Return to Christchurch

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More than a year after the devastating Christchurch earthquake of February 2011, the return of two Canterbury icons is again reinforcing the city as a New Zealand destination definitely worth visiting.

Throughout the 2011 rugby season, the city’s beloved Canterbury Crusaderswere forced to play all their games away from Christchurch after their home stadium was damaged by the earthquakes.

Now the Crusaders are back in town – playing at the revamped Christchurch Stadium in up-and-coming Addington - with All Blacks superstars like Dan Carter again demonstrating why New Zealand won the World Cup in October 2011. The Crusaders have five home games from May to July, so visitors to the city have plenty of chances to cheer on the local team.

Super rugby at Christchurch Stadium. Photo by PhotoSouth - David Alexander

Christchurch’s other recent iconic return is the mighty Wunderbar in the harbourside suburb of Lyttelton, along with many businesses along London St. With a praiseworthy motto of 'Nice People Only', Wunderbar is one of New Zealand’s most bohemian and idiosyncratic live music venues, and definitely worth the short journey from central Christchurch. Another good reason to jump on a bus to Lyttelton is Freeman’s Dining Room, where a Sunday afternoon combination of wood-fired pizza, local craft beers and live jazz is hard to beat. Gigs on the alfresco deck kick off around 3pm.

Green shoots appearing around the Red Zone

Much of central Christchurch remains closed to visitors as the careful demolition of damaged buildings continues. Check Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Administration website for the latest map showing the cordon around the central city. But despite the ongoing closure of the CBD, promising green shoots of activity are appearing.

Down near the banks of the Avon River, the city’s Re:START container mall has expanded to include a weekly arts and crafts market.  The market reinstates a regular get-together that used to take place in Cathedral Square, the heritage hub of the city. In the square, demolition continues on the badly damaged Christ Church Cathedral, but plans have just been announced for a new AU$5 Million ‘cardboard cathedral’ designed by world-renowned Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. Planned to open in December 2012, the surprising structure will also be a much-needed concert and exhibition venue, and will set the tone for the city’s innovative architectural re-emergence in the future. Alice in Videoland, the city’s best DVD rental shop, has reopened on the edge of funky High St, and future plans include a 42-seat arthouse cinema. Iconic Christchurch coffee roastery C1 Espresso is opening a café in the same building for the perfect java-fuelled adjunct to Alice’s repertoire of movies for the discerning cinema-goer.

Re:Start Container Mall, Christchurch. Photograph from christchurchnz.com

 The return of international concerts

Christchurch’s live-music scene also continues to rebound, with the reopening of The Bedford, an iconic venue that regularly showcases the best of Kiwi bands and DJs The Bedford’s former building was damaged in the earthquakes, so now it’s become a mobile location, popping up at the Christchurch Polytechnic and in temporary marquees around the city. Check The Bedford’s Facebook page for what’s planned. Acts with an international following are also beginning to return to Christchurch, with California punk raconteur Henry Rollins a recent visitor to the city. Meanwhile Sir Ian McKellen - aka Gandalf - is performing two one-man shows at Christchurch’s Court Theatre in early June. (Proceeds from the show will support the restoration of Christchurch’s historic Isaac Theatre Royal, currently in the city’s closed Red Zone, but scheduled to reopen in 2012). Also supporting the theatre’s reconstruction with a Christchurch gig are Flight of the Conchords. Tickets for their June 26 show are selling very fast - check online and you might still be lucky.

New places to eat and drink

The sleek, hip, versatile Monday Room on the edge of the city’s CBD on Moorhouse Ave is a great spot for tapas at brunch and local wines later in the day.

At the cycling-themed The Pedal Pusher, in Addington, order a Monteith’s beer or an old-school 750ml bottle of DB Draught.

The seaside suburb of Sumner - easily reached from central Christchurch on the number 3 - is also developing as an eating and drinking destination. Check out eateries like the Asian-themed Bamboozle - don’t leave town without trying the pork belly, or the interesting East-meets-West fusion of the salmon and cream cheese dumplings. From Thursday to Saturday, the nearby Almeidas Tapas Bar, has live Latin music amid a suitably Spanish vibe.

Hummingbird Cafe, Christchurch. Photograph from christchurchnz.com

 Keeping up to date

  • Bookme.co.nz: a handy website to book discounted deals on attractions and activities in Christchurch and Canterbury.
  • Pop Up City: Canterbury & Christchurch Tourism’s regular blog detailing new openings around the city. Also check out their main site for information updates.
  • Christchurch Music: the definitive guide to the local music scene.
  • CERA, including a map of road closures and current extent of the security cordon around Christchurch’s CBD.
  • Neat Places: a local blogger’s authoritative view of the best of Christchurch’s shopping, eating and drinking.

Our What to Do in Christchurch page is still a useful summary of Christchurch fun. And Lonely Planet’s new complete Christchurch chapter is available for free download until October. If you are going to Christchurch, please download it! We guarantee you'll have a better time with it than without it. Also see the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree for other travellers' Christchurch reports.