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A student’s guide to living in Christchurch

If you’re moving to the scenic South Island of New Zealand, then Christchurch will be in your top options. Christchurch is home to beaches, parks and some of NZ’s finest choices in dining.

Not only is Christchurch the largest city in the South Island, it is also the fastest-growing city with bustling arts, entertainment and culinary options – so you’ll get to explore the natural beauty of New Zealand while enjoying an urban and hip lifestyle.

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Popular activities in Christchurch

There’s a lot to see and do in Christchurch with a great blend of tourist, outdoor, cultural, culinary and entertainment activities.

While the list of activities in Christchurch is too comprehensive, we’ve included some of the main options below to get you started.

Gondola Ride

Located a little bit out of town in the Heathcote Valley, the Christchurch Gondola Rides is considered a must-visit attraction for visitors and is a great aerial introduction to the city.

The gondola, also known as a cable car, will take you high above Christchurch to give you a 360-degree view of Christchurch City, Lyttelton Harbour and the Canterbury Plains, before terminating at the Summit Station on Mount Cavendish in the Port Hills.

Each gondola ride takes approximately 10 minutes and prices start from NZ$30.

Visit the Christchurch Botanic Gardens

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens is one of Christchurch’s most popular attractions, ranking as #1 Top Attraction for Christchurch on TripAdvisor.

The Christchurch Botanic Gardens was founded in 1863, and since its humble beginnings of a single oak tree, it's now a 21-hectare park with 10 different gardens, a winding river, year-round events and seasonal highlights.

Admission to the gardens is always free unless you book via a group or private tour.

Visit the city centre

Many of Christchurch’s city centres and iconic buildings have been rebuilt following the earthquakes in 2010 and 2011.

The city centre is a cultural delight and has a lot of free or low-cost options. There’s the Tram City Tours starting at NZ$25, the free natural and human history Canterbury Museum where you can also discover the stories and science behind the earthquakes in Quake City.

If you’re a lover of the arts, then it’s worth heading out to the Arts Centre, Christchurch Art Gallery, the Centre of Contemporary Art or check out the impressive street art and murals.

Head to the market

If you love food and all things fresh, The Christchurch Farmers’ Market is located on the historic Riccarton House & Grounds near the University of Canterbury campus.

Nestled under 100-year-old trees, the open-aired farmers market features over 60 local fresh food producers and artisan food stalls across a variety of cuisines and food options.

The farmer’s market is open every Saturday from 9am to 1pm with free entry and makes for a relaxing and delicious end to the week.

Go punting!

Punting on the Avon is an iconic and unique Christchurch activity. The Punting tour is an Edwardian-style intimate boat tour along Christchurch’s Avon river, ideal for a pair or a small group.

Each Punting tour runs for 30 minutes that takes you through a tour of the Botanic Gardens or the city centre. Punt rides start at NZ$30.

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Cost of living

The costs of living in Christchurch, like any other city, will ultimately depend on your accommodation choices and your lifestyle preferences.

Accommodation can cost you anywhere between NZ$150–$500 per week depending on where you choose to live, if it’s shared rental, homestay or halls of residence accommodation, and what extra amenities are included. 

There will also be different student accommodation options from each university, so it’s worth getting in touch with them for guidance on finding the right accommodation options based on your requirements and preferences.

Each university will also have their own estimated cost of living that’s specific to the university and the region.

As an example, the University of Canterbury in Christchurch recommends at least NZ$13,000 per year for halls of residence and shared private accommodation lifestyle expenses, and the NZ Government recommends between NZ$14,000-$16,000 per year minimum for living expenses.

Estimated weekly costs (NZD)

Rent

$150-$300

Food

$100-$150

Eectricity/gas

$20-$40

Transport

$25

Internet/phone

$15-$35

Other

$50+

Total

$360-$600

 

If you want a more detailed estimate of living costs in Christchurch, you can check out Expatisan’s Cost of Living calculator.

Getting around Christchurch

Getting around Christchurch is easy thanks to the various options available. While the most common way to get around is using the bus network, there are sufficient taxi and ride-sharing options to get quickly you from A to B.

Bus

Buses are the primary mode of public transport in Christchurch. The Christchurch Metro bus network runs frequently from the inner-city Bus Interchange and operates a large network throughout Christchurch.

Although you can purchase a one-time and cash-only fare with the bus driver, it’s much cheaper and more efficient to purchase a Metrocard. You can buy your Metrocard from various retailers around Christchurch, and top up your card on the Metro website.

Private transport

Private transport is another option for getting around, and the two most popular forms are taxis and ride-sharing services.

The main taxi options in Christchurch are Green Cabs (who are also environmentally friendly), Blue Star Taxis, Gold Band Taxis and First Direct. You can use the online Taxi Calculator to get an estimate on your fares.

If you prefer ride sharing, then Uber and Ola are available in Christchurch or you can check out the local and fair-wage alternative Zoomy.

Cycling 

Christchurch is a relatively flat city, which makes it easy to get around by walking or cycling.

The Christchurch City Council have also set up a lot of dedicated cycleways, paths and lanes, making cycling a popular and eco-friendly option for locals or visitors to get around.

If you’re interested, there are many places where you can buy a bike, or if you prefer something more short-term, you can also hire a bike to get around Christchurch.

Plus, since Christchurch to close to many bike tracks, you can use your bike or biking skills in outdoor adventures during weekends and holiday breaks.

The best place to get more information is the Cycling in Christchurch website.

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Places to shop

Figuring out where to go for day-to-day purchases can be intimidating for newly arrived international students.

Supermarkets

The main supermarket chains in New Zealand are Countdown, Pak'nSave and New World, and all three are located throughout Christchurch.

Figuring out the best supermarket that suits you will depend on where you’re staying, and it will be a matter of preference of the products and price.

