- Lifestyle & Sports
- 23 Apr 14
It's one of the cultural capitals of New Zealand, a slice of home-counties bliss deep in the Southern Hemisphere. Here's all you need know about the capital of the Canterbury region.
Where exactly is it?
Christchurch is on the east coast of the South Island of New Zealand, north of Banks Peninsula. It’s the capital of the Canterbury region and the island’s largest city with a population of approximately 340,000. The Maori name for Christchruch is Ðtautahi. The city is divided by the Avon River.
How do I get there?
Getting to New Zealand is a bit of a trek! It’s a journey of over 11,000 miles. Flight time is just shy of 24 hours. However, there’s plenty of good value, one-stop options from London’s main airports. Common en route stopovers include Bangkok and Singapore. Qantas operates a competitive daily service, while Emirates is probably the best value alternative.
What language do they speak?
English is spoken by virtually the entire populace. However, the indigenous Maori tongue has undergone a renaissance. Almost five percent of the population is fluent in Maori, with Samoan speakers accounting for a further two percent. Recent efforts to preserve and celebrate Maori culture have resulted in the setting up of indigenous language schools and a Maori TV station.
What is the local beer like?
New Zealand has a comparatively small, yet varied beer industry. Historically, the first beer brewed in ‘The Land of the Long White Cloud’ was during Captain Cook’s epoch as a treatment against Vitamin C deficiency, then known as scurvy! Due to the arrival of English, Scottish and Irish immigrants, the most popular styles were ales and stouts. These days, malty varieties of draught lager are most popular. Two main breweries, Lion and DB, control the mainstream market, while many smaller micro-breweries offer a range of craft brews. Amongst the most popular tipples are Steinlager and Spreight’s Gold Medal Ale and classic draught beers such as Canterbury and Waikato.
If you’re a fan of traditional cider, you’ll enjoy your stay on the gloriously scenic South Island. Amongst the standout brands are Monteith’s Crushed Apple and Pear ciders and Harvest’s fruity, crisp Premium brand. If you fancy testing your tolerance with something a little stronger, check out Harvest’s super-charged ‘Scrumpy’. It’s stiff stuff, double the strength of a regular cider at 8.2%! The local wine market continues to go from strength to strength. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is amongst the world’s finest. There’s certainly no shortage of excellent options, no matter your preference.
What is the transport like?
Christchurch is serviced by an excellent network of bus routes, which take you to every corner of the city and beyond. The ‘Garden City’ is popular with cyclists, with approximately 10% of population using pedal power. The post-earthquake rebuilding plan has provision for an increased number of cycle paths. The hundred year old plus heritage tramway that circles the city is an excellent way of taking in the sights of the downtown area. The International airport is 12 kilometres to the north-west of the city. Christchurch is also serviced by an extensive rail network, connected to all the major conurbations on the South Island, including Invercargill and Dunedin.
What’s the food like?
New Zealanders love their food fresh, wholesome and unpretentious. Kiwi dining habits and preferences are heavily influenced by their British forbearers and a strong tradition of agricultural, both livestock and tillage. In more recent times, Polynesian, Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences have become widespread. If you’re privileged enough to attend a Maori gathering, food will likely be prepared using the traditional, earth-oven ‘Hangi’ method. A common Maori staple is the ‘boil-up’, which contains a mixture of potato, pork pieces and k’mara. The strongest Pakeha (Non-Maori) culinary influence is perhaps Scottish and many of its baking traditions live on to this day, including scones and shortbreads. Vast sheep herds populate the rural landscape, ensuring lamb cutlets, chops and other delectable cuts are served everywhere! In more recent times, New Zealand has become well known for its excellent cheese varieties.
What’s the nightlife like?
Christchurch after-dark is a little more laidback than your average Irish city on weekends. If you fancy handing over a chunk of your savings, head along to the Christchurch casino in the downtown area. Aside from roulette wheels and black-jack tables, there are several decent bars and restaurants. A typical night might involve heading out for a late meal in one of the city’s many top restaurants, before joining the pub and club-going masses. Christchurch’s liquor laws are a little more liberal than at home and it’s not unusual for bars Museumand clubs to stay open until 5am! If you’re homesick, there are a couple of excellent, if dubiously named Irish bars, ‘Bog Irish’ and the ‘Craic Bar’! The riverside Oxford Terrace is the place to go for late-night clubs, affectionately known locally as ‘The Strip’.
