getting around, Christchurch
One of the first things to do is to get the Metro card, or bus card. Normally, a one-way fare costs 2$, with the card (which is free) it's only 1.50. In any case, you have 2 hours and an unlimited number of transfers within those 2 hours. To collect the card, go to the bus exchange (bus station), fill in a form, pay a minimum of $10 to load the card, that's it. The only obstacle is that you need to provide a photo id and a mailing address, but if you're for a while that should not be a problem. The card has a magnetic strip on it, which you place on the card reader in the bus, and your fare is automatically deducted. It also keeps track of your transfers within the 2 hour limit, so no additional fare is deducted. You can top up the card at the bus exchange or with any driver. The nice thing when you want to go somewhere when your balance gets close to zero, say you only have 0.50 left on your card, is that you can still use it once, but your balance is then -1.00, and next time you really must top it up.
Practically all bus stops have a map and schedule of all routes passing this particular stop. In addition, some stops have either a fixed display, or a push-button display showing when the next bus and/or route arrives. Buses run all day, 7 days a week, every 10-15 mins during peak time, so usually, during the week, there's no need to know the schedule ahead, just check at the bus stop display how long you have to wait. However, you may want to remember which bus takes you where, but once you have that figured out, it's a breeze.
The bus routes are quite extensive, and well interlinked, so I haven't had and you shouldn't either have any problems getting to the sights you want to see by bus.
Gold Band Taxis are the premier taxi company in Christchurch. There are more Gold Band Taxis on the streets of Christchurch, this is particularly noticeable during the unsociable hours (The times when it is hard to get a taxi).
Great service in particular for advice
The Shuttle is a free bus service that goes around the centre of Christchurch. The Bus travels as far north as Peterborough St, past the Casino, through Cathedral Square, down Colombo St (main street of Christchurch) and as far South as Moorhouse Ave - past Science Alive & the Hoyts movie complex then back in a loop up Colombo St. As it's free you can jump on & off as often as you like - the Bus Stops (21 in total) are bright Yellow and clearly marked as Shuttle stops.
There should be a bus every 10 minutes between 7.30am & 7pm week days (late night Friday & Saturday until 10.30pm) and 10am to 5pm on Sunday. Between 5pm and 8pm Sunday there is a bus every 15 minutes.
Getting around Christchurch and to its suburbs has been made easy with the introduction of the Orbitor Bus service. This bus travels around Christchurch in both directions and has a total travel time of about 85 minutes to do a full circuit. The bus goes by all of the major Shopping Malls (except Hornby) plus the University, Westpac Trust Centre, Princess Margaret Hospital and the Alpine Ice Skating arena. As it doesn't go through the middle of town you may need to take a bus to one of the malls and change service - eg take the 11 or 13 bus and get off at Barringtons then walk to Barrington St (30 seconds away) and cross the road.
The cost of the Orbitor is $2.50 and your ticket is normally good for 2 hours.
Buses run every 10 minutes on weekdays, 15 minutes on Saturdays and 30 minutes in the evening and on Sundays. They also run in each direction.
Quite a unique way of seeing Christchurch is to go punting on the Avon River. Just sit back and relax in the cushions and take in the sights. This is a greta way of seeing Christchurch since loads of sights are situtaed along the Avon. There are quite a few companies that can take you punting. Just follow the river and compare prices and take take your pick.
Update February 2011
Due to earthquake damage, the company relocated from 248 St. Asaph Street to 58 Manchester Street, more or less around the corner.
This is the perfect company if you plan to start and finish your NZ trip in Christchurch or if you just want to explore the surroundings of Christchurch like the Summit Road, Banks Peninsula (Akaroa) or attractions (like Orana Park) that cannot be reached by bus. Or if you just want to get around fast in your limited time without bussing back to the Bus Exchange.
The company is owner-run and Nigel Cooper lives with and for his cars and it is centrally located in Manchester Street, just one block south of St. Asaph Street, at the corner with Southwark Street (towards Moorhouse Ave). You can easily walk there from Cathedral Square or the Bus Exchange.
The rates are great, and we have tested a car ourselves and visiting friends who hired cars there were also very satisfied with the quality of the cars and the rates.
