From the early days of settlement Christchurch had a range of industries, and a number of well-known New Zealand firms are still based there.
Industry and farming
The earliest factories processed farm products or made goods for farmers. Flour mills, tanneries, wool scourers and soap factories were built mainly at Woolston, near the Heathcote River. Large woollen mills were built at Kaiapoi and in Christchurch, and freezing works at Belfast, Kaiapoi, Islington, Hornby and Fairton. Ashburton also developed industries such as flour mills, which linked town and country.
In the 20th century, a fertiliser works opened in Hornby. The Addington railway workshops were at their peak when branch railways served the rural areas.
Clothing, boots and shoes, beer and biscuits were produced for the domestic market. Lane Walker Rudkin, Lichfield and other garment producers made Christchurch the clothing centre.
Initially Christchurch dominated the rubber industry. The Para Rubber Company was founded by George Skellerup in 1910. Plastics for electrical goods became important from 1932.
In the later 20th century many long-established factories closed down – the railway workshops, the Hornby glassworks, the Islington freezing works, the Kaiapoi woollen mills, the Whitcombe & Tombs printing factory. More recently, electronics industries have flourished.
In 2013 a relatively high proportion of Canterbury’s population worked in manufacturing: 11% compared to the national average of 9.8%.
Software and sport
Electronics and computing industries have had a high profile in Christchurch. In 1998 the top sporting venue, Lancaster Park, was renamed Jade Stadium after naming rights were sold to the locally based Jade Software Corporation Ltd. This turned out to be a poor investment when the facility was destroyed by the 2011 earthquake.
From 1915 a hydroelectric project at Lake Coleridge provided a continuous power supply for Christchurch. Hydroelectricity became a major source of energy for industry as a national grid developed.
The timber industry
With native timber scarce, there was an early interest in exotic forestry. Exotic trees were also planted for shade and shelter on the exposed plains.
Government afforestation began in 1902–3 at Hanmer, and continued after the First World War at Balmoral and Eyrewell. Exotic forestry proved marginal because of frost and the fire risk associated with drought. In 1955, 7,600 acres of the Balmoral pine forest was destroyed by fire.
Many forest products are used locally. A plant near Rangiora manufactures particle board.
Fishing fleets have worked out of both Lyttelton and Akaroa. Commercial fishing has all but ceased from Akaroa, but continues from Lyttelton, which also services deep-sea trawlers. A salmon farm operates at Akaroa Harbour.
Te Waihora (Lake Ellesmere) once supplied Christchurch with fish. In the 1970s large numbers of eel were taken for export, but stocks were depleted and the eel fishery is now small.
In 2010 tourism accounted for about 8.4% of all jobs in Canterbury, similar to the national average. The figure was higher in popular spots like Akaroa. The 2011 Christchurch earthquake severely affected the tourism sector. International visitor arrivals fell by 46% following the loss of 43% of commercial accommodation in Christchurch. At least 900 jobs were lost in the hospitality sector alone. The opening of four new central-city hotels in 2013 was a sign of recovery. The number of guest nights (visitors staying overnight) in Canterbury also increased. In the three months to February 2014 the total was 1.49 million, still below the figure of 1.7 million for the same period four years earlier.
Christchurch’s international airport remained the South Island’s gateway to Aoraki/Mt Cook, Queenstown and Milford Sound. The Mt Hutt skifield attracted Australian skiers. Passenger trains to Picton and Greymouth have survived because they are popular with tourists.
Running a marathon
In 2014 Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter compared his sector’s recovery to running a marathon. ‘We are through the first third, but we have a wee bit of a way to go yet,’ he said. 1 Hunter thought fewer flights from Australia, a lack of a convention centre and a decline in sporting events were all having a detrimental impact on visitor numbers.
A small proportion of New Zealand’s incoming and outgoing cargo passes through Lyttelton port and Christchurch airport. In 2013 they together handled 9.6% of New Zealand’s imports (by value) and 16.5% of exports.