Gateway to the South Island – Making the Most of a Christchurch Stopover on a Budget

For many travelers, Christchurch is the gateway to New Zealand’s South Island. As the biggest city in the region, it’s the perfect stopping point for sleeping off jetlag or restocking supplies before heading out to see the stunning natural beauty of the Southern Alps and scenic sounds.

With all of the amazing things to do further South, it can be easy to forget that there are plenty of fun things to do in Christchurch when kicking off or winding down your trip that won’t break the bank.

Here are some tips for things to do as you pass through New Zealand’s third biggest city…

If you’re traveling with your own set of wheels, start your day with a coffee at Addington Coffee Co. A ten-minute drive from the Cathedral, they’ve got great coffee and a nice selection of hot and cabinet food. Once your caffeine fix is sorted, drive up to the Port Hills to breath in some of that crisp Antarctic air (seriously, the air here is so clean they bottle the stuff and sell it in China for $45 a bottle).

Short trails around the Sugarloaf carpark offer easy walks with massive payoffs. Because Christchurch is so flat, you can see for miles from the top of the hills. On a clear day, you are treated with a 360 view showcasing Lyttelton Harbour, the Southern Alps, and the Pacific Ocean. Looking for more of a workout? Start from Bowenvale Avenue and hike up the valley, the steep terrain is sure to get your heart pumping. Directions and details here.

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If heights aren’t your thing, you can always drive to New Brighton Beach for a walk in the sand. The water’s cold by American standards so a wetsuit’s not a terrible idea if your thinking you’d like to swim or skip the hypothermia-inducing experience altogether and instead opt to bring a book and cozy blanket. If you are going to swim, keep an eye out for the area demarcated by the coastguard (yellow and orange flags on the sand and orange buoys in the water). New Zealand riptides should not be underestimated so play it safe and stick to where the coastguard’s got an eye on you.

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Starting to get peckish? Head South to Sumner, a coastal seaside suburb of Christchurch, for lunch or dinner at Indian Sumner. It’s here where you’ll find the best curries in town. Besides mouthwateringly good saags, this restaurant offers excellent service and a warm atmosphere. The average price of a main is about $20, pretty standard for New Zealand dining and worth every cent.

The CBD was the area most affected by the 2011 earthquakes but there’s still plenty to do in town if you’re traveling without a car.

Around Cathedral Square, find the old ticket machine offering up adventures instead of parking time. This machine is part of the Open City project and is designed to help locals and tourists discover the undervalued (and free) things to do around Christchurch. Pick your quest and have fun letting it take you somewhere unexpected. Read more about it here.

Keen to check out some New Zealand artists? Walk over to the Christchurch Art Gallery, where admission is free and you can see a nice spread of past and contemporary art. Within the building, you can also check out the Physics Room’s new gallery space and just around the block, CoCA is always putting on interesting shows. None of these art spaces charge admission.

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More and more restaurants are opening up in the CBD every week. One of my favorite spots in town is Pot Sticker Dumpling Bar. Served à la carte, you can order as little or as much as you’d like depending on your budget (and appetite). The aesthetic borders on hipster with exposed red-brick walls and trendy florescent lighting but service is friendly and the fried chicken bao is top notch.

If you’re planning to spend the night in Christchurch, I’ve heard accommodation can be pricey. Depending on how social you feel like being, there are a few backpackers hostels around, many just North of town around Bealey Avenue. You can also try Airbnb, where you can nab a private room for around $35.

What were your favorite things to do in Christchurch on a budget? Let me know in the comments below!

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