Moving to Christchurch from Australia
Affordability 4 out of 5
Safety 4 out of 5
Healthcare 3 out of 5
Traffic Flow 5 out of 5
Property affordability 4 out of 5
Climate 5 out of 5
Environment quality 5 out of 5
For a city that took its name from an Oxford University college, it’s no surprise that Christchurch is known as New Zealand’s ‘traditional English city’. The beautiful Botanic Gardens and the punts on the Avon River do make you feel like you might have stepped back in time to Edwardian England, but there’s also so much that makes Christchurch unique. For example, in an English city you can’t surf and ski in the same day. In fact, you can’t really do either. The earthquakes of 2010 and 2011 destroyed much of Christchurch’s heritage, but the city is now experiencing a wonderful period of creative rejuvenation. Just when you think you know all the bars in Christchurch, a new one pops up. The Garden City’s gradual recovery has shown just how resilient its people are, and Christchurch is once again becoming an appealing destination for expats.
How to move to Christchurch
Here’s a bit of practical information you should know about before you set your heart on Christchurch.
Visas and work permits
Moving to New Zealand as an Australian is spectacularly easy. As long as you have Australian citizenship (or the right to permanent residency in Australia) then you can work and live in New Zealand freely. Just touch down on Kiwi soil and get your passport stamped. Read our full page about it here.
Take a look at the table below to get an idea of how much it would cost you to move your belongings to Christchurch. The prices are based on a full 20ft container load of household goods. However, this should only be used as an indication; costs can vary greatly depending on how much stuff you’re shipping and where you’re sending it from. For a quote that’s more specific to your needs, fill in the form at the top of this page.
Living in Christchurch
There’s getting to Christchurch, and then there’s actually living there. Check out the finer details of life on the South Island, including the Garden City’s best bars, restaurants and neighbourhoods.
Maori tribes had been fighting over the Christchurch region for nearly six hundred years before the first white settlers arrived in 1840. It pretty much became a project to build the perfect English city, involving lots of fancy buildings and gardens. The cathedral was perhaps the best construction to come out of this period, although its spire didn’t survive the 2011 earthquake and sadly the building has since been removed entirely. The centre of Christchurch was extremely well planned, being one of only four cities in the world to have one central square with four complementing squares around it. If squares are your thing then Christchurch is perfect for you.
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The Canterbury capital is located halfway down the east coast of the South Island, looking out across the Pacific Ocean along Pegasus Bay. The city itself is remarkably flat, which is pretty rare by New Zealand standards. Things are pretty easy on the legs for city dwellers, but if you want something a bit more up and down then you can head to the Port Hills, just a twenty-minute drive southeast of the city centre. You can hike up them to get some spectacular views over Lyttelton Harbour. If you think the ‘Garden City’ nickname is a bit tame, how about the mega dramatic ‘Gateway to Antarctica’? Christchurch is one of the world’s best placed cities for Antarctic exploration, and it has a history of involvement in expeditions to the snowy continent. None other than the mighty Robert Falcon Scott set off from there!
Christchurch has certainly seen the worst of New Zealand’s seismic activity in recent times. A series of earthquakes struck the city between 2010 and 2012, the worst being a 6.3 magnitude quake on 22nd February 2011. It was extremely shallow, killing 185 people and leaving most of the city in ruins, including destruction to the iconic Christchurch Cathedral. However, the city’s ongoing recovery has been a story of brilliant creativity and genuine community, seeing the centre transform into a huge collection of street art, murals and sculptures. Perhaps the most beautiful part of the recovery is the temporary, AUD$5.6-million cardboard cathedral that has been set up in the city centre while a proper replacement is constructed. It boasts a stunning mosaic of multi-coloured glass triangles and is expected to stay there for over a decade.
The Christchurch climate is mostly a very civilised affair, but there are a few wild things thrown in. It is technically classed as ‘temperate’, which means you’ll rarely need to deal with any extreme heat or cold. The average temperature in January (the warmest month) is 22.5°C while the average temperature in July (the coolest month) is 11.3°C. Sea breezes keep summer temperatures moderate and the frosty winter days usually come with clear, blue skies. Christchurch has fewer rain days than any other major New Zealand city, with 648mm annual rainfall on average, and a lovely 2100 hours of annual sunshine. The weather almost feels as planned as the city centre.
