By Experience Oz

The top 10 things to do in Christchurch, NZ & surrounds

Battered yet far from broken, Christchurch and the Canterbury region as a whole has had a fairly hard go of things in the past few years due to the impact of earthquakes taking their toll. The city has rebounded remarkably since being hit, and has taken the chance to completely re-brand itself with a modern, metro vibe that gives Christchurch one of the most unique characters of any city in New Zealand.

As one of the best gateways to explore a variety of New Zealand scenery “from the ocean to the alps”, Christchurch has a bevy of things to see and do both within its borders and looking out towards the greater Canterbury region in general – and whether you're after something to get the adrenaline pumping, take in some culture or witness more of NZ's famously beautiful natural landscape, you'll be spoiled for choice here.

To make things that little bit easier for planning your trip, we've put together our list of the Top 10 Things to do in Christchurch & surrounds below.

10. Adrenaline Forest Christchurch

If you're in the Christchurch region and looking for a bit of a rush combined with a physical challenge, then the Christchurch brand of the popular Adrenalin Forest – a fun-filled high wire/rope, zip line and flying fox attraction set amongst a great forest setting may be just what the doctor ordered. The attraction blends freedom, fear and fun into a single entertaining package and is easily reached from the Christchurch CBD in around a 20 minute drive to its spot near the coast.

The park features a variety of courses of varying difficulty levels that allow you to make your way around the treetops at your own pace, with a great level of physical fitness not required – if you're feeling too taxed, you can simply stick to the easiest of the six available courses. Generally speaking, in terms of challenge at Adrenalin Forest Christchurch, the higher you go, the harder it gets, and you'll be able to gain a sense of personal achievement as you ascend from one to the next.

There are over 100 individual challenges to participate in in total, and all ages from 10 years old and up are welcome to come and test their balance and agility. The forest-based setting plays a key role in enhancing the experience, as the surroundings of the tall pine trees and distance from any built-up development adds a bit more of an escapist atmoshere to what is otherwise an adrenaline-based experience. Those concerned about safety can likewise rest easy, as climbers are made to wear a safety harness connected to a failsafe safety system, while the guides provide all attendees with an in-depth briefing outlining the best ways to move, climb and secure you throughout the experience.

If you've ever wanted to get out there and defy gravity all within some enjoyable natural New Zealand surrounds, Adrenalin Forest makes for a refreshing break from the typical look-and-take-photos sightseeing rigmarole.

9. Visit Arthur’s Pass

Bridging the New Zealand South Islands east and west coasts is the spectacular Arthur's Pass, which crosses over the Southern Alps and makes for one of the most scenic drives in the entire country. Passing through the aptly-named Arthur's Pass National Park, this roadway reaches over 900m in height at its greatest point and provides some awe-inspiring vantage points from which to take a slice of the the alpine scenery that can be found on New Zealand-themed postcards worldwide.

During the course of this epic trip, you'll journey through some amazing stretches of NZ national parkland and over a series of impressively-engineered bridges that showcase the best of the terrain that the Canterbury region has to offer – including the likes of lush beech forest, towering graywacke mountains (including Mount Murchison which tops out at 2,400m high) and vibrant blue rivers which add a further splash of colour to the tableau. Numerous stops are available along the way for breaks, picnic sites and walks (Jacksons restaurant is famous for its pies and highly recommended!), and it's a route best enjoyed by those willing to take their time and soak it all in.

While the road itself is both majestic and beautiful, it can make for a stressful drive for those behind the wheel due to its winding nature and series of one-way bridges, and it's generally highly recommended to either attempt the drive during the warmer months of the year or either take a tour via bus or the famously scenic Tranzalpine train adventure that departs from Christchurch and is widely acclaimed as one of the most beautiful train rides in the southern hemisphere.

The Tranzalpine Train makes for a spectacular (and stress-free) journey through the area's gorge on the way to the high mountains section of the Southern Alps with plenty of stops along the way (including the village of Arthur's Pass itself). The full length of the train journey goes all the way from Christchurch to Greymouth on the west coast and encompasses regional must-sees such as the Canterbury Plains and the series of spectacular gorges and valleys of the Waimakariri River in addition to Arthur's Pass, so if you're looking for one of the best ways to absorb all this area's highlights – and are willing to spend some money – then the Tranzalpine train makes for an excellent choice.

Regardless of if you're making the drive yourself or taking one of the tour options, all it takes is ascending the first hill to appreciate the amazing sights that the Arthur's Pass route has to offer.

