NZ South Island #1: Christchurch: visiting the city and planning my trip

I spent 3 days in Christchurch, which allowed me to get some rest, visit the city, define my itinerary and prepare the next ride. Christchurch is the biggest city of the South Island of New Zealand and the third biggest city of the country after Auckland and Wellington. It is nicknamed the Garden City, for a good reason: the city is very green and has a lot of nice parks. My hostel was just near the botanic garden, and as you can guess I spent a lot of time in there. The rose garden was just lovely, a perfect place to write some blog articles about Tasmania 😉

The beautiful rose garden in Christchurch Botanic Garden

The city was founded in 1880 and was in fact a project of the Anglican church of England: Christchurch was meant to be a model of religious and class-structured England in the South Pacific, not just another scruffy colonial outpost. Hence, churches were built rather than pubs. The passengers on “The First Four Ships”that sailed to Christchurch were named the “Canterbury Pilgrims”. Nowadays, the area around Christchurch is still named Canterbury, in reference to the centre of the anglican church in England.

In 2010 and 2011, the city was severely damaged by two earthquakes and their countless aftershocks. The February 2011 earthquake made 185 deaths and caused a lot of destruction, because the city is built on originally boggy ground, very prone to deformation in case of earthquake. From all over the country, people helped to host those who had lost their houses. The city is slowly recovering from this disaster: at some place you can see beautiful brand new modern buildings, at other badly damaged building still awaiting for destruction. There are always civil works ongoing not far away wherever you are in the city!

A typical Christchurch sight: rubbles, street art and ongoing civil works (in the background, the damaged cathedral)


I could feel a lot of positive energy in this city, everybody do his best to build a better city, and street art is omnipresent to bring some joy and creativity in the rubbles. The city has a very ambitious town-planning project that implies amongst other a limitation of the building’s height to 6 floors, which creates a very airy city with bright streets. A lot of room is foreseen for cyclists and pedestrians. Some new buildings are equipped with base vibration isolators; these dampers should protect the building’s structure from the low-frequency deformation of the ground during earthquakes.

Base vibration isolators on the piles of the Christchurch Art Gallery


After the earthquakes the city made massive use of shipping containers to provide temporary accomodation, host shops or support buildings risking to fall.

The Re:START shopping mall is a good example of the extensive use of shipping containers after the earthquakes.


Many of the city’s neo-gothic historical buildings were severely damaged: some of them, like the old Christchurch University, are slowly but surely restored thanks to an ambitious (and costly) town-planning programme.

Christchurch old University Building. Its most famous student is probably the genius physicist Ernest Rutherford, the father of nuclear physics and the first to prove the existence of the nucleus in atoms

Others, like the old Christchurch Anglican Cathedral, are still waiting for a definitive decision. The future of the building is a very sensitive subject, there are many conflicts between those supporting the restoration of the building and those wanting its replacement by a totally new building. Meanwhile, a temporary cathedral has been erected in only 11 months for 7 million $, which is quite a performance , This building, nicknamed the “Carboard Cathedral” because of the 98 cardboard tubes used in its construction, was designed by Japanese “disaster-architect” Shigeru Ban.

The damaged Christchurch Cathedral (and some typical NZ sheep roadblocks 😅)
The “cardboard cathedral”

Another important edifice damaged by the eartquake is the Bridge of Rememberance. It commemorates the massive losses that New Zealand faced during WW1. Indeed, New Zealand sent about 112 000 soldiers in Europe tu sustain the war effort. At that time, it was 10% of the country’s population! While most of the young men engaged in the ANZAC (Australia and New Zealand Army Corpse) expected a quick fight and an enjoyable journey to the metropole, the conflict turned into the massacre we know and about 18 000 kiwi soldiers died (2% of the country’s population). The memory of this massacre is still surprisingly alive in NZ: in nearly every little town, there is a monument and you often even see graves of fallen soldiers along the road in the countryside.

