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Christchurch Travel Guide: A Broken City

My Christchurch travel guide is a result of 10 months of living and working in the city during my working holiday in New Zealand.

I couldn’t believe the impact the earthquakes had when I first arrived. It was like entering a war zone. The damage was still visibly apparent.

Christchurch is a city that has experienced a traumatic recent history. Devastating earthquakes in 2011, caused great damage to the biggest city on the South Island and its people and it is only just beginning to get back on its feet.

However, the people of Christchurch didn’t let the earthquake damage their spirit. The recovery was in swing, from the Re:start Mall, to the rebuild, Christchurch is on the way back, like a phoenix rising from the flames.

This Christchurch travel blog comes with a caveat. The city is still in the midst of a massive rebuilding project. If you’re wondering whether Christchurch is worth visiting, read on! I will answer this question and more below.

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Christchurch Travel Guide

General info

Broken buildings in Christchurch

Christchurch was established by European settlers in the 1840s and is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand. The name Christchurch was suggested by John Robert Godley, who attended Christ Church College at Oxford University.

Christchurch is known as the Garden City and has gained a reputation as being the most English city outside of the UK.

I can testify to this. There were a lot of areas, especially Fendalton, that reminded me of England! Christchurch is the oldest established city in New Zealand; it was given city status by Royal Charter in 1856.

Getting to Christchurch

Christchurch is the main entry point to the South Island. You’re likely to first enter the city via the Airport. A flight to New Zealand is a long haul flight in every sense of the term. Flights to Christchurch from Melbourne take around 3 hours!

The city centre is easily accessible from the airport. There are a number of shuttles that drop you off at your hostel, which might be the best option if you’ve never been to the city. Otherwise, you can get a bus to the bus station in the city centre and you can go from there.

If you are coming from another city in the South Island, it’s easy to reach Christchurch. The road network in New Zealand means that there is one main route on the East Coast and another on the West Coast. Follow the signs and stay on these roads, and you won’t go far wrong!

The South Island is bigger than most people think. Driving to Christchurch and can take a while, depending on where you are coming from. It takes around 5 hours to drive there from Queenstown, while it takes about 3.5-4 hours from Dunedin.

The Broken City

New Regent Street, Christchurch

In some ways, I wish I had the opportunity to visit Christchurch before the earthquakes struck.

The earthquakes that hit Christchurch in 2010 and 2011 have wreaked havoc with the city. Buildings and even whole neighbourhoods have been destroyed. It’s eerie walking and driving around areas that are now empty. Especially, in some areas where unoccupied houses remain.

The city is doing its best to recover and work is well underway to repair the city to its former glory. It’s hard to imagine what Christchurch looked like without decimated buildings and shipping containers everywhere.

When I first arrived in the city in February 2014, I couldn’t believe the scale of the damage. It was extraordinary. The damage was so evident, I felt like I was walking through a war zone. Christchurch city centre should have been full of people, yet apart from a handful of tourists and locals, it was empty.

The city has greatly improved since I first arrived. More and more buildings are going up, but there are still old buildings that remain as a testament to the power of nature!

The ingenuity and spirit of the people in Christchurch should be applauded, as they have remained firm in the face of adversity and are seeing their city rise from the ashes again as a result.

It can be difficult at times to live in Christchurch. The rebuilding work is evident everywhere, and if you are working in the rebuild, then you will be working long hours.

This can make you feel as if you lack time to explore Christchurch. Simply finding the time to relax was tricky at times!

However, despite the earthquakes and the damage, Christchurch is still one of the best places in the South Island to visit! There is amazing natural beauty from the Port at Lyttleton to Taylor’s Mistake, which I believe is one of the best beaches in New Zealand!

Perhaps the best thing about Christchurch is that it is gradually improving, so there are also new things to see, and new places opening. The city is ever-changing and is certainly a more lively and vibrant place than when I first arrived!

Christchurch is an ideal place to start a South Island road trip. It’s the main gateway to the island and serves as a natural start and endpoint for a road trip. If you’re planning on this drive, spending a few days in Christchurch beforehand is a great idea!

