Christchurch and Akaora were an interesting part of our exploration of the South Island of New Zealand. Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island but it's still a relatively small city. It was devastated by major earthquakes in 2010-2012 and here's a statistic for you: 4,558 earthquakes were recorded in the Canterbury region (where Christchurch is located) above a magnitude 3.0, from 4 September 2010 to 3 September 2014.
Side note - we experienced our first earthquake in Wellington, which is on the North Island, just weeks after leaving Christchurch. It was disconcerting.
The devastation from the earthquakes is visible as you walk around Christchurch. There are new buildings and areas that are modern, rebuilt, and beautiful interspersed with entire blocks that are fenced in where a huge building was razed following the quakes. You'll see shopfronts that were abandoned and are covered in graffiti next to a well-kempt restaurant. It's an odd juxtaposition.
One bonus is that the city rebuilt a massive, modern playground right (the Margaret Mahy Family Playground) in the heart of the business district and it was by far and away the coolest playground I've ever seen, complete with in-ground trampolines (talk about things that would never fly in the US), a huge slide, ropes for climbing, tunnels, a splash park, climbing equipment, a zipline... I could go on and on.
We were asking a man what a "no cruising" sign meant and got to chatting about the city and he told us it was kind of boring, which cracked me up because, to me, it was so quintessentially British to be so pejorative. There isn't a ton to do in Christchurch because it is a small city in the midst of rebuilding, but it's nice to walk around, there is some great food, the botanic gardens in the middle of the city are spectacular, and there is some really fun street art to see.
Christchurch is also where I learned about paddling pools. There are parks throughout New Zealand with shallow pools specifically mean for toddlers and small children (plus even smaller pools for babies). They are free and usually adjacent to a playground. The only requirement is that you wear togs (a mom explained to me that this is a swimsuit in NZ, a term which I hope to bring back to the states).
My favorite spots in Christchurch, aside from the Margaret Mahy Family Playground, include the Christchurch Botanic Gardens, including the playground with paddling pool and the Ilex Cafe in the gardens, which served flaky, warm scones and strong coffee. You can walk back to the city center through North Hagley Park making your way to Victoria Street, which is lined by cute coffee shops, hip stores, and good restaurants. We had lunch at Vic's Cafe, which offered really healthy and tasty prepared salads, fresh-baked bread, and smoothies. We stumbled upon a really cool open space called The Commons, which was the site of a former hotel. Currently, it includes a playing field, tetherball, a putting green, food trucks, various other games for kids and adults, and a huge bin filled with sports equipment for anyone to use. Rob and I had a heated tetherball match and we played frisbee and kicked the soccer ball around with Blythe and my parents. New Regent Street has been completely redone and almost looks fake as you approach it, but contains a host of options for eating, coffee, and ice cream. The Christchurch Art Gallery is a worth a visit as well. A popular activity that we didn't have time for was the Christchurch Gondola. We also spent an afternoon in Lyttleton, a suburb of Christchurch on the bay. It has a few streets of quaint shops and really inviting restaurants. We had a delicious meal at Lyttleton Coffee Co. (you'll see their coffee sold elsewhere in the city).
We took a day trip to Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula, which afforded stunning views of the coast and various valleys. The town itself has cute shops and restaurants, a good playground, and a nice town beach where we swam for a few hours. The best part of our trip was a drive on the Summit Road, culminating in pizza and homemade olives at the Hilltop Tavern. The view cannot be beat, the food was good, and it had a nice vibe... plus, there was a basket of kid's books for Blythe to read. Two of the activities people often do from Akaroa are swimming with dolphins and a boat ride to see blue penguins.
Akaroa was a spot that I highly recommend and you could do a lot more exploring on the Banks Peninsula. There are some really lux places to stay in this area, plus plenty of B&Bs and the Banks Peninsula Track, which I'm certain would be breathtaking. You can swim, kayak, hike, surf, and explore this area easily from Christchurch. Christchurch itself is fine, but I wouldn't recommend a side trip to specifically visit the city. It's nice, but your time is better spent elsewhere in New Zealand.