Christchurch is the South Island’s largest city and New Zealand’s second largest behind Auckland.
The name Christchurch was agreed on at the first meeting of the Canterbury Association on 27 March 1848. It was suggested by John Robert Godley, because as a student he had attended Christ Church College at Oxford university. It’s Maori name is Ōtautahi meaning “the place of Tautahi”. This was originally the name of a spot alongside the Avon River which would be described these days as near the Christchurch Central Fire Station. The site was one of Ngāi Tahu chief Te Potiki Tautahi’s many holiday homes, his main home was Port Levy a little way to the North on the Banks Peninsula. The name Ōtautahi was not actually adopted by the Maori until 1930s. Prior to that the Ngāi Tahu people used to refer to the Christchurch area as Karaitiana, an attempt to phonetically translate English word Christian. Christchurch achieved the status of city by Royal Charter on 31 July 1856, meaning that it is the oldest established city in New Zealand.
The river that is flowing is called the Avon at the request of the Deans brothers who were among the earliest white explorers of New Zealand in recognition of the Scottish Avon, which rises near what was their grandfathers’ farm in the Ayrshire Hills and flows into the Clyde. This practice of naming new places after existing places in the old country was commonplace among explorers. The name of a place can often give you a clue as to who discovered or settled it. For example, New Hampshire in North America or New South Wales in Australia were named by the British, New Orleans by the French and so on. Strange though it may seem they did this to bring a sense of the familiar to their new countries.I’d just name everything after myself like William Dampier did in Western Australia.
Archaeological evidence suggests that the area was first settled by moa-hunting tribes in around 1250. These first semi-nomadic inhabitants were thought to have been followed by the Waitaha tribe, in the 16th century. Following many tribal wars, the Waitaha were supplanted by the Ngati Mamoe tribe who were in turn usurped by the Ngāi Tahu tribe, who remained in control of the area until European settlers arrived.
Originally nothing more than a set of disused sheds and buildings, the Canterbury Pilgrims had aspirations of building a city around a cathedral and college, on the model of Christ Church in Oxford.
The name “Christ Church” was decided prior to the ships’ arrival, at the Association’s first meeting, on 27 March 1848. The exact basis for the name is not known. It has been suggested that it is named for Christchurch, in Hampshire, England; for Canterbury Cathedral; or in honour of Christ Church College, Oxford. The last explanation is the one generally accepted.
A huge earthquake of magnitude 7.1 occurred just outside of Christchurch on 4 September 2010. It occurred at a depth of 10 kilometres underground, and amazingly in spite of huge amounts of damage there were no fatalities. A large aftershock of magnitude 6.3 occurred on 22 February 2011 at 12:51 pm. Centred 10 kilometres south east of Christchurch, at a depth of 5 km.
Although smaller than the previous earthquake, the intensity and violence of the ground shaking was some of the strongest ever recorded in the world and this time there were 181 deaths. Still a remarkably small number given the violence of the aftershock.
Christchurch has a long history of involvement in Antarctic exploration–both Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton departed from nearby for their expeditions.
A remarkable, isolated city with a short but rich history, Christchurch is a great place to begin a New Zealand adventure, and that is where we begun ours.