The largest city in the South Island, Christchurch is New Zealand’s oldest established city. With distinct ties to its English heritage the city, known as Ōtautahi in Māori, is thought to have been settled in 1250. Bursting with amazing bars, cafes and restaurants, cultural experiences and vibrant street art, Christchurch is a must-visit. Better still, its proximity to the Mt Hutt Ski Area makes it the perfect spot to combine city and snow. To help you #TravelWell here’s our ultimate guide to Christchurch: City & Snow.
But first, see Christchurch for yourself in our epic travel guide:
How to get to Christchurch
Located in the South Island of New Zealand, Christchurch is easily accessed by plane. We often take advantage of sale flights from Brisbane to Christchurch and find it a great starting point for a South Island road trip. On our most recent visit, we included Christchurch in a 3 1/2 week road trip itinerary through the north and south islands.
We visited Auckland, the Coromandel, the coastal Bay of Plenty, Rotorua, Taupō and Napier with a plan to visit Wellington. Sadly, we had to cut our Wellington visit from our itinerary due to a change in local restrictions. We caught the ferry from Wellington to Picton then onto Christchurch, Tekapo and Aoraki, Wanaka and Queenstown.
If you’re on a road trip and plan to catch the ferry across the Cook Strait to the south island you must read our guide: How to catch the ferry from Wellington to Picton.
How long to spend in Christchurch
I wanted to put together an itinerary that included time exploring Christchurch city and a visit to one of my favourite snowfields in New Zealand, Mt Hutt. Located around a 1 1/2 hour drive from Christchurch, Mt Hutt is easily accessible and makes the city a great alternative to Queenstown, especially if you’re able to take advantage of sale flights.
For our itinerary, we caught the 6 am ferry from Wellington to Picton with a 3 1/2 hours sail time. We grabbed a bite to eat from toastie in Picton then drove 2 hours to the Kaikoura Seal Colony. A further 10 minutes down the road, we stopped in Kaikōura for a coffee at the Beach House Cafe. From there it was 2 1/2 hours to Christchurch. All up the drive time, without stops, should take around 4 1/2 hours.
We checked into our hotel, grabbed dinner and got a good night’s sleep. The following day was spent exploring Christchurch and the following day we headed out to Mt Hutt. We were very happy with the length of time we had in the area and loved the mix of city and show. Our itinerary overview looked like this:
- Check-out and drive to Methven
- Full day at Mt Hutt snow fields
- Overnight in Methven
Where to stay in Christchurch
We stayed at The Muse Art Hotel, perfectly located in the heart of Christchurch. Its central position provided the perfect base for our Christchurch adventures, allowing us to easily walk to all the major spots we wanted to visit. Even better, the tram stops right outside the hotel, offering easy hop-on hop-off transport.
A boutique art hotel, The Muse oozes old-world elegance and mid-century modern glamour. Each floor features works from an artist, ensuring your stay is unique. We stayed in room 402, a Superior King Room and corner suite featuring works from Kyla K, a tribute to the sensuality, style and swag of the 50’s and 60’s.
Our room was a fantastic size, boasting huge windows on two sides allowing us to soak in jaw-dropping views of Christchurch and see the city from an angle we had never experienced before. From the rain shower, fluffy robes, cosy seating and very comfortable bed we found the room to be incredibly plush. With a convenient public parking space just across the road, The Muse offered everything we needed for our 2-night stay in Christchurch. Find The Muse Hotel here.
How to get around Christchurch
Our visit to Christchurch was part of a 3 1/2 week road trip so we collected a hire car in Auckland at the start of our adventure. We went with GO Rentals, opting for a small SUV (Toyota RAV4), owing to the length of our trip. Having a hire car allowed us to be able to head out to the snow easily! If you’re thinking of doing a road trip, we had a great experience with GO Rentals and highly recommend them.
We did all our exploration of Christchurch city centre on foot, owing to the central location of our hotel. We also relied on the Christchurch Tram as it stopped right outside the hotel, allowed for all-day hop-on hop-off and took us to all the major spots we wanted to visit. Honestly, Christchurch is a very walkable city!
