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There are beautiful beaches all along the coast of Christchurch. Sumner is lovely, with good coffee as well as ice creams, and a pleasant playground and park at the end of the bay with a paddling pool. We’re closer to the uncrowded beaches to the North of Christchurch though, and that is where you will find us on still summer mornings.
Spencerville would have to be our favourite spot. It has a lovely beach and a fantastic playground with a massive climbing frame, flying foxes, tennis courts, and a clever sandpit digger and pump arrangement – truly something for everyone! There are free gas BBQs and even a small wildlife park across the road from the campground. The water quality is generally excellent.
On windy days, the sheltered bays around Lyttelton can be beautiful. We love the pirate ship play area and long slide at Corsair Bay, but there is no ice cream shop and water quality can be dodgy. It is a great place to go with your fish and chips from the best fish and chip shop in New Zealand around the corner in Lyttelton.
As with all New Zealand beaches, the action of the surf can cause a previously safe location to develop dangerous rips and holes, so always swim between the flags, keep children in arm’s reach and learn what to do if you get caught in a rip.
Christchurch has hundreds of parks, from the inner-city acres of Hagley Park to the wee reserves you’ll find all over the place. Most of them have a well maintained playground, some of which are particularly amazing, and some even have paddling pools open in the summer months.
The playground in the Botanic Gardens is particularly popular with our kids – you guessed it, there is an ice cream shop! There is also a massive paddling pool and a big play area, with separate areas for toddlers and older children. There are sometimes model yachts or speed boats operating on nearby Victoria Lake, which our boys find fascinating.
There are even some parks around Christchurch with bike tracks built in, from the mini roads at the Westburn Reserve in Burnside to the ramps and bumps of the BMX tracks. We often take the kids and their bikes up to the mini BMX track in Craighead Reserve off Northcote Road in Papanui. Teenagers tend to take it over later in the day, but in the mornings it is mainly occupied by smaller kids on bikes and trikes.
We are looking forward to exploring some of the mountain biking tracks around Christchruch when the kids get older – maybe the ones on the flat anyway.
If you have a small (or large) train enthusiast in your family they will be very well catered for in Christchurch – and, for that matter, throughout New Zealand – we’re yet to travel to anywhere that does not have some form of miniature or heritage rail attraction!
Miniature trains run at Steam Scene on McLeans Island (on the way to Orana Park) and in the Halswell Domain, generally on the first and third Sundays of every month. There is also a full-sized steam train that sometimes operates at Steam Scene, but usually only during the winter due to fire restrictions. Last time we went rides were only a dollar each.
For more full-sized trains try Ferrymead Heritage Park on the way to Sumner, or a little further afield at the Weka Pass Railway in Waipara. Again they generally steam up on the weekends, with special open days and weekend events throughout the year. The Ferrymead railway isn’t long but is attached to a fascinating historic village, with fully furnished homes and businesses to wander through, and there are also trams trundling through. And the wineries in the Waipara provide plenty of non-rail entertainment in that region!
There are a few summer-only outdoor pools in Christchurch, and some schools with a pool rent keys out over the summer holidays. But for all-weather entertainment, indoor pools are great – and the huge indoor pool complex at QEII is particularly popular with our families.
The hydroslides at QEII are wonderful, but please note that you can’t take pre-schoolers on, and an adult needs to accompany children under 8.
Check here for a list of all of the council-run swimming pools in Christchruch.
The Tram and Gondola
If you have pre-schoolers, they will probably have already noticed the tram puttering around central Christchurch. We go on the tram almost every time we are in town with the family – it is easily combined with a trip to the museum on a wet day or the playground at the Botanic Gardens on a dry one.
Another excellent wet-or-fine activity is the Christchurch Gondola – the ride itself is good fun, and the Time Tunnel and café at the top are very child friendly. It is a great place to get into the snow when there is a dusting on the port hills, but to be avoided in very windy weather when it shuts down for safety reasons. If you are going for the views you will obviously have to go on a fine day, but it is great fun to take the kids up into the clouds on an overcast day.
If you think you will be riding on the tram and gondola a couple of times a year (as we certainly do!), you may be interested in the annual pass for locals – you get unlimited rides to both attractions for a year, which is pretty good value at $45 for an adult or $99 for a family. Under 5’s are free.
The Summertimes program run by the Christchurch City Council is always great fun, with a huge range of activities and performances running between December and March each year. A number of the events have a real family focus, like the Teddy Bears Picnic.
We also enjoy the World Buskers Festival every year in January – there are always fantastic shows for the kids, and it is well worth organising a babysitter for the evening performances.
Another council-supported Christchurch institution is Kidsfest in the winter school holidays between terms two and three. There are literally hundreds of sports, crafts, shows, workshops and experiences to try. There are some activities for pre-schoolers and teenagers, but it is mainly aimed at primary and intermediate school children. Brochures are available from schools and libraries about a month before the event, and pre-registration is strongly recommended.
The Court Theatre
There are a number of theatre groups around Christchurch that put on performances for children in the school holidays. We always enjoy the shows at the Court Theatre. Tickets are about $7 for adults and children. They usually last around 45 minutes and encourage pantomime-style audience participation, so are suitable for even small children. This article was contributed by Jeremy Henderson from Broadbase International. Their UK website, www.broadbaseimmigration.co.uk, has a great range of up-to-date articles on life in New Zealand written especially for prospective migrants.