Where to Stay in Christchurch

Backpacking Christchurch

Despite the recent troubles, there are no shortages of hostels in Christchurch. The city centre is slowly being rebuilt and with that comes more accommodation for travellers of all types. Some of the best hostels in New Zealand can be found in Christchurch!

You’ve got a good choice of Christchurch backpackers to choose from, most of which I stayed in. I don’t have a bad thing to say about any of the places that I stayed at. If you’re keen on staying in a hostel, I’ve listed some hotels to choose from.

Below are a few of my recommendations for where to stay in Christchurch, whether you want to stay in a hotel or a hostel.

Christchurch YHAA recently renovated hostel, which is conveniently located in the centre of Christchurch. Spacious kitchen and living area!Book Now
Jailhouse AccommodationThis is a former jailhouse turned into a hostel! If you like staying at quirky places, then the Jailhouse is the place for you!Book Now
BreakFree on CashelA stylish hostel right in the heart of Christchurch. Great facilities and staff.Book Now
Ibis ChristchurchA nice hotel right in the heart of Christchurch. A good option for budget travellers.Book Now
Novotel ChristchurchA lovely hotel close to Cathedral Square in the centre of the city. Great facilities, ideal for families.Book Now
Ramada ChristchurchIf you want a bigger space when staying in Christchurch, then the Ramada Suites are for you. Located close to the centre.Book Now

Backpacker Work in Christchurch

Rebuild in Christchurch

Christchurch is perhaps the best and easiest place to find a job as a backpacker in New Zealand. This is especially true for men. The rebuild means that there are a number of jobs in the construction industry. There are probably jobs here for the next 10-15 years, due to the scale of the rebuild needed in Christchurch.

To get a job, you’re going to have to go to one of the numerous recruitment agencies that operate in Christchurch. As there is so many choices, it can be hard to know which one to go to. I used a few during my time there, and my friends also used a few different ones.

I highly recommend Adecco, as this is who I worked for most of my time in Christchurch. They were very good and I was hardly out of work, from May to when I left in December. TurboStaff were also very good, and a lot of my friends got good jobs through them.

One thing I don’t recommend is advertising yourself for hire on Gumtree. Or, you could end up working for gypsies like me and my friend did for two weeks!

In the way of other jobs, there are not as many as there are in construction, but there are a few out there. Retail is a big employer, with many shops and malls in the city, so don’t fancy the construction industry, or you are of the fairer sex, then this might be the route for you.

You can also work for rent in hostels, but I don’t think there is much point in Christchurch, with getting a job relatively easy. Also, the fact that you aren’t getting paid is enough for me not to consider this option, if you don’t plan on working and are just backpacking, then I would recommend it, otherwise don’t bother.

Best Time to Visit Christchurch

The weather in Christchurch is strange, really strange! I remember days in winter when it would reach 20 degrees. The following day it would be back down to 5 or 6.

It was something I never got my head around. The climate is temperamental, to say the least!

After living in Christchurch for 10 months, I would say the best time to go to the city is during the summer months. The temperature is normally above 20 degrees, you can head to the beach, or visit the numerous beauty spots.

If you visit during the winter, it’s going to be cold and wet. Temperatures normally hover around single figures and it rains a lot. You will get days where the temperature rises, but these aren’t terribly common.

To make the most of the great attractions in Christchurch, the best time to visit is definitely from September to March. Visiting outside of those months, you’ll risk the weather being miserable.

View above Christchurch

Things To Do in Christchurch

Despite being ravaged by earthquakes, there are plenty of things to do in Christchurch. Perhaps, the best part thing about the city is that it’s constantly changing. New buildings are rising out of the ashes all the time.

The surrounding areas also offer great places to visit during your time here.

As well as the places listed below, visiting Quake City is a must if you want to know more about how the earthquakes have damaged Christchurch.

Re:start Mall

Re:Start Mall, Christchurch

If you’re wondering what to see in Christchurch near the city centre, the container mall is a good place to start. It sprung up in the aftermath of the earthquakes.

Based on the site of the previous Cashel Street Mall, Re:start Mall is a symbol of the city’s defiance and resilience in the face of adversity.

