Thursday, 10 February 2011

Down Under Tour 2011: CHRISTCHURCH

Of the three largest cities in New Zealand, Christchurch is without doubt the one with the least developed public transport system, which is completely "bus-based". There is no suburban rail system like in Auckland or Wellington, although actually four rail lines radiate out of Christchurch. At present the somehow remote railway station is only served by two passenger trains a day, the Tranz Alpine across the Southern Alps to Greymouth on the West Coast, and the Tranz Coastal, which runs along the East Coast to Picton, where it connects to the ferry to Wellington. Both are very scenic routes and well patronised by tourists from all parts of the world. The last suburban trains ran in 1972, but in recent years there have been several proposals to re-introduce a kind of commuter rail service.

More details about the railway history in and around Christchurch can be found here:

Christchurch, however, has a heritage tram line, which runs in a circle around downtown on a new route opened in 1995. At present this service is being extended to the southern parts of the city centre and the Polytech campus. As of now, it is only a tourist attraction, with no single tickets available for spontanous short trips; a 2-day ticket, which allows unlimited hop-on hop-off costs 17 NZD (some 9 €). Locals can, however, buy an annual pass to use the tram. In any case, walking is in most cases faster than taking one of the three trams which run daily every 8 minutes. With the new extension and further proposals, the basis is being laid for what may one day become a modern light rail system.

Numerous enthusiasts of the Tramway Historical Society, who gave me a warm welcome in their city and showed me all the precious pieces they are currently restoring, are fighting strongly to expand the system and also introduce a modern light rail system for Christchurch. Their activities can be seen at the Tramway Museum, which is part of the Ferrymead Heritage Park, and at weekends several vintage trams operate there on a dedicated line. More at:

More on the former and current tram system:


  1. Did you see any evidence of recent earthquake damage?

    How far has work progressed with the tramway extension? When I was there in October 2009, trackwork had been completed in Cashew Mall, and was underway at the High Street crossover, but had yet to start anywhere else. At the time, I was told that they wanted to get the first stage of the extension open in time for the Rugby World Cup this September and October - do you think that they will achieve this?

    I love the photo of a push-chair (stroller) hanging off the front of a tram, while the occupant rides inside. That was common practice in New Zealand in years gone by - and I think it was unique to New Zealand. I certainly didn't realise it still went on today!

  2. Yes, earthquake damage is visible everywhere, especially older building were damaged, so many areas are fenced off and buildings have wall supports.
    The tram extension is well underway and there was active construction going on in several places, at Cathedral Sq and further down on High St, so, yes, the target date is still the Rugby thing, when many visitors are expected to come to Christchurch.

  3. I was quite shocked today when I saw the disaster the new earthquake has caused in Christchurch, only two weeks after my visit. I probably wouldn't recognise the city now. My condolences to all people down there who lost some relatives or friends.

  4. 3 months on and the cbd is still utterly destroyed. The majority of the cbd is still cordoned off by the army/police. The cathedral spire collapsed, beautiful heritage buildings collapsed all over the city.
    On the plus side, there is the opportunity to rejuvinate rail in christchurch and hopefully introduce commuter rail on those 4 main lines to breathe life back into the cbd when it reopens


Tell us your experience of this transport system!