Nau mai haere mai ki Ōtautahi, Christchurch
Well known throughout New Zealand as the garden city, the largest city in the South Island boasts vast green spaces, parks, rivers, a central square and parallel streets. Christchurch is home to some very iconic and significant heritage places that have shaped Aotearoa New Zealand.
Avon River, Cafēs, Timeball Tower,
Picturesque landscapes, Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House
Long celebrated for its Gothic Revival architecture, Ōtautahi Christchurch is increasingly recognised for a diversity of culture, cuisine and art. Explore the city's reinvigorated heart on foot, bike or tram, or venture through the tunnel to the colourful port town of Lyttelton.
Day One | Downtown
Seating around Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House
Stay a while at Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House and explore the beautiful gardens
Start your ramble through historic Ōtautahi at 83 Clyde Road, site of Te Whare Waiutuutu Kate Sheppard House. Home to the suffragist between 1888 and 1902, the gracious four-bedroom kauri villa was opened to the public in 2020 as a research centre and heritage venue. Keep an eye out for the locket Sheppard wore containing pictures of her mother and husband, and the Victorian-era wallpaper imprinted with signatures from the 1893 suffrage petition. As well as celebrating Kate Sheppard’s life and political advocacy, the house also includes a ‘Legacy Room’ – her former study – that cites pivotal political, social and economic developments affecting New Zealand women.
Continuing the theme, check out the Kate Sheppard National Memorial on Oxford Terrace. Sculpted in bronze by Margriet Windhausen to mark the 1993 centenary of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, it’s our only memorial to the suffrage movement.
Nearby you’ll find the jaunty green and white striped Antigua Boat Sheds. Another of those quintessentially English Christchurch institutions, the heritage-listed sheds have been providing boat hire for visitors since 1882. You can explore the Avon from here in a hired kayak, Canadian canoe or clinker-built skiff, or just chill out with a riverside meal or drink at the Boat Shed Café.
Step back into the 1930s on New Regent Street – “New Zealand’s most beautiful street”. This pedestrian-friendly promenade is a charming outlier in neo-Gothic Christchurch with its pretty, pastel-hued Spanish Mission-style shops. There are excellent eateries, as well as a dedicated whisky and cocktail lounge, boutique jewellers, vintage shops and more. Christchurch’s terrific new library is just around the corner, as is Warren and Mahoney’s landmark 1972 Town Hall.
Keen to shop? Jump on an east-bound bus to The Tannery, a Victorian-style emporium on the site of a 19th Century tanning factory in Woolston. Under a translucent roof you’ll find dozens of boutique and specialist shops, restaurants and cafes and an award-winning brew bar.
Be sure to check out the Antigua Boat Sheds along the Avon River
Day Two | Timeball Tower and Port Hills
Once a seafarers' chapel - take a break at this characterful Anglican church. Church of St Saviour, Lyttelton.
Head through the tunnel to Lyttleton. If you’re visiting on a Saturday morning, check out the farmer’s market on London St (it runs from 10.00am until 1pm) before hoofing up to the Timeball tower. Erected in 1876 to enable visiting ships to check the accuracy of their chronometers, the landmark octagonal stone tower and its neighbouring three-storey station were devastated by the Canterbury earthquakes, but the tower at least has been rebuilt. Time your visit for 1pm and you’ll witness the historic daily ritual of the timeball dropping. If you’re feeling fit, continue up through the Urumau Reserve to the Crater Rim Walkway.
Another bracing Port Hills experience is the walk from the Godley Rd carpark to the Awaroa/Godley Head coastal defence battery. Built in 1939 and recently restored and upgraded, the site is perched on a towering headland and includes a handful of gun emplacements, underground magazines and other military buildings. An atmospheric place with inspiring views.