There are many interesting shops and eateries here. Definitely, check out Dimitri’s Souvlaki’s, their food is some of the best in the city.

The thing that struck me the most, was the way that something as bland and uninspiring as shipping containers could be turned into beautiful shops and cafes. This just highlights the ingenuity and resilience of Kiwis for me!


View of Lyttleton Bay

Lyttleton was one of the areas that were heavily affected by the earthquakes, with many houses and businesses being destroyed.

However, the town is recovering and it’s a beautiful location, on Lyttleton Bay, with great views. They are best appreciated from Gondola Bay, which sits atop this ancient volcano.

I don’t recommend the Gondola. I felt it was a waste of money for what you get. Instead, I would advise walking up the bridle path to see the view.

Driving around Lyttleton bay is a great way to spend the day, with many different vantage points offering great views of the amazing landscape! For me, it’s definitely one of the best things to see in Christchurch.

Cardboard Cathedral

Inside the Cardboard Cathedral

The symbol of Christchurch prior to the earthquakes was its majestic cathedral. Unfortunately, it sustained a lot of damage and is no longer safe to be used.

There is still substantial debate over whether to rebuild or build a completely new cathedral. Five years after the quake, the cathedral still lies in ruins.

To combat the lack of a cathedral, a new one was constructed, made out of cardboard. Yes, you read that correctly, cardboard! Even the cross is made out of cardboard!

The cathedral is an impressive sight if a little strange and is another testament to the spirit of the people of Christchurch. It’s free to have a look around and it’s definitely worth a visit, to see a unique building!

Godley Head

Godley Head

Godley Head is a fair distance from the city centre, but it’s definitely worth a visit. The view from the Head is one of the best in Christchurch. The city and the coastline are clearly visible on a good day.

There is quite a lot of things to do at Godley Head, which is surprising considering it’s not a well-known destination.

Godley Head was the site of an old army base from the Second World War, the remnants of which are still visible today.

The barracks are still intact, and there are large battery stations on the cliffs as well. The bunkers remain also but are not accessible as they are padlocked. If you like exploring, this is a great place to visit.

Sumner area

Sumner, Christchurch

Sumner was my favourite suburb in Christchurch, even if it’s a little out of the way. They are some of the best beaches in New Zealand! Taylor’s Mistake being one you absolutely have to visit for great views and surf!

There are also some spectacular views of the coastline. There’s also clear evidence of the damage from the earthquakes, with houses overhanging cliffs due to landslides!

You can get the bus to Sumner if you don’t have any transport. From there you can relax at the beach or get a coffee and some food at one of the numerous cafes in the town.

Cycling to Sumner is also a great idea, as then you can really take in the incredible views!

Concluding Thoughts

Christchurch is a city on the mend, despite this, it’s still a great place to visit. Once you get over the initial shock of shipping containers and broken buildings, there are plenty of great places to visit in Christchurch and things to see.

The city should be a part of any New Zealand backpacking itinerary and is a great base from which to explore the incredible South Island!

If you are planning on working in New Zealand, then you have to visit Christchurch. Jobs are plentiful. Mainly in construction, but for the most part, they are well-paid. There are jobs in retail and admin if building work is not for you!

Do you agree or disagree with my Christchurch travel guide? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!

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Monday 13th of June 2016

We have family living out in Christchurch so we know how badly the earthquakes have affected people, as their house was fully destroyed. Their new house is finally just being finished and we are going out to stay with them for a while next year, so we can't wait to visit.


Monday 13th of June 2016

What I love about the New Zealander's is that they are very resilient! If they see something that needs to be done it gets done! Good to hear they are cleaning up after the earthquake and getting things back to the way it was.

Lauren Meshkin @BonVoyageLauren

Monday 13th of June 2016

Wow, they've had to overcome to much. I'd love to visit New Zealand one day, especially Christchurch. Great post, thanks for sharing!


Monday 13th of June 2016

I didn't know about how sever the damage was before this post. Nicely done- it was very thorough.


Sunday 12th of June 2016

Mother nature's fury can be so devastating. Thanks for shedding light on this.

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