Sister city travel guide: Christchurch, New Zealand

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A Christchurch shopping area destroyed by the earthquake was quickly reconstructed using repurposed shipping containers. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Winter blues got you down? Seattle’s southern hemisphere sister city makes for a perfect February vacation destination.

In the early 80s, Christchurch was looking for a West Coast connection and set their eyes on San Francisco for a sister city partnership. When San Francisco chose their bigger, flashier cousin Auckland instead, the Cantabrians settled for their second choice.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on a visit last month where Parker offered disaster preparedness advice to Seattle officials. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker with Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on a visit last month where Parker offered disaster preparedness advice to Seattle officials. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Luckily, Seattle turned out to be a pretty alright runner up.

The son of the American ambassador to New Zealand was living in Seattle at the time. So was John Ballard, a New Zealand native and the founder of the aeronautics department at University of Washington.

Like Seattle, Christchurch is a technology hub. Tom Furness, a professor at the University of Washington, founded the Human Interface Technology lab, a joint venture between the University of Washington and The University of Canterbury. The HIT lab works to break down what Furness calls “the interface straight jacket between humans and computers.”

In September of 2010 a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit Christchurch, damaging a great deal of the city’s architecture.

Earthquake damaged roads in Christchurch. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Earthquake damaged roads in Christchurch. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Five months later, a second Earthquake hit. This one was very shallow and closer to the city. Although a lesser magnitude, this 6.3 quake had the highest peak ground acceleration ever recorded in an urban center. 185 people were killed and much of the center of the city and its classic neo-gothic architecture was destroyed. Since September 2010, Cantabrians have experienced over 11,000 aftershocks.

But like Seattleites, Kiwis are tough, and Christchurch proved resilient. Millions of dollars have gone into the rebuilding effort, and grassroots recovery initiatives like Gap Filler have sprung up as well.

This year Lonely Planet called Christchurch one of the Top Ten Cities to travel to in 2013.

So show some sisterly love and consider Seattle’s warmer sibling in the South Pacific for your next vacation.

How to fill your days:
Where else can you enjoy Sunday morning service under a cardboard roof? Christchurch’s iconic cathedral was destroyed beyond repair in the 2011 earthquake. Shigeru Ban, an Japanese architect, was hired to build Christchurch a temporary cathedral. Who knew cardboard was such a flexible and durable building material?

You can also visit Hagley Park, Christchurch’s largest, to play a round of golf, visit sprawling botanical gardens or picnic with friends.

Cherry blossoms, like these in Hagley Park, are another familiar sight Seattleites will discover in Christchurch. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Cherry blossoms, like these in Hagley Park, are another familiar sight Seattleites will discover in Christchurch. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Like many cities, Christchurch’s coffee culture began with one of Seattle most famous exports, Starbucks. Today things have changed and Christchurch has a thriving coffee culture where savvy baristas can whip up a proper cappuccinos that would make any Seattleite proud.

And like Seattle, Christchurch is a city made for lovers of the outdoors, with surfing and mountain biking less than a twenty minute ride from the city center. Skiing, rock climbing, kayaking and windsurfing are also all on Christchurch’s menu.

How to fill your nights: Often overshadowed (in so many ways) by Australia, New Zealand has its own boutique wine culture not to be forgotten. Start a good night off with a glass of local Pinot Noir, Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc, the three varieties it is most famous for. Waipara Valley wineries are only 40 minutes north of Christchurch.

As part of its post-earthquake revitalization efforts, Christchurch has stirred up a micro-brewing scene. Sample local brews at The Twisted Hop or Cassels and Sons Brewery.

How to fill your stomach: For a place that started out as somewhere where a bunch of Brits moved so they could become even more Puritan, Christchurch has a really diversified. Immigration laws have loosened and now Thai, Korean>and Indian restaurants are all thriving on New Zealander’s adventurous appetites.

For a modern take on Thai and great cocktails, try the King of Snake. For fine dining check out Spanish Chef Javier Garcia’s Curator’s House restaurant located in the center of the Botanical Gardens. If you just want a bloody good burger and chips, Burgers and Beers, Inc. is a must.

Banks Peninsula, a natural area just across the bay from Christchurch. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

Banks Peninsula, a natural area just across the bay from Christchurch. (Photo courtesy Christchurch City Council)

When to go: New Zealand’s weather is pretty nice year-round so the better question is ‘when do you want to get away from Seattle?’ Of course, winter here is summer there, so January, February and March make great times to visit.

Now you know: Women got the right to vote in New Zealand 27 years before the United States.

Heard it from a local: “The way of life you people have in Seattle is really similar to the way of life we have in Christchurch, with the linkage between the ocean, the mountains and the forest, and the general lifestyle.” (From a 2008 Seattle Channel video profiling Christchurch)

Thanks to Globalist contributor and Seattle-Christchurch transplant Brian Norton for coordinating photos for this story.

Abby Higgins is a travel writer and journalist who splits her time between Kenya and her hometown in Washington State. She speaks French and Swahili and received her BA in Political Science from Bryn Mawr College. In addition to writing, she has spent the past three years working in development and women’s rights in East Africa. You can read more of her writing at abbyhiggins.com.

1 COMMENT

  1. Before the 2010 quake that hit Christchurch, I was able to visit the country after reading about it in a Travel Republic review. Last year, I was invited to be part of a media family to visit Christchurch, an opportunity for journalists to see not only the damage to the area, but also the steps taken toward the rejuvenation of a city.

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