I have very fond memories of Christchurch.
I first visited in 2009 just before I became pregnant with S. I was surprised by how beautiful and European this city felt, particularly in the downtown area. I left a huge fan and excited to visit again so I could show off the city to Joshua.
Then came the 2011 earthquake and the resulting devastation. I must admit that it made me reluctant to return. I loved the memories of the beautiful city I had visited and I did not want them ruined.
Fast forward another six years and I finally decided to visit this city again, mostly because I wanted to see my good friend, Bethaney from Flashpacker Family.
It was a very different experience this time. Not just because the city looks different but because I travelled with 5 year old, Z, and I had a local to show me around.
It is sad driving around the city and seeing how much still needs to be repaired. The CBD is quite different to how I remembered it. However, Christchurch still has a lot to offer especially for families.
Below, you will find my guide to the top things to do in Christchurch for kids, a Christchurch tourist map of the kids’ activities in Christchurch and my verdict of visiting Christchurch with kids.
The International Antarctic Centre is just perfect for both kids and adults, and one of the best things to do with kids in Christchurch. It’s fabulous!
There are several different exhibits to explore at the Centre with plenty of things for kids to climb on, play with and touch.
One of my favourite exhibits was the Antarctic Storm Experience. We entered a room that was -8 degrees Celsius and blew wind like a real storm. This was, quite literally, a very cool experience with temperatures plummeting to -18 degrees Celsius.
Z started to panic when it started getting a lot colder. If this happens, it’s fine as you’re able to leave at any time. Plus there are so many other family activities Christchurch offers to be found at the Centre.
The 4D cinema is particularly good. It’s an immersive experience with mist and movement. We also saw huskies and blue penguins.
Another thing that we loved was the ride in the Hagglund. This was on an outdoor track and was very cool. Quite a bit of effort was made to show you how capable these machines are – it went over tyres, logs, through water and over tyres.
Naturally Z loved this due to his fascination with trucks and the other kids we visited with (including a 3 year old) loved it as well. It was very bumpy but fun!
There’s also a good museum with plenty of information on the New Zealand research facility Scott Base. We didn’t spend much time here, but you could easily spend a few hours (or more) enjoying all the Christchurch things to do that the centre offers.
This choice of the things to do in Christchurch for families is not cheap but I think it is worth it. You can find more information including prices on their site. I recommend getting the full pass.
One of the fun things to do in Christchurch for kids is paying a visit to Margaret Mahy Family Playground. Located just on the edge of the CBD, this awesome playground is huge and has a climbing area, big slides, a flying fox and loads more. There’s also a water play area which wasn’t very popular when we visited in winter – I’m sure it’s great in summer however.
The park is very popular and there were heaps of kids around when we visited. This made it a little difficult to find a seat.
It’s definitely better for older kids than toddlers but there are some toddler areas especially in summer when you can use the water area.
There is also a BBQ area and it’s a great setting for a picnic while the kids have a play. You can find some quick snacks nearby like donuts, ice cream and coffee. There are toilets available too.
The park is located just on edge of CBD. It’s one of the free activities in Christchurch. Parking is available.
Christchurch Botanical Gardens is a short walk from the CBD and is one of the best things to do in Christchurch for free. It’s a great place to take a stroll and to just relax.
The gardens are home to a great amount of plants, statues and birds. I particularly enjoyed the conservatory which displayed some more tropical flowers and cacti. Z enjoyed playing with one sculpture that moved whenever he turned the handle.
The visitor centre is quite a structure and inside you’ll find the Ilex Cafe and gift shop.
We didn’t spend a lot of time here due to wanting to do other Christchurch kids’ activities, but there is more than enough for a few hours. It’s one of the neat places Christchurch offers time to relax.
Open daily from 7am to 6:30pm. Entry is free. Free parking can be found in Hagley Park. The botanical gardens are located next to Canterbury Museum.
Christchurch is a city that has been rocked by earthquakes and Quake City one of the places to go in Christchurch to learn about the effect this has had on the city and its people.
As I mentioned, the last time I visited Christchurch was before the 2011 earthquake. I was curious to go to Quake City to hear the stories of people who had survived through earthquakes.
Unfortunately they were relocating when we visited and they were closed. The center reopens in early September.
You can find more information about Quake City here.
One of the cool things to do in Christchurch is to go punting on the Avon River. This is another way to see this awesome city.
The ‘punt’ is the boat and the ‘punter’ is the name of the person rowing the boat. The boats sit between 6 and 8 people so there’s plenty of room for the whole family.
The trip takes approximately 30 minutes and heads up and down the Avon River with fabulous views – especially of the Botanical Ganders. You can opt for a private boat ride for 45 minutes.