But wait: there are a few weird things. The Nor’wester is a strong wind that blows ahead of cold fronts, frequently hitting Christchurch and is most common in the summer. It looks pretty spectacular, blowing a high curve of white cloud called a Nor’west arch, but it can often reach gale force speeds and inflict heavy damage on buildings and trees. The other thing is the smog, accumulating in the city as a result of the surrounding hills. It rarely reaches Los Angeles levels, but it still gets bad and often exceeds the limits advised by the WHO.
Languages and demographics
Christchurch is the third most populous city in New Zealand, with 381,500 residents as of 2017. The numbers are forecast to grow, with predictions of 459,100 people by 2043. In the most recent census of the city (2013), it was found that 84% of the population’s ethnicity was European. Asian and Maori made up the next two largest proportions, with 9% and 8% respectively. In terms of languages, English is the most commonly spoken, followed by Maori, French and Northern Chinese (including Mandarin).
Economy and jobs
The 2010 and 2011 earthquakes proved a major setback for Christchurch’s economic development, ranking as one of the most costly disasters for insurers since 1950. The Christchurch Rebuild movement has cost a staggering AUD$33.5 billion so far. However, the economic knockbacks suffered by the city in the aftermath of the quakes have given way to a period of new growth. Christchurch has seen some exceptional improvements to its economy in recent years, with strong migration numbers aiding the city’s ascent. In the five years between 2011 and 2016, the Christchurch region’s economy grew by 31%.
Christchurch is known as New Zealand’s ‘digital city’, so tech jobs are unsurprisingly easy to come by. The city contains the country’s largest IT industry, with major sectors including electronics, biotechnology, avionics and software engineering. There’s also a large, constant demand for construction workers as the rebuild process continues. Canterbury is also historically known for ‘living off the sheep’s back’, so agriculture is a big deal here.
The kids are well educated in Christchurch and the city boasts a couple of very old, top class universities. In the global QS Best Student Cities Index for 2017, Christchurch was ranked a rather strong 74th. The only New Zealand city ahead of it was Auckland.
Check out this website to see all the primary and secondary schools in Christchurch, both public and private.
The University of Canterbury has been kicking around for a pretty long time, first established in 1873 within a set of quaint stone buildings. It was based on the typical Oxbridge college, with the main (wonderful) difference being that women students were accepted. UoC alumnus Helen Connon became the first woman in the British Empire to achieve honours. In 1975, the university relocated to a new site, with the nice old buildings becoming Christchurch Arts Centre. The University of Canterbury has 12,000 students and was placed 214th in the QS World University rankings in 2017.
Lincoln University isn’t much younger, having been founded in 1878 as a college of agriculture within the University of Canterbury. However, it didn’t take long for agriculture to become a serious part of New Zealand’s exports, so it soon became its own independent institution. The main site is a 50-hectare campus situated about 15 km away from Christchurch, in the small town of Lincoln, featuring a beautiful redbrick library building that practically glows in the sunlight. You can do some really niche degrees here, such as viticulture, tourism management and landscape architecture.
Aussies shouldn’t feel too bad about leaving Medicare behind; most of the healthcare services in New Zealand are subsidized by the government. One unique thing about Kiwi healthcare is the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC), which everyone must pay for via a compulsory levy on their monthly income (NZD$1.21 per NZD$100). The ACC provides every citizen with financial cover if they ever find themselves involved in an accident, irrespective of whether it’s their fault or not. Only expats with permanent residency can access New Zealand’s free healthcare system, but fortunately Aussies and New Zealand residency go hand in hand.
The Canterbury District Health Board has a lot on its hands, serving 12% of the New Zealand population (510,000 people), and they have received international recognition for their work. They are also the South Island’s largest employer, with over 9,000 members of staff. The Canterbury DHB operate all the hospitals in the region, the main one being Christchurch hospital. Check out all the hospitals in Canterbury here.
Unfortunately, the Australian government don’t have an embassy in Christchurch. You’ll have to head up to the North Island if you need to visit one, choosing between either the High Commission in Wellington or the Consulate-General in Auckland.
According to Numbeo, the level of crime in Christchurch is 42.27, which is ‘moderate’. This doesn’t sound marvellous, but when you consider that New Zealand is the second safest country in the world (Global Peace Index 2017), there isn’t really much to worry about.
