Christchurch: The 7 Best Things To Do In The Garden City

By Hilary Simmons
8th May 2016

things to do in christchurch

Christchurch has come a long way since the 2011 earthquake that devastated the city centre and killed 185 people. Locals have rallied and poured their energies into rebuilding their city and reimagining its future. The new, creative Christchurch is buzzing with artistic initiatives and cultural endeavors—there’s a palpable air of excitement, and splashes of colour on every corner thanks to the vibrant street art movement. The café scene is thriving, and witty responses to the post-quake environment abound—for instance, a mini golf course spread out hole-by-hole in gravel-filled lots across the city offers the world’s first post-disaster Putt Putt.

Talk to a few locals and they’ll tell you that Christchurch used to be a really conservative city; a staid place that didn’t offer much to the younger generation. Not anymore. Inner-city streets conceal community gardens and annual festivals like SPECTRUM have inspired local creatives to put their skills to use at home instead of taking off overseas. Despite all the hard work and heartache involved in rebuilding Christchurch, a collective determination to make the city better than before has provided the ultimate silver lining.

With some help from Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism—and by help, we mean a couple of great maps and a list of local hotspots to indulge our insatiable appetite for coffee, dumplings and cheese—we explored the epic rebuild of this exciting, resilient city.

So, what should you pack into your schedule for the consummate Christchurch experience? Read on for our 7 favourite finds…

#1 Soak up the smells and sounds at Christchurch Farmers’ Market

Every Saturday from 9am to midday, the heritage-listed Riccarton House throws open its grounds to local farmers, producers and artisans. Renowned across New Zealand as one of the top farmers’ markets in the country, it’s a buzzing hive of activity with live music, superb coffee and plenty of samples to enjoy as you’re strolling around. Ready-to-eat treats like ‘Posh Pancakes’ (crêpe-style pancakes stuffed with creative combinations of berries, chocolate, nuts, yoghurt and cream) have acquired a cult following, and there’s plenty of savoury fare on offer as well. Grab an okonomi pancake to eat on the banks of the Avon River, and if you’re interested in homemade crafts, come back on Sunday for the artisan’s market.

#2 Get a burger delivered via the pneumatic tube system at C1 Espresso

Yep, it’s true: C1 Espresso has a specially designed pneumatic tube system that delivers burgers and fries direct to your table at 140km per hour. As if that wasn’t enough of a reason to go, owner Sam Crofskey admits the idea was inspired by an episode of Futurama—and you can even watch as food zips around the tubes on the ceiling. Housed within an Art Deco space built in the 1930s, C1 is impossibly cool without being pretentious. The brunch menu is outstanding: corn and kale fritters sit atop mushy peas, spicy chorizo and goat’s feta, while French toast nails the sweet-salty trifecta by pairing lemon curd and candied bacon with roast tomatoes and brûléed bananas. Audio of Stephen Fry narrating the Harry Potter novels livens up the bathroom and pinball machines adorn the back wall. The best part of it all is that Crofskey plans to start a hotel upstairs next year, using the same pneumatic tube system for room service.

#3 Go shopping at The Tannery Boutique Retail and Arts Emporium

Inspired by the Strand Arcade in Sydney, The Tannery is one of those buildings that's simply lovely to be inside. A floral workshop at one end of the 90-metre-long arcade subtly perfumes the air with exotic flowers, and inner-city fashion labels like Where The Fox Lives and Dead Set nestle beside a bookshop, a hair salon, a pilates studio, an apothecary, a tattoo parlour and an art gallery. Fancy fare can be found at The Aga Kitchen and CBD Bar, and a Victorian-style atrium is available for private functions.

#4 Create a ‘masterpiece’ at Paint ‘n’ Sip Studio

Look, if your confidence is a little lacking when it comes to putting paintbrush to canvas, and you’re generally more of a stick figure type of artist (we feel you), this boozy art studio should be on your bucket list. Start with a blank canvas, sip on a wine or beer, and watch closely as art tutors take you through an example image that you can imitate or, um, appropriate. The key to Paint ‘n’ Sip is not to take yourself too seriously—sure, you can try to create something you’re genuinely proud of, but no one’s going to judge you if you don’t start Picasso-ing all over the place. 

#5 Hire a vintage bike and explore the city

There’s no better way to explore a new city than on bike—fast, efficient, and guaranteed to make you feel like a local. Christchurch has an awesome bike hire service called The Vintage Peddler which pimps out retro rides like the Morrison City Girl and the Ron Burgundy. Coast through the traffic cone-lined streets to check out the amazing Cardboard Cathedral, an ingenious design by award-winning architect Shigeru Ban to temporarily replace the old Christchurch Cathedral, which was damaged in the earthquake. Cycle to the Re:START Mall to see more repurposed shipping containers than you can shake a fist at, and keep your eyes peeled for the giant street art murals around the city centre. Pop by the Dance-O-Mat—an outdoor dance floor with inbuilt speakers and a disco ball where you can drop a coin into a washing machine, plug in your smartphone and throw some shapes for half an hour.

#6 Devour all the dumplings at Pot Sticker

Dumpling fans, you’ll want to check out Pot Sticker—they have some of the best dumplings we’ve ever tasted (and here at The Urban List, we’ve tasted a few). These little potstickers are stuffed with delicious fillings like pork & ginger and chicken & coriander, as well as some more daring combinations like beef & beetroot. But the dumpling fun doesn’t stop there: a separate dim sum menu offers traditional xiaolongbao (Shanghainese soup dumplings) and open-top pork shumai. There are even open-face bao ‘burgers’ loaded with pork belly, fried tofu, Beijing duck and sticky hoisin sauce, and some great dessert-style dumplings that combine chocolate and custard. 

#7 Ride in a gondola to the Crater Rim at the Port Hills

If you’re a tourist, you may as well embrace one of most classic tourist activities ever: a ride in a cable car, which in New Zealand is confusingly called a gondola (don’t tell the Italians). This glass-walled baby will whisk you up nearly a kilometer to the top of the Port Hills—that’s almost 500 metres above sea level. After swinging suspended for a few minutes above the suburbs of Christchurch, you can alight to walk around the grassy slopes for sweeping views over the Canterbury Plains to the high peaks of the Southern Alps. To the south and east, you can see into a sunken volcanic crater which exploded six million years ago; to the north, you can see the sandy shores of Pegasus Bay and the Pacific Ocean. A direct shuttle service runs between the gondola and Christchurch’s city centre seven times a day, and if you enjoy a good dose of history along with panoramic views, it’s a must-do.

If you can't make it all the way to Christchurch, try hitting up Bendigo - we've got 11 reasons why you need to check it out

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