About Visiting Christchurch
Key information for the intending
visitor to Christchurch, New Zealand
click image for a larger map
Christchurch is the
second largest city in New Zealand, with a population of
386,100, the same as Wellington (the nation's capital).
of a series on travel to and in New Zealand -
click the links in the right hand
column for more articles.
Chances are that you'll be
traveling through Christchurch as part of your New Zealand
travels, whether you want to or not, because of its central
location and connectedness in the South Island.
The good news is there's a lot
to like, to see, to do, and to experience in and around the
In this first part of a two
part article on Christchurch we talk about how to get to
Christchurch, why you should visit, and where to stay.
Please also visit the second part of the article, which
considers many of the interesting
things to see and do in Christchurch city and the surrounding
Why Visit Christchurch
Christchurch has been New Zealand's second city for many
decades, although that position is now being threatened by
Wellington which has grown to equal Christchurch in size and
seems likely to continue growing at a faster rate and to
overtake Christchurch in size.
But Christchurch remains as a major NZ city, and is the largest
city in the South Island (Dunedin is a distant second with
115,700, then Nelson at 59,200 and Invercargill at 48,300 - all
numbers as of June 2009). NZ's largest city remains
Auckland, with an unchallengeable lead at 1.33 million.
Christchurch is in the Canterbury province, and on the
Canterbury plains, to the west of which are the magnificent
Southern Alps, running north/south for almost the entire length
of the South Island.
Christchurch has some history to it and indeed was the first
place in New Zealand to be designated as a city by Royal Charter
(in 1856). It is one of the places
originally settled by the English, and perhaps because of that,
claims to be the most English of NZ's cities (by contrast,
Dunedin claims to be the most Scottish of NZ's cities). It
has an English style cathedral in its city square, and a river
(the Avon) on which one can punt, much the same as at Oxford or
A pleasant climate, with the Southern Alps framing the view to
the west, and the sea to the east adds to the appeal of the
Another reason to visit Christchurch is just because it is
'easy' and somewhat central to most people's NZ itineraries.
Which leads on to the next section.
Getting to and from
Christchurch has a major airport in New Zealand. Some
international flights - primarily to/from Australia - fly in to
Christchurch, and there are good domestic services, particularly
from the other main population and tourist centers in New
Zealand such as Auckland, Wellington, Rotorua and Queenstown.
Due to its major airport status, what little airline competition
there is in New Zealand will sometimes apply to travel from eg
Auckland or Wellington to Christchurch, and as a result,
sometimes air fares will be wonderfully low.
So Christchurch is an easy and good place to fly in and out of.
Adding a flight to/from Christchurch to your international
Talking about air travel, international air fares to New
Zealand, which typically have flights going to/from Auckland
will often have an option to extend on to Christchurch for not
much more money, and potentially (but not always) less than the
cost of buying a domestic air ticket in New Zealand.
It can often be a good strategy to fly in to Auckland and out of
Christchurch (or vice versa) so as to save the day or two that
would otherwise be spent less productively driving all the way
back to Auckland. Most international airfares will allow
you to fly in or out of Auckland one way and Christchurch the
other, and for that you would pay half the Auckland fare and
half the Christchurch fare.
Other ways to get to/from Christchurch
There are three other ways you can get to Christchurch, and one
way in particular you can't get there.
You can not take a passenger ferry to Christchurch these days.
That used to be the case until the mid 1970s, but since then
there has been no ferry service between Wellington and
The other three ways of getting in and out of Christchurch are
by rental car, bus or train.
Daily trains go between Christchurch and either Picton or
Greymouth - see our page about
traveling in New Zealand by train for more details.
Due to its central location, if you are traveling by car, you
will find it an easy day's journey to get to Christchurch from
just about anywhere else in the South Island, and not too
difficult to start your travels in Wellington, take a ferry to
Picton, and then drive on down from there to Christchurch (or
See also our section on
self-drive touring around New Zealand for more
comments/suggestions about how to plan a driving tour around the
Traveling around the Christchurch area
Depending on how long you're in Christchurch, you might benefit
from having a car to get around the local area, and to go a bit
further afield such as to Akaroa and Lyttleton (and maybe even
further out of town.
A Quick Overview of the Christchurch area
Christchurch is located in Canterbury province, an area of flat
fertile plains stretching as far as the eye can see.
