Ultimate Guide To Solo Travel in Christchurch and Canterbury

What to do after you finish the Kiwi Experience? Here are few things to do in Christchurch and Canterbury around the city and further afield to soak up the South Island beauty in New Zealand!

New Brighton

After finishing the Kiwi Experience I decided to stay a little further out of the city centre in New Brighton for the first couple of days. Right by the beach and a rather sleepy area of the outer city, I was fortunate enough to enjoy beautiful weather perfect for relaxing by the (rather windy) beach.

Appreciating time to recharge after a hectic time travelling as part of an organised bus tour group, I spent time at the library making the most of the WiFi. On one sunny afternoon I was fortunate enough to catch the finale of the Coast to Coast race (a race from West to East coast with cycling, running, and kayaking) finishing by the beach. With a family-day-out atmosphere, food stalls, music, and fireworks from the iconic New Brighton Pier later in the evening, it really added a sense of community and summer festivity to the otherwise quiet area.

My final day in New Brighton was memorable, for more reasons than one! I spent a last morning at the beach before planning to meet a friend for a walk in the park, but was rudely interrupted right in the middle of getting ready by an earthquake! Falling rather ungracefully to the floor in the shakes, I copied the only other person in the dorm as wondered what to do next, while trying to remember any kind of drills we learned at school (stop drop and roll?? No that’s a fire! What’s the code word for bomb? Literally anything would be helpful!). A few wobbly moments later and a member of staff instructed us to vacate the building, just as well as we began to feel a few aftershocks. On reflection of the quake it was a larger one, but no where near as bad as they’ve seen in the city before, so all seemed to return to normal.

Eventually I had a great afternoon walking the park and exploring some special gems of the city with Kazimir. On another perfect summer’s day we strolled along the Avon River watching punters, seeing the happy families and friends enjoy a relaxed weekend. Kazimir is a local born and bred, so knew of all the best spots to really appreciate this unique city. We paused for a drink at The Institution bar on New Regent’s Street where a secondly storey view over the tram tracks allowed us to people watch the world go by on this fine day.

It was quirky streets such as New Regent’s Street that made me really start to like Christchurch. For some reason it reminds me of a quaint town at home, mixed with a more edgy or modern aesthetic in places, reminiscent of my beloved Bristol. Christchurch is often forgotten or skipped over but I can certainly vouch for all the reasons to keep it on your NZ must-dos! 

Christchurch

I moved on from my hostel in New Brighton to stay just on the outskirts of central Christchurch with a family friend. I was made to feel so welcome and easily felt right at home.  Having lived in and around Christchurch all her life, she really knew everything there is to know about the area so I was ready to explore the city!

On another beautiful day, we took a long walk around the city where I was shown what’s left of certain iconic points around the city, as well as newer builds including the cardboard cathedral. The name may sound like a joke but it genuinely is made of huge tubes of cardboard that have been sealed so as to be waterproof. From there we also visited the 185 chairs. This is a memorial dedicated to the 185 who died in the earthquakes five years ago. A very moving and fitting tribute, with a different style of chair to represent that each person was unique too.

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Inside the Cardboard Cathedral

We moved on our walk through the main city centre to the container mall, otherwise known as Re:Start. Built as the new shopping area of Christchurch following the collapse or reconstruction of old buildings, the area was set up in an urgent attempt to regain some normalcy to life following the earthquakes. Old shipping containers were provided and fitted out as shops, and it seems they work very well and provide an alternative to huge shopping malls that are we see so often!

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The original Cathedral

Our walk then took us through South Hagley Park where the cricket fields are, making the park a common spot for runners and cyclists. From there we visited the Court Theatre. The original Court in the city is also under reconstruction and so the owners had the idea to relocate into an unused warehouse near the railway line. Once inside you really get a sense of the ingenuity that created the new space into an actual theatre, and it seems the patrons actually are preferring the new spot!

After a very kind tour of the theatre to quench my theatre curiosity we made our way back through the park and home for lunch before taking a short drive to Sumner where the beaches are known for attracting large crowds. This is also the spot where a part of the cliff fell during the weekend’s earthquake, so it was interesting to see the change in landscape as well as the preventative measures of yet more shipping containers used to protect the roads from falling rock! Next we drove through the mountain tunnel to Lyttleton which is a small shipping town which was cut off from the rest of Christchurch during the earthquakes, as the only way in or out is via the tunnel. Luckily their port had a naval ship available to supply the locals with help, a small piece of good fortune in such a difficult time I’m sure.

After such a busy day of sightseeing and hearing the stories of each place we were definitely ready for an easy night at home, accompanied by a glass of wine (or two…).

Akaroa
Driving to Akaroa is no mean feat, so we were up early ready to take the 2 hour drive steep and winding drive around Banks Peninsula to reach the coastal village. Amazingly the area is actually a dormant volcano, not that you would realise! So after lots of turning and climbing we had a brief stop at Hilltop to catch a view of the unfolding landscape before carrying on through Duvauchelle which is famous in NZ as being the only town where the French settled after being beaten to land here by the English. You can tell it has a slightly French feel from both the street names and architecture, yet another reason they say that New Zealand is a world in a country!

