Christchurch is a strange place, a city in transition. I tried to imagine what it would be like had an earthquake flattened the centre of a similar city I know better: Liverpool, perhaps, or Newcastle, or maybe Ghent, as a Belgian example. All these historic buildings collapsed or left unsafe and having to be pulled down.
The city centre is open, but many damaged large buildings having been demolished, there are lots of empty plots of land lying idle. There's little in the way of shops, commerce, or nightlife in the centre, which leaves it feeling rather deserted.
The ruins of the Cathedral in the centre of town are the most visible remnant of what was - and what to do about it remains a controversial topic. This was just one subject in the local papers, where half the stories were about reconstruction efforts.
Canterbury Museum is worth a visit. I was particularly interested by the Antarctic exhibition, which displayed items used in Scott's, Shackleton's and Amundsen's expeditions (including Amundsen's penknife which was used to sharpen the flag-pole they erected at the South Pole), as well as several vehicles (a sno-cat and a converted tractor) used for Fuchs' trans-Antarctic expedition of the 1950s.
I stayed at one of the most interesting hostels I've ever stayed at there - the old Addington jail house, which maintains its historical appearance inside and out, and in which you sleep in a cell! Very cool.
Christchurch had buses with bike racks mounted on the front - nice idea.