Gay Christchurch & South Island
Emergency measures in the wake of Covid-19:
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern closed the borders to all non-citizen or non-permanent residents of New Zealand on March 19th. The country essentially shut down on March 23rd, with non-essential businesses closed, domestic travel restrictions in place, and only supermarkets, pharmacies and essential medical services still open.
As of May 8th mass gatherings are still banned, schools and shopping centers are closed, and socializing is restricted to close relatives, however, non-essential businesses will be allowed to open with no face-to-face contacts. Additional relaxation measures may be taken in mid-May.
Christchurch, Ōtautahi in Māori, is the third largest city in New Zealand, and with a population of 375,000 the largest city in South Island. The magnificent Southern Alps mountains range along the island's spine, well known to anyone who's seen the Lord of the Rings films by native son director Peter Jackson. Four-wheel drive vehicle tours head west from Christchurch to Mount Sunday, better known to film fans as Edoras, and the Misty Mountains.
Thought to have been named after Christ Church, Oxford, this has been called the most English of cities in the Southern Hemisphere. Massive earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 destroyed a third of the Central Business District, with over 1,000 buildings and almost two hundred lives lost. The last cordons around the Red Zone public exclusion area at Christchurch Central City came down in June 2013, 859 days after the big one. But as they rebuild, locals are looking ahead rather than back. The ruined iconic cathedral that dates back to the earliest days of the city will not be restored if the church has its way. Their Transitional or Cardboard Cathedral not far from the old building, serves in its place, and they'd prefer demolition and a new church built from scratch. In general most people embrace the new landmarks of the city, including the ReSTART shopping center, put together quickly and simply using shipping containers, intended to keep the commercial center alive. The Acadamy Gold art-house cinema had to move post-quake from the Gothic Revival buildings of the Arts Centre, the former Canterbury College dating from the 1870s, after 22 of the 23 buildings were deemed unsafe. Restoration is expected to take years. Their new home is in a smaller but safer building to screen their program of movies from around the world.
At the Quake City museum visitors can learn more about the disaster of 2010–2011 and the recurring history of earthquakes in this part of the world. Lively pop-up art projects often appear in the empty lots, demonstrating a quirky sense of optimism to balance the grief from losses at the region's cultural core. But the city is booming, with quake-recovery tourism, new hotel and home construction, local and international restaurants and street foods to be sampled, and creative arts and fashions everywhere. The new beginnings, born out of chaos and debris, are referred to by one weary gay business owner as "3 years of working in the middle of the dirty dusty bomb-site that is the Christchurch CBD." Historical perspectives, provided by the Canterbury Museum, feature a broader view of South Island’s natural, Maori and colonial history, along with the country's ongoing interest in the vast Antarctic, not so far away to the south. Fred and Myrtle’s Paua Shell House lounge has also relocated to the Canterbury Museum, its walls covered with paua shells and other Kiwi kitch.
Gay bars and clubs suffered damage too. Several have reopened, but as people feel more comfortable most anywhere, the old gay scene may be as unlikely to return as the old cathedral. The Bears Christchurch group sponsors several monthly events that take place around town at general public venues - mixing right in; and Cruz, the city's gay nightclub, attracts a very mixed gay/straight dance crowd on weekends.
Christchurch International Airport has international services to and from Australia, the Cook Islands, Fiji, Japan, Singapore, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates, along with daily flights to and from most New Zealand airports by Air New Zealand and Jetstar Airways. There are also flights to/from McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Super Shuttle operates to and from the airport 24/7, with pick-ups and drop-offs at your doorstep. Metro Red public bus service (numbers 3 and 29) runs every half-hour to the city centre, a 30 minute trip costs $8.50 in cash; buy tickets from the driver. Both buses depart curbside from the far end of the international arrivals terminal.
Rail New Zealand offers scenic rail travel experiences from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with a ferry between the North and South Islands. Christchurch Station is in Addington, just off Blenheim Road near South Hagley Park.
For domestic and tourist services in and out of Christchurch, InterCity provides multiple daily connections to and from destinations throughout the South Island. InterCity buses leave from The Square, next to the Palmerston North i-SITE. See New Zealand Bus Lines for an overview of operations throughout the country.
Renting a car is the easiest way to get around town, but remember that cars are driven on the left side of the road in New Zealand. There are public bus services throughout the whole city provided by Metro. Standard zone one bus fares are $4 cash or $2.55 with a MetroCard smart card. The restored tramway by Christchurch Attractions runs a small loop around the inner city.
Christchurch is mostly flat, so many people get around on bicycles. Spark Bikes is the city's two-year bike share pilot program with the first 30 minutes free. Sign up or learn more at NextBike. Cycling in Christchurch has city info and rental shop suggestions, along with listings of hotels and guesthouses with rentals or complimentary bikes.
Currency and money
The local currency is the New Zealand dollar, known colloquially as the kiwi because there’s an image of the bird on the coins. ATMs are easy to find around the city. Over the past four years the NZD exchange rate has ranged from around $1.30 to $1.55 per US$1. See XE for current rates.
