Having a hard time deciding between Christchurch and Wellington? Learn how these two New Zealand cities differ and which one would appeal more.
Wellington and Christchurch are both popular destinations in New Zealand.
Wellington is located at the bottom of the North Island, and Christchurch is located on the eastern side of the South Island near Banks Peninsula.
Christchurch and Wellington can be seen as relatively large cities compared to other towns or cities in New Zealand.
Look and feel of Wellington and Christchurch
The first noticeable difference between Wellington and Christchurch is their size.
Wellington City is much smaller than Christchurch, and you easily notice this by the distance you have to walk to get from point A to point B.
Wellington is a compact city in which you can easily walk from place to place. Christchurch is more expansive and feels spacious, so it takes longer to get to places by walking.
So if you visit Christchurch, it is highly recommended to rent a car, although you can get to most places by catching a bus.
In addition, renting a car would enable you to go on several short day trips around Christchurch.
The second noticeable difference is the lay of the land. Christchurch is flat. It gets hillier as you go more toward Banks Peninsula, but for the majority, Christchurch city center is flat.
Wellington, on the other hand, is hilly. The city center is backed by hills and there are also hills lining the harbor. Mount Victoria, which is not a far walk from the city center, is a good example of a hill that is more or less right in the city.
So if you are walking in Wellington, be prepared to have to walk up hills, for example when visiting the Wellington Botanic Garden.
You may have heard of the earthquakes that devastated Christchurch and brought down many (historic) buildings.
With the rebuild of Christchurch after the earthquakes, Christchurch acquired a more modern look than Wellington although Wellington does not look that old.
However, Wellington has more heritage buildings left than Christchurch, with tall modern buildings in between.
So if you are looking for a good mixture of old and new architecture, Wellington would probably be the city to visit instead of Christchurch.
Wellington has a typical North Island feel and smell to it. You can really smell the native bush in Wellington. Christchurch has a typical South Island feel to it, which is a barren and dry feel with lots of wide open areas.
Similarities between Wellington and Christchurch
Just like Christchurch, Wellington is not immune to earthquakes, because it lies directly on a fault line, and there are many faults in the Greater Wellington and Marlborough regions anyway.
So if you are someone who would not want to experience the earth shaking under your feet, you may want to avoid both cities.
However, I live in Wellington and can attest to the fact that you generally do not feel most of the earthquakes – which tend to take place on a daily basis – because they tend to be small.
An earthquake that has a magnitude of 3 or less is hard to feel, unless you happen to be close to the epicenter. Earthquakes that have a magnitude of 4 or higher can be felt, even if they take place far away somewhere in New Zealand.
Note that due to the location of New Zealand, an earthquake can take place anywhere in New Zealand and not only in Christchurch or Wellington.
If you want to go for a stroll among plants and flowers, both Christchurch and Wellington have botanic gardens you can visit right in the center of the cities.
In my opinion, the Christchurch Botanic Garden is more beautiful than the Wellington Botanic Garden, but it depends on the season and what you prefer to see.
While the Wellington Botanic Garden is slightly larger than the Christchurch Botanic Garden, the Christchurch Botanic Garden feels more spacious and flat.
The Wellington Botanic Garden is hillier and you can sometimes feel like you are walking in a jungle, which adds to the feeling of being far away from city life, while the city is not that far away.
So each garden is unique in its own way, and both are nice places to visit in spring.
Differences between Christchurch and Wellington
The biggest difference between Wellington and Christchurch is probably the difference in weather.
Wellington is known for its wind and its cooler temperatures year round, while Christchurch is known for its dry and warm weather, especially in summer.
And while neither Christchurch nor Wellington have ski fields, you can drive out of the cities to go skiing.
However, the drive you would have to make takes much longer from Wellington than it does from Christchurch.
Mount Hutt ski field is about an hour’s drive away from Christchurch, while Mount Ruapehu ski area should take close to 4 hours to reach from Wellington.
Wellington is known for its large concentration of bars and restaurants in its city center. While Christchurch also has a variety of restaurants around the city, the concentration is much larger in Wellington. This is also thanks to the compactness of Wellington.
While you can get scenic views from above in both Wellington and Christchurch, you would have to leave Christchurch city center and then hop onto the Christchurch gondola (or walk up) to get scenic views from above.
Because Wellington is so hilly, it is quite easy to walk up a hill and get scenic views. Two scenic viewpoints that are easily accessible right from the city center are the Wellington Botanic Garden (you can take the cable car up) and Mount Victoria (you can catch a bus up the hill if you don’t want to walk).
Other popular hill walks are the Mount Kaukau Lookout walk and the Brooklyn wind turbine walk.
One last difference is that you can walk to the sea (harbor) from Wellington’s city center, while you cannot do the same from Christchurch’s city center – you would have to drive to the sea because it’s too far to walk. Wellington’s harbor can be very scenic on a sunny day.
Wellington or Christchurch?
Choosing between Wellington and Christchurch is a difficult decision to make, which I think will boil down to what kind of environment you like, that is, open or close.
If you like a compact city where you can walk to almost everywhere including restaurants and a beach, then Wellington might be the city for you. If, on the other hand, you like to be in a city that feels spacious and you have rented a car, then Christchurch might fit the bill.
If I had to choose, I would choose Christchurch because I like wide open spaces. But I live in Wellington and must say that I like it mostly for not having to drive to anywhere despite the fact that I like driving a lot.
Each city has a different feel to it, so if you have the opportunity to visit both, please do so.
This article falls under Travel Guide.
Note: This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm all details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.