The next stop on our South Island tour was Christchurch, the largest city on the island.
After making the drive from Kaikoura, the first order of business was to find a playground where the kids could get some physical activity. Near the center of town is the Margaret Mahy Playground, which is supposedly the largest playground in the Southern Hemisphere.
The playground opened in 2015 and it is definitely one of the best we’ve been to, with a great variety of places to climb, spin, and slide.
Across the street there’s a contoured scooter track. Conveniently, there are Lime scooters all over Christchurch so we rented one using the app and took a few turns going around the track. In doing so we may have broken a few of the Lime rules (namely, wear a helmet, only ride one at a time, and no riders under 18). Living on the edge is what this family gap year is all about :).
We are living in the age of peak scooter; these things are all over many of the major cities we have visited, clogging sidewalks and storefronts. The underlying economics of the business can’t be that good; someone has to charge these things and they are easily susceptible to vandalism and theft (in Australia they were even hacked to play lewd messages). Prediction: once the venture capital money runs out, these things will go the way of Pets.com and the streets will be clear again.
After playing for a while we had a walk around downtown Christchurch.
The “Chalice” was installed in 2001 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the city.
The most famous symbol of Christchurch is the cathedral. We were aware that it had been heavily damaged in the 2011 earthquake but we were surprised learn that, eight years later, it has still not yet been repaired.
Following the earthquake the Anglican Church had planned to demolish and re-build the cathedral. Preservationists opposed this plan, and following a lengthy battle in the courts, it was eventually agreed that the existing cathedral would be repaired. As of 2019 they still have a lot of work to do.
Until the repairs are complete, Church services are being held in the transitional “Cardboard Cathedral“. The controversial building was constructed using shipping containers, cardboard tubes, and other non-traditional materials in order to reduce the cost and construction time (the cathedral still cost NZ$6MM).
The earthquake devastated much of Christchurch and claimed 185 lives. One memorial to those who perished is “185 White Chairs.” Each of these chairs is different and intended to reflect the personality of each person who died.
Sadly, another heartbreaking tragedy struck Christchurch a few weeks before our visit when a coward opened fire on worshipers at two mosques. We saw memorials all over New Zealand as people stood up against hate, proclaiming “Aroha Nui (You Are Us)” and “We are One”.
Christchurch has some wonderful green spaces, including the large Botanic Gardens.
We loved this art installation, which looks like a stairway to heaven.
There are two rose gardens, and the kids had a good time sniffing the different varieties to see which kind smelled best.
Along the river we spotted the first black swan of our trip, which led to a discussion of what the expression “black swan” means.
During our stay in Christchurch we made a day trip to Akaroa, about an hour away by car. The beautiful Akaroa harbour is actually the crater of an ancient volcano.
French settlers came to the area in 1840 intending to claim the area for France, only to find that the British had beaten them there by a few days. The settlers were allowed to stay anyway, and today the town still has French influences.
The harbour is home to the rarest and smallest dolphin species. We booked a cruise with Akaroa Dolphins in hopes of seeing some of these dolphins up close.
Under blue skies, we set off and enjoyed the scenery while sipping drinks on the bow of the ship.
The crew of the ship included a cute dog that is trained to help spot the dolphins by listening for their ultrasonic calls.
We keep a keen eye out for the dolphins!
It wasn’t long before we spotted a pod! Sadly they didn’t leap out of the water for us so we could get a spectacular photo. 🙂
By the end of our cruise we had seen about a dozen dolphins, several fur seals, and a couple of blue penguins.
We highly recommend a cruise with Akaroa Dolphins; the knowledgeable owners are descendants of some of the original settlers in the area.
After returning to dry land we grabbed some freshly-caught grilled salmon and chips and enjoyed it on the waterfront.
On the way back to Christchurch we enjoyed more stunning scenery.
What a beautiful part of the world!
The AirBnb where we stayed was one of our favorites so far. The bungalow was so homey, with lots of natural light and great decor, and a fully stocked kitchen.
The deck (complete with hot tub) was an added bonus. It is crazy that this place can be booked for about $100 a night! If you haven’t used AirBnb before you can use this link for 15% off (up to $400) your stay.
There was even a small farmer’s market nearby.
We procured some locally grown beets and roasted them that evening – delicious!
In our next update we travel to Dunedin, New Zealand’s version of Scotland!