Re-invention the key to buzzing Christchurch's success

Dynamic Christchurch has new hotels, cafes, bars and restaurants.

A "pop-up" city with energy and verve where five-star dining, new hotels and a welcoming sensibility are not in short supply, Christchurch is re-inventing and rebuilding itself as a forward-thinking, vibrant place in which to live and visit.

Rated No. 2 on The New York Times' 52 Places to Go in 2014, the city that greets visitors today is an energetic place that is open for business and packed with creativity.

It's an optimistic place to visit and the Christchurch community has embraced change with a spirit of adventure and stoicism in the wake of the 2010-2011 earthquakes.

"We lost our business and 16 years of hard work in a mere 60 seconds," says Sam Crofskey, the owner of C1 Espresso, one of the city's liveliest cafes.

"We just had to dust ourselves down and get on with it - there was no alternative."

Crofskey salvaged what he could and moved into a beautiful 19th century building nearby. Now it's hard to get a lunchtime table at C1 Espresso, which has a small cinema and rooftop garden in addition to great food.

The earthquakes tested the spirit of Christchurch; its people were forced to embrace radical ideas and solutions. The city's Re:START Mall, which uses a collection of shipping containers, is an enterprising mix of shops, cafes and outdoor performance space.

Each January, Christchurch hosts the World Buskers Festival and Re:START buzzes with street players, jugglers and clowns. Year-round, a youthful energy pulses through the place and some locals would like to see the temporary container hub remain a permanent part of the cityscape.


As it turns out, the CBD has become a backdrop for creativity of all types in which art galleries, whisky bars, cafes and bistros seem to sprout.

On Madras Street is the funky new brew pub CBD Bar & Pizzeria, a place with gleaming surfaces, handsome beer pumps and a wood-fired oven.

The new Rydges Latimer Christchurch is a stylish 138-room hotel near the city's iconic Cardboard Cathedral, itself a soaring, light-filled structure designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.

The Copthorne Hotel Commodore and The George Hotel have undergone major refurbishments and some 800 new rooms have been opened in the past few years.

"New Zealand has long been a fertile place for bright, ambitious people," says Crofskey, "and the earthquakes have accelerated that process."

The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) says the new-look Christchurch that is emerging will have "anchor projects", such as a performing arts precinct and an impressive $NZ260 million ($240 million) sports centre, and will become a showcase for high-tech urban design.

"Christchurch is now the most studied small city in the world. We're like a glorious laboratory," says CERA spokesman Baden Ewart. "The engineering solutions we're coming up with are truly inspirational. In the future people will visit Christchurch to see these incredible new buildings."

Echoes of the older Christchurch remain, among them its genteel municipal gardens, university quadrangle, suburban villas and key heritage buildings. The city's much-loved trams have been spruced up and returned to service - they now loop the city centre - and people are again jogging in manicured parks and punting on the Avon River.

Long known for its live music culture, Christchurch is attracting an increasing number of performance artists, painters, sculptors and a wealth of creative minds from around the world. The Canterbury region's arts calendar has never seemed more packed.

Such an influx of youth and talent fuels the city's restaurant and bar scene. Pop-up bars are in shipping containers and disused shops alike, while smart new eateries such as the St Asaph Street Kitchen, Harlequin Public House, Tequila Mockingbird and Bloody Mary's (part of the new Rydges hotel) are putting down permanent roots.

While few people underestimate the challenges facing this resilient part of New Zealand, there is every sign that the city reborn is a place of enormous creativity, focus and hope. This is Canterbury's precious window into the future. Come and see.



1. Copthorne Hotel Commodore

This 157-room hotel is an oasis of calm surrounded by gardens. Facilities include an indoor pool, gym, sauna and tennis court. From NZ$320 a night.


2. Rydges Latimer Christchurch

The city's newest hotel has excellent in-house dining at Bloody Mary's and is within walking distance of city attractions. Rooms from $NZ249 a night. See


3. Re:START Mall

Book stores, cafes, boutiques and banks are just some of the businesses operating from this collection of funky shipping containers. See

4. C1 Espresso

A rebuilt food and coffee icon with a devoted following, the cafe is housed in a heritage building on High Street. Open daily 7am to 10pm. See

5. Cardboard Cathedral

Made from cardboard tubes, timber, steel and concrete, the cathedral has panels from the original stained glass window of Christchurch's cathedral. See


6. By tram

Red-and-cream trams loop the inner city on a route that takes in Cathedral Square, the Arts Centre and Canterbury Museum. Tickets $NZ10 adult. Children under 15 travel free. See

7. By Segway

Helmet and instruction given for two-hour tours at 10.30am or 1.30pm. See

8. By bicycle

See a part of central Christchurch that has been "off-limits" for more than two-years on a two-hour Christchurch Rebuild Bike Tour. See

9. By tour bus

The city's past and future are discussed as part of Rebuild Tours' informative journeys.



Each October Festa - Festival of Transitional Architecture - celebrates Christchurch's burgeoning cityscape with performance and other events.

This series of articles published in association with Tourism New Zealand and Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism.