What Is It Like to Live in Christchurch, New Zealand?

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Aug. 24 2014 7:14 AM

What Is It Like to Live in Christchurch, New Zealand?

Cathedral Square, which reopened to the public after the 2011 earthquake, on July 6, 2013, in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Photo by Joseph Johnson/Getty Images

This question originally appeared on Quora.

Answer by Jesse Bythell:


I'm a New Zealander, born in Christchurch, where I have lived for much of my life.

Christchurch, as you may know, has experienced thousands of earthquakes since September 2011, and much of the city has been devastated, causing people to move away. While the infrastructure is being rebuilt and lives put back together, some very exciting innovations are taking place there. For example, suburbs that have been deemed too unsafe for residential housing are being turned into public parks or "food forests," where old fruit trees and berry canes from garden remnants are being preserved and added to, creating places where people can garden communally and forage. I haven't lived in Christchurch for the last eight years, so I will write about my experience living there before the earthquakes.

Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, located on the east coast in the region of Canterbury. It's strong colonial English ties are evident in the city's layout, street names, numerous parks, and neo-Gothic public architecture (although much of this has been destroyed now by quakes, including the beautiful cathedral). The the cool temperate climate of South Island meant life was pretty hard for indigenous Maori (for example, the climate is too cold in about half the island for growing their main carbohydrate crop), and the population was much lower in the south. Christchurch still has a lower than national average Maori population and is seen by much of the country as striving to be English.

The values described in this answer are more typical of rural New Zealanders, who, like rural people in most developed countries, tend to be more socially conservative and suspicious of outsiders. Since the 1970s most New Zealanders live in cities, and the conservative attitudes of yesteryear are being shed (albeit some more slowly than others). Many New Zealanders have traveled overseas, and tourism makes up a significant part of our economy, so we're less xenophobic than we were in the past.

Christchurch was a great city to grow up in (especially if you don't have a car, as most of it is flat and excellent for cycling). It is nestled between Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury Plains, and only one hour's drive from the Southern Alps with abundant tramping ("hiking") and skiing opportunities. There are two universities, University of Canterbury and Lincoln University, that contribute to the richness of life in Christchurch.

The cultural of rugby and binge-drinking is still a problem for New Zealand as a whole, but there are many other cultural and recreational activities than this. There is a multitude of cultural, arts, scientific, and sporting societies in Christchurch if you're underwhelmed by drinking in a sports bar. Some of the things I did while I lived in Christchurch include being a member of two film societies, volunteering at Trade Aid, helping organize and run outdoor electronic music festivals, attending evening ethnic cooking classes, fencing, sailing, cycling, tramping, singing in a choir, volunteering with ecological restoration projects, attending botanical society meetings, and more. I completed a degree at Canterbury University and enjoyed university life.

The population of Christchurch is large enough that there is a diverse range of people to interact with and activities to pursue should you wish it.

I live and work in rural Southland as a self-employed ecologist and can guarantee that living on a sheep farm and looking askance at foreigners are not the only activities available down here.

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