Christchurch, on the south island, was unique, in that I could not successfully compare it to any place I have ever been. That being said, it felt a bit like a college town.
We took a short flight from Auckland to Christchurch in the morning. Right outside the small airport we picked up our rental car. An absolutely tiny (by American standards) Toyota Echo. It was actually pretty comfortable and the gas mileage was fantastic.
After we picked up the car we went to the Antarctic Center (also right across the street from the airport) and went on a Hagglund ride. The Hagglund is an amazing vehicle, and the "ride" just shows off the things it's capable of. It's used on the Antarctic because of it's unique capabilities.
After being bumped around in the Hagglund for a while we went into the Antarctic Center and did the walk through. They have a room in which you can experience what it's like in sub zero temperatures, and they have a "storm" that brings the temperature down to somthing like -10° Celsius. We didn't go in there, but did find it amusing that the day we left Chicago the high (without wind chill) was -17° Celsius. With wind chill it was -25° Celsius.
One thing to note about driving in New Zealand that is very different from the US: roundabouts. Once we got used to them they actually make a lot of sense and are more efficient than stop signs or signals, since the flow of traffic never really stops. Or course, since traffic never really stops, it can take a great deal of getting used to. Especially since you also have to drive on the left side of the street.
Our hotel in Christchurch was a beautiful one bedroom apartment in a very nice, flower covered, brick building, just a few blocks from the main part of town.
We walked everywhere, mainly because we could. The weather was great. I ended up buying a pair of shorts to help keep cool.
The area near the river was really nice, lined with some pubs and restaurants. At one of them we ended up chatting with a man as we were sitting and eating dinner outside one of the restaurants along the river. He was very friendly and was very nice to us. He seemed to feel bad that the US gets so much crap from everyone, no matter what we do. Then he pointed out something further down the river front that we hadn't known about: a 9/11 memorial set up along the river. After 9/11 New Zealand (along with many other countries) sent a group fire fighters to assist. In recognition of their efforts the US gave them some of the girders from the World Trade Center wreckage, which has been turned into a sculpture along the river in Cristchurch. We found the memorial quite touching and I am glad we were able to see it.
There are a lot of nice shops and a bunch of antique stores. One of the antique stores would have been the death of my Mom, were she to enter it. It was so crowded with antiques, large and small, that I'm sure she would have fainted. If it weren't so crowded (and pricey) we would have looked around a bit more. There were a few things set up outside the shop, one of which was a wicker chair with what we at first thought was a stuffed cocker spaniel dog. Turns out it was just a very old cocker spaniel dog that was asleep.
All in all, we liked Christchurch quite a bit.
From there we drove up the coast to catch the ferry to Wellington...