Media & resources
The gay magazine Express has New Zealand and international news and cultural coverage, events and editorials. Gay NZ has folded.
Pride NZ website explores the voices of past and present queer New Zealand through hundreds of audio interviews, archival footage and sound recordings of local LBGTI events.
Bears Christchurch sponsor regular events every month including pub socials, pool parties, BBQs, and movie nights; plus a big summer Big Bear Weekend in November. See their facebook page for the latest updates. They also share events with Bears New Zealand in Auckland, such as Bear NZ Week in February.
Stuff is the website of The Press newspaper in print, with local, regional and national news and events listings.
See a dozen hotel and guesthouse suggestions at our map & listings pages.
Going Out, Christchurch
Christchurch Casino (30 Victoria St), a general-public gaming complex, includes the Grand Café restaurant with a US Southern menu, the Monza Sports Bar & Pizzeria, bar and lounge, and comedy and music entertainment along with their slot machines, poker and table games.
The first gay club back in business after the quakes, Cruz (77 Victoria St), re-started small, sharing space with an also homeless daytime cafe. Open Wednesdays through Sundays, now with a second floor open for dress-to-impress weekend dancing, shows and theme nights for a mixed gay/straight crowd of men and women. Look for the rainbow flags out front.
The men's cruise scene has a home at Menfriends (427 Tuam St, Phillipstown), a laid-back new sauna complex for a wide mix of guys, featuring underwear, naked and fetish events.
Pomeroys (292 Kilmore St), English pub, restaurant and guesthouse known for craft beers on tap, seasonal lunch and dinner menus.
CLOSED: The Box (6 Manning Pl, Woolston), cruise club, swingers' nights, men/ women, gay/ straight.
Dunedin, Queenstown and beyond
Dunedin in Otago, is named for Edinburgh, Scotland, from the gaelic Dùn Èideann. An 1861 gold rush made this New Zealand's first city by population in 1865, and it now ranks as the country's 4th largest. Known as a university town where 22% of the population was ages 15 - 24 in a recent census, Dunedin is said to have the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street, the famous location of the annual Jaffa Race of run-away rolling balls during the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival. The Otago Peninsula, an eco tourism destination on a hilly finger of land at the easternmost part of Dunedin, has an abundance of wildlife including Little Blue Penguins in their natural habitat. The reputedly haunted Larnach Castle mansion on a ridge at Otago Peninsula is also a guesthouse, where they tell ghost stories dating back to Victorian times.
Dunedin's gay spa and sauna nights known as Bodyworks (127 Stuart St) take place at the center of town within a mixed use venue known as Space4u, but most gay social life in town takes place within local LGBT community organizations. Barn B&B (44 Clark Rd; 64-3-482-1375) is a private one guestroom gay-owned B&B in the hills of waitati, just five minutes drive from the beach. Gay men and lesbians are welcome at Hilltop On High Street (433 High St; 64-21-458-870), a four-unit B&B just 12 minutes walk from downtown, with breathtaking views from every room. See PurpleRoofs for another six gay-friendly guesthouses. Gay Stay Dunedin (29 Ann St; 64-3-471-7074) B&B for gay men in Roslyn Village has closed.
Wanaka is another scenic Otago region town at the southern end of Lake Wanaka, the gateway to Mount Aspiring National Park, located within the Southern Alps, with mountain peaks, beech forests, wild river valleys, alpine meadows, 59 kinds of birds, and four hundred known species of months and butterflies. The lesbian-owned Criffel Peak View B&B (98 Hedditch St; 64-3-443-5511) is located here, with 3 en-suite guestrooms, a sunny outdoor deck, and a 2-bedroom self contained apartment with fabulous views.
At the far southern end of the Southern Alps, Queenstown is a high-end resort area known for extreme sports activities and home to a big queer annual celebration known as Gay Ski Week, with Winter Pride events from late August to early September. Non-skiers can join in too with opening, foam and dance parties, cabaret, karoake, BBQ and fine dining activities, plus a day of adventure. The area also offers tours by helicopter, bungy jumping, snowshoe trekking and the rush of zip-line slides through snow-covered forests.
Debajo (Cow Lane), Bardeaux (Eureka Arcade off The Mall), Barmuda (Searle Lane), and Bathhouse (28 Marine Parade), are known as gay-friendly upscale Queenstown bar/lounges. Vinyl Underground (12 Church St), a local live music club with pool tables and free arcade machine games, had a male strip night for the guys at last year's Gay Ski Week. Appellation Central is Queenstown's gay-friendly wine tour specialist for small group tours.
Invercargill in the Southland region, and Nelson, on the north side of South Island, home to notable vineyards, are two more South Island towns where gay social life takes place at LGBT community events, or at mixed/ public venues. The Abel Tasman National Park, a South Island northeast coastal reserve with golden sand beaches and clear turquoise water, has sheltered bays that are popular for cruising, sailing and sea kayaking.