Although Australia only had its first brush with Christianity in the early 17th century, it’s home to some of the most famous cathedrals in the world. The rest of Oceania and New Zealand too are home to some popular churches such as the shoreside Church of the Good Shepherd or the magnificent First Church of Otago. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We’re here to make a list of popular Australian churches and New Zealand Churches to visit, with a little help from our friends. So here are some of New Zealand and Australia’s most beautiful churches and cathedrals to tick off your bucketlist.
1. Church of the Good Shepherd – Lake Tekapo, New Zealand
By Suzy from Suzy Stories
Situated on the waterfront of Lake Tekapo in New Zealand, the Church of the Good Shepherd is an iconic and picturesque chapel with a very unique view. You absolutely can’t miss the chance to visit this unassuming but outstanding church in the heart of the South Island when travelling in NZ!
Arguably the most photographed building in New Zealand, it was constructed in 1935 and has since been loved by many as a quaint and beautiful place of worship and also as a photography location thanks to its stunning surroundings showcasing this part of the South Island known as Mackenzie Country. With views of the Southern Alps on all sides of the lake, it’s easy to see why the Church of the Good Shepherd has become a charmingly popular attraction.
In every season the church is presented in a unique perspective each more beautiful than the last. The spring provides the bright purple and pink lupin flowers surrounding the church, the summer shows off the crystal clear blue waters of the lake behind, autumn boasts the dramatic snow-capped mountains, and winter is the perfect chance to observe the famously dark night’s sky illuminated with breathtaking constellations above.
The church itself is small and simple. A traditional stone front and tiny interior, the main attraction is the large window at the altar presenting visitors with outstanding views framing the lake and mountains. Like many religious buildings, photography is not allowed inside the church, however this only adds to the serenity of the location and chance to reflect on its beauty.
2. Dili Cathedral, East Timor
By Halef from The Round the World Guys
East Timor is overwhelmingly devoted Catholic.
The Vatican is number one, of course, with 99.99% being Roman Catholic. But East Timor comes second with an astonishing 96% of the population being practicing Catholics.
As a Portuguese enclave, East Timor is one of two countries in South East Asia where Roman Catholicism is the religion of the majority. The Dili Cathedral is said to be the second largest church in South East Asia after Manila’s. There is even a big statue of Jesus overlooking Dili Bay that was a gift by then Indonesian President Suharto to win Timorese hearts.
It failed. He didn’t.
Pope John Paul II visited Dili in 1989. For that event, a traditional Timorese altar was built. A statue of the Pope was erected on top of a hill, and his signature marks the entrance to the Dili Cathedral.
You can find Pope John Paul II’s signature, instead of Suharto’s, at the Cathedral’s main entrance.
3. St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane, Australia
By Michelle of RomanticExplorersDirectory
This Anglican Cathedral is located right in the heart of modern Brisbane City. With its gothic-revival architecture, the stunning landmark is hard to miss.
St John’s Cathedral took 108 years to build from 1901 when the foundation stone was first placed to its completion in 2009. Features of this architectural splendor include some of the most beautiful stained-glass windows, such as a large Wheel window from the early 20th century. The font pillars impressively contain 350 million-year-old fossiliferous limestone from Frosterley in the United Kingdom and have skeletons of Coral polyps and bi-valve shells visible within them. The roof of the Cathedral is also said to be the only one in the southern hemisphere that is completely stone-vaulted. Twelve massive bells that date back to 1876 can be heard ringing from the Cathedral before the 9.30am Sunday service and for weddings.
History lovers will appreciate that one of the most noteworthy collections of memorials from the First and Second World Wars are at St John’s Cathedral. An ANZAC-emblazoned flag that was the very last to be flown on 19th December 1915 at the evacuation of the Anzacs from Gallipoli hangs in the South Transept, for example.
The Cathedral Shop sits on the right side of the cathedral entrance and is a must-visit for stunning keepsakes.
4. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Apia, Samoa
Sinead from Map Made Memories
The Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Samoa is found in the small capital city of the Samoan islands, Apia. The waterfront cathedral is new (it opened in 2014) but it stands on the site of a cathedral which dated back to 1857. The white, domed topped church can hold 2,000 people and brilliantly reflects the cultural history and traditions of Samoa; you will not feel you are standing in a church that could be in any country of the world. From the blue rimmed exterior (designed to emulate the sea) to the paintings of religious figures in traditional Samoan dress, this cathedral has a uniquely Samoan flavour. The inside of the cathedral is rich in marble and stone creating a much needed cool temperature for the interior. For me, the highlight of the church was its incredible wooden roof, carved to reflect the patterns of Samoan mats. Samoa is a deeply religious nation with a regular church going population so you will most likely catch a service whatever time of the day you visit. Try to time your visit for sung service, it will be an unforgettable experience.
