Christchurch in the region of Canterbury is the biggest city in the South Island and the third biggest city in the country. It is a popular destination and a major gateway to the country.
Known as the Garden City, Christchurch has huge parks and gardens. Hagley Park the most popular park is 161 hectares and contains the beautiful Botanic Gardens.
Christchurch is reputedly the most English looking city outside of England and is also on the exact opposite side of the world. The streets are lined with many English trees like poplars and chestnuts. The main river, the Avon (named after its English counterpart) is fringed with weeping willows. Christchurch's architecture is also very English with striking examples of gothic revival.
Unfortunately, in the year 2010 and 2011, Christchurch's CBD was destroyed by two powerful quakes and over ten thousand aftershocks. Many of the iconic buildings were destroyed and around one-third of the buildings in the CBD needed to be replaced. This was one of the world's costliest earthquakes costing insurers about US$40 billion.
What is rising up is a new green and eco-friendly city with older buildings that were saved intermingled.
While the CBD closed for a number of years, one small part stayed open and is still there. A container mall called ReStart consisted of shipping containers doubling as shops. This was quick to construct and the result was novel. It kept some life in the CBD during the clearing and construction stages of the city's rebuild. Even when this mall was under construction, aftershocks struck on a regular basis. The mall was intended to be temporary, but it is so popular now that it is likely to remain a permanent feature of the city as well as an important part of the history of Christchurch.
Before the last major earthquake, Cathedral Square, the heart of the city, hosted free attractions including a real wizard and a town Crier. The Cathedral considered the icon of Christchurch as well as the tourist information centre was located here. Although these buildings are being demolished, it is hoped that the new Christchurch Square will again be the social heart of the city.
One of the best ways to tour the inner city and see the reconstruction is to take a tram which also takes in the best sites of the city. Many streets are now fully functioning again, including beautiful New Regent Street where you can grab a coffee or meal.
Things to do in post-quake Christchurch include a range of attractions. Going to Rolleston Ave to visit the beautiful Botanic Gardens and the historic Canterbury Museum is top of the list. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in England as the architecture combined with the River Avon and poplar trees is simply sublime.
Christchurch is the supply city for the Antarctica. The International Antarctic Centre at the airport is a must see. The centre has a simulated polar climate, all-terrain vehicle ride, penguins, and exhibits. It also has a cafe which the Antarctica doesn't have.
Punting on the Avon is a popular activity and a great way to see Christchurch. Punts depart from Antigua Boatsheds. Another attraction is the Christchurch Gondola which takes you up to the summit of the Port Hills for views over the city and the Southern Alps. The Port Hills also offers an opportunity to drive or cycle the The Summit Road on the easten edge of the city. There are a number of spectacular views over the Canterbury Plains and the Southern Alps to the west while the other side of these hills afford great views over Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton Harbour.
Riccarton Bush is a native forest on the Canterbury Plains. A circular track takes you pass huge kahikatea trees among other smaller native trees, vines, and ferns.
Orana Wildlife Park is the country's biggest wildlife sanctuary. It is features endangered animals from around the world. Another sanctuary called Willowbank Wildlife Reserve features New Zealand animals including kiwi.