Michael Esposito - Welcome Aboard

The iconic Christchurch activities of punting down the Avon River, the historical tram through the city and gondola on the port hills, faced an uncertain future following the February earthquakes. Now, the activities synonymous with the city are once again back in action.

Managing Director of Welcome Aboard Michael Esposito says there was a time following the earthquakes where the future of their business was uncertain.

Locked out of operation due to its position in the red zone, the tram services ground to a halt. The gondola, perched high up on the Port Hills offering up stunning Alps to ocean views, was deemed by local council to be beyond repair.

“They told us to walk away, and that we would never re-open it”, says Esposito.

The gondola complex itself didn’t suffer any major structural damage following the earthquakes, rather a burst pipe in the top complex which caused 60,000 litres of water to flood through it, leaving a “musty and mouldy mess”.

Esposito says this wasn’t the major challenged faced, however, rather the perceived rock fall hazard.

“We worked alongside a world expert on risk, and consulted with CERA, to search for a solution, which eventually went global”.

“This was ground breaking work, and now other developments on the Port Hills can benefit from the research."

Michael Esposito - Welcome Aboard

Testing was carried out on the large boulders which cover the hills, as they were rolled to record their distance, height and eventual landing point.

The solution was eventually found in the development of attenuator boulder catchers, the first of their kind in the southern hemisphere.

“This was ground breaking work, and now other developments on the Port Hills can benefit from the research” says Esposito.

“The process has been frustrating and difficult at times, but equally as rewarding”.

The red zoning of the central city meant any re-opening of the tramway wouldn’t be for two years following the earthquakes due to construction and road repair in the city centre.

In November 2013, a limited line between New Regent Street and the Canterbury Museum re-opened to the public. A year later, the full loop of the city was once again on offer.

“People were so happy to see the tram up and running. It was quite an emotional thing."

Michael Esposito - Welcome Aboard

“People were so happy to see the tram up and running. It was quite an emotional thing”, says Esposito.

In February last year, an extension of the tracks opened on High Street, creating a direct route to the growing hospitality hub, with an expanding collection of cafes, bars and restaurants.

Esposito says that although initially people might have been interested in a rebuild tour on the tram, many people who have visited in the past are returning to see “where the city is going, and what’s on offer that’s new”.

“Each tram driver has a different take on the tour, so each ride is different. The opening of the extension gives them confidence in their commentary, as they see it as another step forward in progress for the city.”

Esposito says he is looking forward to The Terraces project opening in the future, especially as tram go-ers have already had a behind the scenes peeks at the bustling construction zone.

About Welcome Aboard

Welcome Aboard purchased the Tram and Gondola operations in 1995, before adding Punting and the Grand Tour over the next five years. Now, they include a botanical gardens tour and run adventure activities at Thrillseekers Canyon, on route to Hanmer Springs. The also operate the Tram Restaurant, an a la carte dining experience with views of the city. 

Michael Esposito’s Top 5 favourite things to do in Christchurch

  1. Walking around the hills at Sumner.
  2. The great variety of restaurants on offer.
  3. Using the city as a base to explore Canterbury and the rest of the south island.
  4. Mt Cavendish – going up the gondola and exploring the tracks.
  5. Walking around town and seeing the progress. It’s quite exciting.

How to Get There

In New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is the country’s second-largest city. It has an international airport, and there are regular flights from other domestic centres.

Best Time to Visit

In autumn, the changing of the leaves makes the city’s historic districts especially beautiful. With ski areas such as Porters and Mt Hutt nearby, you can enjoy a winter wonderland. Known as “the Garden City”, Christchurch comes to life in spring, while summer is an opportunity to enjoy some of the city’s 40 safe swimming beaches.

How to book

Booking for the Christchurch Tram, Gondola and Punting on the Avon can be made through Welcome Aboard's website. Passes can also be purchased for all activites at thier office at Cathedral Junction. Booking for the Tram Restaurant need to be made in advance. 

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