Visiting New Zealand’s second-largest city

The Ōtākaro or Avon River flows through Christchurch and provides a perfect means to explore New Zealand’s second-largest city. It may be known as the most English city outside England, The Four Avenues or even The Garden City, but if Christchurch stands for one thing, it’s perseverance, whether after destructive earthquakes or other tragedies. The bustling town today has much to offer to its visitors – and also houses an important seaport in Lyttelton, including a modern container terminal.

Ōtautahi, the informal Maori name for Christchurch, is taken from the pre-European settlement of Te Whenua o Te Pōtiki-Tautahi, the site of which can be found in a very English-sounding reserve, Cambridge Village Green, situated on the corner of Barbadoes and Salisbury Streets in central Christchurch.

During the 18th century, Ngai Tahu Chief Te Pōtiki-Tautahi and Princess Te Auru from the Waitaha tribe of Port Levy, on Banks Peninsula, were married near a small stream which tumbled into the Ōtākaro (today also called Avon River). St Mary’s stream (its European name) was believed to be the home of a great spirit and the water used to bless the newlyweds became known by the local townspeople for its healing qualities.

These may be debateable, but there is little doubt that the beautiful Avon River, or Ōtākaro (meaning ‘place of play’ in Maori or te reo ‘the language’), is central to the Christchurch identity, telling its own story of the ebb and flow of Christchurch’s tragedies and triumphs as it meanders through many areas of significance in Christchurch City.

A riverside journey through Christchurch

Starting from a spring in the aptly-named suburb of Avonhead, the Avon River flows past Riccarton House and Bush, a heritage site consisting of two historic buildings, flanked by beautiful open parkland and ornate gardens. This is very close to the Al Noor Mosque, one of two sites where, on 15 March 2019, a lone gunman killed 51 people as they attended their Friday prayer session.

As the Ōtākaro heads through Mona Vale, the Botanical Gardens and Hagley Park, its meaning becomes more evident as residents and tourists alike can be seen punting and kayaking on the river, framed within a curtain of weeping willows. These trees were planted on the riverbanks to commemorate François le Lievre, who arrived on a French whaling ship in 1838. After landing at Akaroa, he planted the weeping willow cuttings he had taken from Napoleon’s grave on the Island of St Helena.

Another tragedy is remembered as the river passes by the hospital and on toward the Canterbury Earthquake National Memorial, opened on 22 February 2017 to commemorate the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes that changed Christchurch forever. A memorial to the 185 people who lost their lives as well as to those who were seriously injured. The memorial, consisting of a park with large trees on the north bank and a 111-metre memorial wall inscribed with 185 names, acknowledges the shared trauma and the support received during the response and recovery that followed.

From here, Ōtākaro goes on to remind visitors of that recovery by leading the way past busy laneway bars, cafés and public sitting areas, abundant throughout the Central Business District with its bustling Riverside Market, new Convention Centre ‘Te Pae’ and the recently restored Town Hall, which had also been devastated by the earthquakes.

Before finally heading out through the suburbs to the sea via the Estuary, the river gives another sad but gentle reminder as it traverses into the Christchurch Red Zone, where all homes had to be removed from the river’s banks due to earthquake damage.

Christchurch – A city known by many names

Over the years, Christchurch has had a number of taglines or slogans that have been used by its residents and visitors alike:

  • The Four Avenues – This slogan is named after the four avenues (Moorhouse, Fitzgerald, Bealey and Rolleston1) that surround the Central Business District and incorporate the hospital and Hagley Park.
  • The Most English City Outside England – Christchurch was originally named after the cathedral college of Christ Church at Oxford University. With its English origins, pretty parks, the landscaped riverbank and many Gothic Revival and Edwardian buildings, Christchurch has always been considered to be New Zealand's most English city.
  • The Garden City – This is probably the most enduring title that not only New Zealanders but people from all around the world associate with Christchurch, along with the City Council’s logo that features the Avon River and the Cathedral. Arguably New Zealand’s most iconic building, Christ Church Cathedral was decimated in the 6.3 magnitude earthquake on 22 February 2011. After years of debate, the ruins are being rebuilt to look much like the original that was finished in 1904, but with modern-day improvements to make it more resistant to earthquakes and allow for new visitor spaces. The project is estimated to be completed by September 2027.
  • Kia Kaha Christchurch – Not many cities have endured what Christchurch has over the past decade and, in many ways, ‘Kia Kaha Christchurch’ has become the default catchphrase of a city that has, by necessity, had to be resilient and to stay ‘forever strong’, the literal meaning of kia kaha.

Culinary specialities of the new Christchurch

Those visiting Christchurch should be sure to try some of New Zealand’s culinary delights. These include some of the best seafood in the world – which is hardly surprising, as the country has a coastline that is more than 14,000 kilometres long. Crayfish are viewed as a special delicacy. New Zealand lamb enjoys an outstanding reputation around the globe and is appropriately one of the country’s most important exports. Anybody who wants to enjoy a refreshing drink should hop into their car: there are more than 90 vineyards less than one hour’s drive from the centre of Christchurch. The North Canterbury region is particularly known for its Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling grapes. The journey there is worthwhile simply because of the varied landscape and many of the vineyards offer culinary delicacies too.

Christchurch’s port town of Lyttelton

Lyttelton is a port town within the City of Christchurch and contains Lyttelton Harbour, one of two major inlets in Banks Peninsula. The town is accessed either via the road tunnel, which begins in the Christchurch suburb of Heathcote, or by driving from Cashmere over Dyers Pass down to Governors Bay and around the shoreline. The tunnel was opened in 1964, cost GBP 2.7 million to build and was hailed as being ‘among the most modern in the world’. At 1,944 metres in length, it became and still remains New Zealand’s longest functioning road tunnel.

Lyttelton has blossomed over the past twenty to thirty years. Formerly, the harbour town was mostly associated with the port, where foreigners came ashore off the boats to visit one of the seedy drinking establishments.

Nowadays, emerging from the tunnel into Lyttelton is like being miraculously transported hundreds of miles from the flat monotony of suburban Christchurch into a quaint, historic, seaside village surrounded by the rugged volcanic outcrops that form the picturesque Port Hills, which encase the glistening blue-green basin that is Whakaraupō Lyttelton Harbour.

The town itself is brimming with character, the local residents every bit as quirky and colourful as the cafés and shops that line the main street, London Street.

Lyttelton is the largest Port on the South Island, an international trade gateway and New Zealand’s second largest export hub, facilitating the movement of NZD 5.6 billion of exports and NZD 4.8 billion of imports in the last financial year. Until the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, the port was a regular destination for cruise ships. It is the South Island’s principal goods-transport terminal, handling 34 per cent of exports and 61 per cent of imports by value.

While much of Lyttelton’s architectural heritage was destroyed as a result of the earthquakes, a new, impact-minded business community has since emerged in Christchurch, a community that the Rhenus Group became a part of in 2021. Rhenus has been active in New Zealand since 2018. ‘It is difficult to put in words quite how difficult the events of the past decade have been for the people of Ōtautahi Christchurch. People whose lives and businesses had already literally been turned upside down, even before any global pandemic had been envisaged,’ mentions Gregory Whitau, South Island Manager at Rhenus Logistics New Zealand Ltd. ‘This is why the team at Rhenus in Christchurch are committed to staying strong, doing what it takes, thinking outside the box, and to the firm belief that if everything doesn’t work out right for their customers in the end, then it is not the end!’

And what can we do for you?

Rhenus offers high-quality logistics solutions in New Zealand. The range of services includes air and sea freight, domestic transport services and customs clearance.

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The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority termed Deans Avenue as the fourth Avenue (not Rolleston Avenue as it was defined in 1966)

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