It is among the iconic Christchurch activities and attractions and suitable for the whole family.
Landing sites and times vary based on the season. Unfortunately it isn’t cheap – currently $86 NZD for adults, $25 NZD for children or $199.00 NZD for a family of 5. You can find more information here.
Although the Christchurch Cathedral in the centre of the CBD still stands, it was badly damaged in the earthquake in 2011 and the church moved to a temporary location.
The major church in the CBD is now the Transitional Cathedral, or Cardboard Cathedral, which is the only cathedral in the world to be constructed mainly with cardboard. It was built to be earthquake resistant and, although the church was built as a temporary replacement, it has become one of the Christchurch top attractions.
The church is a simple triangular structure with colourful stained glass. It is a must see in Christchurch and worth adding to your list of the things to see in Christchurch.
Read more about the Cardboard Cathedral on their website – http://www.cardboardcathedral.org.nz/.
The downtown area is worth exploring to see how Christchurch is recovering. There is much construction, and there is still much more to be done than I would have expected.
Many roads are shut and it is confusing to drive around with the dead ends, closures and one ways.
It’s a sad experience, especially if you have visited Christchurch before 2011.
You can also visit the 185 Empty White Chairs which is a memorial to the people who died during the earthquake. There is one chair for each person who died and it’s a sombre and moving site surrounded by not much, close to the Cardboard Cathedral.
One of the best free places to visit in Christchurch is the Air Force Museum of New Zealand. This museum houses an impressive collection of planes with some interactive exhibits and plenty to see.
Z loves planes so I knew he would enjoy the museum – and he did. There is a lot to read about each plane and Z was super curious – he would ask me to explain what each spec of the plane meant (not that I knew!).
The museum also has a collection of relics from the War and some other interesting information. Of course the main exhibits were the planes, and there are a lot of them.
Some parts are quite interactive as well. At one point Z had to look through a book shelf to find a hidden radio. He was also able to sit in a cockpit and pretend to shoot a gun and pilot a plane. He loved this.
There is also a flight simulator which cost $6 which we both enjoyed. Besides for the cost of the simulator, it is free to visit and an interesting museum. This is well worth a visit.
The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is free. You can read more on their website at https://www.airforcemuseum.co.nz/.
The best indoor playground Christchurch offers is Chipmunks.
Chipmunks is very close to the Air Force Museum and is one of the best indoor play centres I have been to. This play centre is perfect for a rainy day or to double up with Air Force Museum.
There are play areas for three different age groups – under 2, under 5 and over 5.
The cafe is great for drinks and has some food options. It’s a good place for the kids to let off some steam and for adults to relax.
The play centre is open daily from 9:30am to 5pm. Read more about the play centre here.
The last of our Christchurch places to visit is the gondola. The mountainous surroundings of Christchurch make for some great views over the city. The easiest way to see these views is to take a gondola ride.
The gondola takes you up Mt Cavendish, rising to 448 metres. It’s a great, relaxing way to for families to reach the summit.
At the summit there is an observation deck with stunning views. Here you can also go through the time tunnel which explains the history of the Canterbury region. There’s also a good cafe and gift shop too.
You can also choose to walk down but it’s very hilly and I wouldn’t recommend it with kids.
This is one of the must do tourist attractions in Christchurch New Zealand and is suitable for everyone in the family.
The gondola leaves from the base of Mount Cavendish and operates daily between 10am – 5pm. There is a good amount of parking at the base. Alternatively can get a shuttle bus from Canterbury Museum for $10 return for adults and $5 return for children. You can purchase discounted tickets online with Klook here.
We loved visiting Christchurch. Mr 5 loved it so much that he didn’t want to leave and made me promise we would go back soon.
There are some lovely family things to do in Christchurch and it’s a very easy place to visit especially if you live just one flight away like us.
We particularly liked the Antarctic Centre and the Air Force Museum. The Antarctic Centre is quite a different experience to other attractions we have visited in the past and it was lots of fun as well as very educational for both of us.
The Air Force Museum was like heaven for Z with all the planes and the chance to do the simulator ride.
In addition to the Christchurch family activities, we found it an easy city to drive around (except in the CBD, the construction makes this a bit of a nightmare) with lots of good food. I did not have a bad meal the whole time.
Christchurch airport is also great with kids as we never lined up! It was very easy to navigate and there’s a play area in the international departures.
We visited in winter and, although it was cold, we did not find this to be a big deal. There are many good indoor activities for kids in Christchurch so you’ll find something to do regardless of the weather.
All in all, we had a fabulous, easy visit and I’m sure I’ll keep my promise to Z and we’ll be back again!