New Zealand Backpacking – Christchurch

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After a spectacular time in Kaikoura and the beautiful hiking around the Peninsula, it was time for a change of pace. So we hopped onto our booked Intercity bus and took the journey from Kaikoura to Christchurch.

Again the journey followed the east coastline, and there was some definite swaying involved on the coach. It was a little nauseating!

First Impressions

Driving into Christchurch for the first time was quite daunting. I had obviously heard a lot about the devastation from the 2011 earthquake. But seeing it with your own eyes is different. You hear about the damage, and destruction, and you think, well 5 years on, how bad can it be?

Initially all you see is lots of roadworks, and construction, and you think, well this isn’t very pretty. And then you look harder and you notice more and more damage, like enormous cracks in the ground. I mean big cracks. And the rubble still laying around. Walls literally propped up by empty container ship containers. And huge empty plots of land, where buildings used to be, but have now been cleared. It’s eerie. The city felt quite damaged still.

Christchurch New Zealand Christchurch New Zealand

Christchurch New Zealand

We ferreted out our hostel, The Old Countryhouse. It’s a really cute backpackers hostel, that at the time mostly hosted construction workers. (Judging by the number of workers boots outside the rooms!) This worked in our favor, as we were staying mid-week, it meant that most of the other guests worked during the day, and then didn’t party and stay up all night.

We’re big on burgers. So after a google session we tracked down Burgers & Beers Inc, a really well reviewed burger joint in the Redwood suburb. The burger was AMAZING, and I also ordered the chips with gravy, which genuinely tasted like roast potatoes with beefy gravy. So, so yummy, I would highly recommend.

Cardboard Cathedral

Christchurch New Zealand
Cardboard Cathedral – Christchurch, New Zealand

Our first full day of exploring saw us checking out a few of the Must See things to do in Christchurch.

First we checked out the Cardboard Cathedral which was built as a temporary, transitional cathedral following the 2011 earthquake. The earthquake had significantly damaged the ChristChurch Cathedral, which has now been partly demolished. There are restoration initiatives going on, but the cathedral’s fate is still being discussed, so who knows what will happen with it eventually. The Cardboard Cathedral was designed by Japanese architect and is literally made out of cardboard tubes and timber, and has a distinctive triangular stained glass front. It’s quite something.

We tried coffee from C1 Espresso which is one of the highest rated cafes in Christchurch. It has a super cool, slick, modern vibe in the interior. They originally opened on ’96 but the premises where destroyed in the earthquake, and they then re-opened in 2012.

Christchurch New Zealand


We also looked at Re:START, which is a temporary mall built out of empty shipping containers, again as a response to the earthquake. Many buildings in the shopping district were destroyed, so using a $3.36m interest free loan, the Restart the Heart Trust set up containers which could host 27 retailers, to re-ignite the retail industry in the city. It was pretty interesting to see, and an ingenious idea to quickly re-estalish some of the cities businesses.

Our Christchurch hostel was also one that boasted a hot tub. Along our whole trip this became a bit of a theme, I’m a sucker for a hot tub. This time we timed it well, so each day I had full use of it on my own, even if it was a bit chilly!

Christchurch New ZealandThe timing of our trip was ideal though. We had decided to travel in September/October because in the Southern Hemisphere it was spring and not yet high season. So it was much quieter and therefore cheaper for us to travel and stay. We also got very lucky with the weather, although we had a few days where it was a bit cold, we missed a lot of the rain/snow that come over winter, and got to see the country as it started to flower into spring.

185 Empty White Chairs

On our 2nd day in Christchurch we checked out the 185 Empty White Chairs memorial, which we found to be very poignant. The 185 white chairs each represent a person that was killed in the 2011 earthquake – chosen by their family members to reflect each of their unique personalities.