If you rent for a minimum of four days you get a compact car for 24 to 49 NZ $, depending on the season. Such hires include unlimited kilometres.
Nigel also has convertibles (89 to 109$), people movers and campervans (both 69 to 104$). One of his fun cars is a red Mazda X5, if you want to spend a few dollars more.
I can recommend Omega Rental Cars who provided us with a four-door Mazda Familia sedan at $450 (NZ) for 18 days around the South Island. Easy and reliable communication via email. Tip top service in arranging for after-hours collection of vehicle from Christchurch International Airport upon arrival. Had to pay for airport parking, which was reasonable.
Found vehicle in clean and roadworthy condition. Had absolutely no mechanical problems throughout our trip to the South Island. Vehicle had sufficient boot space to take big (65 L) backpack, standard suitcase, shoulder and camera bag.
Equipped with radio, air-conditioning and cigarette lighter (to power GPS unit). Seating was comfortable.
Fuel tank was rather small, which required regular top-ups (...never a problem).
Omega provided a spare key, just in case...
Dropped the vehicle off at their depot near the airport, which was quick and painless. Omega arranged for a complimentary shuttle to the airport free of charge.
Excellent and trustworthy service.
Save on activity expenses and buy the tripple pass to see Christchurch from a romantically different perspective: punting on the Avon, riding the tram and floating to new heights on the gondola!
Individually, these activities tote up to a cost of $57 per adult, or $50 for the triple pass. Purchase from the tram driver or any of the friendly ticket sellers at the Cathedral Square stop.
The tramway is an ideal way to explore the inner city, looping from Cathedral Square along Worcester Street, Rolleston Avenue, Armagh Street and New Regent Street. The station is at Cathedral Junction in New Regent Street, but you can hop on and off at any of the stops along the route. It is very convenient to visit top attractions such as the Christchurch Cathedral, Centre for Contemporary Art, Christchurch Art Gallery, The Arts Centre, Christ's College, Canterbury Museum, Hagley Park and the Christchurch Botanic Gardens.
Punt on the Avon from one of two locations: the Antigua Boatsheds next to the Botanic Gardens at 2 Cambridge Terrace or from the city right next to the Worcester Boulevard Bridge. It is a very relaxing experience punting on clear, shallow water beneath weeping willows, peering out at ducklings taking to the water or the sedate pace of Christchurch life.
Wary of a cruise ship docking at Lyttelton Harbour, we tried to make a booking for early the next morning at the city venue, but were told they did not take bookings for the following day. Unperturbed, we went to the Antigua Boatshed location where a young gentleman had no trouble booking us in at 9am the following day - for the city location!
The Gondola is about 8km from Cathedral Square at 10 Bridle Path Road, Christchurch. The 4-berth cable car takes you on a 945m ride 500m above sea level - providing spectacular 360 degree views of Christchurch, Lyttelton Harbour and the coastline. Relax with a latte at the Summit Cafe.
If you are planning to drive around the South Island and use Christchurch as your start point be aware that it may be further than you think. The South Island of NZ is not really that big however because of a mountain range down its middle/western side it can take quite a bit of driving to get to your destination.
For the specifics of how far and how long look at the Driving Distance Calculator so you know just how big the trip you are planning really is. Use this to calculate distances from any location on the calculator.
You get to most places by bus, and if you plan to stay several days the cheapest way to get around is getting a Metro Card at the Bus Exchange (Lichfield/Colombo Streets). If you want to apply for a card do not forget a piece of identification (passport, drivers licence etc.).
The card is free, you just have to load 10 $ at the start. By paying with it in the bus one trip costs only 2.10 instead of 2.80 NZ-Dollars, and you will not pay more than 4.20 $ per day!
If you buy a single ticket for 2.80 $ this is only valid for one transfer within two hours. This is already cheap but the cost with the Metro Card is a lot cheaper if you plan do do more than two trips per day, and you have unlimited transfers within the first two hours.
Also the trips to the airport and the ferry trip from Lyttelton to Diamond Harbour have cheaper fares with the Metro Card.
Within the inner city there is a free bus service on a one-way-route. The buses are easily recognisable, they are yellow, and the name is "The Shuttle". They have their own stops which are not far away from the stops of the Metro system.