8. Orana Wildlife Park

The Christchurch region's take on an open-range zoo, Orana Wildlife Park serves as one of the best general animal-focused attractions in New Zealand while also offering a range of specalised animal encounters that can be booked for more intimate experiences with various kinds of wildlife. Set amongst an expansive 80 hectare area that provides an impressive amount of space for the animals to inhabit that strive to maintain the natural essence of their native habitats in the wild.

A refreshing change from the typical caged-in zoo experiences, Orana Wildlife Park provides an emphasis on interaction with the animals that you seldom get at many other similar facilities such as lion and rhino feeding. Big enclosures with lots of space mean happier and more active animals, and more active animals make for an overall more enjoyable experience than more fenced-in alternatives.

The list of animals on offer at Orana Wildlife Park is fairly extensive too, covering Africa, Australia, Asia the Americas and – of course – New Zealand, so you can expect to see the likes of giraffes, zebras, kangaroos, emus, llamas and – of particular interest to most – Kiwis. Numerous shows that take place throughout the day help to enhance the experience further, and occur at roughly half-hour intervals so you'll never be lacking for something to see while you're there.

The park has a range of sub-sections that focus on a different part of the animal kingdom; a walkthrough aviary is brimming with bird life from all over the globe, while the park's farm yard is a favourite of kids that allows them to get up close with pigs, calves and lambs.

To get the most out of your visit you'll likely want to fork out the extra cash to pay for one of the optional encounters (entering into the heart of the lion's habitat during feeding time is as spectacular as it is unnerving), however the basic entry easily provides enough entertainment for at least half a day or more if you're not in a rush. Located just 15 minutes from the city CBD, it's highly accessible as well. In all, Orana Wildlife Park is an essential itinerary item for animal lovers or those with kids to pay a visit while they're in Christchurch.

7. Punting on the Avon River with Welcome Aboard Christchurch

No, we're not talking about kicking a ball or placing a bet on your favourite horse – where Christchurch's Avon River is concerned, “punting” refers to what has become one of the most iconic sights in the Christchurch region: a venice-style gondola trip down the river's serene waters. Operated by Welcome Aboard Christchurch and based from the city's historic Antigua Boat Sheds, with a punting session you'll step aboard a classic-style punt boat – a flat-bottomed boat pushed along by a pole - accompanied by a qualified punting pilot in full Edwardian-themed clothing and head on a leisurely cruise past some of Christchurch's key highlights.

Some of the local landmarks you'll encounter that take on an entirely new life from the water include the picturesque Botanic Gardens (mentioned in further detail below), charming Town Hall, the pleasantly drooping branches of willow trees and the changing face of the city centre, to name just a few.

An ideal experience for couples that adds a hint of romance to exploring the city, you'll meander peacefully under ornate bridges, get a glimpse of wildlife on the riverbanks and much more – with warm blankets and hot water bottles even provided during the warmer months of the year. The punter guiding the boat will also provide you with a detailed commentary of the various surrounds, and they're always willing to do their best to answer any questions you may have regarding the local area. Each corner of the riverbank is photogenic in its own right, and each corner brings a new idyllic scene that's perfect for photographers, so be sure to bring along a camera with a decent lens rather than just relying on happy-snaps taken with your mobile phone.

One of the experiences on this list that is truly unique to Christchurch, punting on the Avon River offers a refined and relaxed experience that's all about enjoying the finer things (and views) that New Zealand has to offer – particularly in Spring when the myriad flowers along the riverbank are in full bloom.

6. Quake City Christchurch

It takes a special kind of positivity and can-do attitude to take one of the biggest disasters in your city's history and re-purpose it into an attraction in itself, but that's exactly what Christchurch's Quake City is. While it's sad for visitors to see the devastation that has hit what is otherwise a beautiful place, the sense of optimism from Christchurch's locals that is prevalent throughout the city is even more focused here; the Quake City exhibit aims to add to the understanding of the general public of how the city and its inhabitants were affected by – and dealt with – the quakes.

It's an incredible interesting and well-curated look at the impact the natural world can have on human development, with a series of educational and entertaining displays, videos and other exhibits that aim to cater to both adults and kids alike.

Quake City is coordinated by the city's Canterbury Museum who have done a marvellous job of putting together this multi-sensory attraction, and it's the stories of those who were there that form the backbone of what it has to offer – they are both harrowing and uplifting at the same time. It's very reasonably priced too; $10 is all it will cost you, and at the very least you'll likely get an hour of entertainment out of your visit to Quake City.

Various relics that remain from the day of the quake are also on show, including the huge main bell from the city's Roman Catholic Cathedral as well as various pieces of debris from the Christchurch Cathedral, as well as documentation about the heroic responses put on by the city's emergency response service teams.

