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On February 22nd 2011, life in Christchurch changed forever. The garden city – home to around 350,000 residents and the main visitor hub of New Zealand’s South Island – was hit by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake.
Since then, Christchurch’s residents have shown remarkable stoicism, good humour and capacity for hard work. As we write this, only a small part of the CBD – known as the Red Zone – is off limits.
Elsewhere life continues in various states of ‘normal’, and with almost all the usual charms that make Canterbury such a rewarding region to visit.
Visitors will likely be surprised by Christchurch’s resilience. Indeed, if you’re coming via the airport – the biggest traveller gateway to the South Island – you will first be greeted by a brand new check-in hall, featuring more shopping and places to eat.
Out on the road, traffic flows are a bit heavier than they used to be, but there are minimal detours and an inconsequential level of lumpy roads and potholes.
In some areas you could be forgiven for forgetting it had happened. In others it is an irresistible curiosity, and it’s hard not to be inquisitive in these circumstances.
A friend who works at the local tourism office agrees. ‘It’s natural to want to look around, and we don’t mind because if you see it, you can understand.’
A good number of the city’s hotels are inside the Red Zone cordon, and therefore out of action. Fortunately there are many alternative accommodation options, including the many dozens of holiday parks situated in and around the city, and throughout the wider region.
For the benefit of those who want to stay in Christchurch or close to the airport, here are three handy locations, all offering a range of built of accommodation as well as sites for campervans and tents.
On the north-western outskirts of Christchurch, just 5 minutes’ drive from the airport,North South Holiday Park is ideally situated whether you’re arriving, departing, or looking for a base from which to explore the region.
Good camping and motorhome sites are spread throughout the spacious 12-acre grounds, along with a range of accommodation.
We found the row of cosy standard cabins particularly appealing, but there are larger cabins, newer motel units, a bunkhouse and one-bedroom character cottage with its own little garden – a popular option for people looking for a sweet little ‘home away from home’.
Hosts Julie and Steve have put some graft into the gardens, which feel rustic and relaxed, but still colourful and well kept. There are lots of large trees such as willow and gum, providing welcome shade in the summer.
The new adventure playground will go down a treat with the children, as will all the family friendly facilities including a swimming pool and tennis courts.
Nearby Bishopdale boasts a supermarket and other shopping, as well as cafes and restaurants including Abalone Thai which comes highly recommended. Expect personal service here, along with a warm, homely atmosphere.
Not far away, just 10 minutes from the airport, Christchurch TOP 10 Holiday Park is set in the suburban environs of Papanui, although typical of Christchurch there’s still paddocks and elegant poplars over the back fence.
You know you’ve hit upon a smooth enterprise as soon as you pass through the gates – the new architecturally designed reception building is arguably the most stylish in New Zealand.
And this park delivers on their promise from the get-go. The drive-through check-in window is a great innovation, as is the liquor licence that means you’ll never go wanting when wine-o-clock rolls round.
This ‘aim to please’ customer service continues throughout the park, from the manicured powered-site area and large camping field, to the built accommodation, which is both ample and diverse.
We stayed in a freshly renovated motel unit that was practical, comfortable, and featured contemporary New Zealand textiles and art. Other accommodation includes studio units, ‘Kozy Kiwi’ self-contained units, two-person chalets and a lodge with bunkrooms.
The powered site area features a mixture of tall trees and plenty of birdsong. A modern communal facilities block has spacious kitchen/dining and a pleasant barbecue patio. The Top 10 offers facilities-plus, which makes it perfect for tourers and campervanners.
Closest to the city centre, Amber Park is a bloomin’ treasure. It’s still only 10–15 minutes drive’ to airport, five minutes to town, situated on a major bus route, and within walking distance of shopping and restaurants.
It could hardly be more convenient. But the key attraction of Amber Park has to be its colourful garden setting, in which the park hosts welcome you to ‘take time out to smell the roses’.
The motorhome and camping area has 60 sites – your choice of sealed and lawned, open or sheltered – most of which surround a pleasant playground and barbecue area, complete with dining pagoda.
The 1950’s communal facilities block is a classic slice of New Zealand modernism, and all too many owners would have bowled it for brand new. Instead, this sweet piece of architecture has been carefully upgraded and maintained and will be much appreciated by visitors with the same sympathies.
Built in the same era, a row of en suite cabins offers yet more retro charm while upmarket units offer an array of mod cons in self-contained motel accommodation for up to six.
Quiet, friendly, an excellent city pit-stop, Amber Park shows that some gorgeous things come in small packages.
Canterbury still has the wow factor, so make sure you don’t just pass through.
Almost all key attractions are open, including the casino, Antarctic Centre, Orana Wildlife Park, Willowbank Wildlife Reserve and the Air Force Museum.
On the edge of the CBD, a blooming Hagley Park will host the Rugby World Cup ‘Fanzone’ and festival.
Popular summer events such as the New Zealand Horse Racing Cup and Show Week, World Buskers Festival, Burst Festival of Flowers, and Ellerslie Flower Show are all going ahead.
The Canterbury Museum and Christchurch Art Gallery are closed, with the former likely to open before Rugby World Cup. The striking Art Gallery building has been repurposed as a Council earthquake recovery centre, but the pressure is on for it to be reclaimed for art’s sake. Watch this space.
There are 10 ski areas around two hours drive from the city.
The region’s many golf courses are unaffected, as are wineries, en masse. And despite significant ground-shift, the region is still a mecca for cycling, both on-road and off.
Banks Peninsula boasts stunning landscapes and wildlife, with Akaroa still packed with culinary delights.
Hanmer Springs alpine village is even better than before, the Thermal Pools and Spa complex having recently undergone a major revamp.
Whales still breach at Kaikoura, New Zealand’s best eco-tourism destination and it’s only about an hour’s drive away.
The world-famous TranzAlpine train continues its climb across the magnificent Arthur’s Pass to the West Coast.
To the south, the vistas around Aoraki Mt Cook and the Mackenzie country remain breathtaking.
Official visitor information – www.christchurchnz.com
North South Holiday Park, cnr Johns and Sawyers Arms Road, Christchurch
www.northsouth.co.nz; 0800 567 765, 03-359 5993
Christchurch TOP 10 Holiday Park, 39 Meadow Street, Papanui
www.christchurchtop10.co.nz; 0800 396 323, 03-352 9176
Amber Park Holiday Park, 308 Blenheim Road, Christchurch
www.amberpark.co.nz; 0800 348 308, 03-348 3327
Holiday Parks Association of New Zealand–www.hapnz.co.nz
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