Why should I go?
Christchurch is a stunning destination – an ideal gateway for exploring many of the highlights of New Zealand’s South Island. The temperate climate guarantees warm summers, averaging 23 degrees in January and February and over seven hours of sunshine daily. However, a South Island winter can be a fairly chilly proposition. A massive bonus is Christchurch’s proximity to some of the world’s best outdoor activities. If you fancy skiing, a bungee jump, a tour of the regions wineries or some water-sports action, you’ve come to the right place. The South Island of New Zealand has many faces – it’s a paradise for nature lovers, foodies, wine buffs and adrenaline junkies!
What are the touristy things to do?
It’s not called the Garden City for nothing! The 30 hectare Botanic Gardens and 160 hectare Hagley Park are home to a wide range of exotic plants and stunning tree-lined walkways. A definite highlight is the International Antarctic Centre, where tourists can experience a blast of simulated polar weather, learn about the various scientific projects currently operational, and the daredevil exploits of the personalities behind the golden age of polar exploration. For a taste of colonial life from a bygone era, check out Ferrymead Heritage Park, where the Edwardian existence of British settlers is recreated with exquisite detail. For those fascinated with earthquakes, there are a number of tours available. These bring groups to the most affected locations and explain the science behind seismic activity. Victorian boat tours, similar in style to the punts that ferry tourists around the city of Cambridge in England, are available along the Avon. For a brief moment, you might think you’ve stepped onto an episode of Jeeves & Wooster! The summertime is awash with great festivals, including the World Buskers Festival. If you are musically skilled, be sure to pack your instrument of choice!
If you want to experience a slice of Maori life, head along to the Ko Tane cultural village in Christchurch. Here, native ‘warriors’, in all their tattooed glory, perform traditional songs and dances, including the famous ‘Haka’, famously popularised by the national rugby team. To witness one of nature’s truly great spectacles, head north along the coast to the town of Kaikoura, where daily charters bring you up close to sperm whales, dusky dolphins and other sea mammals in all their glory.
Anything to avoid?
Keep your wits about you at night! While Christchurch is generally very safe, the city centre can get a little raucous with revellers after dark. Nothing your average Irish person isn’t used to! Also, one of New Zealand’s native birds, the Kea, is known for its tendency to pick-pocket. You have been warned!
What should I bring home?
There are lots of high quality options, depending on your taste in souvenirs and bric-a-brac. A bottle or two of fine wine or a piece of traditional Maori wood carving would make for excellent gifts. New Zealand jade-stone is popular, especially when fashioned into a wide selection of traditionally styled, Maori jewellery items. Luxurious Merino wool garments are a winner and for the health conscious a jar of Manuka honey, renowned for its healing properties, will go down a treat.
When should I go?
To sample some warm, pleasant sunshine it’s simply got to be during the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, namely January or February. Christchurch really comes alive during these months, with its lively outdoor lifestyle, cafe culture and festival programme in full swing. To be here during the warm season offers the chance to sample the good life, Kiwi style!
What’s my challenge?
Sample the city’s highlights and marvel at the resilience and determination of its citizens to rebuild Christchurch after the devastating series of earthquakes. Indulge yourself with fine wines and sample delectable seafood and lamb dishes. Experience the passion of New Zealand’s one true obsession: rugby! Take in a ‘Super Rugby’ game at the AMI Stadium, home to the legendary Crusaders. Watching both future and current All-Blacks in full-flight is an experience. It’s the game of rugby played at a level rarely seen in Europe. An opportunity not to be missed when visiting these parts.
What’s the currency?
The New Zealand Dollar (NZD$)Something to remember...On February 22nd 2011, Christchurch experienced the largest in a series of devastating earthquakes to strike the region in a two-year period between 2010 and 2012. 185 people were killed and widespread damage was caused to the urban area, including the spire of Christchurch cathedral. To the eternal credit of the city authorities and citizens, Christchurch has recovered remarkably quickly, although it will be some time before the historic buildings are returned to their former glory.