Note: A major earthquake in February 2011 and a previous one in Sept 2010 caused significant damage to central Christchurch, and many suburbs, and reduced the number of accommodation beds in the central city. The airport is operating normally though and transit through Christchurch to South Island ski resorts should be without problem in the 2012 season.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island with a population of 344,000, located on the east coast, and is a common gateway city for many of the Southern Island ski resorts, as it is the closest international airport for most. If skiing futher south near Queenstown or Wanaka then you can get a connecting flight from Christchurch or there are regular buses as well.
Christchurch is known as the "Garden City" not just because of its lovely botanic gardens in the centre of the city, but also because of the pride that local residents take in their own gardens. The city is set around the Avon and Heathcote rivers, flat and easy to find your way around. Traffic is generally light, and it is a low-stress place to live with huge recreational opportunities. There are beach suburbs (e.g. Sumner, pictured above), and to the south the suburbs of Cashmere and Mount Pleasant climb the lower slopes of the Port Hills, the rim of an extinct volcano. The port of Lyttelton sits in the old blast crater of this volcano.
Christchurch has a long connection with Antarctica, and hosts the operational base for the NZ, USA and Italian Antarctic programs. Robert Falcon Scott's Terra Nova expedition of 1910-1913 departed from Lyttelton, and the people of Christchurch took a close interest in their fate. Captain Scott's widow donated a statue of the explorer, which sits beside the Avon in central Christchurch.
While it is easily possible to ski any of these as a day trip from Christchurch, if you are to spend more than a few days skiing here, you are better to find closer accommodation. Methven is the base town for Mount Hutt. Springfield is a base town for the other ski areas (and not far from Mt Hutt either), or Castle Hill Village which is closer but has little apart from private holiday houses and a Bed and Breakfast ( see The Burn ).
The club fields such as Craigieburn, Broken River, Olympus or Mt Cheeseman, all have on-snow accommodation, which saves driving up in the mornings.
There is a city bus from the airport to downtown for $5, about 4 buses per hour.
- See Route timetables and search for A-Airport or 10-Harewood to Cashmere.
Late afternoon flights from Australia arrive about 11.45pm or midnight. By then the buses have stopped running, and a taxi into town is about $30-$35. Sleeping in the airport is possible, see Sleeping in airports.net However, since the earthquakes large numbers of budget travellers have taken this option, due to the severe shortage of cheap hostel accommodation in the city. The airport authorities are now taking a dim view of the practice and may attempt to limit or prevent it somehow.
If you arrange it beforehand, transport operators will pick you up from the airport, or your accommodation, at about 7am and take you skiing. Transport operators include:
Places to Stay
Winter days are short (8 hours daylight), usually frosty, still and clear, but subject to sharp Southerly outbreaks bringing driving cold rain and sometimes snow to sea level. Down jackets (a.k.a. duvets, or "puffer" jackets) are popular wear amongst local inhabitants. 7 days or more can go by in a row without a daytime high temp above 10 degrees C.
Spring brings windy, unsettled and rapidly changeable weather. Days of upper 20's C alternate with days of 10 degrees. Gardens, dormant over winter, spring into life, and the drone of the lawnmower is heard once more.
Summer days are long (16 hours) and sunny, with the temperature usually kept in the low 20's by the cool North-Easterly sea-breeze. The famous fohn "Nor'Wester" wind blows off the Alps at times to heat the city into the mid 30's for a few days, or very occasionally even higher.
Autumn is normally settled weather, with shortening days and cooler mornings/evenings. The introduced trees lose their leaves and acorns/chestnuts scatter across the ground. Winter is approaching once again.
43.5 South, 172.5 East. Annual rainfall 650mm. 70 days of frost. 85 days of rain. Annual sunshine hours vary between 2000 and 2200. Record high temperature 42 degrees once in the mid 1970's. Data from NIWA
- The Press is the Christchurch daily newspaper. It has a focus on local and South Island news. Anything that happens in the mountains or in Antarctica (known locally as "The Ice") features largely.
Radio stations include:
- National Radio (Radio NZ) 101.7 FM
- Concert FM (Classical) 89.7 FM
- Plains FM (Community Access Radio) 96.9 FM
- The Breeze (Easy Listening) 94.5 FM
- More FM (Easy Listening) 92.1 FM
- Classic Hits (60's, 70's, 80's) 97.7 FM
- Radio Hauraki (Classic Rock) 106.5 FM + 1017 AM
- Tahu FM (Maori/youth music radio) 90.5 FM
- Radio Sport (Live commentaries) 1503 AM
- The Rock (Modern rock music) 93.7 FM
- ZM FM (Modern rock music) 91.3 FM
- The Edge (Youth-oriented radio) 89.0
- RDU (Student radio) 98.5 FM
Things to Do
Note: 2011 earthquake damage has meant that many of the normal attractions are closed, and greatly reduced accommodation beds, and you may choose to stay out of town while awaiting a flight out of Christchurch.