It enjoys warm to hot summers and cool to cold winters, but
you'll never see snow on the ground (although you'll see lots on
the Southern Alps framing the distant views to the west).
A piece of Christchurch trivia for you - it is one of only eight
cities in the world to have a nearly exact antipodal city, and
half of these cities are in New Zealand. Christchurch's
antipodal city is A Coruņa on the northern coast of Spain.
The Wizard of Christchurch
One of the more unusual things which you might possibly
encounter in Christchurch is its official Wizard, a gentleman
who these days is not only Christchurch's official wizard but
also the official Wizard of New Zealand. He has also been
deemed a 'living work of art' by the NZ Art Gallery Director's
An eccentric - and these days elderly - gentleman, he is
regarded affectionately and fondly by people throughout New
Zealand, and somehow managed to elevate himself from simple
street busker to national icon, and became perhaps the most
unusual recipient ever of the Queen's Service Medal, in 2009.
He performs on most weekdays between about 1pm - 2pm, from
November through Easter of each year.
Needless to say, he has his own
Where to Stay in Christchurch
If you have a rental car, consider staying in a motel.
These will offer you the most comfortable and convenient
accommodation, and the best value as well.
There are probably hundreds of motels to choose from; we suggest
you look for a motel that is Qualmark rated with four stars or
better (although the 3.5 star units are fine too), and then
choose based on cost and location.
We won't mention any specific motels because, after allowing for
the factors we discuss below - and, of course, any other
specific issues that might be particularly important to you,
they are truly close to generic.
In terms of location, there's not really any such thing as a
good or bad location, just locations that are closer in or out
of the center of the city. Most reasonably nearby
locations will only be 10 - 15 minutes drive from the center of
downtown, and most of the day, traffic will be moderate rather
than heavy, making it easy to get around.
In addition to the rate itself, you should also understand
whether or not the motel provides free parking, any sort of free
continental breakfast, and whether the internet access is free
or not (and whether you are limited to a certain amount of
bandwidth or not).
One other point of differentiation. Weather can get very
hot in the summer - if that might be an issue for your comfort,
you should find out if the motel has in-room air-conditioning or
We also stayed at a motel in the winter of 2010 where we needed
lots of heat rather than cooling. The good news was the
unit had a great efficient heating system. The bad news
was it was on a two hour timer. This was okay during the
day, when we just had to remember to re-switch it on when we
noticed the room getting cold, but two hours after going to bed,
the unit would start to get colder and colder as the night
progressed, with no-one keen to get out of bed every two hours
to continue resetting the timer switch. Fortunately the
beds had plenty of blankets including electric under-blanket
Click image to open a larger
downtown map of Christchurch in new window
Christchurch City Hotels
If you decide to stay in a central hotel instead, be sure that
the hotel is indeed truly central - ie, within half a mile or so
of the city/cathedral square so you can walk around the downtown
area and over to the river and Hagley Park, all without needing
a car or taxi.
This tiny map is linked to a larger one which gives you more of
a feeling of the core downtown area of Christchurch.
Perhaps Christchurch's most distinguished hotel is
Another high quality - but much less expensive - hotel is
The Millennium, right on Cathedral Square.
The Novotel is on another side of Cathedral Square, and is
comparable to The Millennium. Another hotel to consider is
the relatively new (May 2010)
Marque Hotel, also in a good central location.
Other hotels worth considering would be the Hotel Grand
Chancellor, the Holiday Inn City Center, the Heritage, Rydges,
and for something a little less generic and institutional, the
How Long to Stay in Christchurch
The amount of time you'd choose to stay in Christchurch needs to
be adjusted to reflect the total time you have in New Zealand
and how you wish to spend it.
At a minimum, you might want to spend one day in Christchurch.
As for a maximum, perhaps three days (including at least one day
spent touring to places such as Akaroa and Lyttleton) - or even
more if you find enough things to see and do to fill up your
Note that you'll probably arrive into Christchurch sometime
during the afternoon of your
first day/night, and so if you are staying three nights that
would give you two full days plus the balance of the day you arrive
and some of the morning you depart to enjoy the area.
Continued in part 2
Visit our second page in
this series that suggests what to
see and do in Christchurch and the nearby area.
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24 Sep 2010, last update
21 Jul 2020