Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island of New Zealand, capital of the province of Canterbury, and is described as "the most English city outside England." Christchurch conjures up dramatic images of striking Gothic architecture and melancholy stone buildings, lush green parks and flower-filled gardens, grassy fields and drooping willow trees along the banks of the meandering Avon River, and droves of Christ’s College schoolboys in uniform bicycling home at the end of the day.
Spreading out from the city in all directions lie the flat, patchwork fields of the Canterbury Plains, the orderly shape interrupted by rivers and streams, and lakes and coastal marshes in the southwest, a favorite destination for waterfowl hunters. The untamed hills and rugged coast of the Banks Peninsula lie due south, and the eastern perimeter of the city is bordered by the South Pacific Ocean.
Christchurch was originally founded in 1850 by the Canterbury Association as a planned Church of England settlement. The first group of settlers successfully started a typically "English" community in the new land – a look and feeling that Christchurch has always retained. This gives the city its unique charm and atmosphere – one that needs to be experienced on foot to truly be appreciated. Its flat terrain is ideal for walking and bicycling, and an excellent public transportation network makes it easy to explore its special nooks and crannies. The central city area bustles with activity, but a short walk from Cathedral Square and you’re strolling along a lazy river with quacking ducks the only sound, then several blocks later, passing house after house with spectacular, very "English" flower gardens – it’s hard to believe all this exists in the center of a city! Although the large international airport has made Christchurch the principal gateway to the scenic wonders of the South Island, the city itself is an attraction that shouldn’t be missed.
If you only have a day to spend exploring Christchurch, don’t miss experiencing Cathedral Square. This large, flat, pedestrian-only plaza with its trees, flower-filled planters, pigeons, and striking Cathedral is in the heart of the city. It’s a great place to soak up some of Christchurch’s unique atmosphere, sit and people-watch, check out the public art on display, hear an outdoor concert, make sightseeing plans, play a quick game of chess and meet new friends. Stop by the Visitor Information Network in the Old Post Office for more sightseeing advice. Food is always on the itinerary in the Square, whether you prefer gourmet dining, fast-food vegetarian or coffee and a pastry. The daily market here is always an interesting choice for a variety of locally-produced merchandise at great prices.
The Cathedral is the centerpiece and dominant feature of the Square. Gently meandering through the city and particularly noticeable in the city center, the Avon River is one of the attractions that give Christchurch its appeal. Grassy daisy-dotted banks, weeping willows and old oak trees, ducks and trout, and small fanciful bridges linking the main streets lure office workers and visitors out into the sunshine for lunch, or just to appreciate the peaceful, fairytale atmosphere that permeates the city center. See some of the inner city’s most historic and modern buildings, statues, and other items of interest along the Avon River by taking a 90-minute stroll between Cathedral and Victoria Squares. Ask at the info center for a guide to the "Riverside Walk."