Nothing beats a cycling tour of Christchurch for the best sights – and insights – into the city’s exciting post-earthquake revival.
The post-earthquake blues are giving way to a vital energy as Christchurch rebuilds and reinvents itself. And the best way to get up close to the city’s sights and sounds is by bike.
Since 2012, Glen Tregurtha has had an intimate, daily view of the changing face of Christchurch. But he’s neither a builder, nor a surveyor or an engineer. Tregurtha is a guide with Christchurch Bike and Walking Tours, which was taking cyclists through the Red Zone (public exclusion zone - now open again) from the moment they could get access.
At the start, Tregurtha says, it was mostly locals. “While some visitors wanted the disaster tourism experience, locals wanted the opportunity to see what had happened to their city,” he says. “It was all still very raw for some people, so we found ourselves in more of an educational role. It gave us a chance to be optimistic about the city and positive about the rebuild.”
Every tour that Tregurtha takes is an opportunity to showcase the city’s amazing transition. Bars, restaurants and commercial buildings have opened up quickly, bringing people back. “Every time I see new street art or hear of a new bar, it’s exciting,” Tregurtha says. “It’s creating spaces and places to allow people to re-engage with the city. Every new thing is a step in the right direction.”
A lot like the city he leads people through, Tregurtha’s life has been marked by constant change. Born and bred in Canterbury, the province that Christchurch is part of, he has worked as a graphic designer, teacher, outdoors instructor, and an event manager. He now runs one of the country’s premier crystal and mineral stores, The Crystal People, which he started nearly 20 years ago.
An avid cyclist, Tregurtha’s commitment to making the city more cyclist-friendly has seen him take part in focus groups and make submissions on ways the council could improve biking facilities. It’s a chance to take the city back to its roots – in the 1920s, more than half the residents, about 40,000 people, regularly rode bikes.
“Christchurch is an awesome place for cycling because it’s so flat,” he says. “The funding coming through for cycle-ways is fantastic. There are some excellent cycle routes and dedicated cycle crossings that will improve the perception of cycling and get people out cycling more.”
Christchurch Bike and Walking Tours has been running tours since 2008, and after the 2010-11 quakes, the tour company was determined to get restarted as soon as possible. In 2012, that meant Tregurtha was taking tours through the Red Zone with checkpoints guarded by soldiers. “It was difficult seeing the changes in the city,” he says. “But you have to move on at some point. I knew it was an amazing opportunity for the city to reinvent itself, so from the beginning my mindset has been unwaveringly optimistic. And there is no shortage of great stuff to focus on.”
These days, the two-hour tours don’t pass through military cordons. Instead, Tregurtha points out huge murals along the sides of buildings created by some of the world’s leading street artists: Adnate, Buff Monster, Tilt, and Roa, among others. As a former graphic designer, he has an affinity with these splashes of brilliant colour on concrete canvasses. “Street art is a great addition to the city,” he says. “People were seeing it as a grey, broken place, so the colourful murals have helped to reinvigorate the central city.”
Having lived in the city for about 30 years, Tregurtha is familiar with little-used paths between houses, over wooden bridges and along riverbanks that provide exciting dips, hills and thrills. One of his favourite places to bring visitors is Christchurch Farmers’ Market at the historic Riccarton House. “I really like to support local producers in the region,” he says. Yet his vision for a sustainable world needn’t get in the way of living well, he says, as he bites into a slice of raspberry, rose, cardamom and white chocolate cake from the Cakes by Anna stall. “It’s not being a hippie – it’s a way of life.”
Another of Tregurtha’s favourite sites is the Transitional Cardboard Cathedral designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban. “Every building in this area has a story,” he says. “The Cardboard Cathedral is a church but also a venue for events such as PechaKucha nights [from the Japanese “chit-chat”, meaning multiple-speaker events] and chamber music concerts. Then there’s the miracle of New Regent Street, which remained virtually undamaged. Nothing is dull about this city.”
As we cross through the centre of the city, we find ourselves among building work on every stretch of road. Our group is silent, in awe of the city being rebuilt around us. It’s gritty, vibrant and unrecognisable. “I love how the bike tours allow us to get up close and personal with the city growing around us,” Tregurtha says. “And it’s very satisfying to watch people’s changing mindsets. They come with a perception of what they will see and often can’t make sense of it. But after the tour they walk away as excited about the future of Christchurch as I am.”
Glen’s top five places in Christchurch
- Christchurch Farmers’ Market - Held every Saturday morning (9am–1pm) year-round, rain, hail or shine. On the grounds of Riccarton House (16 Kahu Rd, Riccarton), the market has a wide range of fresh farm produce, and high-quality artisan and prepared foods.
- Transitional Cathedral - The world’s only cathedral made substantially from cardboard. Located at 234 Hereford Street at the southern end of Latimer Square.
- Summit Road - Either cycle or walk up Evans Pass Road from Sumner village to Summit Road and take the road left either to Godley Head for a breathtaking view over the Pacific Ocean. Or you can turn right to head back down through Mt Pleasant.
- Boo Radley’s - One of the city’s newest bar and restaurants situated in one of the few remaining heritage buildings (above Tequila Mockingbird, 98 Victoria Street). It also offers great live music.
- Castle Hill - A small alpine village about 30 minutes’ drive west of Christchurch with great hiking and mountain biking in the summer and close to the ski-fields in the winter.
How to Get There
Tours depart from outside The Antigua Boat Sheds, 2 Cambridge Terrace – just a 5-minute walk from the Information Centre at the Botanical Gardens (alongside the Canterbury Museum on Rolleston Ave).
Best Time to Visit
Spring (September-October) heralds warmer weather that brings out the blossoms. In Autumn (April-May) the days are colder but the turning leaves provide a brilliant and colourful backdrop to the city. The average temperature in both seasons is 17 degrees but pack a sweater as the evenings get chilly.
How to Book
Book your Christchurch City Bike Tour on line at chchbiketours.co.nz or phone 0800 733 257. There are five different tours to choose from. But if you have a particular interest, such as architecture, they will put a tour together for you. Walking tours are also available.
Around 75km from Christchurch is Akaroa, an historic French settlement located in the heart of an extinct volcano. Mt Hutt, near Methven, is the region’s premier commercial ski area (90-minute drive from Christchurch) with 44 hectares of skiing terrain. Hamner Hot Springs is an alpine village (90-minute drive from Christchurch) that offers a range of adventure activities and the chance to relax in hot thermal pools. And Lyttelton, about 20 minutes from the centre of Christchurch, is a quirky, relaxed port town and Canterbury’s oldest settlement.