Feast Your Eyes on Christchurch, The South Island’s Gateway to Adventure, Wine, and Art

A city reborn from a natural disaster.

things to do christchurch
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Christchurch, the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island, was rocked by an earthquake in 2011. It hollowed out the city, destroying 80% of buildings, including many of its heritage buildings—some of the oldest buildings in New Zealand. The earthquake was recorded as the second-worst natural disaster to hit New Zealand, but 12 years later, the vibrant city is in transition.

A sense of bustle and buoyancy has returned as orange cones and construction sites pack up. The last remnant of construction left is the scaffolding around the Christ Church Cathedral, which is undergoing a rebuild. Surrounding the injured church is a chaotic, crazy, and colourful mix of neighbourhoods, industrial areas, and precincts to explore. Walk along the banks of the Avon river to find a Riverside indoor market, an indie theatre, and a hip new hospitality development. Scattered around the city are endless street art murals plastered on buildings like bandaids, telling stories of the city’s heritage while others act as a symbol of protection over the city.

Even after you’ve explored every street in Christchurch, there’s a whole world outside of the city. Follow the highways to the Canterbury region for wine and food, or through Arthur’s Pass for dramatic mountain scenery.

Christchurch is a gateway to the surrounding areas, but it’s also the heart of the South Island, and it would be a shame not to feel its warm and colourful embrace. Rediscover the new city with our ultimate guide to Christchurch.

things to do christchurch
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Where to wine and dine in Christchurch

The rebuild has paved the way for innovative hospitality venues, from coffee windows to late-night drinking dens hidden behind towering wooden doors. There’s a restaurant and cuisine for every budget, but here are a few of our favourite places to wine and dine in Christchurch.

Whether you’re catching up with friends or want to enjoy a cocktail and people-watch, King of Snake is just the place. Inside, the restaurant is split in two. Wooden floors and palm trees occupy the seated restaurant, and marble floors and plush velvet seats make up the bar and lounge. The outside deck is perfect for people-watching with a cocktail in hand. The menu leans heavily toward South East Asian flavours, with small and large plates designed to share. We suggest trying the Chatham Island crayfish sliders, which melt in your mouth and the prawn dumplings in supreme broth. Although the menu is extensive, feel free to roam it and choose your own adventure.

Across the street from King of Snake is Riverside Market, an enclosed, seven-day-trading fresh farmers’ market and boutique shopping centre, where you can pick up a scoop of gelato from Rollickin Gelato (try the Yogi Bear), dig into a packed to the brim souvlaki from Dimitri’s Greek Food, or sample tacos from El Rancho Riverside. Inside, you will also find a brewery, gin bar, bakery, and more.

Head 15 minutes outside of the city centre to Tussock Hill Cellar Door and Restaurant for sweeping views across Christchurch and a taste of North Canterbury. Operated by family-run Tussock Hill Vineyard, the restaurant echoes the ethical and sustainable ethos of the vineyard, serving sourdough made from grains of a local organic biodynamic owner. The menu is constantly changing, but you can expect fresh, light meals, including crispy Paua (shellfish) on a pretzel bun served in a delicate glass box and triple-cooked agria potatoes with Kiwi onion dip (a must-have). Pair your dishes with a wine flight for an all-around taster of Tussock Hill Vineyard wines.

Are you looking for Christchurch’s nightlife? You’re going to need a password. Austin Club is an underground speakeasy-style bar sporting live music, a touch of neon, and exposed brick. Even the bartenders are dressed in prohibition-era clothing. Although the atmosphere is buzzing, you will most likely hear people talking about the incredible cocktails. Everything is detailed, down to the homemade syrups and infusions, which can take up to 48 hours. The Alice in Wonderland cocktail is a concoction of gin, plum wine, earl grey tea, blackberry, balsamic and lemon. Each house cocktail is inspired by the films of the 50s, including Around the World in 80 Days, Treasure Island, and more.

things to do christchurch
Photo: asmithers

Sail tiny toy boats and stop and smell the roses in Hagley Park

Hagley Park is Christchurch’s very own Central Park. Inside the maze of green space, flanked by the Avon River and Deans Avenue, are several parks to picnic in, sports grounds to play on, and a web of pathways to walk and cycle through. In North Hagley Park, Lake Victoria and Lake Albert are great for walking around or sailing toy boats. You can paddle along the river in a boat or kayak, play tennis at the Te Kura Hagley Park Tennis Club or hit a few rounds at the Hagley Golf Club. Tucked underneath North Hagley Park, are the Botanic Gardens flourished with daffodils and summer roses and shower the gardens with reds and yellows during autumn.