Christchurch, on New Zealand’s South Island, is perhaps best known for the multiple earthquakes that have stricken the city. The Christchurch Cathedral, located in Cathedral Square in the city, was repeatedly damaged, but it was the 2011 earthquake that destroyed the spire, tower and much of the rest of the building. It still stands in its damaged state, a monument to the tragedy behind steel fences keeping watchers at a safe distance.
5. Christchuch Cathedral on South Island, New Zealand
Holly from Globe Blogging
Discussions whether to leave or repair the cathedral have carried on for years so an interim church was required. Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban, known for his disaster architecture, the Transitional Cathedral opened a few blocks from the Christchurch Cathedral in 2013. The roof is constructed of 86 cardboard tubes, weighing 500 kilograms each, and despite the construction also including wood, glass and shipping containers, it is now known as the Cardboard Cathedral. Holding around 700 people, it is used as a event venue as well as a church, and is a popular tourist attraction in Christchurch.
6. Holy Trinity Cathedral Church in Parnell, Auckland, New Zealand
By Ashley from Impact Winder
The Holy Trinity Cathedral Church is located in the Parnell neighborhood of Auckland, New Zealand. Built in 1965 and consecrated in 1973, the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church is considered the “mother church” for the Diocese of Auckland. We first discovered this Cathedral during our first month of living in New Zealand.
The Nave of the Holy Trinity Cathedral Church was designed by New Zealand architect Professor Richard Toy and incorporates a modern arrangement of elements by using a large amount of glass and exposed timbers. This construction and the absence of visual structural support opens up the Cathedral’s Nave into an impressively vast-looking space.
In addition, the central five stained glass window panels are visually impressive and well renowned. They incorporate the native community by depicting a Polynesian Christ using vivid colorings and patterns. Along the sides of the Nave are eighteen windows telling the story of Christ using traditional and Polynesian designs giving this church a unique and beautiful connection to the native people of New Zealand.
7. Lightning Ridge Church in Lightning Ridge, NSW, Australia
By Emma from MY RIG Adventures
If you’re looking for a truly iconic Australian Church, make your way into the quirky little town of Lightning Ridge. Set in Outback New South Wales, Lightning Ridge is famous for its opals.
But there is something else that has put Lightning Ridge on the map. Back in the year 2000, an Australian movie ‘Goddess of 1967,’ was filmed in and around the ‘Ridge (as the locals call it) as well as being set in Tokyo.
As the story goes, a rich young Japanese man travels to Australia to buy a car, which he found for sale online. Nothing ends up going to plan and he finds himself on a road trip with a blind girl across the harsh outback landscape.
The old iron Church in Lightning Ridge forms part of the movie set. It has never actually functioned as a Church and still sits near town for people to visit. It’s been beautifully constructed to look and feel like something from an era gone by, complete with an outdoor dunny.
Getting to the Church:
Head to the Visitor Information Centre in town to grab a map. They will show you exactly where the Church is, which sits amongst the Opal Mining Fields. While you’re there, be sure to take the self-guided Car Door Tours around the Mining Fields. You’ll be stepping into another whole world!
8. St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral, Geraldton
Nina from West Australian Explorer
The Xavier Cathedral in Geraldton is one of West Australia’s most outstanding architectural masterpieces. The Catholic Diocese was built by Monsignor John Cyril Hawes, a Catholic Priest and architect.
Monsignor Hawes spent 24-years in Western Australia and during his time here, built an incredible 29 buildings throughout Australia’s mid-west region. To accomplish his astonishing feat, Hawes overcame extreme heat, isolation and frequently, complete lack of funds. At times he even made his own bricks from limestone and had to travel on horseback through immensely rugged outback terrain.
While the Sir Francis Xavier Cathedral is his most famous work, it was also his most arduous. Although work began in 1916 the Cathedral was not completed until 1938. Most of this was due to the hostility between Hawes and the new Bishop of Geraldton who was less than impressed with the look of the Cathedral and refused to pay any further money for its completion. Hawes did however get to resume his masterpiece with the passing of the Bishop and the Cathedral officially opened in August 1938 with a four-day celebration.
