Christchurch New Zealand – Garden City of the World
Situated on the Canterbury Plains (stretching to the Southern Alps) and bordered by the Pacific Ocean and a number of hills, Christchurch New Zealand is a ‘city of contrasts’. It is also the gateway to the South Island, and New Zealand’s second largest city. It is famous as the ‘garden city’ (selected out of 620 entries for ‘outstanding garden city’ in 1996!) because of beautiful gardens and expansive parks. In 1997, it was proclaimed as the ‘garden city of the world’.
Though it is a growing cosmopolitan, people enjoy an active lifestyle here—wind surfing, whale watching, bungee jumping, mountain biking, riding hot-air balloons, rafting—enough to maintain good health among nature.
River Avon, gently winding its way through the center of the city, is an attractive feature. The Maoris called this river ‘Putare Kamutu’ or ‘Otakaro’. In 1848, John Deans gave the present name after Scotland’s River Avon.
February—Festival of Flowers, and March—Ellerslie International Flower Show are the important festivals where tourists as well as the local residents gather in large number.
Current population recorded is just 384,400. People are mostly employed in property and business services, health and community services, construction, manufacturing, retail trade, wholesale trade, and education.
Christchurch has excellent public water supplies—fresh and safe to drink.
Maori and English (predominant) are two official languages spoken by the people.
Mild climate dominates the climate of Christchurch; winter season is June to August, whereas summer season is December to February. Rainy season is September to November. A beautiful climate pattern indeed—cooling on the beaches in summer and skiing on the hills in winter!
Archeological evidence of 1876 speaks of Christchurch being settled in 1250 by the moa-hunting tribes. Then came Waitaha tribe around 16th century followed by Ngati Mamoe tribe, when finally European settlers took control of the area.
In early 1840s, McGillivray and Herriott settled here, after which holdings abandoned by them were taken over in 1843 by the Deans brothers.
On March 27, 1848, the Canterbury Association decided the name ‘Christchurch’ though the exact reason behind this is not known.
The Chief Surveyor of Canterbury Association, Capt. Joseph Thomas, commissioned the necessary road constructions by December 1849. The road construction proved difficult; so, a steep foot and pack horse track was constructed instead. This path is now known as Bridle Path.
In 1863, ‘Ferrymead Railway’, New Zealand’s first public railway line, was opened from Ferrymead to Christchurch.
By the Royal Charter of July 31, 1856, Christchurch became the first city and the oldest city in New Zealand. In 1876, the seat of provincial administration for Canterbury Province was abolished.
In 1893, New Zealand women won the right to vote—first in the world.
In 1964, Lyttelton road tunnel was opened between Christchurch and Lyttelton.
Some Places of Interest
Christchurch is mostly flat; so many people get around on bicycles. Special-purpose bicycle lanes have been recently added to many streets to help promote cycling. Navigation by car or bicycle is generally simple due to the grid layout, but watch out for one-way streets and bus-and-taxi-only intersections in the central city.
Renting a car is recommended for ease of transport, although there are public bus services covering the whole city. However some of the areas of interest for a visitor may lie outside the city, such as Sumner and New Brighton Beaches, Lyttelton, Gondola, etc.
- Lake Pukaki: Out of the three neighboring lakes—Tekapo, Ohau, and Pukaki—the largest lake is Pukaki covering an area of 1.787 sq m, with the surface elevation above sea level ranging between 518 to 532 m. The lake is fed by the waters of Lake Tekapo and River Tasman (source in the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers) feeds its northern end.
- Christchurch Botanic Gardens: Situated in River Avon’s loop, and bordered by Hagley Park on three sides, the Gardens are every tourist’s attraction. Thousands of flowering and non-flowering plants (displayed across 21 hectares of land), in spectacular forms and colors, are found here—dream place for a Botanist!
- The Court Theater: A professional Theater company founded in 1971, the Court Theater was running fine till the February 2011 hit the city. After this, in December 2011, its new premises opened in Addington. Currently, Ross Gumbley is the Artistic Director, Court Theater Trust takes care of its administration.