Some things are re-opening. Most of the pub scene is in Riccarton, west of the city. Other cafes and bars are opening in the Addington/Sydenham area. The Court Theatre is in much larger premises now, in Addington. The Canterbury Crusaders have a home ground again, also in Addington. The popular Lyttelton live music venue WunderBar is operating again. Movie buffs are pleased that the famous "Alice in Videoland" DVD store is open again in the central city.
The i-SITE information centre which used to be in the square is now at the entrance of the Botanic Gardens (well worth a visit), next to the museum (which is still open and fully operational).
If the weather is good, consider hiring a bike, the city is flat and there are some nice rides along the Avon and Heathcote rivers. Or go for a couple of hours ride up onto the Summit Road of the Port Hills, great views. Bike trail maps available free at any bike shop in Christchurch. There is mountain biking in the Bottle Lake Forest at the north-east edge of town, and plenty of tracks on the Port Hills.
A trip on the number 10 bus to the Sign of the Takahe and Victoria Park for a gentle stroll up the hill is a good day out. Walk up Victoria Park Road to the Visitor Centre near a children's play area, where there is information about walks etc. A walk from the bus stop to the Sign of the Kiwi cafe (closes about 4pm in winter) via the Harry Ell track takes about 45-60 minutes, and the same return.
Akaroa, on Banks Peninsula, was first settled by the French and is a little bit of France in New Zealand. The scenery is beautiful too. Akaroa is about 85km from Christchurch. Nature cruises and swimming with dolphins are popular activities on the harbour. Barry's Bay cheese factory, and the Hilltop Pub, are worthy stops between Chch and Akaroa.
- If the weather is bad, consider going to the Canterbury Museum, which has a good antarctic section amongst many other exhibits. The Discovery room is good for pre-school children.
- Roxx indoor climbing wall has top-rope and lead climbing, a bouldering room and a kids section. The city central YMCA has its own climbing wall if you are staying there.
- Orana Park is a surprisingly good free-range wildlife park at the NW edge of the city, with a good NZ native section.
- If you only have a few hours between flights, consider walking from the airport about 7 minutes to the International Antarctic Centre.
It sometimes pays to stock up on food before heading out of town. Certainly BYO lunch is a lot cheaper than paying skifield prices. If driving all the way to Queenstown, having a picnic lunch means you can stop anywhere the view is, not just at an overpriced roadside cafe full of tourists.
The closest supermarkets to the airport are at "Church Corner", near the junction of Waimairi Road and Riccarton Road, see Online maps of Christchurch
The Church Corner area has a medical clinic (The Riccarton Clinic) opposite the Countdown Supermarket, at 6 Yaldhurst Road, open 8am-8pm 365 days per year. Outside those hours you will have to go all the way into town to the Bealey Avenue 24 Hour Medical Clinic (near the junction of Cranford Street).
In NZ, accidents attract a payment subsidy from ACC (a NZ universal "no fault" accident cover scheme) though there will usually be a part-charge to pay for medical care, and all other medical consultation costs are borne by the patient (keep your receipts and claim back from your travel insurance).
Emergency care in hospitals is free to Australian Citizens as part of a reciprocal arrangement between the NZ/Aust governments. The hospital is at Riccarton Avenue at the city side of Hagley Park. Just across the Antigua Street pedestrian bridge is the YMCA, near the Arts Centre, Museum and Botanic Gardens.
Buying Ski and Outdoor Gear
Most of the ski/outdoor shops in the CBD were affected by the 22 Feb 2011 earthquake and/or are still behind the cordon. A number of outdoor shops such as Macpac outlet shop, Kathmandu and R+R sport have opened in or near the Tower Junction complex (Mandeville St and Blenheim Road).
- Snowride Sports are at 386 Lincoln Road, Addington.
- Victoria Ski Sport in Victoria Street, north of CBD. They also deal second hand stuff and hire.
- DiveSkiWorld are at 103 Durham Street.
- For repairs of outdoor equipment, see Twin Needle at 161 Ferry Road (east of city centre).
- Mapworld is a very useful store for anyone going backcountry, now on Moorhouse Ave near Selwyn St.
Tuning and Servicing skis
Post-EQ, not sure. Try Victoria Ski Sport.
Renting Ski and Snowboard Gear
McEwing's is at 200 Yaldhurst Road, the road heading out of town towards the ski areas. A few minutes drive beyond the city limits, at the small settlement of Yaldhurst itself, is Gnomes Ski Hire at a Shell service station.
Quest, in High Street, hire out snowboards.
McEwing's and R+R Sport both hire out Alpine Touring skis and skins, and transceivers for backcountry travel. It's a good idea to book these in advance, polytech students do winter courses and book this gear heavily.