Cost of living
The transition from a major Australian city to a major New Zealand city is generally a money-saving one. Expatistan states that consumer prices in Christchurch are 24% cheaper than those in Sydney overall. Look at the table below to get a more detailed idea.
|Item||Price in Christchurch (AUD$)||Price in Sydney (AUD$)|
|Monthly public transport pass||$111||$166|
|2 cinema tickets||$30||$41|
|Monthly gym membership||$58||$105|
|1 pair of jeans||$104||$115|
|Basic lunchtime menu||$16||$16|
|Average monthly net salary||$5,046||$2,735|
If you own a fancy bike with lots of gears then maybe leave it behind; Christchurch is so flat that you really only need one gear. While the scenery is not as dramatic as that in Auckland or Wellington, simple activities such as walking and cycling around the city centre are far from strenuous. However, if you need to get a bit further or move a bit faster, the public transport options are efficient and affordable; particularly the buses.
Christchurch is well served by buses; they are a great way to get from the city centre to the surrounding suburbs. There are actually three different bus companies in the city but thankfully they all fall under the same umbrella of Metro Christchurch, so their timings are aligned. There are lots of bus lines operating through the city, most of them named after colours, such as the Blue, Orange, Purple and Yellow lines. The Christchurch Bus Interchange is the city’s central bus depot, housed in the most bizarre of buildings. The angular roof is certainly something to behold. Bus travel is wonderfully cheap here; it doesn’t matter if you travel for 5 minutes or two hours, the flat fee is NZD$3.20 (about AUD$3).
The tram in Christchurch is a great experience but it isn’t really a proper alternative to the buses. It’s more or less a tourist activity rather than something for local commuters, unless you need to commute from one end of the city centre to the other. The Christchurch tram follows a rather small loop right in the middle of the city, stopping 17 times along the way. Trams did actually used to serve Christchurch between 1882 and 1954, but buses eventually proved a better idea.
A ferry wouldn’t get you very far in the middle of Christchurch, but there is a service that operates between Lyttelton and Diamond Harbour. A ferry sets off from Lyttelton every hour in the day time and it takes just 8 minutes to get there. The service has been operating since 1888, but thankfully the ferry is only as old as 2001. Diamond Harbour is a peaceful little seaside settlement and is well worth a visit.
Driving a car
A valid Australian driving license will let you drive in Christchurch for up to one year, but after that you need to get a bona fide New Zealand license before you can carry on. A lot of potholes still plague the roads of Christchurch ever since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, but things are gradually improving. Three major roads run into the city: State Highways 1, 73 and 75.
Christchurch International Airport is in an elite club, being one of only two airports in New Zealand large enough to handle Boeing 747s and Airbus A380s (the other one being Auckland). It actually became New Zealand’s first international airport in 1950. Shuttle bus services between the airport and the city centre operate every day.
Choose any Christchurch suburb and you’ll never be far away from natural beauty, be it the Port Hills, the Botanic Gardens or the Pacific Ocean. Take a look at MoveHub’s selection of Christchurch’s top neighbourhoods.
If you enjoy city life but love being near the sea, Sumner is a great way of having the best of both worlds. It’s a seaside neighbourhood situated in a coastal valley, just a 15-minute drive southeast of the city centre. Kiwis in Christchurch love visiting the beach in Sumner, but why not go the whole hog and just live there all the time? The big hills on either side of the suburb provide a great counterbalance to the flatness of the city, and St Leonards Park gives residents some green space. Several of the houses here are so close to the sea that you can practically jump in from your window. The average house price is AUD$604,919.
While the rest of Christchurch was busy trying to be like England, Sir John Cracroft Wilson got the wrong end of the stick and named his farm after Kashmir in India (now in Pakistan). The farm eventually became a proper neighbourhood and is now one of the more expensive districts in Christchurch. Being situated near the mighty Port Hills, Cashmere’s Victoria Park offers some spectacular views of the city, so make sure you get a house with a north-facing window! The 496m peak at the top of Victoria Park is called Sugarloaf, which sounds tasty and cuddly at the same time. The suburb is 5 km south of the city centre, with the average house price being AUD$637,181.
This one’s a little further out, located 12 km southeast of the city, so it’s more of a separate town than a Christchurch neighbourhood, but it’s so lovely that we just couldn’t ignore it. Lyttelton is as quaint as it sounds: an historic port town with colourful houses dotting the slopes that overlook the ocean. It is immersed in tranquility, separated from Christchurch by the Port Hills, with drivers having to take a tunnel to get back to the city. The New Zealand Historic Places Trust recently made Lyttelton a ‘Category I Historic Area’, so it really is rather special. House prices are a bit more modest here compared to the more central suburbs, costing AUD$456,593 on average.
