One of the Kiwis I’ve met while traveling lives in Kaikoura so that was where I planned on heading next. There’s no direct bus route from Tekapo to Kaikoura though. I have to pass by Christchurch and then take another bus from there. The earliest bus to Christchurch arrives late in the afternoon, and there’s only one bus that goes to Kaikoura. It leaves at 7 in the morning, so that meant I had to spend a day in Christchurch. I wasn’t really looking forward to it because everyone I’ve met who has been to Christchurch told me there’s nothing to see and do there. I did consider hitchhiking, but going from Lake Tekapo to Kaikoura is not a common route for both locals and travelers. I’d have to make a lot of transfers. Taking a bus would be less complicated and more reliable.
Getting to Christchurch was easy. It only took about 3 hours to get there by bus. As I was walking from the bus stop to the hostel, it was noticeable that there was still a lot of construction work going on. In fact, it seemed that I was walking through a whole block of a construction site at one point. The whole city is still in the process of rebuilding. The hostel was supposed to be at the city center, so it was surprising that it was surrounded by several empty lots. It was actually the center of the city. The location used to be filled with tall buildings and everything got destroyed during the 2011 earthquake. One of the locals I got to hang out with was there to witness the destruction. He thought he was gonna die that day. What’s left now are these empty lots which serve as somber reminders of the calamity that struck several years ago.
Walking around though, i realized that the city is not about doom and gloom. While i was walking around, the impression i got was resilience. I saw hope. The community has ambitious plans for rebuilding, and they are determined to put everything back on track. Once all the construction work is done, Christchurch would be very different from the city i visited.
I stayed at Urbanz Hostel. I didn’t expect much since it was one of the cheapest places to stay in Christchurch. Once I checked in though, i was pleasantly surprised. it was more of a hotel than a hostel. Everything was top notch. The kitchen was huge so i was able to make my own meals without waiting too long. And each guest is allotted 1 GB of WiFi data for free everyday. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, free WiFi is not common in New Zealand hostels, so getting free WiFi really sweetens the deal. There’s not much of a social atmosphere though. It’s understandable since most travelers are just passing by for a day or two. It’s rare to find travelers who are in Christchurch for a couple of days unless they are planning to work in the city.
Contrary to what others have told me, Christchurch isn’t really boring. There are several attractions of note. Perhaps the most famous one is the Transitional Cathedral aka “Cardboard Cathedral“. The old Cathedral in Christchurch was severely damaged during the quake, so they built this one to take its place temporarily. Obviously it’s not entirely made out of cardboard, but it’s an impressive structure nevertheless. It also serves as a perfect symbol for Christchurch while the city is still on its rebuilding phase.
Speaking of temporary places, i particularly liked the Re: Start Mall. It’s a cluster of stores made from shipping containers and it has quite a unique atmosphere. There are lots of shops here selling everything you can think of. There are lots of great places to eat too. On certain days there are even live bands and you’ll get to see a lot of locals and tourists hanging out. This place won’t last long though, they plan to build a farmer’s market on the site later this year.
Near the Re: Start Mall is Quake City, a museum dedicated to the quake that devastated Christchurch. It costs NZD 20 to get in. i wasn’t particularly interested though. Maybe it’s just me, but it felt a little off trying to make money from a disaster. A commemorative structure that charges no fees would’ve been more appropriate for me.
Just like all the other cities in New Zealand, you are surrounded by natural beauty. If you wanna head to the beach, a number of beaches are easily accessible. If you wanna do some hikes, there are lots of hills nearby. I thought it was about time i tried hitchhiking. Hitchhiking within the city didn’t make sense because public transport is so cheap and easy. this is usually done on the outskirts. As i was walking up a hill, i tried to get a ride by the road. The first car stopped and asked me where I was headed. When i told them where, they just told me to hop in. It was that easy lol. And within a short amount of time i gained two new friends. I already had a clue when i was talking to random locals or when I tried asking questions, but this pretty much proves it. Kiwis are among the nicest and most trusting people in the world. Locals in a lot of countries are naturally nice and welcoming to tourists, but Kiwis take that hospitality to whole new level. And they wouldn’t expect anything in return for their kindness!
Regarding nightlife, there are lots of bars and clubs in the city so it’s far from being dead. It may not get as crazy as Queenstown or Auckland, but you certainly won’t run out of options if you want to go partying at night.
Despite the ongoing rebuilding and construction, Christchurch still remains to be a fascinating city. Arguably the construction work makes it even more interesting. So if you need to pass through Christchurch on any of your planned routes there’s no need to worry. It’s not such a bad place to spend a couple of days in. Like me, you could be pleasantly surprised.