A recent trip back to Christchurch confirmed what we’ve been hearing: that while still bearing the scars of February's quake, the city is back on its feet as far as welcoming travellers. And that staying in Christchurch for two or three days is now thoroughly worthwhile.
The view from Worcester St into the 'red zone' and Christchurch Cathedral. Image by Errol Hunt.
The central city remains cordoned off, a relatively small area, but one where the city’s main shops, restaurants and bars were clustered, not to mention its iconic Cathedral. Here's a wrap of where things are at:
After February’s earthquake, our New Zealand guidebook’s Christchurch content has been severely compromised (or to put it in NZ terms, it's munted). We’ve removed from the website any business, activity or landmark that’s closed, so if you follow the links below, you’ll be able to see what is still operating. (And please let us know if there’s anything we’ve missed!) We’ve also started a Thorn Tree post to pull together comments from travellers in the city, as businesses re-open or new alternatives appear to fill the gaps.
Sights and activities
Most sights and activities in and around Christchurch remain open, certainly plenty to fill a few days based here. Attractions in the city include the Willowbank wildlife and Maori culture centre, the Antarctic Centre and punting on the Avon river. The Cathedral Square market has reopened at the YMCA carpark on Cashel St, and the displaced Arts Centre market is now at Ferrymead Heritage Centre every weekend. The Art Gallery and Museum will reopen in July and the gondola in October. See here for a constantly updated list. And as always the city is a great base for exploring Akaroa and other nearby localities.
Any traveller in the city since February has spent at least some time looking at some of the damaged buildings. Travellers are joined at the cordon's edge by locals doing the same thing, the mood usually one of somber reflection, as well as simple awe at the sight of some devastated buildings. No-one standing there forgets that deaths occurred in many of these now-ruined buildings.
While a large number of central-city accommodation providers have closed, plenty remain open. See the local tourism website for a complete list of operating accommodation.
The city’s thriving downtown eateries were hit hard, although the famous Oxford St restaurants are hoping to open by the end of October. Meanwhile, some operators are filling the gap, including the very traveller-savvy Addington Coffee Coop, the funky Beat St Café and Canterbury Cheesemongers. A good online article gives some recent additions, and a full list of open restaurants can be found here.
Drinking and entertainment
The central city bars are yet to be replaced by any viable alternative, and one common quandary travellers report is a lack of good nightlife options. Other than isolated suburban bars, central city travellers are heading to three main places, none of them world class…
- The bogan bars of Riccarton, 3km west of the city. University students too have turned to these bars for night-time entertainment, prompting the local council to smack a liquor ban on the streets at night. There’s decent shopping nearby.
- The more genteel bars of Merivale, 3km northwest of the CBD. A little snooty for our tastes, but near some good eating options.
- A couple of good bars down Lincoln Rd in Addington, just southwest of the CBD.
Other than Christchurch and Lyttleton, wider Canterbury wasn't damaged by February's quake and has remained 'open for business', although like the whole South Island, they've seen a sharp downturn in traveller numbers. Akaroa, Kaikoura and Hanmer are all unaffected and as fabulous as ever, while skiers are sharpening their poles in anticipation of the ski season opening at Methven, Mt Hutt, and other nearby ski fields.
Information and transport
The city information centre has relocated to the Chateau on the Park hotel, near Hagley Park. City buses and intercity buses are operating as usual, and the fabulous TranzAlpine continues to run between the city and the West Coast. More details on transport updates here.
PS. A word about the Rugby World Cup
There’s no more rugby-focused part of NZ than Christchurch, and the city took an un-needed extra blow when this year’s Rugby World Cup games had to be relocated due to quake damage to the city’s stadium. To make sure they’re still involved, the city is setting up what’s described as a 'fan zone' in the central city in Hagley Park. For the duration of the RWC, there will be music, big-screen live TV, activities, and hordes of Kiwi supporters. If you’re in the South Island during the tournament, and want to immerse yourself in the country’s national obsession, our advice would be spend a bit of time in Christchurch.
Christchurch is certainly still reeling after February's belly punch, and the locals are understandably sick of all the bloody aftershocks. But there’s an air of recovery too. For travellers, Christchurch is again a valid destination in its own right. And for travellers wanting to help, the best way to do so would be to aid the economy by visiting. (And to be perfectly mercenary, you’ll seldom find a better chance for experiencing the South Island with reduced tourist numbers.)
Further reading: read updates from Lonely Planet staff and travellers here