The Bridge of Rememberance (and some more ongoing construction!)
A grade seismic rating is apparently a marketing argument 😏. For less than this price, I bought a 6 month Backcountry Hut Pass that gives me access to most of NZ’s 900 backcountry huts. That’s value!!!

Besides these cultural visits, I also spent a lot of time planning my itinerary. As you might guess I hadn’t done much before arriving here, and there is so much to do and see in this country! Even if my Tasmanian experience told me that the planning is sometimes not followed, it is still important to have an idea of what is worth doing, which roads are nice to bike on and how to link together the “must-see”, “must-hike” and “must-bike”. To help me, I have the website of NZ’s Great Rides, which are special routes designed for a nice cycling experience. I also have this fantastic eBook, which is a gold mine that pretty much sum up all the cycle touring possibilities in NZ. Finally, I had the chance to meet other cycle tourists at the hostel, amongst whom Jessica and Gemma. Talking with them was very helpful!

Hereunder you will find a rough route that I should eventually follow (or not):

  • Christchurch to Lake Tekapo via scenic Inland route
  • Lake Tekapo to Oamaru via the Great Ride “Alps 2 Ocean” (with eventually a biking / hiking side-trip to the Mueller Hut to enjoy fantastic views on NZ’s highest mountain, Mt Cook / Aoraki if the weather forecast is good)
  • Oamaru to Dunedin along the East coast (+ cycling the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin)
  • Dunedin to Cromwell via the Great Ride “Otago Central Rail Trail” (Middlemarch to Clyde)
  • Cromwell to Queenstown (+ some mountain bike action in Queenstown)
  • Queenstown to Glenorchy for some multi-day hikes starting from Glenorchy,then back to Queenstown
NZ South Island planned itinerary part 1. At the moment I write this, I have already completed this part!
  • Queenstown to Te Anau via the Great Ride “Around the Mountain). Excursion to the Milford Sound + probably some hikes
  • Te Anau to Invercargill, eventually a side-trip to Stewart Island for some hike and bird-watching
  • Invercargil to Balclutha along theCaitlin’s to see the coastal wildlife
  • Balclutha to Cromwell following the Clutha valley (Great Rides “Clutha GoldTrail” and “Roxburgh Gorge Trail”)
  • Cromwell to Wanaka, with some mountainbike and hikes in Wanaka area
  • Wanaka to Haast via the Haast Pass
  • then Haast to Ross on the West Coast (not sure what to do there yet)
  • Then “to be defined”, probably further up the West Coast. I would like to go to Punaikaki, bike the Old Ghost Trail, maybe bike the Rainbow Trail, hike in Nelson Lake National Park and hike / kayak in Abel Tasman National Park
NZ South Island planned itinerary part 2

Of course, any suggestions on this programme are welcome. It is meant to be continuously refined and improved thanks to all the feedback I can collect from local people and other travellers 😊


4 thoughts on “NZ South Island #1: Christchurch: visiting the city and planning my trip

  1. Voilà un dramatique événement (le tremblement de terre) qui engendre plein d’énergies positives, d’entraide et de nouveaux projets ! Belle suite d’aventures à toi !


  2. Bernard
    As a local I am very much enjoying reading your blog and hearing a visitor ‘s comments on our neck of the woods, it’s entertaining reading. Yes the New Zealanders are hard to understand, us Aussies are always making jokes. We find it a safe and lovely place to visit despite the variable weather, I hope you get on some of the hikes like the Routebourne out of Queenstown
    Cath from Tassie/ Canberra


    1. Hello Cath!
      I am glad you like it!
      I have been in NZ for more than one month now (I have a big backlog on the blog) and have had fantastic adventures so far, and mainly good weather. I did a few amazing hikes (Routeburn, Caple Track, Rees Track, Cascade Saddle and Matukituki Valley, Kepler Track), more about it in a few days (hopefully).

      The relationship between Aussies and Kiwis is a bit similar to the one between French and Belgian. We always make jokes on the others, there is some rivalry but in the end, we are good friends 😉




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