The 2010-11 earthquakes changed the face of Christchurch but the resilient South Island city is now in the process of emerging with a strong and intriguing new edge - and as New Zealand's newest destination story.
New Zealand’s second largest city has become one of the most unique urban redevelopments in the world attracting attention for creativity and innovation and, while parts of the central business district that bore the brunt of the damage are still a work in progress, visitors to Christchurch will find plenty to see and do.
Project by project, the constantly-evolving urban landscape is taking form with glistening new buildings, like the new transport centre, and stylishly restored heritage precincts such as the Isaac Theatre Royal and 1930s New Regent Street sitting among refreshed open spaces, and 'gap filler' installations that show the edgy attitude of many future focused locals.
Exceptional projects like the Transitional 'cardboard' Cathedral, creative street art, clever retail spaces and a raft of quality cafés, bars and restaurants are creating a potent vibe in this once conservatively-minded city.
New look Christchurch
While the inner city is abuzz with construction, many areas are untouched by change and offer tranquil pursuits like punting on the Avon River through the Botanical Gardens, one of Christchurch’s 740 parks.
Significant heritage restoration projects are also a reminder of the city’s place in New Zealand history. As well as the Theatre Royal, already completed are New Regent Street with 40 shops built in the Spanish Mission Revival style of the 1930s; the rejuvenated Canterbury Museum, Victoria St Precinct – a hub of night life, the 100-years Old Government Building Heritage Hotel and The Tannery – a boutique shopping emporium beside Heathcote River in Woolaston.
Ultra-modern, stylish buildings like the Ilex Visitors Centre & Café with sophisticated designs promoting sustainability and the latest technology, are a highlight of the new look city.
The Christchurch Art Gallery - one of the central city's significant modern buildings - reopened in December 2015. Work is currently underway on The Christchurch Arts Centre with areas reopening in stages as the restoration work is completed on one of New Zealand's finest heritage sites - there's even a proposal to open a new 5-star hotel in one of these buildings.
The now famous Re:START shopping mall, home to over 20 businesses operating out of brightly coloured shipping containers, sprang up in 2011 to re-start the city’s retail sector after the earthquake. The area has now been re-jigged to make way for the new permanent retail hub but the container shops will still be in place until the end of 2017.
Places to stay
Having lost much of its inner city accommodation in 2011, Christchurch hotel redevelopment has been a major focus of the rebuild.The city now has 306 commercial accommodation properties and 5812 rooms [July 2017].
Recommended places to stay include Breakfree Cashel, Rydges Latimer and the new five-star Hotel Montreal. The latest inner city opening is the new 204-room Crowne Plaza which becomes the city's biggest hotel.
Places to eat
The hospitality scene in Christchurch is booming, with new cafés, bars and restaurants dotted all over the city. From quirky cafes, garden based restaurants to world class fine dining, there is no shortage of choice.
The region boasts New Zealand Cuisine Restaurant of the Year, Roots which is just over the hill from Christchurch city in Lyttelton. The restaurant also won an Innovation Award for the ethos behind its dining experience. Chef Giulio Sturla will only serve food he has grown, foraged or sourced locally from artisan producers and sustainable farms.
Stranges Lane is another popular dining destination in Christchurch where a selection of restaurants share an open courtyard in a heritage laneway development.
One of the best ways to experience the changing face of downtown Christchurch and absorb the creative buzz is on a walking or cycle tour. Christchurch Bike and Walking Tours offer a two-hour guided tour – the flat nature of the city streets making the excursion easily achievable for visitors of varying ages and abilities.