Tired? Take a pew at St Saviour’s at Holy Trinity, a characterful Anglican church that has wandered far and wide since it was consecrated in 1885. Initially a seafarers’ chapel – Robert Falcon Scott reputedly worshipped at St Saviour’s prior to sailing for Antarctica – it was transported through the Port Hills in the 1970s to serve Cathedral Grammar, before being trucked back in sections a few years ago to replace Lyttleton’s quake-damaged Holy Trinity church.
Before you leave Lyttleton walk by Grubb Cottage – built in 1851, it’s Lyttelton’s oldest domestic dwelling –
If you have time take a slight detour and head out to tour the intriguing home and private world of Dame Ngaio Marsh – one of New Zealand’s most famous cultural figures and internationally-acclaimed Queen of Crime. International literary genius home. Listed by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga as a Category 1 Historic Place of special and outstanding historical cultural significance or value. Book before visiting online $20.
Then drive on to historic Ōtoromiro Hotel at Governor’s Bay for lunch. Refreshed, you’ll be ready to explore fabulous Ōhinetahi, an historic homestead and Garden of International Significance. Gifted to the nation in 2012 by longtime owner Sir Miles Warren, the homestead is a wonderfully tranquil space, as is Ōhinetahi’s garden, which incorporates several largescale pieces by leading New Zealand sculptors. As well, there’s a gallery dedicated to the work of New Zealand artists (Ralph Hotere, Shane Cotton, et al) and another gallery showcasing seminal architectural projects by Warren & Mahoney.
At Gebbies Pass corner, pull up at the 1889 Teddington forge. Restored by community members and a local heritage trust, it’s one of the rare blacksmiths forges still operating in New Zealand. Then drive on to Orton Bradley Park. This sprawling private property at Charteris Bay runs the gamut from parklike grounds to native bush, and includes 25 kilometres of walking tracks, a conifer-dominated aboretum and a nationally significant rhododendron garden. There’s also heritage in the form of Christchurch’s oldest stone cottage (1848), part of a cluster of historic buildings that includes a dairy, stables and a restored millhouse. Entry to the park is $5 for adults, $1 for children.
Diamond Harbour’s oldest building is charming Stoddart Cottage. Befitting its status as the birthplace of 19th Century regional artist Margaret Stoddart, the little 1860s cottage also functions as a gallery, with monthly exhibitions and a shop selling handmade local crafts. Entry is free.
At day’s end, head back to Lyttleton for cocktail at Civil & Naval, a former tailor’s shop on London St with a colonial grogshop vibe, followed by dinner at the aptly named Super, which serves up Asian fusion dining in one of Lyttelton’s oldest buildings.
*Before starting this tour please check open times and facilities to make the most of your day.
Day Three | Christchurch to Kaikōura
Venture off and explore Pegasus Bay - Avon Heathcote estuary outlet
New Zealand Fur Seal pups along the South Island's Coast
Time to hit the highway to Kaikōura. On the way north you’re advised to take a short detour to Pegasus Bay, one of the jewels of Waipara wine country, or take time out for an award-winning organic wine and delicious gourmet toasty sandwich at Terrace Edge.
At Kaikōura, follow the peninsula road to Fyffe House. You can’t miss the place – it’s pink, the result of contemporary tests that indicate the house was originally painted with whale oil mixed with a white and red antifouling concoction used by Kaikōura’s early cetacean hunters. That colour scheme clues you in to the deep links between Fyffe House and the 19th Century whaling industry. Built in 1844 by Robert Fyfe, who owned the big local whaling station, the place is literally built on the vertebrae of a mighty Tohorā/Southern right whale, and the exhibits include carved scrimshaw and dioramas of whaling scenes. Recently, efforts have been made at the house to reflect Kaikōura’s 900-year Māori heritage, which includes 14 pā sites on the peninsula alone. Look for the carved pou of Tangaroa near the house.
Drive on or stroll the Peninsula Walkway to Point Kean for a sighting of fur seals among the rocks. As for dinner, if you’re after seafood with sea views, go no further than nearby historic Pier Hotel.