9 of the best things to do in Christchurch
Planning a Christchurch itinerary? Here’s a look at what we did in two days:
1. Breakfast and coffee at Unknown Chapter
Start your day off right with coffee and breakfast at Unknown Chapter. They roast on site, crafting world-class coffee in central Christchurch for guests to enjoy. The space here is warm and inviting with great service and a mouth-watering menu. Tuck into their breakfast quesadilla, delectable french toast or scrambled tofu. Find Unknown Chapter here.
2. Catch the Christchurch Tram
The Christchurch Tram is an absolute must-do! You can purchase tickets online or from the tram conductor, allowing you to hop-on hop-off all day. With 17 stops, the tram takes you to all the very best, must-visit spots in Christchurch. We decided to do the full 50-minute circuit to start with, giving us a great sense of the city and, combined with the conductor’s insights, a deep appreciation for it. From there, we were able to hop-off at all the spots we wanted to visit and climb back on when we were ready to move on again. The Tram was a mode of transport, source of information and attraction all rolled into one. Get tickets for the Christchurch Tram here.
3. Visit the Christ Church Cathedral
Construction of the famous Christ Church Cathedral began in 1864 and is a fantastic example of neo-gothic revival architecture. During its construction their was debate about whether it should be built from stone or timber with the decision ultimately being stone. As a result, the church was severely damaged during the 2011 earthquake and is currently being restored to its former glory. Find Christ Church Cathedral here.
4. Explore Tūranga Library
If you love visiting libraries when you travel (me!) you’ll adore Tūranga, located right near the Christchurch Cathedral. Wander through the vibrant, open space and make your way right up to the top floor and out onto a hidden balcony for fantastic, free views over the cathedral. Foundation Cafe, located on the ground floor, does fantastic coffee and hot chocolate if you need a pick-me-up. Find Tūranga Library here.
5. Enjoy Street Art
As you wander through Christchurch you’ll notice an abundance of street art. Pieces of all sizes, shapes and colours adorn the city and the reason why, is heart-warming. After the 2011 earthquake, street art was used as a powerful tool to bring colour, hope and warmth back to a city in a mourning. As all the galleries and museums were closed, the city itself became one.
6. Feast at Riverside Market
When hunger strikes, make your way to Riverside Market! This indoor market is bursting at the seams with an eclectic mix of food providers serving up a wildly good range of cuisines. Dive tastebuds first into Korean, Greek, Malaysian, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Mexican, Chinese, Indonesian and more! We opted for masala dosa from Dosa Kitchen and I’m still dreaming about it. Find Riverside Market here.
Did you know? After the devastating earthquake in 2011, new buildings have a maximum height of 28 metres in Christchurch.
7. Peruse Christchurch Art Gallery
Get a dose of free culture with a visit to the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū. With an ever-changing roster of exhibitions you may like to spend an hour or so soaking in works from talented artists. There are also free guided tours run daily at 11am and 2pm, perfect for those wanting to spend a little longer and delve a little deeper. Find the Christchurch Art Gallery here.
8. Connect with Āmiki Tours
If you only do one activity in Christchurch make it a tour with Āmiki Tours. More than ‘just a tour,’ your time with Riwai, Cate and Lou will bring you into the heart of Māori culture, peeling back the invisible layer that allows for a true locals experience. Our Kai (food) safari saw us visit amazing local spots for delicious food and drink. While walking in-between bites, we stopped to hear stories about Christchurch and New Zealand’s indigenous culture. It was truly a chance to connect with Christchurch and Māori culture in a way we’ve never experienced before. Āmiki offer a range of tours so you’re sure to find one perfect for you! Find Āmiki Tours here.
9. Get your snow fix at Mt Hutt
It only takes 1 1/2 hours to get from Christchurch to the Mt Hutt ski area. Voted New Zealand’s best ski resort six years running at the World Ski Awards, it has a great range of runs from beginners through to advanced. With three chairlifts, two surface lifts and a range of restaurants, cafes and bars you’ll have more than enough to keep you entertained for the day! Given its location to Christchurch, Mt Hutt is the perfect spot to visit for anyone keen to experience the snow without having to go further south and is one of our favourite spots to ski and snowboard in New Zealand. Find Mt Hutt here.
Planning to visit Rotorua, Taupō and Napier? Watch this:
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