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This week, Lonely Planet produced an article proclaiming Christchurch as one of the best cities to visit in 2013. Their top ten included the likes of Amsterdam, San Francisco and Beijing along with some more unusual destinations like Hobart and Hyderabad. Lonely Planet’s reasons for including Christchurch were as follows:

“New Zealand’s ‘Garden City’ is rising from the rubble created by devastating earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 with a breathtaking mix of spirit, determination and flair. With a unique opportunity to rethink urban form, Christchurch is bouncing back with a new energy and inventiveness. Foodies will be surprised by the variety of what is on offer, from Burmese to Turkish to local specialities, live-music venues have popped up all over the place, and innovative artworks fill empty demolition sites. 2013 will be an intriguing year to join the rebirth.”

Now, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But…

I’m not entirely sure I agree with much of what they’re getting at here. I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet, don’t get me wrong. Most of my teenage years were spent reading guidebooks checked out from the local library, plotting grand backpacking escapes around Europe and South America. (Both of which I’m STILL planning!) But as a resident of Christchurch, on and off, for the past 18 years I was intrigued. Does Lonely Planet know something I don’t? What are they seeing that I am missing?

I am onboard with the notion that Christchurch is a fantastic place to eat and drink. There are great cafes and restaurants the likes of which you won’t find in the rest of the South Island. But you can find good food and drink in a lot of cities around the world, most a heck of a lot more appealing than Christchurch. Aside from food, I really don’t see what the city has to offer tourists.

I’m all for exploring home through the eyes of a tourist but, if I followed Lonely Planet’s advice and arrived in Christchurch expecting to find a cool city on the upswing, I’d be mighty disappointed.

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. Not at all. (Deep breath.) But I can’t help feel that there’s something going on here. I questioned it to myself when this article surfaced a few months back on Lonely Planet’s website about what to do in post-quake Christchurch. I know other residents were equally perplexed by the reference to the part of town dubbed “So-Mo”. Definitely not a term anyone around here has used or even heard of before, more like something out of a well-crafted marketing campaign.

Lonely Planet’s information on post-quake Christchurch restaurants and bars is good. In the aforementioned article and in their updated downloadable chapter on Christchurch, they’ve covered some of the best options. I’m glad they’re giving tourists a nudge in the right direction on where to eat and drink. However, most of the sights they list are still currently closed which begs the question, if the museums, galleries and churches you’re suggesting tourists see are all closed and cordoned off for the foreseeable future, what are you suggesting people do when they’re in Christchurch? Look at shops in shipping containers and imagine what the city will look like in ten years when rebuilding is complete?

Let me make it clear for everyone not on the ground here. While there is great potential for Christchurch to morph itself into an intriguing, energetic and inventive new city is a long way off. It may be very well be a fantastic, world-class city once the rebuild is complete but that’s 10 to 15 years down the track. Not in 2013.

My advice to tourists – visit Christchurch by all means. Use it as a jumping off point to explore the rest of the South Island. Stay for a day, maybe two. Check out the inner city’s damaged buildings. Explore the container mall and pop-up spaces for novelty purposes. Eat a good meal. Drink coffee. But don’t expect to be wowed. Christchurch is just like any other small city. Nothing exceptional. It’s beat up but it’s trying it’s best to make good out of a bad situation.


Have you been to post-quake Christchurch? What did you think?




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Showing 9 comments
  • Jeff @ GoTravelzing

    I wonder who makes these lists up. They put in four places that are well developed travel destinations. San Francisco and Amsterdam probably belong on the all time list. Beijing and Montreal are also very popular. Why put those on a list with other places that most people do not know that much about?

  • fotoeins | Henry

    Whether it was the guy operating a mobile coffee-stand at the corner of Colombo & Peterborough, the family-run gyro stand, Dimitri’s, in Cashel Container Mall, or the family-owned and -operated motel where I stayed, I was wowed by the people. Despite the dust, constant demolition and construction, and the constant reminders of living in an active-seismic region, most with whom I spoke and who stayed want to make things work. That’s what made Christchurch exceptional for me – not just because the city endured and survived 4 earthquakes of *at least* magnitude-6 within a span of 15 months, but because of its remarkable people. 🙂

  • Lou

    Oh MAN that is SO a huge twisted marketing ploy with that article – I mean coming from someone who knows Chch THEN and NOW – it’s definitely nowhere near the tourist destination is WAS before the shakes. I am SO impressed by how it has bounced back so quickly with a bit of flair and groove, for sure – but if I didn’t have family there it wouldn’t be on my “To-Do” list at all!

  • TheTuscan

    The city itself is nothing really special, but to me personally Christchurch offered to great things:

    – Being the first place I visited on the other side of the world
    – Being the starting point for my expeditions to Antarctica

    I have such a good memory of Christchurch, and that’s why I don’t want to visit it after the earthquakes.

  • Erik

    Honestly, this one really shocked me.

    I have heard nothing but amazing things about pre-quake Christchurch, but the city I found in May of 2012 was anything but whole. I have little doubt that the resilient residents will bring this city back to it’s former self, but I find it hard to believe that’ll happen in 2013.

  • Reply

    I think for all the reasons you mentioned, I have avoided Christchurch, despite spending a year hear on a working holiday visa. Truth be told, the idea of going to a ‘sub-par’ Christchurch just doesn’t appeal to me. I’d rather see the city get back on it’s feet, try to reinvent itself as best as possible without its feature attraction (the cathedral) and succeed that way – rather than send tourists there expecting to be wowed – and them leaving disappointed in what they’ve been given because I just truly feel Christchurch isn’t quite ready for all that yet.

    Like you said, use it as a starting off point – spend a day or two… but for the time being – lets all let the city rebuild without any negative criticism from tourists who may have unrealistic expectations – especially thanks to LP’s declaration of it being the best city to visit.

  • lissie

    So shoot me – but I’ve visited Christchurch before and after the quake – and it was never a “must see” place for the tourist -well maybe if you’d never left the country you’d have thought the “old” stone buidlings were cute – but for most overseas visitors not so much.
    I’ts a pleasant enough city, with good air connections – but it’s a transit spot.

    • Bethaney

      I agree Lis. It’s a great place for a few days to get your bearings in New Zealand but the city has never held much more for experienced travellers. It was a great city to live in – but that ship has sailed too.

  • Sofia

    I think the only reason they made it part of the best cities to visit is probably because the city has gone through so much shit lately that they need something to get tourists coming back – who knows, maybe they even paid to include them? 😛 Is it even possible to visit the center of town yet, since the earth quake?

    Nathan is from Christchurch and he agrees it’s a wonderful city, but now is definitely not the time to visit!

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