The rhythmic ‘thunk-thunk’ of vehicles crossing the tram lines is a familiar sound in Christchurch’s Cultural Precinct. A loop through the central city on one of the vintage trams is a perfect opportunity to explore New Zealand’s garden city.
Ride the Vintage Tramway in Christchurch City, South Island, New Zealand
Travelling in vintage style, the faithfully restored Christchurch trams take a 2.5km loop through the heart of downtown Christchurch. Visitors may leave the tramway at any one of the 11 stops and rejoin again when it suits. With outstanding heritage and cultural sites, parks and gardens and the tranquil Avon River to explore be prepared for the ‘30-minute’ loop to extend into as long as it takes.
First point of departure is Cathedral Square. Fronting Christchurch’s historic cathedral, the square is abuzz with markets and food kiosks, musicians and entertainers. With luck, the official Wizard of New Zealand may be on hand. In his black robe and sandaled feet the Wizard engages the crowd in riotous philosophical or political commentary.
The Avon River, Christchurch Arts Gallery, and Christchurch Arts Centre
The tramway halts at Worcester Bridge where passengers can leave the tram to board a guided punt on a river tour of the central city. Gliding along the Avon River between grassy banks and weeping willows must be one of the most tranquil ways to spend a half hour. Comfortably cushioned, passengers relax while guides in Edwardian dress propel the flat-bottomed boats.
Worcester Boulevard is also home to the stunning Christchurch Art Gallery. The gallery hosts international as well as local exhibitions and features two floors of exhibition space. Stock up on gifts for art lovers (or self) at the two retail outlets, or pause for refreshment at the wine bar or cafe. The Christchurch Art Gallery is the South Island’s largest art institution and is poised to establish Christchurch’s Cultural Precinct as the most visited cultural tourism site in New Zealand. Christchurch Art Gallery: Cnr Worcester Boulevard and Montreal St, Christchurch, NZ, Ph: 64+3 941-7300.
The Gothic Revival buildings of the Arts Centre of Christchurch are home to a vast range of arts, crafts, markets and entertainment. Art-house cinema, theatre, paintings, prints, books and textile arts are only a few of the 40 specialty outlets. Formerly the site of the University of Canterbury, the Arts Centre is worth exploring, if only for its architectural highlights. Free guided tours 11am seven days weekly. Christchurch Arts Centre: Worcester Boulevard, Christchurch, New Zealand. Ph: 64+3 366-089.
While there are several cafes in the precincts of the Arts Centre, don’t overlook the kiosks selling fresh ocean food or continental sausages and breads.
Two-Day Tickets, Package Deals and Night Dining in the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant
Trams are decorated to reflect the celebrations of whatever’s happening in Christchurch at any given time. Christmas sees them bedecked with tinsel while carriages are highlighted with floral displays during the Ellerslie International Flower Show in March each year.
Tickets last for two consecutive days so there is no need to rush if something particularly appeals. Trams run 365 days a year. Adults: $15; 5-15yr old $5; children under five no charge. Combo deals packaged with other popular activities are available.
The Christchurch Tramway also offers a 36-seater colonial-style air-conditioned restaurant. Guests soak up the city sites while dining on fine New Zealand cuisine. The Restaurant Tram runs every day except 25th and 31st December. Bookings are essential. Christchurch Tramway: 7 Tramway Lane, Christchurch, NZ. 64+3 366-7830.
Christchurch New Zealand Travel Guide
Christchurch is the major centre and airport for the South Island of New Zealand. For tourists used to bustling cities, Christchurch will come as a surprise. The streets are not crowded and many of the strollers are obviously tourists. Tour buses circulate the streets and the antique tram which covers a small circuit of the principal sights is always well-populated.
One of the Most English of New Zealand Cities
While it will still seem quite exotic to visitors from the United Kingdom, Christchurch is considered, and sells itself, as a very English city. It was first established by British migrants and so, nostalgically, is peppered with place names from home. It is a little confusing at first to see Canterbury in the name of major centres; the city museum, for example, is called the Canterbury Museum. This is because Canterbury is the entire region of which Christchurch is the capital.
Expect to encounter Cambridge Terrace, Worcester St, Gloucester St, Oxford Terrace, Salisbury St, and Manchester St, among many other such-named. Some of Britain’s 19th Century colonies and dependencies are also celebrated in Madras St, Colombo St, Antigua St and Barbadoes St.
Punting on the Avon
The river that meanders through the town and its magnificent Botanical Gardens is called the Avon after a Scottish river (not the Avon on which Shakespearean Stratford is situated), but much is made of its English-ness, as flat-bottomed punts ply the reaches, poled by punters in Edwardian costumes. This is a pleasant half-hour sojourn for tourists.
Christchurch NZ is a Cultural City
For a relatively small centre of 349,000, Christchurch has a lively cultural feel with arthouse movie theatres, a superb museum and very modern art gallery. Furthermore, galleries and museum are free entry.
The Art Gallery was built for the 150 celebration of Christchurch’s founding and relies heavily on changing exhibitions. For Spring 2009, for example, The Vault by photographer Neil Pardington has attracted a deal of attention. This chilling yet beautiful display of enormous photos taken of storage rooms of museums around New Zealand. Visually and compositionally they are ‘art’, magnificent pieces reminiscent of the dead pheasants, fish and hare studies in the still lifes by the great masters, yet they speak soulfully of our collector and categorizing instincts and our disastrous effect on species around the planet.
Great Restaurants in Christchurch
For such a small population, Christchurch has a strong culinary tradition, with many excellent and trendy restaurants. Try Ann’s Thai Restaurant for enormous lobster-like prawns in red curry. There is also a Burmese restaurant, The Bodhi Tree, and cuisine from every country imaginable. Novel names seems to the chief theme: The Bicycle Thief (Italian), Last Train to India (yes, Indian food),Chinwag Eathai (Thai) and Winnie Bagoes – a play on the Winnebago campervan most popular with NZ tourists.
Christchurch Accommodation that’s Somewhat Off the Square
Accommodation in Christchurch includes three Backpackers establishments – Base, Charlie B’s and the New Excelsior Backpackers. Thre are many fine hotels and B&Bs, as well. The Windsor B&B is a nicely appointed two-storey typical wooden Christchurch colonial home. One of the most unusual hotels is the oddly-named Hotel Off the Square. It is indeed off Cathedral Square, but also a little off the square in style; it is very arty with ‘real’ art works in the lobbies, candles on the stairs at night, and rooms that are odd shapes and very trendy in style.
Things to Do When Visiting the Canterbury New Zealand Region
Apart from the cultural centres and shopping precinct in the heart of town, Christchurch also houses a spectacular Antarctic Centre where visitors can ride in a Hagglund all-terrain vehicle, see penguins and experience a simulated Antarctic storm with gale-force winds, snow-blower snow, and sub-zero temperatures.
Real ice and snow aren’t far away, either. Christchurch gives ready access to ten of New Zealand’s best snow fields. Add to that hiking, rock climbing, paragliding, hot air ballooning, and a gondola cable car ride to the Crater Rim above Christchurch and see why Christchurch has a reputation for outdoor activities.
Because the South Island has so much to offer — glaciers, fjords, whale watching and skiing— many tourists think of Christchurch simply as the place you land and pick up the hire car. This is a sad mistake, as this little ‘flower city’ has a lot to offer the New Zealand visitor.