlights the critical role of the Women’s Auxiliary Army in defending the area during WWII.
Next to the gun platforms, there’s an underground magazine (a place to store gun cartridges and shells as well as being home to motorized hoists that lifted the ammunition to the guns). Here numerous information boards tell the story and history of the area.
Shortly after the gun platforms, the track comes to Godley Head parking lot, where there are toilet facilities. Continue on from here uphill to a lovely viewpoint above Breeze Bay. Keep an eye out for dolphins and seals here!
The trail then goes nicely downhill to Breeze Col, from here follow the Black Rock walking trail for 15 to 20 minutes before you come to a sign for Pilgrims Way Track. You’re nearly finished now – so keep on going to where you started at Taylors Mistake parking lot.
The track is well sign-posted and is very popular during the summer months – because you are mostly exposed to the elements on this track, come prepared with water in the summer and rain jackets in the colder months.
P.S. – you can stay overnight here at the Godley Head Campsite, which has 25 non-powered tent sites (that you can drive to.) Advance booking is essential, and it costs $15 NZD per adult per night.
3. International Antarctic Centre
The International Antarctic Center near Christchurch Airport is a unique and must-do activity while in Christchurch. The center offers an insight into life in Antarctica. It is one of the most popular attractions in Christchurch, especially with families.
Experience the Storm Dome, which gives a real feel of the cold weather in Antarctica. There’s also a Penguin Rescue Center where you can see blue penguins in very close proximity, a 4D Cinema, and the opportunity to ride a Hagglund (an amphibious Antarctic vehicle).
One of my favorite features of the International Antarctic Center was the aptly named ‘cuddle zone’. Here, you can cuddle fluffy huskies. Huskies are an essential feature of life in Antarctica as they are used to pull the dog sleds – a vital mode of transport there.
The National Antarctic Center is open every day of the year from 9 am to 5.30 pm. Ticket prices start from $49 NZD per person. I recommend allowing between 2 to 5 hours here.
4. Wander the Christchurch Botanic Gardens
The Christchurch Botanic Gardens are a whopping 52 acres! It is a great place for a walk on a nice day, especially with a good cup of coffee from one of Christchurch’s many delicious cafes.
Each part of the botanical gardens is dedicated to a different season. For example, there is an abundance of roses growing in the summer section, and in the spring section, there are lots of beautiful daffodils in bloom.
You can explore one of the many conservatories on-site to escape from the cold during the winter months. There’s also lots of unique art on display throughout the gardens as well as a playground and a paddling pool for kids, which is open in the warmer months from November to March!
The Botanic Gardens Visitor Center, which also marks the entrance to the gardens on Rolleston Avenue, has a cafe and gift shop as well as an exciting 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.)
5. Christchurch Adventure Park
This one is for the adrenalin-junkies! At Christchurch Adventure Park, you can enjoy several high-speed ziplines that also boast views of the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. that is, if you can see the views – you do go pretty fast on the zipline!
There are four ziplines at Christchurch Adventure Park, and all are more than 150 meters high up in the air. So if you’re afraid of heights, maybe give this one a miss. On this ziplining tour, you’ll get to expereince it all and could reach speeds over 100 kilometers per hour!
Whilst here, why not try out the longest chairlift in New Zealand? It’s 1.8 km in length and takes you to the start of the zip lining area. But you can choose to book this on its own as a sightseeing experience if ziplining isn’t for you.
Once you hop off the chairlift, be sure to pause at the viewpoint nearby and take some stunning photos of the Christchurch cityscape.
Mountain biking is extremely popular at Christchurch Adventure Park, with 46 different mountain bike trails ranging from beginner-friendly trails to fast-paced technical trails. If you don’t have your own bike and gear, you can rent it here.
6. Visit the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial
The Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial is the official area of remembrance for those who lost their lives in the devastating 2011 earthquake. Sadly, 185 people lost their lives due to the earthquake on 22nd February 2011, and hundreds more were injured.
The memorial follows along both sides of the Avon River in downtown Christchurch. You can access it from Cashel Mall or the Bridge of Remembrance.
The site was opened in 2017 on the 6th anniversary of the earthquake. The design is powerful and contains the names of all the victims of the earthquake. It is also purposefully located to get sunlight at most times 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 beautiful place for you to sit by the river and think. The design was commissioned by artist Grega Vezjak who won the bid over hundreds of others.
