Walking on streets with names like Worcester, Gloucester, Peterborough, or Lichfield, punting on the tree-lined and meandering Avon River, touring the English-style gardens, walkways and cycle paths under magnificent trees, or driving past a Gothic cathedral. No, this is not England – it’s Christchurch, which deserves its name as the “garden city” of New Zealand because of its vast tracts of parklands, rose and water gradens, and verdant surroundings.
With 300,000 residents, Christchurch, also known as the “most English city outside of England” is the second largest city of New Zealand. In spite of the magnitude 6.3 earthquake that jolted the city on 22 February 2011, with confirmed 166 deaths, Christchurch is still the gateway to the South Island. Today, the city is deemed safe for locals and tourists and, of course, open for business.
The focal point and the heart of this well-planned metropolis is the Cathedral Square, which is actually in the shape of a cross, not a square, surrounding the renowned Gothic-style Anglican Cathedral, a historic landmark and considered a national treasure. In and around the square are some of the city’s exclusive hotels, cinemas, bars, cafes, restaurants, and shops. Just recently added to the square is the “Chalice” sculpture to mark the new millenium and to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the city founding.
The other famous square is the Victoria Square, graced by the statues of Queen Victoria and James Cook, the British explorer. It boasts of a floral clock and the oldest iron and stone bridge in the city.
Located on the Cashel Street Bridge at the head of the city mall is the “Bridge of Remembrance”, a war memorial dedicated to those who died in the two world wars and also from the Korean and Vietnam wars. Noticeable is the arch’s central frame with a patriotic inscription “What will a man not do for his country”.
An easy walk from the Cathedral and located in Worcester Blvd. is the must-see Arts Centre, a unique complex which serves to promote the growth of arts and crafts in Christchurch. It houses studios and art galleries, specialty shops, cafes, and restaurants, and theatres the most popular of which is The Courth Theatre, a professional theatre company. Outside the Arts Centre is a series of bronze busts, “The Twelve Local Heores” to commemorate twelve local Christchurch people who were prominent in their respective fields during the latter part of the 20th century.
Close to the Arts Centre is the Botanic Gardens, founded in 1863 with 75 acres nestled in a bend of the Avon River, and featuring one of the finest collections of plants found in the island and mature trees from around the world.
Just beside the Botanic Gardens is the Canterbury Museum, a beautiful stone building with more than 2 million specimens on display. The museum specializes in the stories of Maori culture and history, European settlement and Antartic explorations as well as the cultural and natural history of New Zealand.
Winter in New Zealand? Yes! From June to August you can explore the eighteen alpine skiing areas of the country in Canterbury starting with the mountain called Mt. Hutt. Christchurch alone has thirteen ski resorts!
Aside from walking the best way to explore the city is by riding the vintage tramway which travels a loop throughout the the town providing informative tour of the most interesting and historical sights.