After we eventually reached Akaroa we booked ourselves on to a boat ride around the bay and even managed to grab a coffee before doing so. All before 10am too! So then we had a very enjoyable but also very windy boat ride which I absolutely adored. We sat on the top deck and enjoyed the ride as we bounced along and had the best view of the dolphins as they swam alongside the boat, playing in the waves we created. We pulled into various caves and banks to spot wildlife and hear stories about the rock formation which was all so incredibly fascinating. We continued the ride out into the Pacific Ocean where the waves were even bigger, which also allowed to gain an incredible view of the peninsula, the many stunning rocks, and a whole colony of seals playing in some rock pools as they really showed off to the crowd.

Once safely back on land we treated ourselves to a meal of typical fish and chips, with the catch of the day from that morning! I have to say you can truly taste the difference, it was just what was needed after a bouncy boat trip! The drive home felt less twisting than the morning, and we managed to squeeze in a stop or two for a view and look into an art gallery in Little River (the smallest town I think that’s ever been called a town in my opinion!).

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Akaroa from Hilltop

Canterbury Road Trip

Another jam-packed day to explore the surrounding areas of Canterbury required another early start. This time we were heading inland to drive to Coleridge where we visited the sweetest little cottage called the Electric House for a lunch stop. We then took a walk just around the corner of the very secluded house to reach the huge expansive Rakaia River where the river is braided into lots of smaller rivers which are no less strong in their current however. The view here was beautiful, the grey stones and the blue water were such a contrast to the impressive green mountain in front. I really couldn’t ever get bored of the variety of beautiful scenery on offer here.

We took a short walk around the rest of Coleridge to see the power station which uses the naturally steep hill of the river to generate hydroelectric power for many places in Canterbury and further afield. From there we drove further inland via some very stony roads with names such as ‘ZigZag road’ which lead into the gorge of the river to then reach Methven which is primarily a skiing town in winter. The trip was rounded off by the stunning views available of the mountains, from Mount Somers to Mount Hutt which is used for skiing in the winter seasons.

Mt Somers to Mt Hutt & Mountains at Coleridge

Christchurch Culture

Theatre Pick

As an avid theatre-lover, I was thrilled to catch a performance at The Court theatre. I made my way to an evening performance to see a fantastic play called Winston’s Birthday- a fictional telling of Winston Churchill’s 88th birthday with his wife and two children. With the cast being Kiwi’s I was hugely impressed with their English accents, and their ability to demonstrate quick British wit and sarcasm that is so fondly loved over here.

The play focused on the broken dynamics between the family members, looking at their past secrets, their flaws and of course a few historical moments for Churchill himself. It was a nice break to do something slightly unusual but also strangely normal for an evening. After the play ended I also managed to get back into the theatre to see Scared Scriptless, the late night improv group as they played “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Style games accompanied by an improv pianist. I haven’t laughed so hard as I did in the various silly moments of both purposeful and accidental stupidity, especially as some of the audience members were keen to try and make their suggestions as challenging as possible for the actors!

 Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu 

I make it a goal to visit an art gallery in as many cities as possible, so in Christchurch I took the opportunity to stroll to the centre of town to check it out. The exhibitions were beautiful, full of beautiful landscape paintings and rich Maori history alongside some more very contemporary works including a room where the whole structure was made out of coloured sugar! It was certainly unusual, and a worthwhile trip to make especially for an entirely free gallery, however I imagine the paid exhibitions are even more special.

Christchurch Lazy Sunday’s

Making the most of the good weather and summer activities, we packed up a picnic and headed to St Alban’s Park for a weekly event put on over the summer called Lazy Sunday’s, where free outdoor events such as concerts are put on for anyone and everyone to enjoy. The concert we saw comprised of a violinist called Fiona Peers and her accompanying folk band. Most of the music played was Irish folk inspired (a personal favourite of mine) and upbeat, which made for a perfect Sunday afternoon of relaxing in the sun with food!

City Walks & Musuem

I spent my final day walking around the city properly for the last time, admiring the quirky street art and pockets of unique buildings and streets. It also so happened to be the fifth anniversary of a particularly bad earthquake that caused a lot of damage to the city, making it a poignant day. As there is of course a lot of orange traffic cones around the streets of the city due to all the construction work, lots of the cones had a flower that had been placed in the top of them. This made for a subtle but moving reminder of the damage caused and the continuing rebuilding that goes on, and was genuinely a really beautiful touch.

After wandering around the Re:Start shopping area enjoying some people watching and listening to buskers, I met up with my trusty local Kazimir as we made our way to the museum to see what was on offer there. Situated on the edge of the botanical gardens it’s a strangely deceptive building as on the outside it looks a bit like a school, but inside is a big variety of natural history exhibitions along with facts and items that are relevant to Christchurch and Canterbury history such as looking into the Antarctica expeditions throughout history.

We then headed to a very quirky coffee shop where food is served via delivery tubes that ring a bell when they arrive at the table… Being sceptical as always I didn’t believe Kazimir when he told me this, it was a real “see it to believe it” case and once I did I looked pretty stupid… But it’s so original how was I meant to realise it wasn’t just some funky interior design idea for aesthetics alone?! Not only that, but there were other quirks such as audio books playing in the toilets, and tea being served loose in tiny matchboxes in a DIY style format.

I’m glad I got to see so much of the area while I was there, and grateful that I  could travel a little further afield too. It’s absolutely the kind of place that can be revisited, with architectural changes and cultural growth happening all the time. Until next time Christchurch!

Have you visited Christchurch? What were your favourite activities? Share your thoughts with me!

Text overlay of Art work sculpture in New Zealand
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