Without a doubt, this is the most powerful and moving place to visit in Christchurch!
7. Head to Sign of the Bellbird for a great view of Christchurch
One of the best views of Christchurch city can be seen from the Sign of the Bellbird viewpoint, which can be reached via a 4 km walking track or by driving. Ohinetahi Reserve, Lyttelton Harbour, and Canterbury Plains are all to be seen from the viewpoint here.
On a sunny day, the water is a cloudy turquoise color, making it even more photogenic. If you want to hike here, the trail begins at The Sign of the Kiwi (more details on this further down in this blog post) and is approximately 3 hours in duration, and is considered to be moderate in difficulty.
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.
8. Go Jetboating
Another great activity for adrenalin-lovers in Christchurch is a speedy jet boat ride on the Waimakariri River – locals call it ‘The Waimak” for short as it’s quite a bit of a mouthful to say!
There are several tour options to choose from, including the Braided Blast, a 30-minute adventure tour through the gorge, and the one-hour Canyon Safari that features lots of 360-degree spins. The jet boats can reach a speed of up to 85 km per hour!
The Canyon Safari is the most suitable tour for families. However, children aged from 6 years can ride the jet boats with an adult present.
The tour includes pick-up from most Christchurch hotels, and you can choose from morning or afternoon departure, whichever suits your schedule best.
9. Visit Sumner Beach
Sumner beach is a 400-meter white sand beach located just a 20-minute drive from Christchurch CBD. It also features a busy boardwalk promenade that follows the length of the beach and is home to great cafes, restaurants, and boutique-style stores. Visiting in the summer is easily one of the best things to do in Christchurch.
It is typically safe to go swimming here, 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.
Scarborough Beach, located at the east end of Sumner Beach, is a popular surfing beach especially with locals. The breaks are big here, but it’s not advisable for swimming unless you’re a strong swimmer.
10. Willowbank Wildlife Reserve
Wildlife lovers simply must visit the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. The reserve is divided into 3 categories: farmyard, New Zealand, and Zoo/Exotic animals.
You will meet alpacas, llama, miniature horses, Clydesdale horses, peacocks, and more in the farmyard section. Basically, all the animals you’d expect to find on New Zealand farms.
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. With so many animals to see, this is a top activity in Christchurch.
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!
The Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is part of the nationwide program “Operation Nest Egg.” This program promotes and encourages the incubation of the different kiwi species (the Rowi, the North Island brown kiwi, the Haast tokoeka, and the Great spotted kiwi). As a result, Willowbank has a record of 100 eggs incubated in one season and over 600 kiwis released back into the wild.
Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is located a 5-minute drive from Christchurch Airport and 20 minutes from downtown and is open daily from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm. The Kiwi Nocturnal House is open from 10.30 am daily.
Related read: One of the best things to do in Queenstown is a visit to the Kiwi Birdlife Park!
11. Enjoy a coffee and view at Sign of the Kiwi Café
High up off Summit Road, with an excellent view of Port Hill, Lyttleton Harbour, and the Christchurch area is the Sign of the Kiwi Café. The drive up is winding and steep – so drive carefully. 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 each way.
The Sign of the Kiwi Cafe is located in an old stone building steeped in history. They serve up really good coffee, freshly baked goods (everything is baked fresh that day!), as well as hot breakfast and smaller lunch items. I highly recommend trying the Kiwi Stack from the all-day breakfast menu, which comes with poached eggs, avocado, spinach, and bacon on a crostini.
They can also cater to vegans. They just ask that you ring ahead to ensure they can get something prepared for you.
There is loads of seating – both indoor and outdoor and during the summer months there’s even an ice-cream shop. The view from here is one of the best in Christchurch so as you can imagine it can get jam-packed – especially on weekends.
12. See the city by tram
Have you ever ridden a historic tram? It’s a cool and unique way to explore a city. When you think of trams, you may think of cities like San Francisco or New Orleans, but you can explore the city on-board a tram right here in Christchurch.
This experience is similar to the 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!
The knowledgeable tram driver will tell you all about the city’s historical sites as well as the general history of the city. For example, would you believe the tram line in Christchurch was built back in 1880?
You can also indulge in a 4-course dinner on board the tram on the Tramway Restaurant tour, which includes a welcome drink and a delicious 4-course meal. Pass by famous Christchurch sights like the Avon River and Botanic Gardens while you enjoy your dinner from your window seat.