There is no bus service to some few attractions like Orana Park but there is the "Black Bus" which offers (rather expensive) roundtrips to major places of interest. If you want to travel on the Summit Road you need a rental car. See my tip about Affordable Cars.
Update 31 March 2008
The Metro service have just announced a new bus service that passes at the Willowbank. Bus #11 from the Bus Exchange (in front of Ballantynes), towards Northwood.
Update 23 August 2008
The bus fares have gone up, I have updated them in my tip.
If you plan to shop till you drop, the Orbiter is the bus to go with. It connects all the big shopping malls in Christchurch, which are:
This bus route also services Barrington Mall which is more for the daily needs, not a mall to spends hours in.
Other points where the bus passes are Princess Margaret Hospital, St. Martins and the University.
It is part of the Metro System, so with a Metro Card you would only pay $4.20 (as Aug. 2008) to get around the whole day. Single fare $ 2.80.
If you are in the city centre, I would take a red bus from the Bus Exchange to Riccarton Mall, and then get on the Orbiter to the other malls.
Bus lines to Riccarton operate every some minutes, for example routes 5 (Hornby), 19 (Burnside), 21 (Ilam), 81 (Lincoln), 83 (Hei Hei) and 84 (Russley). They all depart from platform B (downstairs) of the Bus Exchange.
Also route 3 (Avonhead) passes at Riccarton Mall, but this one departs from platfrom C.
Our GPS performed an indispensable role in navigating us through New Zealand's south island and adding greatly to our enjoyment of the occasion. I used a Tom Tom and downloaded the New Zealand map prior to our departure date. Pre-loading destination addresses and/or GPS coordinates was easy and resulted in smooth and worry-free navigation wherever we pointed our vehicle.
A function we used a lot during our trip was "itinerary", which included a list of our destinations and way points (places we wanted to see while travelling between destinations), which the GPS automatically ticked off after each visit before directing us to the next location.
Other outstanding functions we used often included the location of shopping centres (particularly for supermarkets), petrol stations, tourist attractions and scenic lookouts. The GPS also told us the location of automatic teller machines.
We could change the preferences on our GPS to advise on foot or bicycle directions as well, and the GPS is small enough for us to have taken it with us when walking from sight to sight in Christchurch and Dunedin.
The GPS also assisted greatly in time management - telling us the distance and travel time between destinations.
In our 18 days on the South Island we never got lost and zoomed effortlessly past motorists poring over dog-eared maps!
If you really want to go a 'round' in Christchurch take the tram. These vintage looking trams take you around the city centre easily, but since the city centre is so small, you'd be better of saving your precious bucks and walk instead.
Most vehicle rental companies offer the facility to waiver vehicle insurance excess (which for a sedan may be a $1000 but varies according to the vehicle) on payment of a fee, for example $10 a day. In other words, if you pay say $25 per day for vehicle rental plus $10 to waiver the insurance excess, your total outlay will be $35 per day. Over an 18-day period, covering the excess will cost you $180 in this example.
Before you agree to pay the rental company for this facility, consider that your credit card may include insurance excess cover. It may not cost you a cent! Investigate this with your bank before you decide.
If your credit card does not include this free insurance, it is a much better option to purchase comprehensive travel insurance that will include vehicle insurance excess. For example, you could purchase comprehensive travel insurance for about the same amount as what you would pay the vehicle rental company for vehicle insurance excess alone!
With rental vehicles it is important to safeguard yourself against unscrupulous businesses by making a careful record of any pre-existing damage to your vehicle. You do not want to find yourself at the conclusion of a lovely holiday fighting allegations you damaged the vehicle in some way.
A good option is to photograph the vehicle's exterior and interior, keeping a pictorial record of all pre-existing damage. Peruse any documentation provided by the rental company on noted damage and verify that all damage is fully recorded. If not, ask them to rectify their records.
Also make sure you and they agree on the amount of fuel in the tank. Don't necessarily expect that the vehicle will be supplied with a full tank of petrol. It may be only half full, and if not noted as such they may expect the vehicle back with a full tank!
I was very satisfied with the honesty and professionalism of the vehicle rental company we used, but it does not hurt to take precautions...