While all three supermarkets will offer all staples and snacks at an affordable price, it is often specific brands or the range of international and dietary-specific foods that can vary across the supermarket chains.

Christchurch also offers local fresh food grocers and butchers such as Raeward Fresh and diaries (small superettes).

Retail

Retail is a delight in Christchurch, and there’s no shortage of shopping options.

There’s a good mix of modern and sleek retail options such as the Northlands Shopping Mall or Westfield Riccarton, to the boutique New Regent Street (largely rebuilt after the devastating earthquakes in 2010/2011), The Colombo or The Tannery.

To explore the full array of retail options, check out ChristchurchNZ’s Guide to Shopping in Christchurch.

Unique places to dine out

The culinary industry in Christchurch is livening up with many restaurants and diverse eateries popping up all over the city.

If you’re a foodie or looking to experience Christchurch on a plate, then here are a few places that are worth checking out.

Twenty Seven Steps

If you go online or ask around for recommendations, chances are you will hear about Twenty Seven Steps located in the heart of the city.

Twenty Seven Steps is a sleek and modern European restaurant opened in August 2015, taking over a prime heritage space that once housed one of Christchurch’s first restaurants.

Since then, the restaurant had been nominated by several food awards and made it into Cuisines top 100 restaurants in the country and won a few Chevron’s restaurant awards.

If you’re looking for a fine dining that encapsulates Christchurch with fresh, flavoursome and hearty but modern meals, then Twenty Seven Steps is a must. Main courses are around the NZ$30 mark.

Christchurch Tramway Restaurant

If you’re looking for a unique way to discover the city and fill your belly, then this might be one for the bucket list.

Christchurch Tramway Restaurant is a 36-seater colonial style dining tram that has been refurbished and transformed into a unique dining experience. The dinner experience combines a 2.5 tram ride and sightseeing tour of the city with a four-course meal.

What makes this quite unique is that it’s the only tram restaurant in New Zealand, and it’s very Christchurch-y (even though the tram was built in Melbourne, Australia in 1927 and shipped to Christchurch in 1999).

The tram runs from Tram Stop 1 in Cathedral Junction and starts from 7pm during the colder months, and from 7:30pm during the warmer months.

Menu packages are quite dear and start at NZ$119 if you book through the website, but you can sometimes find a discount deal on websites such as bookme or Viator.

Smash Palace

For those who are interested in something more casual, or if you’re ‘automotive-inclined’, then Smash Palace is a place to visit.

Located near the heart of the city, Smash Palace is an family-owned outdoor venue that specialises in two things: burgers and bikes. Oh, and they also have beer. A lot of it.

The menu at Smash Palace offers a range of burgers, from the beetroot-laden Kiwi burger to the Vegematarian for NZ$15. There’s a selection of bottled and tap beer from NZ$9 with loads of bar snack options.

What makes Smash Palace is unique is their Thursday Bike Nights, so you can kick back with a pint and explore bikes from categories such as the Yank Tank, Rice Burners or Eurotrash, and pick up some memorabilia merch at the same time.

Penny Black Victorian Tearoom

Christchurch retains a lot of its unique British colonial architecture, with beautiful botanic gardens and heritage-listed buildings.

If you’re happy to venture off the beaten track for a bit of history, then a high tea experience that takes you back to Victorian England might be the way to go.

Penny Black Victorian Tearoom specialises in high tea packages but also serves light breakfasts and lunches, as well as cakes and beverages. There’s also gluten free and dairy free option so those with allergies won’t have to miss out.

High tea packages start at NZ$32 but there is also an a-la-carte breakfast and lunch menu.

So, if you’re interested in ‘taking tea’, chuck on your Sunday-best tea gown, stick out those pinkies and practice your finest chortle.

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Best outdoor adventures near Christchurch

If you’re moving to the South Island, then you’re in for a visual treat. The South Island’s greatest appeal lies in its impressive natural wonders and outdoor adventures.

So, if you’re looking to get the full kiwi experience while in Christchurch, below are 3 suggestions to get you started.

TranzAlpine Train

The TranzAlpine Train is a train route between Christchurch to the scenic town of Greymouth. The TranzAlpine runs daily, leaving Christchurch Station at 8.15 am and arrives back in Christchurch around 6:30 pm. Fares start from NZ$119.

The route covers 223 kilometres of the scenic Canterbury Plains where you’ll glimpse some amazing sights such as Southern Alps, Arthur’s Pass, Lake Brunner and the Waimakariri River.

There’s also a lot you can explore in Greymouth, such as the Shantytown Heritage Park where you can also go gold panning or visit the Monteith’s brewery, or you can check out the Punakaiki Blow Holes and ‘Pancake Rocks’.

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve

Willowbank Wildlife Reserve is a wildlife park and a nature reserve only 20 minutes’ drive from Christchurch CBD.

Here you will get to experience some of New Zealand’s native wildlife, including getting a glimpse at the very elusive and adorable kiwi.

General admission starts at NZ$26 for students but you can also get an annual pass from NZ$69 if you’re planning on visiting more than once. There are also guided tours, animal feeding and more.

The reserve is also accessible via public transport – just jump on the 107 bus that departs Northlands Shopping Mall in Papanui.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park

If you’re staying in the South Island, then visiting Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is truly worth the day trip.

Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is an alpine wonderland, home to New Zealand’s tallest mountain and longest glaciers. There are short walks as well as longer tracks depending on your level of fitness and experience.

Getting there from Christchurch isn’t an issue. If you drive, then it is approximately a 4-hour drive from Christchurch to Aoraki/Mount Cook.

There are also affordable bus options. InterCity offers daily buses from Christchurch to Mount Cook that range between NZ$40–$60, and you can find discounted tour packages on offer throughout the year.

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