Worth noting is that children up to age 15 travel free. A ticket for the hop-on-hop-off tour costs $25 per adult, and the dinner option starts from $125 per adult.
13. Take photos of New Brighton Pier
New Brighton Pier is the longest ocean pier in Australasia at 300 meters in length. The pier was built back in 1894, but it was made of wood. That pier was demolished in 1965, and the new concrete pier you see today opened to the public in 1997. There’s an architecturally pleasing library (that has won many awards), a cafe, and a restaurant at the beginning of the pier.
But what makes New Brighton Pier so photogenic are the hundreds of LED lights installed along the underside, which turn all the concrete pillars underneath the pier a series of colors from red to green to blue. These colors are then reflected on the water below – making for a very cool photo.
The lights were installed to mark the 10th anniversary of the construction of the new pier – and the pier is now permanently lit up and a visit is one of the most famous free things to do in Christchurch.
The best time to photograph New Brighton Pier is at sunset or after dark. It’s under a 15-minute drive from Christchurch to New Brighton Pier.
14. Ride the TranzAlpine Train to Greymouth
The TranzAlpine train journey from Christchurch to Greymouth is known as “New Zealand’s most scenic rail journey”. It departs on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays from Christchurch and takes in stunning landscapes like Arthurs Pass and the Southern Alps.
The one-way journey will take 4.5 hours (it covers a distance of 223 km), and you can return the same day, but I highly recommend spending the night in Greymouth.
Arthurs Pass train station is particularly scenic, and here the train stops for a little while so that you can take photos of the huge mountains surrounding the station. The Old Brunner Mine can be seen from your train window. It was where a devastating mining disaster happened in 1896, the worst in the country’s history.
There are open-air viewing areas on the train, so you can take some great photos, but the windows by your seat are large so you can still take some great shots from there. There’s a cafe on-board too – ideal for snacks and refreshments on the long journey.
Related Read: If you’re looking for an epic road trip, be sure to drive from Christchurch to Franz Josef via Arthur’s Pass – it’s stunning!
15. Christchurch Art Gallery
The Christchurch Art Gallery was opened in 1932 and back then was called the Robert McDougall Art Gallery, named after a generous donor. Unfortunately, the Gallery was devastated by the 2011 earthquake and only reopened to the public in 2015 after extensive reconstruction works.
Today, it is admired as one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, with a stunning glass and metal exterior that is supposed to mirror the flow of the nearby River Avon.
There are nine exhibition areas here featuring both local and international artists, and the museum also runs lots of events throughout the year, including family-friendly ones.
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.
Christchurch Art Gallery is located at the corner of Worcester Boulevard and Montreal Street. It is open seven days a week from 10 am to 5 pm.
16. Enjoy retail therapy at New Regent Street Precinct
The Regent Street Precinct is a pedestrianized shopping street in central Christchurch, which was built in the early 1930s and is home to more than 40 shops built in Spanish Mission architecture style. For a shopping street, it’s very photogenic, and it’s named time and time again as “New Zealand’s prettiest street”.
Did you know – Regent Street is the only remaining heritage street in Christchurch. The street did suffer huge damage in the 2011 earthquake and was reopened to the public two years later in April 2013.
Among the 40 stores (most of which are restaurants or cafes) there’s a jeweler, an eye-wear store, and a dancewear store, among others. Most of the cafes and restaurants here have outdoor seating – adding to the cool, relaxed vibe of the street.
Twenty Seven Steps, one of the best restaurants in Christchurch, is located here. The Caffeine Laboratory is a great coffee shop that also serves up some delicious burgers perfect for that lunchtime refuel. Mrs Higgins Cookies is always a great shout to stop for some tasty sweet things. Gin Gin cocktail bar serving up 80 different types of gin is a great night-time spot for gin lovers or anybody who wants to listen to good music in a cozy atmosphere.
17. Bungy Jumping
Bungy jumping is a classic New Zealand expereince popular all over the country – it’s also one of the best adventure activities in Queenstown (my hometown!) So naturally, it’s also one of the best things to do in Christchurch too!
The only bungy jump in the Christchurch region is this 35-meter jump over the Waiau River. At Hanmer Springs Bungy, you jump from the historic Waiau Ferry Bridge towards the blue, ice-cold water below. Of course, you won’t get wet unless you want to, but if you do, the bungy master can make it so that your hair or head will touch the water.