As one of the key events in Christchurch's recent history, it's a logical place to start for new visitors to the city to become acquainted with what was a game-changer for the city's current layout, and there are few better ways to do it than by paying a visit to the Quake City attraction.

5. Christchurch Gondola

Being one of the more mountainous countries you'll come across in your travels, it only makes sense that kiwis love their gondolas (or cable cars, as they're also known) as there are few better ways to get up above the city and its surrounds for some incredibly panoramic views. Christchurch's gondola is no exception in this regard, and provides the best possible vantage point (short of embarking on a strenuous height) of the cityscape, the Port Hills, the glittering harbour of Lyttleton, and even the impressive Southern Alps off in the distance.

Once you've reached the top of the summit, you'll have the opportunity to participate in some activities or visit a few attractions such as the Red Rock Cafe (a fully licensed venue ideal for enjoying a refreshing beverage while soaking in some great views) or take a ride on the Time Tunnel (a short trip that showcases a reconstruction of the area's historical background).

The Gondola itself provides a nice, gentle ride to the top of its host mountain , taking 10 minutes (which can feel a little too short) and covering a distance of 862m horizontally, with comfortable, stable cabins that can seat four people. There are also plenty of tracks and trails to walk around and explore once you're at the summit, which allow you to get an additional array of outlooks and absorb some of the famously-fresh New Zealand air. You'll want to try and time your visit with clear weather however, as on mistier days the views out to the Southern Alps can sometimes be obscured by cloud.

While it may seem a little “touristy”, the Gondola and the visitor's centre at the top does a good job of striking the balance between providing convenient facilities while still providing a respectful, historical perspective on Christchurch and its development. Like many other attractions that provide wonderful views of their respective cities, Christchurch's Gondola makes for a great starting point when you first arrive, providing an impressive outlook that will also help to orientate yourself as to where is what in the city.

4. Coastal Pacific Scenic Railway NZ

The Coastal Pacific Scenic Railway combines travel with spectacular views, taking guests alongside both mountains and sea and is one of the best ways to get from Christchurch to many other popular South Island destinations (and vice versa). The path of the train covers all manner of landscapes and passes wonderfully close to the Pacific Ocean to the east, meaning you'll get a sample of New Zealand's rugged and untamed coastal regions which don't get nearly enough credit as a sightseeing highlight for those travelling in the country.

The train travels all the way from Christchurch up to Picton (which serves as the water-based gateway to the neighbouring North Island) and where you choose to get off is entirely up to you; it's even possible to form a wholesome itinerary that will get you out and about for some exploration and then back to Christchurch within the course of a single day.

The rear car of the train is a highlight, as it's an open-air carriage that makes for the perfect spot to grab some amazing travel snaps of the rolling farmland, rocky coast or the peaks of the Kaikoura mountain ranges which you'll pass by at various points along the way. Regular announcements are also made by the train operators throughout the journey – delivered by complimentary headsets - that will point out any significant external highlights, so in essence you're getting what amounts to an extended guided tour that also gets you from A to B in style and comfort.

The comfort is more than adequate as well, as the train boasts comfortable seats that can go a long way to alleviating any back pain during the longer journeys you may take. Food and drinks as well as souvenirs are all available on board, so you'll both be able to fill your stomach and come away with a keepsake from your trip with a minimum of fuss.

Marine life can also often be spotted throughout the course of the trip, with the proximity to the ocean and large viewing windows leading to ample opportunity for sightings of dolphins, whales and various sea birds on top of all the greenery whizzing by on the opposite side. The full journey from Christchurch to Picton takes roughly 5 and a half hours, which can serve as a day tour in itself, and allows you to stay overnight or for a couple of days in Picton before returning to Christchurch or another destination of choice along the way.

Whether you're simply using it as a method of transport from Christchurch to another NZ destination or using it as a tour in and of itself, the Coastal Pacific Scenic Railway is one sightseeing adventure in this part of New Zealand you're not likely to soon forget.

3. The Court Theatre

A long-time staple of the Christchurch entertainment scene, the Court Theatre was recently relocated to premises outside the city CBD in the suburb of Addington due to the impact of the earthquakes. This has had no effect on the quality of the performances conducted at the venue, however; offering the full gamut of stage-based entertainment, the Court Theatre puts on shows that range from comedy to classical to contemporary to kids, and everything in between.

Comprised of a troupe of actors who are both talented and passionate about what they do, shows at the Court Theatre are of a generally high standard and – with tremendous variety of performances – there's a show typically available to appeal to all types and tastes.