On the outside, the twin domes, stained glass windows and the dome are the most notable features. However, it’s the inside that is the most striking. This is laid out in orange and grey stripes and is believed to be influenced by the Cathedral in Cordoba Spain. The Cathedral is applauded as his finest work and is a must-see on any visit to Western Australia.
9. Convict Church in Port Arthur, Tasmania
By Emma from Our Wayfaring Life
The old Convict Church also known as The Church is part of the Port Arthur Historical Site on the Tasman Peninsula in Tasmania. It is unknown who designed the Gothic church built by convicts using local stone and timber between 1836 – 1838. On an elevated site so that the church would be visible throughout the penal colony, the stone blocks for the walls were cut by boy prisoners, some as young as 8 at the Port Puer Juvenile Prison (an island prison at Port Arthur).
A non denominational church and one of Australia’s original churches, the first service was held inside its walls on July 26, 1837 even though it wasn’t finished. It was compulsory for prisoners to attend church each Sunday as an important part of their reform. This had little to no effect.
The church with its stone walls, shingle roof, steeple, clock tower and bells ravaged by fire in 1884 left only the stone walls which still stand today. The Old Convict Church ruins are now heritage listed and popular with visitors to the Port Arthur Historic Site as well as for weddings and photography. As a traveller it is a sad and beautiful place to visit knowing its history.
10. Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church in Stirling, SA
By Natalie & Steve of Curious Campers
Our Lady of the Rosary church is in the leafy Adelaide Hills township of Stirling only 15 minutes from the city centre. It was built in 1881-2 after local Catholics felt they needed a church of their own in what was an increasingly large parish.
Irish priest Father William Vincent Prendergast took up their cause. Locals John O’Reilly and James McMahon provided significant financial support for the construction. O’Reilly also donated land. His cottage near the church still exists today.
The church was constructed in only seven months after Catholics working on a railway line nearby helped expedite the construction. It operated until 1954 when an earthquake damaged the building.
After being repaired, it re-opened in 1957 and resumed operation until 1996. Between 1996 and 2014 the church was used primarily for weddings. Mass resumed at the church in 2015.
Today the tree-shrouded church is still a popular wedding venue and Mass continues to be celebrated on Sunday evenings.
The church was designed by South Australian architect Michael McMullen. McMullen also designed the nearby Crafers and Aldgate Pump hotels. Both hotels are still operating and are the perfect spot for a post-service tipple!
11. Christ Church in Russell, New Zealand
Kerrie from Adventures in Family Land
Situated in Russell, which is a small village way up north in the Bay of Islands, Christ Church is New Zealand’s oldest surviving church, having been built way back in 1835.
The quaint Anglican church is still used for weekly church services on a Sunday, and also regular Waimate Taumarere Pastorate services (the Maori strand of the Anglican church in New Zealand). The church is also used for special services, such as weddings and funerals.
The little church even survived a battle between British forces and Maori warriors in 1845. You can actually still see the holes in the building from musket fire from the Battle of Kororareka. When you visit, try and hunt them out! You can also download a digital cemetery walk to guide you through the graves, which can be accessed via the church’s website via a third party.
The church is fairly central in Russell – it is a couple of blocks back from the water of Kororareka Bay and isn’t too far from Russell Tourist Information. They are all within walking distance from each other, so a visit to the church can easily be combined with a relaxing waterfront lunch at one of the many cafes on the Bay’s waterfront.
12. Auckland Baptist Tabernacle in Auckland, NZ
By Maureen Spencer from “So Many Places! So Little Time.”
Located near the top of Auckland’s main shopping street, Upper Queen Street, and close to the intersection of colorful Karangahape Road is a most impressive building that can not possibly be missed! It is the heritage-listed Auckland Baptist Tabernacle with its very impressive columned portico.
The first European settlers arrived In Auckland in the 1840s and in by the 1850s Auckland had a population of about 6,000. Fifteen of the pioneers got together and started the Auckland Baptist Church. They began in a small chapel that seated 350 that they quickly outgrew and enlarged it to seat 500. Before long this was also not big enough so they bought a larger section of land in Upper Queen Street and had a building designed that would accommodate 1500 people similar to the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London and featuring the columned portico similar to the Pantheon in Rome.
It opened on 12 May 1885 and although it was one of the biggest buildings to be built at that time it only took a year to build. Quite a feat for such a huge building back in the 1880s.
Today it serves a large international congregation, welcoming new arrivals to New Zealand and mirroring the current cosmopolitan population living in Auckland City. There are church services in English, Maori, Mandarin, and Indonesian.
And a PS! If you have a church you want to add to this list, please ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org