The idea was inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s series of empty chair paintings, and was only supposed to be a temporary installation. But 5 years later they still remain and are now being considered for being turned into a permanent one. It was a poignant way of remembering those that died, and also reflected on the scale and human impact of the disaster. At one point we noticed that one or two of the chairs had fallen over, and we were unsure if it was the done thing to pick them up again. I hope they do become a permanent fixture.

Christchurch New Zealand

We also went to take a look at the older cathedral which we’d heard so much about. I found it to be shockingly damaged. And as you can see, I’m not sure if it can be saved. As I mentioned before they are still in talks as to whether they will rebuild, or demolish the site. It’s quite something to see.

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Then we checked out the Caffeine Laboratory , and a pizza lunch from BASE (located in the Restart mall, which was really awesome!) I would highly recommend it for grabbing a bite on the go. We topped off our stay in Christchurch with a stroll through Hayley Park/Botanic Gardens. Which is a lovely green area, lots of trees, flowers and greenery, with a river snaking throughout. The area was a lovely respite from the more urban city, and the boarded up buildings and such. At this point the weather turned pretty grim on us, so we cut the walk short and headed for dry land. But it looked like a really cool area which I would love to explore further.

Christchurch New ZealandOur 2 days in Christchurch was a bit of a whirlwind – we tried to cram in a lot in a few days. But there are still some things I would like to do, (like the Quake City exhibition which my Dad loved.) So a return is on the cards.

Initially I was a bit unsure about the place. But the longer we stayed there the more the place grew on me. It has a very ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’ feel. The people came across as resilient and hard working, and with real heart. They are very much rebuilding the city with pride, and saving the things they can. I imagine when they’re finished, Christchurchwill be a lovely vibrant city once more, and I can’t wait to see it!

Next on out trip was the spectacular Lake Tekapo, so please subscribe so you don’t miss out on our adventures!


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29 thoughts to “New Zealand Backpacking – Christchurch”

  1. What a great insight to a place affected by a natural disaster. So many people don’t understand why it’s important to help rebuilt and support such communities and more that refuse to travel to such destinations because they believe it to be unsafe. I think you highlighted the importance of giving back to the community but also showed how the locals are rebuilding their lives. A lovely read.

    1. I quite agree, we shouldn’t be afraid to visit places that have been affected, they need a jump start to their economy and avoiding them is never going to help a city/country get back on their feet. And the people are so lovely!

    1. Absolutely so ingeniuos and hard working. Wow 5 weeks is quite a bit of time, you must have really loved it! We’re hoping to go back in the next few years, we might stay a bit longer ourselves.

  2. I’ve been wanting to make my way to NZ for a long time, but keep putting it off as it’s so far! I need to just get over the fear of that long journey and go! Christchurch is on my list for many reasons, not least that friends of mine are from there and I recall the fundraising efforts to help locals rebuild after the earthquake. To see the carboard cathedral, the shipping container mall and the memorial of white chairs would be a great way to understand how hard it must have been for locals.

  3. Prayers go out to the citizens of Christchurch who have gone through so much and still have a long way to rebuild it seems. But from your writings it sounds like a can-do spirit prevails. I love visiting unique and funky coffee shops, so that would certainly be on my list when visiting New Zealand and Christchurch.

  4. I am scared of earthquakes so much. We get large ones here but these photos tell another story of pain. Glad you had good weather.

  5. How cool does the cardboard cathedral look?! I’d love to give it a visit. I’ve never actually been to New Zealand before, but I hope to go there one day πŸ™‚

    Louise x

  6. This sounds so cool with all of the different places there. That’s great that the people have the resiliency to get through difficult times. I love the cardboard cathedral. Looks so cool.

  7. people are the greatest strength of a land! this land is populated by great man and woman as you make me understand and everything will be fine! the white chairs memorial reminds me of the empty chairs in Krakow, in memory of the Jew deported during the program.

  8. Christchurch has been on my list of places to backpack too, but loved your honest tips! Would love to check out that cardboard cathedral. Now thats something we dont see everyday!

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