A long weekend in Christchurch
Affectionately known as the ‘Garden City’, Christchurch is the gateway to some of the best adventures in New Zealand. With creativity dominating culture, snowcapped mountains tracing landscapes, adventure at every twist and turn and some of the country’s friendliest faces, you’ll find plenty to see and do.
It’s often said that a day or two isn’t enough to discover this South Island wonder and we've got a plan to prove it. So without further ado, here’s our pick of the best things to do in Christchurch.
Saturday – all things art and culture
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And here in Christchurch, the locals understand that better than anyone. We’d recommend The Caffeine Laboratory as a first choice. Their all-day breakfast menu includes everything from rhubarb crumble porridge, to fresh toast, to salmon on poached eggs and sourdough. Or, if you’re on the go and need a quick pick me up, their smoothies are a no-brainer; think mango, coconut yoghurt and bee pollen.
The Botanical Gardens
Once you’ve refuelled, head to the Botanical Gardens to experience some of New Zealand's most exotic and native plants. Since its opening in 1863, Roughly 500,000 people visit every year – and it’s not hard to see why. Soak in the colourful sights and fragrant smells, check out the gift shop and grab a coffee to go.
Rain or shine, River Avon is not to be missed. Stroll 10-15 minutes from the Cathedral Square, climb aboard one of the handcrafted quaint boats and take in some of the city’s most breathtaking sights. If the weather’s brisk, there’ll be blankets to wrap up in, as well as comfy cushions. Plus, if you want to add to the vibe, or up the romance, there’s always the option of bringing a picnic on board. Wine and cheese anyone?
Alongside the Avon River lies the Antigua Boat Sheds, which is a perfect spot for lunch. And if you’ve managed to fit both the Botanical Gardens and River Avon in, there’s every chance you’ll have worked up an appetite. If you’re after a Kiwi classic, dig into the Ground Lamb Burger, or if you’re in the mood for something different, try the Pumpkin Falafel Burger or Chicken, Pesto and Brie sandwich. Lunch is served until 2 pm.
Since its quakes, Christchurch has been working hard to rebuild its magic. And for just $29, a Canterbury Museum guide will take you on a journey to discovering every gem that’s helping return the city to its former glory. Highlights include the Cardboard Cathedral, the Blessed Sacrament (which is undergoing a 45 million dollar reconstruction) – and learning about seismic forces. Tours run for just over an hour.
It’s not every day that you get to enjoy a meal aboard a tram. So if that sounds like a bit of you, sign up for dinner on board the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant. Expect fine Kiwi cuisine, think: Canterbury Lamb Rump, Roasted Pear salad, Salmon, Prosciutto, Passionfruit tart and Caramel deluxe – all paired with a mix of quality beverages.
Day 2 – take the train
TranzAlpine – Christchurch to Greymouth
Some call it the “journey of a lifetime”, others say it’s “one of the world’s greatest scenic train trips”. And with the train station being a stone's throw from the city centre, there’s every reason to spend Sunday on board. Departing daily at 8:15 am – and returning from Greymouth at 6:30 pm, you’ll cover 223 kilometres of spectacular sights, including the Canterbury Plains, Arthurs Pass, and West Coast. Onboard you'll find everything from an Open-air carriage (bringing you closer to the great outdoors), a fascinating commentary, to a fully licensed café, which serves all-day breakfast, healthy wraps, sweet treats and more. Simply book online, grab a camera and you’re good to go.
Coastal Pacific – Christchurch to Picton
If the South Island’s East Coast is more your style, the Coastal Pacific is the way to see it.
After suffering damage from the 2011 Kaikoura earthquake, this award-winning service has returned for the summer season after 2 years of hard work to repair the route.
Day 3 – head outdoors
Salt on the pier
Your final day is all about experiencing the outdoors. So it makes sense to kick things off at Salt on the Pier, a place that serves breakfast beachside. Fuel up with their French toast, bacon and banana pancakes, scrumptious muesli or 'Breakfast of Champions' which is the full fry up works. Wash it down with a hot brew, or if you’re in the mood for celebrating, make it a champagne breakfast.
New Brighton beach
If you need to walk off breakfast, hop, skip and jump to the New Brighton Pier – which is just minutes from Salt on the Pier. Being the largest ocean pier in Australasia, it’s most definitely a moment worth capturing. So don’t forget your camera – and jumper if it’s windy.
Seaside in Sumner
Sticking with the beach theme, Sumner is the quintessential coastal village of Christchurch. Take a hike through the rolling hills, explore one of the many art galleries, or kick back with a beverage at one of the local bars or cafes. It’s also worth checking to see whether any events are on – markets, street performers and live music often happen year round.
Ride the gondola
For 360 degree, panoramic views of Christchurch, head 15 minutes out of the city centre and board the Christchurch Gondola. Soak in stunning views of the Canterbury plains, peak at a few of the Southern Alps and take in dramatic views of the Banks Peninsula, Lake Ellesmere and Lyttelton Harbour – which was famously formed in a sunken volcano crate. Their café boasts equally stunning views, so grab some lunch once you’ve reached the top.
International Antarctic Centre
Forget heading offshore for your Antarctic experience, Christchurch has its very own snowy adventure close to the city airport. Choose from one of their unique experiences, be it the Penguin Viewing Area, 4D viewing theatre, icy cold storm room or husky cuddle zone. It goes without saying that warm clothing is a must – so leave your jandals for the beach.
Round off your weekend with dinner at Strawberry Fare. With a bright spacious feel, locally sourced ingredients and staff that know a thing or two about quality service, you’ll be hard pressed to find something better. Their ‘night’ menu kicks off at 3pm – and is everything you’d expect, only better. Start with something light, like their Caprese salad or baked French baguette, then tuck into the main meal – there’s the pea and lemon risotto, Braised lamb pappardelle, grilled chicken supreme and more. Finish with the dessert menu, which is fourfold. Choose from the salted caramel and dark chocolate mousse, sticky date pudding, tropical coconut freeze or raw blueberry and orange cheesecake. You decide. Maybe go for all four?
Got somewhere to stay?
Of course, you’ll need somewhere to stay in between all the fun. And whether you’re looking for high-end luxury, or just somewhere that covers the basics, Christchurch offers it all. Head to the AA website to explore your options – there’s classic villas, apartments, holiday parks, motels and more.
Need a car?
If you’re wanting to mix up the riding the train with driving, there are a number of great car rentals in the area.
See you in the Garden City
All set? There’s so much to discover on a weekend in both Christchurch city and the Canterbury region. And if the latter is what you’re most looking forward to, boarding the TranzAlpine from Christchurch to Greymouth, or the Coastal Pacific from Christchurch to Picton, really is the best way to go. So what are you waiting for? We’ve done the heavy lifting, so all there’s left to do is book and hop aboard. We look forward to welcoming you.