Christchurch's History & Culture


Christchurch has an interesting history going back as far as the moa hunting tribes in the 1200s. They hunted one of New Zealand’s most magnificent birds to extinction. Maori tribes followed often fighting each other in civil wars and depleting their numbers severely. It wasn’t until the early Europeans settled after James Cooks discovered New Zealand in 1870 that civilization as we know it was established.



Early Settlement with Moa hunters and Maori tribes

Archaeological evidence has shown Christchurch was first settled by humans about 1250. In a cave in Redcliffs in Christchurch moa bones have been found indicating moa hunting tribes were there.

The moa was a large, flightless bird which supplied the huntsmen with abundant food. Some of the species were relatively small, however, the South Island giant moa stood as high at two metres. It is the tallest bird species known. From their bones, the Huntsman made ornaments, fish hooks, bird spears, and other items. 

The moa hunters trapped the birds between 1300 and 1500 and cleared large areas of forest by fire so by 1450 the moa's were extinct. Without the forests, the land eroded and the rivers spread across the plains burying all traces of the original forests.

The remaining moa-hunters were either killed or taken into the tribes of the North Island Maori that arrived into Canterbury in the 1500s.


British Settlement

On February 16th 1770, Captain Cook sighted the Canterbury Peninsula from his boat the Endeavour. He thought it was an island and called it Banks Island. He liked what he saw and sent positive word back to England. He said he had found a land of great beauty. 

It was not until sometime later in the early 1880’s sailors and whalers started to arrive into Banks Peninsula. With them came disease, especially measles and influenza. This along with the Maori tribes fighting among themselves caused the local Maori population to fall.

In May 1840 Major Thomas Bunbury arrived on the HMS Herald to collect the signatures of the Ngāi Tahu chiefs for the Treaty of Waitangi. The Treaty had been signed by many North Island chiefs in the Bay of Islands earlier in the year on 6 February. The treaty was an important agreement between the British Crown and the Maori tribes. It enabled the British settlers and the Maori people to live together under a common set of laws.

Several years later in November 1847, two English gentlemen began to plan the Canterbury settlement. They believed colonisation of countries like New Zealand should be like communities back in England, with landowners, small farmers and workers, and churches, shops and schools. 

With the influx of immigrant came more development with roads and bridges being constructed. A road linking Lyttelton to Christchurch via Sumner was one of the first in be built in the region. This was shortly followed by New Zealand's first public railway line. The Ferrymead railway opened from Ferrymead to Christchurch in 1863. Soon after a railway tunnel was bored through the Port Hills to Lyttelton due to the difficulties in travelling over the hills and the dangers associated with the ships navigating the Sumner bar.

With all this activity and a growing population, Christchurch became a city, now New Zealand’s oldest city. The city was named after Christ Church on Oxford. Many of the city's fine Gothic buildings designed by architect Benjamin Mountfort date from this period, in the 1850s.

Christchurch continued to thrive however a devastating fire in 1947, New Zealand's worst occurred at Ballantyne's Department Store in the city. Forty-one people died in a blaze which razed the rambling collection of buildings.


Christchurch’s 2011 earthquake

Another more recent event which has had a significant impact on the city was the deadly earthquake on Tuesday 22 February 2011. At lunchtime, Christchurch suffered a magnitude 6.3 earthquake caused severe damage. One hundred and eighty-five people were killed and several thousand injured.

The earthquake's epicenter was near Lyttelton, just 10 km southeast of Christchurch's central business district. While the initial quake only lasted approximately 10 seconds the damage was severe because of the location and shallowness. The central city and eastern suburbs were badly affected. What made it worse was some buildings had already been weakened by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake which rocked the region in September 2009.

Over 1,500 buildings in the city were demolished, leading to an ongoing recovery and rebuilding project.


Christchurch Today

The earthquake which bought Christchurch to its feet in 2011 created a construction boom, however the agriculture industry has always been economic core of Christchurch. Agribusiness including seed development, meat and wool processing, cropping and dairying are the backbone of Canterbury’s economy. In recent years, agriculture has diversified with a thriving wine industry in Waipara.

Tourism is also significant to the local economy. The close proximity to several ski fields and other attractions associated with the Southern Alps make if a great holiday destination.

The Canterbury region also has a wealth of artistic talent. Christchurch’s Art Gallery, Te Puna O Waiwhetu is home to one of New Zealand's most important public art collections. The CoCA gallery has been showcasing contemporary art since 1980 provoking new thinking and conversations.

It has to be said that Cantabrians love their sports so if you want a real cultural experience, dress up in red and black and get along to a Crusaders game and cheer for the home rugby team.


Pricing terms

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