There’s more to life in the Garden City than just the gardens. Not that we want to knock them – they’re beautiful – but the variety of stuff on offer in Christchurch is seriously impressive. Activities can be as tame or as energetic as you want. While some are happy with a punt down the leafy Avon River, others go skiing on Mt Hutt or surfing at Taylors Mistake. You can even do both in the same day, driving from one to the other in less than two hours. Christchurch’s post-earthquake recovery has also come to define the atmosphere there. A gorgeous array of colourful street art has sprung up all over the centre, which is possibly the highlight of the city’s creative response to the disaster.
Things to do in Christchurch
Check out MoveHub’s top picks for activities in Christchurch.
Ko Tāne Living Maori Village
Head to Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, about 12 km north of the city centre, for a truly interactive experience of Māori culture. New Zealand has a rich indigenous culture and there’s no better way of learning about it than by joining in. It’s also a great way of travelling back in time while actually remaining safely in the present. The day includes a traditional Māori welcome (powhiri), dance (kapahaka), dinner (hāngi) and activities with various tools and instruments. Most importantly, everything comes with the opportunity to get involved. There isn’t much spectating here!
Punting down the Avon River
In historical terms, this is a much more recent tradition than the activities at Ko Tāne, but it’s still an iconic part of Christchurch culture. When the city’s original white settlers were trying to recreate posh English life, the introduction of punts was probably their best idea. The long, flat boats provide a serenely graceful way of getting around, and the Avon River punts glide right through the Botanic Gardens. The Gardens began in 1863 with the planting of a single oak tree, but quickly grew into the city dwellers’ pride and joy. Meandering through sunny Christchurch on an old wooden boat is one of the city’s unmissable experiences. No lifejackets are required (it would be quite an achievement to fall out of a punt).
Trade the freshwater for saltwater and head to Quail Island, named after the bird that became extinct on this island in the 19th century. Nobody’s got round to updating the name yet. A visit to Quail Island (just a few miles off Lyttelton port) is the perfect way of combining an outdoor activity with some fascinating history. Wander around the island and you’ll see many physical signs of its colourful past, such as the remains of an old leper colony, dog training sites for Antarctic expeditions and several shipwrecks. If you’re feeling particularly morbid, go there at low tide to see the remains of eight different vessels. Families love visiting the island and the hikes are manageable for children.
Some big festivals come to Christchurch each year – take a look at three of the best.
World Buskers Festival
It’s wrong to think of street performers as just background music while you’re shopping, and it’s right that the World Buskers Festival celebrates them so enthusiastically every year. Christchurch also makes perfect sense as a venue, what with all its beautiful outdoor spaces and (mostly) sunny weather. Music is a big focus in this festival, with musicians coming from all over the world to get involved, but there’s lots of other stuff too, including dancers and comedians. The festival has been running for 25 years and generally takes places between January and February.
This annual one-day event is all about the setting. The mixture of food, music and arts & crafts is wonderful, but what makes it truly unique is the the early 1900s replica township that hosts everything. Ferrymead Heritage Park sends you straight back to Edwardian England, complete with an old red steam train that chugs through Heathcote Valley. The best part of the festival can be found along the heritage replica street, where the artisanal and traditional food is top notch and live music ranges from folk to rock. This festival is great at evoking feelings of nostalgia for a time you weren’t even alive for.
South Island Wine & Food Festival
Wine is good for drinking, but it’s also an opportunity to learn things and have fancy discussions. Fortunately, you don’t have to be a wine boffin to attend the free seminars at this festival (complete with tastings), given by some of New Zealand’s top wine experts. 40 different wineries from the South Island come to promote their products, accompanied by some flashy cooking demonstrations. The festival takes place around December each year in Hagley Park and receives about 10,000 visitors.
Christchurch is super creative and nowhere is this more evident than in its food scene. Vans pop up every friday night in the art-covered Cathedral Square selling international cuisine, and across the city people have found some very inventive ways of serving food. Here are MoveHub’s favourite Christchurch restaurants.
