Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand, and the country’s third-most populous urban area. It lies one third of the way down the South Island’s east coast, just north of Banks Peninsula which itself, since 2006, lies within the formal limits of Christchurch. The population of Christchurch City at the 5 March 2013 census was 341,469.
The city was named by the Canterbury Association, which settled the surrounding province of Canterbury. The name of Christchurch was agreed on at the first meeting of the association on 27 March 1848. It was suggested by John Robert Godley, who had attended Christ Church, Oxford. Some early writers called the town Christ Church, but it was recorded as Christchurch in the minutes of the management committee of the association. Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter on 31 July 1856, making it officially the oldest established city in New Zealand.
The river that flows through the centre of the city (its banks now largely forming an urban park) was named Avon at the request of the pioneering Deans brothers to commemorate the Scottish Avon, which rises in the Ayrshire hills near what was their grandfathers’ farm and flows into the Clyde.
The usual Māori name for Christchurch is Ōtautahi (“the place of Tautahi”). This was originally the name of a specific site by the Avon River near present-day Kilmore Street and the Christchurch Central Fire Station. The site was a seasonal dwelling of Ngāi Tahu chief Te Potiki Tautahi, whose main home was Port Levy on Banks Peninsula. The Ōtautahi name was adopted in the 1930s. Prior to that the Ngāi Tahu generally referred to the Christchurch area as Karaitiana, a transliteration of the English word Christian. The city’s name is often abbreviated by New Zealanders to Chch. In New Zealand Sign Language, the city’s name is the fingerspelled letter C (made by forming the hand into a C shape) signed twice, with the second to the right of the first, while mouthing “Christchurch”.
Christchurch lies in Canterbury, near the centre of the east coast of the South Island, east of the Canterbury Plains. It is located near the southern end of Pegasus Bay, and is bounded to the east by the Pacific Ocean coast and the estuary of the Avon and Heathcote Rivers. To the south and south-east the urban portion of the city is limited by the volcanic slopes of the Port Hills separating it from Banks Peninsula. In 2006, Banks Peninsula was incorporated into the city, in effect tripling the city’s land area while adding only about 8,000 people to the city’s population. To the north the city is bounded by the braided Waimakariri River.
Christchurch is one of only eight pairs of cities in the world that has a near-exact antipodal city. Half of these antipodal pairs are in New Zealand and Spain/Morocco–with A Coruña, Spain as Christchurch’s antipode.
Christchurch is one of a group of only four cities in the world to have been carefully planned following the same layout of a central city square, four complementing city squares surrounding it and a parklands area that embrace the city centre. The first city built with this pattern was Philadelphia. Later came Savannah and Adelaide, before Christchurch. As such, Christchurch holds an important legacy and a strong platform for future development.
Christchurch has one of the highest-quality water supplies in the world, with its water rated among the purest and cleanest in the world. Untreated, naturally filtered water is sourced, via more than 50 pumping stations surrounding the city, from aquifers emanating from the foothills of the Southern Alps.
Christchurch is a distinctly English city, however it contains various European elements, with strong Gothic Revival architecture. As early settlers of New Zealand, Māori culture is also prevalent in the city. It features many public open spaces and parks, river beds and cafes and restaurants situated in the city centre and surrounding suburbs.
The large number of public parks and well-developed residential gardens with many trees has given Christchurch the name of The Garden City. Hagley Park and the 30-hectare (75 acre) Christchurch Botanic Gardens, founded in 1863, are in the central city, with Hagley Park being a site for sports such as golf, cricket, netball, and rugby, and for open air concerts by local bands and orchestras. To the north of the city is the Willowbank wildlife park. Travis Wetland, an ecological restoration programme to create a wetland, is to the east of the city centre in the suburb of Burwood.
Christchurch has one full-time professional theatre, the Court Theatre, which was based in the Christchurch Arts Centre. There is also an active recreational theatre scene with community based theatre companies, such as the Christchurch Repertory Society, Elmwood Players, the Free Theatre Christchurch, Riccarton Players, and Canterbury Children’s Theatre, producing many quality shows.