Because the jump is not as high as other bungy jumps in New Zealand, it’s great for beginners. You can ease yourself into the world of bungy jumping here in Christchurch! On top of that, they have a tandem option so you don’t have to go alone! It is worth noting that children can enjoy this experience, but they must be over 10 years of age.
At the end of your jump, you will get a certificate, and you can pay extra for a video or photos of your bungy jumping. Allow 30 minutes for this experience.
Christchurch Bungee Jumping is located in Hanmer Springs, a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch CBD. A single-person jump is $169 and the tandem is $338.
Fun Fact – In New Zealand we spell it “bungy”, not “”bungee” like elsewhere in the world.
18. Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park
Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park is a huge 56.5 hectares and is the last remaining freshwater wetland in Christchurch. You may not know this but Christchurch was built on a swamp, so this Heritage Park is a very important part of the city’s history.
Historic Maori tribes used this area as a mahinga kai (a food gathering area). Interestingly, the Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park is surrounded by quite a built-up area, which you don’t expect.
There’s a lovely loop walking track here that starts at the Beach Road parking lot. The trail is primarily gravel-covered and flat and so is suitable for strollers or wheelchair users. It offers great views of the wetland along the way where you can spot 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 Natura Park is open from 8 am to 8 pm. For outdoor lovers, this is one of the best things to do in Christchurch!
19. Go on a wine tour
Just an hour’s drive from Christchurch is the Waipara Wine Region, one of the best wine regions in New Zealand. The climate here is perfect for wine growing because it has the highest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall of any of the country’s wine regions.
Some of my favorite New Zealand wine is from Waipara – with the best varieties grown here being Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Riesling.
The Waipara is considered to be the country’s “fastest-growing wine region.” Would you believe the first vines here were only planted in 1975, and today there are over 1300 hectares of vines!
What I love too is that most of the wineries here are family-run. Of the 90 wineries in Waipara, most are smaller, family-run businesses. Some of my favorite wineries in Waipara include Waipara Springs, Waipara Hills, and Terrace Edge Winery.
If you want to taste the delicious wines, why not 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.
This small-group tour from Christchurch is highly recommended because there’s a maximum of 6 people per tour and lunch, and all wine tastings are included in the price.
Related Read: The Waipara wine region is located enroute when driving from Picton to Christchurch, a worthwhile road trip ont he South Island.
20. Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course
A unique activity in Christchurch is the Adrenalin Forest Obstacle Course in Christchurch. The obstacle course is a playground in the trees and includes a flying fox, a Tarzan jump, and a wrecking ball.
You will be given a detailed introduction to the obstacle course before embarking on your treetop adventure, and of course, you will have the best safety gear on. You can try out over 100 different challenges, varying in difficulty level from child-friendly to very high (100 meters above the ground) obstacles!
This is the perfect way to conquer your fear of heights in a safe environment! The best part is, tickets to the obstacle course are only $46 and you can spend around 3 hours on the course. It’s a workout!
21. Go whale watching
The town of Kaikoura, a 2.5-hour drive from Christchurch, is famous for its abundant wildlife, especially fur seals, dusky dolphins, and whales. So, why not book on a whale watching tour for a fun and unique day out.
Pick-up is from your hotel in Christchurch. This tour also includes a wine-tasting on your return journey in North Canterbury. Lunch is optional, and you can pay a little extra if you want it included.
On the whale watching cruise, your local guide will tell you all about the marine life in Kaikoura and why there are so many creatures found in this area. You will likely see fur seals, dolphins, and sperm whales, but a sighting isn’t guaranteed. The best time to spot whales in Kaikoura is between November to March.
22. Swim with dolphins
I bet you didn’t know that you can go swimming with wild dolphins in Akaroa Harbor, a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch CBD. On this full-day tour (allow 9 hours), you will be transported from Christchurch to Akaroa and hop on a boat cruise from Akaroa Harbor.
When the hector dolphins are sighted, get suited up in your wetsuit, flippers, and snorkel gear (provided free of charge) and jump in to swim safely with these magnificent, intelligent creatures. This is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one of my favorite activities from my time in New Zealand. You are also highly likely to spot fur seals and penguins on the cruise.
As part of the tour, you will also have time to explore the gorgeous town of Akaroa with its colonial-era buildings and scenic harbor. As well as that, a cheese tasting in Barry’s Bay is included in the price.
