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Christchurch is the largest city on the Southern Island of New Zealand. Large being relative: the city 'only' has 330.000 residents. Christchurch is a particularly green city and thus carries the nickname 'The Garden City'. It is also known as the most English city outside of England. That has to do with the Victorian architectural style - especially in the city center - which dominates. The town was hit in February 2011 by a massive earthquake, which destroyed part of the center. Like the iconic Christchurch Cathedral which collapsed and it will take years before the symbol of the city will be rebuilt.
The Cathedral is on the Cathedral Square, the heart of the city which is surrounded by other nice buildings, such as the Old Chief Post Office, Government Building, Regent Theatre and Gothic Press Building. Unfortunately some modern buildings stand in between, that slightly spoil the charm.
Where there were Brits, there are botanical gardens and this is no different in Christchurch. The Botanical Gardens lie along the River Avon which winds across the city. The water garden is stunning, surrounded by herbs and exotic trees and shrubs.
Next door to the botanical gardens is the Canterbury Museum which has a fine collection of art, furniture and fashion. You will also learn more about the flora and fauna of New Zealand. For instance, a skeleton of the moa, a large running bird that is extinct.
No city in New Zealand holds as many festivals as Christchurch. Throughout the summer (ie from December to February) outdoor performances are given in Hagley Park: music, dance and other cultural events. Each year in January, the streets of the city are flooded by clowns, circus performers and comedians during the World Buskers Festival. And then there is the Christchurch Arts Festival that is held every other year in the winter (usually the last week of July and the first week of August).
A ride on The Summit Road gives you the opportunity to enjoy beautiful views over Christchurch, the Southern Alps, Pegasus Bay, Lyttelton Harbour and the Banks Peninsula. Be sure to stop for a walk on the Crater Rim Walkway. Note that many sheep walk around in this area, so drive carefully.
About 160 kilometers northeast of Christchurch lies Kaikoura. The route towards it is quite impressive on its own, but near the city it gets downright spectacular. This is where the mountains of the Kaikoura Range meet the sea. Boat trips are organized from the city to see whales and seal colonies.
Of course you want to explore the Southern Alps on the South Island too. If you drive to the southwest from Christchurch you'll first drive through the Canterbury Plains with the foothills of the Alps on the background. Continue driving west via the glacier lake Lake Tekapo towards the highest mountain of New Zealand, Mount Cook (3764 m).
You will have to leave your rental car for a bit in order to take a ride on the TranzAlpine Train. This train ride, 223 kilometers long, is considered one of the most beautiful on the world. The train drives through the impressive Waimakariri Gorge, via Arthur's Pass National Park, where you can take short walks, to the final destination Greymouth. The train drives through sixteen tunnels and over 5 viaducts in total, the highest being 73 meters above ground.
The International Antarctic Centre is located near the airport, west of town. It has an Antarctic world simulation, including snow and weather. You can take a ride through the snowy landscape, and of course there is much to learn about Antarctic Expeditions through interactive exhibits.
There is a wide range of accommodation in Christchurch. The most atmospheric hotels can naturally be found in the center, around Cathedral Square. Another cluster of hotels is just outside the city center, along Paganui Road. Cheaper accommodation can be found for example in the southwest of the center, like the Backpackers Hostel in a former prison.
You can easily find your way in the clear street map of Christchurch. Finding a parking space generally doesn't pose a big problem. On the street you can pay at parking meters with coins, credit card or via your mobile phone. There are several parking garages in and around the city center too.
The Christchurch airport is located six kilometers northwest of the city center, adjacent to the western suburbs. The airport is easily accessible by rental car: from the center Memorial Avenue runs from the Hagley Park direct to Christchurch International Airport.