Welcome to Christchurch! We live in a diverse and scenic city, and while many visitors are attracted to the South Island for Alps and fjords, don’t discount the
city of Christchurch for some excellent sightseeing options. New Zealand’s second largest city and the biggest on the South Island, Christchurch has plenty for you to do and see during your stay.
A charming coastal city surrounded by scenic hills… It doesn’t get much better.
Here are a few of our top picks for sightseeing in the Christchurch area:
Downtown Christchurch Sightseeing
Even after the damage caused by a 7.1 magnitude earthquake in September 2010, downtown Christchurch is a showcase for beautiful gothic architecture. You could hop on board the red and gold tram that snakes through the city, or simply design your own walking tour, but definitely take some time to explore downtown. Highlights include the elaborate Arts Centre complex and, of course, the postcard perfect Christchurch Cathedral.
And while you’re in the area, swing into the Botanic Gardens at Hagley Park. The Botanic Gardens take up 21 hectares (75 acres) of the massive Hagley Park just west of the city centre. The Gardens were founded in 1863 and features collections of plants from all over the world, as well as a large selection of New Zealand natives. You can take a guided tour of the Botanic Gardens on a quirky green ‘caterpillar’ shuttle.
The Best View in Town
For a unique view of the busy city centre, you can’t beat the scenery from the Cathedral tower. A $7 admission gives you the chance to climb the tower’s steep 133 steps to the alcoves at the top. You’ll have a fantastic panoramic view of downtown Christchurch!
While the Cathedral offers a great view from the middle of the city, the Port Hills offer another worthwhile vantage. To get to the top in a memorable way, take the gondola that transports you through the air to the top of the hills: 500m above sea level. From the top, you’ll have a stunning view every way you turn: admire the spread of the Canterbury Plains to the foot of the Southern Alps on one side and the photogenic hills and blue-green harbours of Banks Peninsula on another.
Heritage and Cultural Tours
If you’re looking to add ‘time travel’ to your Christchurch sightseeing to-do list, pay a visit to Ferrymead Heritage Park. This park is located on the site of New Zealand’s first public railway and celebrates life in the early 1900s with a recreated township and functioning train as well as an informative museum.
For a cultural tour that introduces you to pre-European life in New Zealand, Ko Tane Living Maori Village at Willowbank is the perfect spot. An evening at Ko Tane includes a guided tour of the village, demonstrations of traditional lifestyle and hunting techniques of the Maori people, and a presentation showcasing the traditional dances performed by Maori men and women.
Even though it’s an urban area, there are several Christchurch sightseeing options for wildlife lovers! Willowbank Wildlife Reserve boasts one of the most comprehensive collections of New Zealand native animals in the country. The kiwi house is especially popular—a great opportunity to see New Zealand’s most famous birds up close and personal!
And don’t forget the marine life! Lyttelton and Akaroa Harbours are home to some of New Zealand’s most interesting and unique animals, like the friendly Hector’s dolphin, tiny White-Flippered penguin and the graceful albatross. You definitely don’t want to miss a chance to see these animals—many of them are only found in Banks Peninsula. Blackcat wildlife cruises are the best way to catch a glimpse of these cool creatures in their natural habitat.
Christchurch is a coastal city, with several great options for beach activities. Sumner beach, home to the iconic cave rock, is fairly sheltered from wind, making it a favourite among families and sunbathers. New Brighton beach has its own charms and boasts along pier extending into the ocean. The surf at New Brighton is better than at Sumner, and the shores are filled with people taking advantage of the waves.
And for a more remote coastal adventure, Black Cat runs a ferry from Lyttelton to uninhabited Quail Island in the middle of the harbour. It takes about 2.5 hours to walk to circumference of the island, and along the way you’ll be treated to views of pristine beaches, dramatic cliffs and even a few shipwrecks along the way!