Mike Steel, Updated 15 Jan 2016
From Europe it's much more pleasant and direct to fly via Singapore (with Singapore Airlines) than going via USA, unless you enjoy extra connections, queues, hassle and confinement in small places. By contrast Singapore's enlightened answer to transit is Changi International where you can swim in the outdoor tropical-theme pool and spa (terminal 1), relax in the outdoor Cactus garden bar, have a massage, hire a bed for a few hours' sleep, surf the web for free, shop, or take a free tour of the city -- all while in transit. With that one stop, Singapore Airlines then flies direct into Christchurch most days (don't go via Auckland or Sydney). For Europeans, another less direct but cheaper option is flying with Emirates via Dubai and Sydney.
If starting from USA, you will need to fly LA (or San Fransisco) to Auckland and then take a connecting flight to Christchurch. It is also possible to fly from Vancouver (Canada) direct to Auckland (Air New Zealand) or from LA/San Fransisco to Sydney and then on to Christchurch (slightly further, but less hassle with luggage in Auckland). New Zealand is near the date-line -- one day ahead of the US and half a day ahead of Europe.
Change money on arrival. Also, you can shop duty free on arrival here, and you are allowed bring in 3 litres of spirits duty free (provided you bring in less than $700 goods). The agriculture and customs people are extremely vigilant, especially for food items (fresh fruit, honey, plants, etc). Make sure shoe soles and tent equipment/fishing gear etc has been scrubbed. Declare any food -- there are sniffer dogs, X--ray machines, and an instant $400 fine for any food that you may have `forgot' you had. New Zealander's don't normally 'tip' (taxis, restaurant staff etc), so please don't encourage this practise. If arriving at Christchurch domestic (ie. from Auckland) the taxis right by the terminal door are slightly more expensive than if you cross the road to the `Gold Band' or `Blue Star' taxis. The fare from the airport to the University is around $NZ30; to town $NZ50. Electrical plugs in NZ are the same as in Australia (i.e. different to Europe, UK or USA; you can buy adaptors here or better still bring them with you).
If you want to visit "wild places" in the South Island you'll need to travel west or south/west from Christchurch. You can hire a car for around NZ$30+ a day all inclusive -- Apex is a good alternative to the more expensive standard companies, and has a shuttle to its terminal near the airport. Kiwis drive on the `wrong' (left) side of the road, and also pass each other that way when walking on pavements (tourists are always conspicuous by their attempts to walk into you!). Queenstown and Wanaka are good if you like (commercial) adventure activities (bungy, wild rivers, canyoning, paragliding, parachuting, guided rock/ice climbing, jetboating, canyoning etc), while the drive from there to the West Matukituki, the West Coast (and glacier flights/excursions) or to Milford Sound is well worthwhile. Closer to Christchurch is Akaroa (1+ hour), Kaikoura (2.5 hours), Arthurs Pass (2- hours), Erewhon (2 hours; and nearby Mt Sunday, the `Rohan' fortress of Edoras in Lord of the Rings), Mt Sommers (1.5 hours) and Punakiki (3+ hours; good blackwater caving, kayaking, pancake rocks, forest). At Mt Cook (4+ hours) a hike up to to Mueller Hut for an overnight stay is highly recommended in clear weather; the Tasman valley is less scenic unless you have a mountainbike. On the more barren East Coast, the inland drive via Tekapo and Mt Cook is far more interesting than highway 1 if heading south. The weather on the east and west coast/mountains are often opposite (and changeable) on any given day. The most impressive places for hiking/climbing are Fiordland/Mt Aspiring/Westland/Mt Cook NPs. The most settled period of summer weather is likely to be February-March. Late December-end Jan. is often crowded in touristy places like Queenstown, and the weather can be mixed. There are numerous basic but pleasant DOC (Department of Conservation) campsites in national parks which are good value at NZ$10 per person per night (honesty system), or you can camp wild in many places (i.e. take a tent). There are hundreds of huts scattered throughout the hills, which range from touristy, up-market and often busy (in summer) ones on the `great walks' to run-down character huts that are rarely visited. All national parks can be entered for free and without any booking or formal entry process.
If you are visiting the University, and you want to be close by, the Academy motel (www.academymotorlodge.co.nz) is the most convenient. Christchurch is a good city to cycle around (helmet required by law) and we have some bicycles here at the Biomath. Res. Centre that can be borrowed (and other equipment, eg. baby backpacks etc). Christchurch has several good (though not tropical) beaches (eg. Sumner, Taylors Mistake, while Corsair Bay is sheltered in a nor-easter). The Arts Centre/Botanic Gardens/Hagley Park is a pleasant area in the inner city, especially on the weekend. The ski-fields (June-September) are 1.5+ hours away, the port hills on the southern edge of the city have some good walking/running/mountainbike tracks along the top (eg. "crater rim walkway") with views into Lyttelton harbour, and several rock climbing crags and paragliding sites. In the port town of Lyttelton, the "Wunderbar" nighclub is an interesting place in the evening, along with some nice lunchtime cafes and bars; there's also a scenic sea-front restaurant at Sumner, a well-sited cafe (`The Cup') on Cashmere hill, and many bars/cafes in the city's `strip' on Cashel Street/Oxford Terrace.
A series of big earthquakes hit Christchurch from September 2010 through 2011 (the worst was in February 2011). The earthquakes were closure to the city, and shallow resulting in extensive damage. Much of the city has now been repaired, and many interesting new cafes, bars and alternative areas (e.g. the Tannery) have opened up around the central city (the very centre of Christchurch is still a mess as of Jan 2016). Some parts of the UC campus are still undergoing rebuilding, though the repair to the Erskine Building is completed. Recommended restaurants include King of Snake.