Find inspiration and stories in street art

The growing arts scene in Christchurch has earned its reputation as a world-class street art destination. Dotted throughout the city are large and tiny colourful artworks from local and international artists. There are too many to count, but here are a few must-see murals that will make you stand back and say wow.

things to do christchurch

Riverside Mural

This phenomenal 3-D mural is hard to miss and pays homage to Christchurch’s past and present. Located in the rear car park of Riverside Market, the mural will make you look twice. It pays homage to the central city’s heritage and its defining moments, including the women’s suffrage movement.

things to do christchurch

SALT Distric Ōtauhtahi

Another mindboggling three-dimensional illusion mural you can find is in the SALT District, on Tuam St, next to a small pocket of restaurants. It took five artists just over two weeks to bring the design to life.

things to do christchurch

Rauora Park

In Rauro Park you will find eight giant spray cans with graffiti sprayed over them.

things to do christchurch

Ibis Hotel

This vibrant mural is called Rise from the Rubble and was designed by local artist Brandon Warrell. You can find it on the side of the Ibis Hotel on Hereford Street.

There are hundreds more to discover. Use this interactive map to help you create a street art walk.

things to do christchurch
Photo: @steve.attwood.birdman

Soak in hot pools and scream your head off on a cam-am ride through a farm

Within an hour’s drive from Christchurch is mid-Canterbury, a small pocket of the Canterbury region with snow-capped mountains, braided rivers, crystal-clear lakes, and relaxed restaurants. Here, you can go jetboating, throw a line in a lake, hike trails, or relax and soak in a hot pool.

Ōpuke Thermal Pools and Spa uses waters sourced from the mountains and is powered by the sun. The impressive solar power system powering the centre is almost as impressive as the architecture. Settle into the Tranquility Pools, an adults-only experience with a swim-up bar. After a soak, you can enjoy a relaxing spa treatment. If you’re bringing the family, the Discovery Pools are for all ages and offer a crazy river, leap-of-faith jump pool and star-lit caves.

Methven is the main town travellers stay in. While here, grab a pub feed at The Dubliner, a small local pub with a menu that rivals some of the best pubs in Dublin. Inside is a warm, cosy interior, flanked by dark wood furniture and friendly local staff who might just have a pint with you after work. On the menu, you can expect to find classics like a stout pie, creamy seafood chowder, and a few surprises like the sticky and sweet pork belly bites and Dubliner fried chicken served with pickles.

While Mid-Canterbury is known for its skiing, jetboating, 4WDriving, and skydiving, but there is one particular experience that deserves your time—especially if you’re an adrenaline chaser. Enter Dirt Bandits, a hair-raising, premium UTV motorsport experience that will have you whipping around a sheep farm, driving through a braided river, and screaming your head off in the ultimate off-road adventure. Climb into the beast and dart around a working sheep farm. These feats of machinery can reach speeds of up to 100kmph in 10 seconds. If you’re unsure of what you can handle, they tailor-make the experience and will only go as fast as you feel comfortable, which also makes this experience great for the kids. There are several circuits to explore, including climbing over rocks usually flooded by glacial waters (season dependant), ascending mountains for an epic view of the farm, and the hot lap, which has a few jumps that will have you soaring through the air. Hold on; this is a ride you’re likely never to forget.

things to do christchurch
Photo: Natasha Bazika

Sip and savour North Canterbury

One of the most exciting wine destinations in the world is on Christchurch’s doorstep, and it would be a shame to miss it. Just a short drive from the city is North Canterbury, a combination of family-owned vineyards and new-age winemaking methods with a strong focus on innovative viticulture practices. Although, what makes this region special is the soil. In the subregion of Waikairi and Canterbury plains further south, you have limestone-strewn ground, similar to Burgundy, France. On the valley floor are a mix of gravelly stones and sandy loam left from an Ice Age glacier. In the north, pinot noir is lighter, juicier, and fruitier than those that come from further north of the river. The result is a mixed bag of wine varietals and expressions drawn from the soils. Expect the wines to focus more on salinity and acidity rather than plush fruit.

Black Estate is best known for Canterbury-grown pinot noir, but their other drops are equally moorish, and the restaurant is award-winning, so there’s no excuse not to visit. A wine tasting is the best way to take advantage of this wineries range, which spreads across reds, whites, and pét nats. The wines come from three organic vineyard sites, each with its own unique soil made up of limestone, clay and sandstone.

Five minutes down the road from Black Estate is Greystone Wines, another organic winery dedicated to natural wines and pulling expression from the soils beneath the vines. The cellar door is casual, with a large outdoor area to soak up the sun and atmosphere, whereas the inside is a more intimate affair, with raw woods and earthy-toned seating. Explore that range of sauvignon blanc, and pinot noir, and don’t leave without trying the delicious, full-bodied rosé. You can also walk among the vines or explore the bike tracks.

The last vineyard you can’t miss is Pegasus Bay, a family-owned and operated winery that has been producing fine wines since the early 1970s. This is an iconic vineyard with a tasting experience set up under an umbrella in the estate’s lush gardens. Stay for lunch, or wander around the manicured gardens, terracotta castle, ponds, and footbridges.

MORE: What It’s Like to Hike the Fastest-Moving Glacier in the Southern Alps

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Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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