Crisp colours of Christchurch - Autumn in the City

  • Autumn Leaves in Hagley Park

May in Christchurch is a month of wonderful afternoons.  Before the rigors of the winter set in, this month is a great time to set off from your Christchurch accommodation and wander around the city.  The city wears its finest colours in May, and the bright light and warm afternoons make it one of the best months for exploring Christchurch.  Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Autumn Colour in Hagley Park

Christchurch’s early settlers were seeking to establish a version of England in the South Pacific.  Part of this vision was the establishment of an English botanical garden and a park right in the heart of the city.  Today, the deciduous trees they planted when the city was young have matured into some of the best examples of European trees anywhere in New Zealand.

The rich reds and russets of the autumn foliage frame glimpses of the Avon River as it curls through the park.  There a quiet sunny corners where you can sit and read a book while the leaves cascade from the trees.  If you are feeling energetic you could go for a run around 3.7 kilometre circuit of South Hagley Park or work out on the seventeen fitness stations around the perimeter of North Hagley Park.  More appropriate for mild autumn afternoons would be to simply enjoy a coffee at the Botanical Gardens Café and watch the world go by. 

The Summit Road

On a clear May afternoon you can see forever.  At least, that’s how it seems when you stroll, bike or even drive along one of the many paths, roads and walkways on the summit of the Port Hills.  Suspended in the sky between the city on one side and the blue indentation of Lyttleton Harbour on the other, The Summit Road is a perfect place to begin your explorations. There are car-parks dotted at strategic locations along the length of the road and you can leave your car and set off along one of the thirty-four official tracks on the Port Hills.  The Christchurch City Council website has updates on the condition of the tracks along with descriptions of the routes they take.  They also publish a number of brochures about the natural and human history of the Port Hills, along with details on the various tracks, roads, cycle paths and walkways. For some great views of the city, Pegasus Bay and the Southern Alps, the easy Lamar Track is a good option.  You can take the Bridal Path, used by the early settlers to walk from Lyttleton to Christchurch, or wander about on some of the many easy tracks in Victoria Park.  Out on Godley Head there are some walks visiting historic military installations and with stunning views of the entrance to Lyttleton Harbour Whatever you decide to roam up on the Port Hills you will be rewarded with superb autumn views of the city and its surroundings. 

Beach Walking

There is no doubt that Christchurch is blessed with some superb beaches.  From the tiny coves and inlets of Lyttleton Harbour to the long sweep of Pegasus Bay, on autumn days the beaches are a great place to escape the hubbub of the city.  The bright, clear light is perfect for photographers and even on days when the elements aren’t so obliging, a bracing beach walk will clear your head and refresh your senses. In the ever-changing world between the waves and the land there is always something new to see.  Although the godwits may have departed on their long autumn migration flight back to the Arctic, there is still plenty of birdlife to be seen on the beach margins and in the estuarine wetlands behind the dunes. The Christchurch Pier presents an opportunity to look back at the land from out in the waves and you can sit out on the deck of the Salt On The Pier Café beneath the vast branches of a macrocarpa tree and watch the seagulls wheel on the wind. Sumner has a great esplanade for strolling on an autumn afternoon.  If the tide is right you can watch surfers on the beach break at the far end of the beach.  You can finish your stroll with yet another coffee and a snack at the Ocean Café, with its dazzling view out across the water, surely one of the best café locations in Christchurch.


Autumn light brings a whole new aspect to urban environments, and despite the devastation wrought by the earthquakes, Downtown Christchurch is still a great place to wander on an autumn day. Visitors who knew the city prior to the earthquakes can stroll about remembering the buildings they knew which no longer stand.  Newcomers to the city will marvel at the massive amounts of construction going on in the downtown area and which, even in this early stage, are beginning to hint at the layout of the new city which will rise from the rubble. Over at the Re:START mall on Cashel Street, a number of retailers have shifted their original containerized shops from the area opposite Ballantynes to a new location on the south side of Cashel Street adjacent to the Avon River.  The quality and range of the shops remains the same, however, and if you fancy a great coffee and a sit down, one of the many cafes will be able to sort you out. 

Further Afield

As well as being an ideal time to explore the city, autumn is also a great time to experience destinations which are easily visited in a day trip from Christchurch. Located just ninety minutes from Christchurch, the charming French-flavoured village of Akaroa is a quiet, unhurried sort of place.

Tucked in at the base of towering, bluffy hills on the edge of Akaroa Harbour, the village, first settled by French immigrants, has some charming examples of early Canterbury architecture.  Many of the original government buildings are built from wood carved to look like stone (can you tell which ones?) 

There are some great places to eat and coffee lovers will find some very good cafes in the village. At this time of the year Akaroa’s autumn foliage makes a stunning show against the dark greens backdrop of the hills.  Legend has it that the town’s willow trees, and there are many, are descended from cuttings taken from a tree growing near Napoleon’s grave in The Valley of the Willows on the island of Saint Helena in the Atlantic Ocean.  Mais oui! The thermal resort of Hanmer, just over an hour north-west of Christchurch is beautiful in its autumn colours. 

Backed by rugged, pine-clad ranges, the poplar, birch and sycamore trees of the village are a mass of autumn colours in May.  The steam from the thermal pools rises into the sky and the bright, clean sunlight gives the place an almost Scandinavian look. After your drive from Christchurch (itself a scenic experience) its nice to unwind in one of the many naturally-heated hot pools, or have a massage or a beauty treatment before dining at one of Hanmer’s many fine eateries.