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Editor's note: After a devastating earthquake rocked New Zealand in 2011, ships are again calling on Christchurch, but many of its attractions are closed for repairs. Please see other editor's notes throughout this port profile for updates.
The largest city (population 350,000) on New Zealand's South Island, Christchurch was envisioned as a planned community for the Church of England in the 1850's, and many say it is the most English of cities outside of England. Named for the college at Oxford, Christchurch features Gothic Revival architecture, manicured gardens and punting on the river Avon.
Christchurch may have the quaintness and charm of old England, but it also adds a fresh and friendly Kiwi spirit. It boasts a thriving arts community and is internationally recognized for its award-winning gardens. The city is easily explored on foot; all of the city's major attractions are within easy walking distance from Cathedral Square, a large pedestrian plaza that forms the city's center.
Visitors will relish simply strolling along the city's many pedestrian areas, riverfront and impressive gardens and stopping in the many shops, art galleries, museums, artisan workshops and restaurants in town. The Christchurch i-SITE Visitor Centre is located adjacent to Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch; it offers free city maps with several 45-minute, self-guided walking tours that take in the city highlights.
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Merino wool products: Look for New Zealand-made merino products, including sweaters, scarves, hats, undergarments and more.
Local arts and crafts: The Arts Centre (see below) features dozens of quality craftspeople and artisans who make a wide variety of goods that range from woolens and woods to candles and ceramics. Editor's note: The Art Centre is currently closed for repairs, but you may be able to find the above-mentioned wares at stalls in Market Square. There are also stalls located on Worcester Street.
For local cheese specialties, you may also want to check out the Canterbury Cheese Monger, next to Market Square.
42 Below Vodka: Named for the 42nd parallel (New Zealand's latitude is 42 degrees south of the equator), New Zealand's own premium brand vodka comes in local flavors like manuka honey, kiwi and feijoa (a local fruit similar to a guavasteen), as well as passionfruit and plain.
The official language is English.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the New Zealand dollar; check www.xe.com for the latest exchange rates. ATM's and foreign exchange offices are abundant in the city center.
Where You're Docked
Most ships now tender into Akaroa, a 1.5-hour drive from Christchurch. However, some ships call on Lyttelton (population 3,100), about 20 minutes (eight miles) from Christchurch's city center. Lyttelton is a working port city, with its own character and charm, which has become a bedroom community for Christchurch.
Guests are not allowed to walk out of the port area for security reasons, so the local port authority provides a shuttle between the passenger terminal and the i-SITE Information Centre at the center of Lyttelton. Those wishing to explore Lyttelton should stop into the i-SITE office to pick up maps with local walking tours and information on local attractions, galleries, cafes and restaurants. The i-SITE also boasts an Internet center and telephones.
In Akaroa, i-SITE facilities can be found at the end of the Akaroa Wharf and at 120 Rue Jolie.
From Lyttelton to Christchurch
Most cruise lines offer shuttle service to the center of Christchurch. From Lyttelton, independent travelers can take one of two public bus routes (numbers 35 and 28) to Christchurch. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes. Taxis are also available.
On Foot: Christchurch is an easy city to navigate on foot. Most attractions are an easy walk.
Bus: Metro bus service is available to most suburbs and outlying areas. A station can be found on Lichfield Street.
Tram: A historic tram runs a 1.6-mile loop throughout the City Centre, providing a fun way to get around. A two-day unlimited ticket costs about NZ $15 for adults. Please note that, depending on your destination, waling might be faster. Editor's note: The tram is not currently running, but it is slated to return to service sometime in 2013.
Taxis: There are various taxi companies, including Blue Star taxis, Christchurch Taxis and First Direct Taxis. All have meters, and most accept credit cards.
Watch Out For
The Arts Centre's complicated maze of buildings and shops has multiple steps and narrow passageways, making it difficult for those with wheelchairs and scooters.
As you should in any travel destination, leave all unnecessary valuables onboard in your cabin's safe.
In an effort to give new life to businesses affected by the 2011 earthquake, the Re:START program is housing boutiques, restaurants and other attractions of interest to visitors in a mall that was constructed out of shipping containers. Before you rule it out, it's fancier than you think, and it's certainly worth a trip if you're an avid shopper.
In a similar vein, the Gap Filler organization hosts creative and fun activities, exhibits and more in places awaiting post-earthquake reconstruction. Past event offerings have included temporary saunas, a butterfly garden and even a 24-hour drill-a-thon. Check out some of what's coming up while your ship is in town.
Cathedral Square, dominated by the neo-Gothic Christchurch Cathedral, is a great place to experience the city's vibe. Check out the huge, 18-meter-tall metal sculpture, the Chalice, which commemorates the millennium. A number of cafes and bars surround the square. The Cathedral itself was consecrated in 1881 and boasts an impressive stained-glass rose window, as well as a wooden-ribbed ceiling (open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.). Visitors can climb partially up the 63-meter spire.
The Arts Centre, Worcester Blvd., open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), located on the original site of Canterbury University, is an arts, shopping and dining complex in a maze of Gothic Revival buildings. The Arts Centre is home to more than 40 studios, workshops, galleries, theatres, cafes and cinemas. On Saturdays and Sundays, there is also a market that features local artists' wares, gourmet foods, crafts and food stalls. Editor's note: The Arts Centre is currently closed for repairs.
Take a stroll along the weeping willows that line the Avon River. To rent a punt or canoe, visit the historic Antigua Boatshed (www.boatsheds.co.nz, 2 Cambridge Terrace, open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.); built in 1882, this is the last shed standing on the riverbank. The boatshed also features a casual cafe that serves meals and drinks and provides picnic baskets for meals on the river.
