Tourists find 'much to like' in city

JOELLE DALLY
Last updated 05:00 11/10/2012
Daniel Tobin

Tourists from around the world talk about their Christchurch holiday experience.

Paul and Val Bucknell
GREEN SPACE: Melbourne couple Paul and Val Bucknell said the Christchurch Botanic Gardens was one of the best they had seen.

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International tourists continue to bypass quake-hit Christchurch - but those who make it to the city say it has a surprising amount to offer.

The central-city red zone, Hagley Park, the Re:Start container mall and the International Antarctic Centre rank high on visitors' picks of the sights.

A Tourism New Zealand survey released this week found only 37 per cent of international tourists to New Zealand visited Canterbury in 2011-12, down from 51 per cent in 2010-11.

The Visitor Experience Monitor (VEM) asked 4500 departing travellers where they visited and how they rated various aspects of their trip, including food, accommodation, activities, environment and safety.

The results were not broken down into regions, but the impact of the earthquakes on Christchurch failed to dent people's impressions of New Zealand as a tourist destination overall.

Those surveyed scored the country 8.9 out of 10.

Tourists spoken to yesterday said they were pleasantly surprised by their Christchurch experience.

Adelaide couple Geoff and Barb Wagner, both 66, had three days in Christchurch during a three-week New Zealand trip and rated the city "an easy 9" out of 10. Their highlights were the red-zone bus tour, the Botanic Gardens caterpillar tour, punting on the Avon River and the "first-class" Antarctic Centre.

Geoff Wagner said the quakes had simply "changed what we were able to see".

"It's a lovely city. The suburbs are quite impressive," he said.

"I'm disappointed I could not see Christchurch as it was, and particularly some of the significant buildings that have been demolished. I'm really keen to come back in 10 years and have a look at the finished Christchurch."

German backpacker Silke Winterfeld, 25, wanted to see the effects of the quakes, but navigating around the inner-city red zone had proved difficult.

"It was a surprise to see it was only fences. I had to walk the long way around," she said. Christchurch was her last stop before flying to Sydney and she had four days planned.

United States honeymooners Matt, 29, and Sarah Edwards, 26, gave Christchurch a "7 or 8" out of 10.

They had forgotten about the quakes and were surprised by the extent of damage in the central business district.

The Re:Start mall was "really neat" and there were "lots of small restaurants and shops to visit".

Melbourne couple Paul, 65, and Val Bucknell, 64, said they were saddened by the loss of historic buildings but loved the Botanic Gardens and would still recommend coming to Christchurch to friends.

German holiday-maker Karolin Reinhardt, 23, had not realised the quakes had happened and was "quite shocked" by the impact until she found a book on the quakes in Akaroa.

"In Germany, they wouldn't have rebuilt that much," she said.

Tourist operators said they received surprisingly positive feedback.

"It's so unique from anywhere else in the world from a civil disaster point of view," Christchurch Tours owner Robin McCarthy said.

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"Ironically, they are still saying it is a very beautiful city."

However, not everyone is impressed.

German backpacker Mathias Rauh, 23, had hoped to avoid Christchurch on the advice of a friend, but had been forced to stay a night because of flight schedules. His first impression was that the city was "a ghost town".

"Maybe I will come back again when everything is set up," he said.

The VEM found visitors from the United States, Britain and Germany were most satisfied with their New Zealand holiday experiences, while South Korean travellers were the least satisfied.

Japanese travellers were significantly more satisfied this year compared with the year before.

New Zealand's natural environment received the highest overall satisfaction rating of 9 out of 10.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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