Photo: Ron Mader, Penguins
The largest city on the South Island and the second largest city in New Zealand, Christchurch has a population of about 367,000. It is located in Canterbury.
Tautahi means “the place of Tautahi” and was adopted as the general Māori name for Christchurch City in the 1930s. The name is derived from the Ngai Tahu chief Te Potiki Tautahi who built a settlement on the banks of Otakaro, the Avon river.
Market Square (known today as Victoria Square), was an important trading and meeting place for Ngai Tahu from all over the region. To commemorate the importance of this place a six metre high poupou was erected on the banks of Otakaro. Carved from a giant trunk of totara, it was crafted by local artist and master carver Riki Manuel.
Christchurch is sited on the Canterbury Plains between the Southern Alps and the Pacific Ocean. The city occupies flood plain, sand dunes, wetlands, tidal estuary and part of a volcanic crater rim known as the Port Hills. Vegetation patterns change according to soil type and local climate creating a wide variety of ecosystems within the city.
Christchurch is known as the Garden City and is justifiably proud of its green areas. Urban areas contain 15% of the city’s public open space with the 161-hectare Hagley Park and the 30-hectare Botanic Gardens established on the edge of the park in 1856. Hagley Park is one of the largest city parks in the world. Created in the 1850s, the park includes rugby and cricket pitches, tennis courts and jogging tracks. The park’s two lakes are popular with model boat enthusiasts. There is punting on the tree-lined Avon River.
Another important area in the city and located in the midst of housing is the Travis Wetlands, the largest (116-hectares) remaining freshwater swamp in the region, The wetlands as a nature heritage park are unique in New Zealand and contain a number of species now rare on the Canterbury Plains. An estimated 650 to 800 different insect species live in Travis Wetlands. Of the 467 recorded in one study, 87% were found naturally only in New Zealand. These include weta, moths, flies, beetles and a flightless crane fly endemic to Christchurch.
There is strong community support for the Council’s extensive native planting schemes and some 250,000 local native plants go into Council parks each year.
Forming the backdrop to the city are the Port Hills whose tussock, grassland and rugged volcanic outcrops contrast with the flatness of the Canterbury Plains. Remnants of podocarp forests are reminders of the past.
This is a city where church bells in Christchurch Cathedral are rung to celebrate the arrival of the godwits in July. The eastern bar-tailed godwits head for Eastern Siberia and Alaska where they breed in the Arctic summer. The Christchurch Estuary is an important link in their pathway as a rich habitat that provides a resting place.
Christchurch has been the gateway for exploration and scientific research of the world’s most remote continent. The world’s best museum collection of objects from Antarctica is at the International Antarctic Centre. Its architecture was inspired by the icebergs, ice shelves and glaciers. The museum is across from the international airport at 38 Orchard Road.
Cathedral Square is the must-visit plaza in the heart of the city. Amid the market stalls, modern sculptures there is great people watching. The square is dominated by a 63-meter spire of the Christchurch Cathedral.
The Arts Centre of Christchurch is a vibrant and exciting venue for a huge range of New Zealand made art and crafts, shopping, education and entertainment.
The Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu is located in the heart of the city’s cultural precinct, bounded by Worcester Boulevard, Gloucester and Montreal Streets.
The 945-meter Gondola ride gently lifts visitors almost 500 meters (1500 feet) above sea level. The crater rim complex provides views of Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains and Lyttelton Harbour.
Christchurch was established in 1850 by English settlers and the city is named after Christ Church, a college at the University of Oxford. The Canterbury Association sent four ships to establish the colony.
Māori oral tradition suggests that they occupied the area as early as 1000 AD. The dominant tribe was the Ngai Tahu which today continues to play a significant role in the region’s economy and culture with its 18 runanga (local councils).
The Travis Wetland Nature Heritage Park lies northeast of the city and has 116 hectares of wetlands with a healthy bird population (more than 55 species) and well-maintained walking paths.
Christchurch City is often seen as the gateway to several national parks, such as Arthur’s Pass, notable for its walks, Mount Cook for mountaineering, and the Main Divide between the west and east coasts where activities include tramping, sight-seeing, caving and rock climbing.
Several ski fields are only a few hours drive from the city, with slopes usually open until September. A trans-alpine trip by rail across the Southern Alps to the rugged West Coast has been named as one of the top 10 train trips in the world.
The South Island of New Zealand has the southernmost vineyards in the world, with climatic conditions that produce distinctive wines that cannot be found anywhere else. The Waipara Valley, Canterbury’s wine growing region, is approximately 45 minutes north of town.
Transportation — Christchurch International Airport
Greymouth is 254 kilometers (159 miles) and is reached by road and train.