Christchurch Tramway Restaurant (109 Worcester St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011)
If you’re really pushed for time in Christchurch, someone’s found a way to double up dining and sightseeing into one experience. Buses replaced trams as the city’s main mode of public transport back in the 1950s, so the trams had to find something else to do. The experience costs about AUD$100 but you get something genuinely unique in return, with colonial style decor, sensational food, excellent service and the sights of Christchurch whizzing by your window. Top menu items include the Canterbury lamb rump, pan-roasted monkfish and smoked Akaroa salmon. The wine selection is equally top class.
BBQ Brazil (505 Papanui Rd, Papanui, Christchurch 8053)
Pay a visit to BBQ Brazil and you’ll wonder why there aren’t more restaurants like it. Reading a million menu choices and waiting to order are two of the most annoying parts of a dining experience, so why not just get rid of them? At BBQ Brazil, it’s rodizio style; you simply sit down and turn your table card to green once you’re ready to start eating. Mouth-watering towers of meat arrive on vertical barbecue skewers (called churrasco), ranging from the traditional picanha rump cuts to the coxa de frango chicken drumsticks. Talented meat carvers (called Passadores) will arrive to help slice the meat off the skewer. Diners can turn their table card to red again once they’ve had enough, simple as that.
Hello Sunday Cafe (6 Elgin St, Sydenham, Christchurch 8023)
Don’t be misled: this place is actually open every day of the week, although it closes at 4:30pm. It specialises in top quality breakfast and lunch food, including shoestring fries, shakshuka, fish po’ boy and smashed avocado. As with many of the buildings in Christchurch, the Hello Sunday Cafe premises has some interesting colonial history, having started as a post office in the 18th century. It was also once a Baptist Church’s Sunday school, which perhaps explains the cafe’s name. Along with the food, locals also love Hello Sunday for its upbeat buzz and friendly service.
You probably already know that the king of all sports in New Zealand is rugby. Christchurch’s rugby team, the Crusaders, used to play at Lancaster Park before the venue was badly damaged by the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. They have since moved to the 18,000-seat AMI Stadium, while the iconic Lancaster Park was deemed not worth repairing in December 2016. The Crusaders are a top team, having claimed their eighth Super Rugby title in 2017, so it’s a lot of fun supporting them. The second biggest sport in New Zealand is cricket, the main Christchurch cricket venue being Hagley Oval. Founded in 1867, this place has a lot of history, home to many international cricket matches featuring the Black Caps.
As Christchurch continues to recover from the earthquakes, new clubs and bars keep popping up across the city. The nightlife scene is varied, exciting and generally high quality. Here are three of the best places to spend a night out in the Garden City.
O.G.B (30/28 Cathedral Square, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011)
This bar might have bagged one of the best locations in Christchurch, housed in the Old Government Building (hence ‘O.G.B’). It’s a marvellous construction, with a long, red-brick facade, four white stone pillars and a big black door. Imposing is an understatement. OGB is situated on the building’s ground floor, channelling an early-19th century theme. The friendly staff all wear striped shirts, flat caps and suspenders (not the leg ones), creating a very convincing speakeasy vibe. Lots of live music keeps the place rocking on Saturday nights.
Deja Vu (32 Allen St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011)
Deja Vu is a prime example of an exciting new Christchurch club, having opened in the middle of 2017. It promises a proper club experience, with a state-of-the-art sound system, atmospheric lighting, nine VIP booths and skilled DJs. The venue also has 11 arcade machines for the people who fancy something a bit more retro. Arcade machines have never been a club essential, but Deja Vu might rewrite the rulebook.
The Last Word (31 New Regent St, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8011)
For a slightly more civilized affair, try The Last Word; a classy bar that serves fine whiskies in a cosy, mellow atmosphere. Super helpful and knowledgeable staff guide you through the extensive drinks menu, helping you choose between the many spirits, wines and beers – so no need to worry if you haven’t heard of anything! The Last Word is tucked away down a lovely little street and its outdoor tables are great for people-watching (if you can get a seat there).
That’s everything from us, but there’s a whole lot more information you can get from books. Here are a few MoveHub recommendations.
Trapped (2014) by Martin van Beynen is a collection of moving testimonies from people who spent hours trapped during the immediate aftermath of the 2011 earthquake.
The Cleaner (2006) by Paul Cleave is a thrilling murder mystery set in Christchurch. It has become an international best-seller.
The Port Hills of Christchurch (1978) by Gordon Ogilvie gets stuck into some proper local Canterbury history, exploring the natural and human past of Christchurch’s Port Hills.