- Banks Peninsula: South Island’s most prominent volcanic feature, it comprises of Lyttelton and Akaroa volcano’ composite shields. It is interesting to know that these shields have formed due to intra-plate volcanism on a continental crust—some 8 million years ago!
- Hagley Park: Created in 1855 by Provincial Government, this Park is 164.6 hectares of urban open place adorning Christchurch. It was named after the country estate of Lord Lyttelton—Chairman of Canterbury Association, 1850.
- Adrenalin Forest: A must visit for any tourist, and enjoying the day jumping, swinging, and flying through the tree tops. It is a place of high-excitement activities, where people can conquer fear by testing their fear level, and build great confidence.
Now, this lake is a part of the Waitaki Hydroelectric Scheme.
Even one can see some of New Zealand’s oldest (more than 120 years!) and tallest trees in these Gardens. In the city, they act like an ‘oasis’—excellent for walking, jogging, resting and relaxing, tree-watching, and flower-watching.
The Gardens open around 7 am, and while entrance is free for anyone, one can spend quite a few hours walking around.
Other than being a full-time professional Theater company, it hosts education programs for school /college students and adults, and arranges for touring primary school and kids’ shows.
In the company’s employment are ‘Court Jesters’—corporate trainers, and improvisers. Every Friday and Saturday night one gets to watch ‘Scared Scriptless’, a comedy show.
The volcanoes on this Peninsula reach up to 1,500 m above sea level. Lyttelton and Akaroa harbors are the two dominant craters. The western and northern flanks of this Peninsula are covered by ‘loess’, that is, silt deposited by the foehn winds that blow across the Canterbury Plains.
It is no doubt an interesting place to visit when one is in Christchurch.
One gets to see trees, and only trees that induce the feeling of ‘totally being in nature’. It is believed that according to the then Provincial Government, this Park was ‘reserved forever as public park, and was open for public’s enjoyment and recreation’.
There is a 2-km long aerial obstacle course, 20 m above the ground, covering 3 hectares of forest. This course, demanding lots of courage, takes about 3 hours to complete.
Other must-visit places in Christchurch are Cashell Street, Canterbury Museum, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, Quail Island, and Mona Vale.
Christchurch has the busiest program of annual festivals of any New Zealand city. Depending on what time of the year you visit Christchurch you may be there when the city hosts a festival.
Here are some of them:
- The World Buskers Festival runs for two weeks in January and usually features about 30 comedy, street, and circus acts from around the globe.
- The Festival of Romance lasts for 10 days leading up to Valentine’s Day and includes a range of romantic activities.
- The Christchurch Garden Festival takes place in March.
- Kidsfest is on during the midwinter school holiday.
- The Christchurch Arts Festival is the largest arts festival on South Island and takes place every second year in mid-winter (mid Aug to Oct).
- Carnival Week is centered around a number of events taking place in November – Guy Fawkes’ night (a major public firework display at New Brighton Pier), the two New Zealand Cup (trotting and galloping) horse racing meetings, and the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral show, which is the largest in the country.
- Carols by Candlelight is a long-standing tradition on Christmas Eve, now held in Victoria Square.
- Summertimes runs from December through to late February and includes a number of major free events in Hagley Park, which attract audiences of up to 100,000. It consists of music, arts, culture and sporting events.
Before your Trip
Due to a large earthquake in February 2011 that severely damaged the city Christchurch is still in the process of recovering. The earthquake killed nearly 200 people, and displaced many more. While a large part of the central business district is still inaccessible, the remainder of the city and region are open for business. Being a major gateway to the South Island, Christchurch is often the starting or finishing point for touring the whole South Island. The city still remains a viable gateway to the rest of the South Island.
Christchurch has lost some of its residents since the earthquake, with many departing to other Australian and New Zealand cities. Wellington, again vies with Christchurch for the position of the country’s second largest city.
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