One of the largest city parks in the world, the Christchurch Botanic Gardens (www.ccc.govt.nz/cityleisure/parkswalkways/christchurchbotanicgardens/index.aspx, Rolleston Ave., open daily from 7 a.m. to dusk) is renowned for its 19th-century trees. The gardens boast more than 10,000 specimens of indigenous and imported plants. Stop by the information center (open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.) for walking tours, displays, horticultural information and botanical books. The gardens also feature impressive fountains and artwork.
The glass facade of Christchurch Art Gallery (www.christchurchartgallery.org.nz, Worcester Blvd & Montreal St., open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., free) was inspired by the city's Avon River and the shape of the native koru fern. The impressive architectural structure is home to the largest art institution on the South Island and one of New Zealand's most important public art collections, featuring more than 5,500 items, which include paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, textiles, glass, metalwork and photography. The Gallery also hosts a wide variety of compelling art exhibitions. Check out the gallery's shop for great gifts. Editor's note: The Christchurch Art Gallery is currently closed, but it's slated to reopen in 2014.
Housed in one of New Zealand's most historic buildings, the Canterbury Museum (www.canterburymuseum.co.nz, Rolleston Ave., open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., free) is famous for its moa bones -- the moa was an extinct, indigenous, flightless bird that measured up to 12 feet in height and weighed up to 500 pounds -- and kiwi bird artifacts, with one of the largest collections from the moa hunting period.
Located outside the city center, the Christchurch Gondola (www.gondola.co.nz, 10 Bridle Path Road, Heathcote) offers visitors a panoramic view from high atop the city from a perch that's 1,500 feet above sea level. Stunning 360-degree views extend over Pegasus Bay and the Pacific Ocean to Kaikoura, as well as over Banks Peninsula, Lake Ellesmere and Lyttleton Harbour and across the Canterbury Plains to the Southern Alps. At the summit, there are hiking and biking trails, guided walks, exhibitions, a cafe and restaurant. Take a taxi or bus 28 from the city center.
Been There, Done That
Dramatically jutting into the ocean southeast of Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula was formed by two volcanic eruptions. The landscape is rugged and wild, yet the area is home to numerous harbors, villages and farmland. The centerpiece is the quaint town of Akaroa, with its cafes and patisseries. This former French settlement and whaling station is rich with Maori and maritime history. Due to the distance and travel times, the Banks Peninsula is best explored as part of an organized shore excursion.
Since the 1950's, Christchurch has been the main staging center for Operation Deep Freeze, the U.S. Government's Antarctic project. During the Southern Hemisphere's summer months, numerous American Starlifter and Galaxy aircraft fly south to McMurdo Station in Antarctica. Located near the airport, the International Antarctic Centre (Orchard Rd., open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.) features many informative displays that depict life and work on the frozen continent. There is a specially designed "blizzard" room, featuring sub-zero temperatures, a new Penguin Encounter enclosure and even a fun and exciting 10-minute ride on a genuine Hagglund All-Terrain Snowmobile. The centre, located near Christchurch's airport, is a 15-minute drive from the city. The Penguin Express bus departs regularly, starting at 9 a.m., from the Caterbury Museum on Rolleston Ave.; otherwise, taxis are available.
Christchurch offers a wide array of culinary options, from affordable ethnic eateries to elegant dining experiences. Many restaurants and cafes pride themselves on using local and seasonal ingredients; try the fresh New Zealand seafood or spring lamb. And, on market days at the Arts Centre, be sure to sample the many ethnic food stalls, offering everything from Spanish paella and German sausages to hand-tossed pizza and homemade sweets.
The Botanical Gardens offers two dining options: The Curator's House (Rolleston Ave./Cashel Street, from 10 a.m. daily) uses fresh, regional ingredients for a diverse menu with a Spanish/Tapas influence. The more casual Garden Café offers light lunches and afternoon tea.
The Antigua Boatshed Cafe (see Don't Miss) enjoys a romantic riverside location and is open for breakfast and lunch. In addition to the dine-in menu, the cafe will be happy to pack picnic hampers for guests to enjoy lunch on the river.
Fiddlesticks bar and grill, located at 48 Worcester Boulevard, offers fresh local fare in a relaxing atmosphere. Watch people stroll by as you dine, or have a seat outside in the courtyard near a roaring fire.
Tiffany's, at 95 Oxford Terrace, offers a slightly more upscale dining experience at a moderate price point. You'll find items like caprese salad, beef carpaccio, king salmon, Canterbury duck, and truffle and potato mash on the menu, among various other items, including a selection of desserts.
Staying in Touch
There are several Internet and telephone centers around the city center.
For First-Time Visitors: Explore the city with a shore excursion that includes Mona Vale, a historic mansion set on 14 acres of award-winning traditional English gardens. You'll also take in city highlights.
For Rail Buffs: Enjoy a full-day excursion on one of the most scenic railways in the world, the TranzAlpine Express, which links Christchurch on the east coast to Greymouth on the west coast. The train climbs and travels through the breathtaking alpine scenery of Arthur's Pass National Park. At Arthur's Pass, stop at the Viaduct Bridge Lookout before returning to Christchurch.
For Adrenaline Junkies: Try a Kiwi jet-boat experience. Most of these excursions include a city tour of Christchurch, as well as a tour aboard a jet boat on the Waimakariri River and its dramatic gorge. Powered by a V8 engine, the jet boat does 360-degree spins and offers stunning views of the snow-capped Southern Alps.
For More Information
Call Tourism New Zealand at 866-639-9325
On the Web: www.christchurchnz.com and www.newzealand.com
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--by Rose Abello, Cruise Critic contributor