The new venue, which is set in a former warehouse, is quite expansive and there is plenty of seating from which you can generally garner unobscured views of the stage regardless of where you're sitting. Acoustics are good here and sound travels well, which is an essential for live entertainment such as plays. With everything from Shakespeare to Grease, and the risque to the charming, the Court Theatre does a great job of showcasing the talent of the local Christchurch arts scene, and is the ideal way to fill in any nighttime gaps you may have on your itinerary when paying a visit to New Zealand's third-largest city.

The area around the Theatre is quite upbeat, too, with a range of quirky cafes, bars and spots to grab a bite to eat which – when combined with a fairly generous FREE parking lot adjacent – makes spending an evening here to take in a show a pleasant prospect. Grab a glass of wine, then kick back and enjoy the show!

2. Christchurch Botanic Gardens

Christchurch is affectionately known as the Garden City, and there's perhaps no place within its boundaries that better reflects this than its wonderful Botanic Gardens. Boasting the widest collection of both native and exotic plants in all of New Zealand, Christchurch's botanic gardens is huge; it offers a diverse array of plant life, trees, ponds and much more that's impossible to take in within a single day and which has existed for over 150 years. The gardens are easily reachable due to their location in the heart of the city and lie at the heart amongst a variety of interlocking parks that are great for letting yourself get lost in on a sunny day or relaxing for a picnic.

As one of the few places in Christchurch that was unaffected by the earthquakes, the Botanic Gardens are still in tip-top condition and offer the same abundance of both plant and animal life they always have; meticulously looked after and well-maintained, they're a place of serenity and diverse and beautiful colour contrasts. The rose garden in particular is a popular highlight, especially during the spring when it's in full bloom and is full of lovely aromas.

The Avon River also makes its way through the center of the gardens, with the common sight of families of ducks paddling past only serving to add to the natural charm. All this is, of course, also available at the best possible price – free – however a donation is suggested and well worth giving to ensure the upkeep of such a beautiful downtown oasis. There's also a cafe/restaurant within the gardens should you wish to grab yourself some refreshment, and the kitchen gardens section of flora which sits alongside it is a sight to see in itself.

Tours of the gardens are available which serve as a great starting point to get yourself orientated, while there's also a special “caterpillar car” which can take you through the gardens while giving your legs a rest and help you get a feel for some of the nuances of the plant life on display as well as the history of the gardens. Christchurch's Botanic Gardens are that rare place where you can spend as long or as little as you like and still come away with a feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction, as well as an escape from the hustle and bustle of urban life – all while right in the middle of the city.

1. Cashel Street “Pop -Up” Mall

If there's an area that best symbolises the atmosphere of what the “new” re-branded Christchurch is envisioned to be, it's the Cashel Street Container mall. Dubbed the Re:START movement by local organisers, the district serves as new home to many businesses that were formerly situated in the centre of the city that were adversely affected by the quakes, and together they form a contemporary hub of activity that has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Formed almost entirely out of repurposed shipping containers that have been laid out in a modern-artistic fashion, this part of Christchurch is like few other spots in the world with a blend of bold colours, unusual layouts and prominent, proud signage.

In fact, if you'd never visited the city before, you'd be surprised that Christchurch had been hit so hard by disaster at all; it's certainly not reflected in the mood of this district as it's brimming with character, live music, street performances and markets every day of the week. Each container offers its own little spin on the theme, with some host to delightful cafes and others boutique fashion stores typically decked out in vibrant colours.

Whether you're looking to grab yourself the latest in high fashion designs or kick back and enjoy a delicious wood-fire pizza, you'll have all this and more at your fingertips. About the only downfall of the area is that it can be quite expensive, but you can hardly fault the locals trying to recoup some of the losses of business operations under such strenuous circumstances.

Art plays a prominent role in the area, and other than the shipping containers themselves, there are a range of sculptures and other artworks dotting the area, as well as craftsmen selling their wares. This artistic bent is reflected in the general layout of Cashel Street as well, as focus has been given to providing an emphasis on openness that make the area feel larger than it actually is; spacious and abundant windows allow the light to flow through, plants are laid out wherever possible, and plentiful little side streets make for a new charming discovery around every corner.

One of the best and brightest examples of human ingenuity, creativity and resilience in all of New Zealand, paying a visit to Christchurch's new “pop-up” hub is a chance not to be missed if you're travelling to NZ.

In addition, if you're looking for more things to do in Christchurch including some of the best tours, attractions and activities, be sure to check out our main region section to browse for more information online.

Experience Oz

We acknowledge and pay respect to the Traditional Custodians of Country and their connections and continuous care for the skies, lands and waterways throughout Australia.