Travelling has a habit of getting rather expensive, so when you’re ready to tour New Zealand’s South Island it’s great to mix in a few free or cheap adventures to save some cash. But don’t worry… It’s not as though tightening the purse strings is going to make your trip to Christchurch any less fun. In fact, it might mean you can stay an extra couple of days.
Here are some of the best free and inexpensive activities you can do around Christchurch to make your trip there even more exciting.
Drive the rental car to Taylors Mistake Beach car park and step it up on the Godley Head Loop Track. Give yourself about three hours to cover the 9km that make up one of the best hikes on the South Island. Along the way, you’ll come to points where you take in all of Christchurch, the Kaikoura Ranges and the Banks Peninsula. Stay alert because there are lots of seabirds here, including some white-flippered penguins that nest along the coastline. Out in the ocean, you might spot dolphins, seals and possibly even whales. If it’s summer, put your swimsuit and towel in the back of the rental car so that you can have a swim at the beach when you get back.
South of the city, get a view so high you might think you’ve somehow become a bird. The Christchurch Adventure Park chairlift travels 1.8km up the Port Hills, as the entire city is revealed below. But keep an eye out while you’re dangling above the earth. The chairlift was designed and built so mountain bikers could take their two-wheelers to the top of the hill, so you’ll be able to see some of them fanging their way back down the steep trails. The chairlift is also how you get to the start of the park’s zipline adventure if you need some more thrills. If not, you can simply take the ’lift back to the bottom.
Any fans of the Lord of the Rings films will want to get in the rental car and head towards the Hakatere Conservation Park, about 90 minutes from Christchurch. Snow-capped Mount Sunday in the park’s highest reaches doubled in the Two Towers movie as Edoras, the capital city of the Rohan people. You’ll need to leave your car before you follow the Mount Sunday Track, an easy 30-minute hike through the rugged landscape.
Love art and sunshine? Check out the Brockworth Street Art Gallery, a project pulled together by a band of creative locals. The colourful murals – city scenes, abstract images, pop culture references – cover a wall beside the train line and make up a great spot for a stroll. Another incredibly moving piece of public art can be found on the corner of Manchester and Kilmore streets. Called 185 Empty White Chairs, it’s artist Peter Majendie’s tribute to those who lost their lives in the 2011 earthquake.
It’s one of the largest freshwater ecosystems on the South Island and an important breeding ground for birds and insects. Travis Wetland, in the Christchurch suburbs, was once a dairy farm but has been restored to its natural state with the bonus of a path and boardwalk. There’s an information centre where you can find out how the wetlands were re-created and about the birds to look for. There’s even a bird hide and viewing tower from where you can try to spot sacred kingfishers, bellbirds, harriers, herons and Canada geese.
Not far from Travis Wetland is the New Brighton Pier. The original 1894 wooden version was demolished in 1965, and the new one was opened in 1997. At 300m, it’s the longest pier in Australia and a great place to see what the fishermen are hauling in. At the beginning of the pier, there’s a library where you can sit and read while looking out over the ocean, as well as a restaurant called Salt on the Pier where you can stop for coffee or something more substantial. When you’re done, take the short stroll over to He Puna Taimoana to relax in the sauna and five luxurious hot pools while looking out over the ocean.
It’s been more than a decade since the Canterbury earthquakes, but one of the symbols of hope from the aftermath still stands in Christchurch. The Cardboard Cathedral, designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, was built after the Christchurch Cathedral was badly damaged during the quake, and is the only one in the world made of this sustainable material. There are regular services, including Choral Evensong from Tuesday to Friday (during school terms), but even if you don’t worship you can join a short, guided tour. Beyond that, the structure and its triangular arrangement of stained-glass windows is one of the city’s Instagram hot spots, especially as night begins to fall.
When you’re getting ready to explore Christchurch and its surrounds, hire a rental car before you head off.