Pick up and drop off to central Christchurch is provided and the tour costs $315 NZD.
23. Coastal Pacific Journey – Christchurch to Picton by Train
The Coastal Pacific train journey is another gorgeous train ride in New Zealand. The scenic train travels along Kaikoura’s coastline, this scenic journey (one of the best in New Zealand) starts in Christchurch and ends in Picton (or vice versa.)
The highlight of this train journey is that it features a whopping 98 km of stunning South Island coastline. You may recognize Picton as the ferry’s departure point to the North Island (into Wellington).
The train tracks are so close to the Pacific Ocean that you feel like you could reach out and touch it at times. Of course, when you’re this close to the ocean, expect to see fur seals and dolphins frolicking in the ocean from the comfort of your seat.
There is GPS-enabled audio available, and headphones come with every seat so you can learn all about the sights you’re seeing as your train passes through.
The train departs at 7 am on select days of the week from Addington Station in Christchurch. The journey takes 5 hours and 13 minutes one way, so I highly recommend spending the night in the lovely town of Picton and returning to Christchurch the next day – there are plenty of fun things to see and do in Picton.
24. Drive Arthurs Pass
One of the best and most scenic drives i is the journey from Christchurch over Arthurs Pass. The trip is only 45 km long, but it takes around an hour to get there and drive it from Christchurch so I advise spending the night in Arthurs Pass if time allows.
This dramatic road climbs up to over 900 meters, in fact, Arthur’s Pass is the highest pass over the Southern Alps. The highway itself is an example of great engineering involving bridges, viaducts, and redirected waterfalls.
Some of the must-see stops on Arthurs Pass include Devil’s Punchbowl, a 131-meter tall waterfall you can get to via a 20-minute walking track that starts at the parking lot. It’s one of the best hikes on the South Island.
Bridal Veil Falls is another stunning waterfall (a little smaller than the previous at 108 meters) but worth the stop nonetheless. The 10-minute walk into the falls is very pretty too.
One of the best places to photograph on Arthurs Pass is the Otira Viaduct, an impressive 440-meter long bridge. Stop at the car park just off Highway 73 for the best shot of the bridge.
If you’re a keen hiker, then driving Arthurs Pass must be done, that’s because there are loads of excellent hikes on this stretch of road. Some of my favorites include Avalanche Peak, a difficult 6 km trail that will take between 5-6 hours to complete, and the easier Arthurs Pass walking track that starts from Arthurs Pass village and takes in beautiful waterfalls and mountain views along its route.
Speaking of Arthurs Pass Village, you must stop here at the end of your drive – refuel at the Wobbly Kea or Challenge Arthur’s Pass Cafe and Store.
Related Read: For another epic road trip, check out the drive from Christchurch to Mount Cook – there are some bautiful places to check out along the way!
25. Check Out Brockworth Street Art Gallery
A unique art gallery – Brockworth Street Art Gallery is a collection of street murals that runs along the Brockworth walkway. It is the creative brainchild of artists Damian Holt, Courtney Brown, and Zac Harding.
The murals are really colorful and a little quirky, and I loved spending more than an hour walking beside the train tracks and taking lots of photos. 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 access is between 33 – 35A Riccarton Road (right between Nandos restaurant and the Mobil gas stations).
26. Air Force Museum of New Zealand
The Air Force Museum of New Zealand is the national museum for the Royal New Zealand Air Force and is home to the forces’ largest collection. It is located at the former airbase in Wigram, just over a 10-minute drive from the center of Christchurch.
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. History lovers and those interested in New Zealand’s role in WWI and WW11 will particularly enjoy looking at all the artifacts on display.
They hold “Museum hunts” regularly, which is a fun way for the family to explore the museum together and learn a lot about the air force’s history.
There’s a shop and cafe on-site, and admission is free.
27. Quake City
Quake City is a moving permanent exhibition to remember the lives lost during the 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, and also to educate the public about earthquakes and how to prepare for them.
At Quake City, you will see lots of items found 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 and know how to prepare yourself in case of another earthquake. You can also learn all about liquefaction (when soil is reduced by the earthquake, leading to buildings and other objects sinking into the ground.)
You will also be taught how to be prepared for earthquakes. Quake City is very family-friendly, and kids especially love the interactive boards.
Quake City is located at 299 Durham Street North, Christchurch Central.
