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Guide to Christchurch: Garden City of the South Island

Information About Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand

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Punting on Avon River, Christchurch

Punting on Avon River, Christchurch

Image Courtesy of Getty Images/Christopher Arnesen

If you are flying into the South Island, the chances are that you will be arriving in Christchurch. It is the South Island's largest city (and home to its largest international airport) and is an ideal starting point for exploring the South Island. Before heading away from the city, however, spend some time exploring Christchurch's many sights and attractions. This is a very appealing city.

Christchurch Location and Geography

Christchurch is located in the Canterbury province of the central South Island. It lies on the east coast of the island, slightly north of the major South Island port of Lyttelton.

The main distinguishing feature of Christchurch's geography is - it is totally flat. It sits at the northern end of the Canterbury Plains, a vast area which extends to North Otago to the south. Although there is a small range of hills joining the city to Lyttleton Harbor (the Port Hills), everywhere else is quite flat, making it a mecca for cyclists and runners.

To the west of Christchurch are the mountains of the Southern Alps (including the Mt Hutt skifield, the largest in the South Island). Christchurch is also notable for its rivers, in particular the Waimakariri on the northern outskirts which flows from the mountains themselves, and the Avon, which meanders through the city center.

Christchurch is often described as "The Garden City", a reference to the many lovely parks to be found there. The largest, Hagley Park, is right in the center of the city, and covers some 398 acres (161 hectares).

Christchurch Climate

Situated one third of the way down the east coast of the South Island, Christchurch's climate is heavily influenced by the sea to the east and the mountains to the west. Summers can be rather hot (sometimes over 86 degrees Fahrenheit or 30 degrees Celsius). This is often accompanied by strong winds, which can be either a seabreeze from the east or a hot wind from the north west. The latter can be especially strong in the spring or early summer and can blow for weeks on end.

Winters can be cold and rather damp. Fortunately, most of the buildings are built for the cold and can be very snug in the winter months!

Spring and autumn are lovely seasons in Christchurch. The city parks can be a blaze of color at these times.

People of Christchurch

Christchurch is the third largest city in New Zealand by population (after Auckland and Wellington) and by far the largest in the South Island, with more than 380,000 residents. There is not as much ethnic diversity as in the cities in the North Island; nearly 90% of the population is classed as European, meaning New Zealanders of caucasian background and European immigrants. There is in fact a significant number of immigrants, especially British, who are attracted by the city's distinctly "English' feel.

The Christchurch Earthquake and its Aftermath

Since September 4, 2010, Christchurch has been subjected to a series of major (and initially somewhat unexpected) earthquakes. The most devastating of these was on February 22, 2011, in which 185 people were killed. These was widespread damage to the central city, with many buildings damaged beyond repair.

Despite the destruction, most of the damage was within a relatively small area in the central city. Rebuilding is taking place and many other areas have remained unaffected. It remains a wonderful city to visit!

What to See and Do in Christchurch

Christchurch is a beautiful city and has perhaps the loveliest architecture of any city in New Zealand (although sadly much of it, including the magnificent cathedral, has been damaged or destroyed by the earthquakes).

There is plenty of shopping and nightlife in Christchurch, including some world class restaurants. However it is the parks that are Christchurch's most appealing feature. Enjoy a stroll through Hagley Park, the Botanic Gardens or any of the number of Christchurch's outdoor areas.

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