28. Go on a scenic flight
The perfect way to see Christchurch, I think, is on a 20-minute scenic helicopter flight. See the rebuilding of the city after the earthquake and some of the ruins still to be rebuilt.
See the famed ruins of Christchurch Cathedral from a unique angle – high above and other famous city sights like the massive new sports stadium currently under construction at Madras. You will also fly over pretty Sumner Beach and Lyttleton Harbor.
In my opinion, this is one of the best things a couple can do in Christchurch because it’s both exhilarating and romantic. Be sure to bring a good camera on the helicopter tour because you’ll get some epic shots being that high up in the sky.
29. Lord Of The Rings Tour
What truly put New Zealand on the world tourism map was the release of the Lord of the Rings movies, which show the best of New Zealand’s scenery.
Most of the scenes from the films were shot on the South Island, and on this tour from Christchurch, you will get to explore Edoras (from Lord of The Rings Two Towers movie). It was the capital city of the Rohan people in the movie.
Edoras is actually the top of Mount Sunday in Hakatere Conservation Park, there’s a narrow gravel road up to the summit (aka Edoras) that starts from the small town of Mount Somers. It is a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch CBD.
Your guide will show you exclusive photos of how they transformed this rural mountaintop into Edoras – the before and after photos will leave you saying, “Woah, how did they do that!”.
Pick up and drop off at your hotel in Christchurch is included as well as a picnic lunch with wine.
30. Visit Otamahua / Quail Island
There’s a unique island just a short ferry ride from Christchurch CBD, known as Quail Island or Otamahua to the locals. It is named after the Quail (known locally as the koreke), which is now extinct.
Did you know that 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 this small island to train their huskies and ponies before exploring Antarctica.
Today the island is abundant with native flora and fauna as well as many native birds like the kingfisher and fantail. In fact, Quail Island is a nature lovers paradise! You may even spot the cute little blue-eyed penguins near one of the beaches on the island.
Quail Island is the perfect way to spend a sunny day as the waters are calm and the beaches are stunning and peaceful. The water temperature, though, is just 13 degrees celsius! So, why not pack a picnic and enjoy a full day on the island – away from the hustle and bustle of Christchurch CBD.
Ferry’s to Quail Island depart from Lyttleton and you can book your tickets online in advance. They cost $15 NZD for adults and $7.50 for children.
31. 185 White Chairs
A poignant art installation – 185 white chairs pays tribute to those who lost their lives in the February 2011 earthquake. 185 White Chairs was created by Christchurch artist Peter Majendie and has recently been relocated to the corner of Manchester and Kilmore streets – where St Luke’s Anglican church once stood.
The installation was previously displayed at Madras Street, but it was moved in December 2020 because a new sports stadium was built there.
In its former location, the 185 chairs were set out like gravestones in a cemetery but at their new home, and to mark its ten-year anniversary, the chairs are now laid out in a semi-circle. This new layout is said to signify how the city has moved on, and come back stronger from the 2011 earthquake.
This is one of the most touching things to do in Christchurch and I was in tears during my visit.
Where to Stay in Christchurch
Christchurch, although not a large city by international standards, is for New Zealand. As with any large city, picking the right place to stay for you is really important. The two main choices are either out by the airport for a convenient trip back home or in the heart of the city where all the action happens.
One of the best places out by the airport is the Jucy Snooze Christchurch. It’s actually located within walking distance of the airport! Another cool hotel close by is the Commodore Airport Hotel Christchurch. Although a short drive away they offer a free shuttle and have amazing reviews.
In the city center, the Crown Plaza Christchurch is perfect for those wanting a typical luxury stay. It’s a large hotel with amazing views of the city. 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’ walk from Hagley Park.
Additionally, there are plenty of Airbnbs and holiday homes to rent for a few nights in Christchurch. You can’t pass up the opportunity to stay in a luxury 3-bedroom home (like this one) right near the beach with incredible views!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
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 book 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 is what most budget backpackers get 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! You can easily compare campervans, prices, and book on the website Motorhome Republic.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one, you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. Motorhome Republic is my suggested website for booking a motorhome in New Zealand simply because they are a reliable company and the website is super easy to use! For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
Thanks for reading!
You may think Christchurch is “just another big city” ut after reading this list, I’m sure that opinion has changed. This gorgeous city is filled with amazing things to see and do!
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: