Stretching from the sea to the Southern Alps and vast plains in between, Canterbury is a region of contrasts with seaside villages, vibrant city life, lush vineyards, alpine hot springs, braided rivers and pristine ski fields in winter. Explore the ever-changing city of Christchurch; go hiking in Arthur’s Pass National Park; come up, close and personal with whales in Kaikoura; swim with Hector dolphins in Akaroa; see Aoraki/Mount Cook; or just wander around the picturesque bays and villages of Banks Peninsula.
KEY TOWNS AND REGIONS
The main city of the Canterbury region and now the biggest city in South Island, Christchurch was first settled by moa hunting Maori tribes in the 13th century. It has extensive inner city gardens and parks, and the gently winding Avon River runs though the city centre. English history can be seen throughout Christchurch with tramlines and Gothic architecture scattered around the city. New developments, following the devastating 2010-2011 earthquakes, are constantly popping up to not only restore pre-earthquake Christchurch, but to create an even better city.
Click here to read more on Christchurch City.
Just 90 minutes from Christchurch and situated on the foothills of the Southern Alps, the resort town of Hanmer Springs boasts fresh mountain air and therapeutic hot pools, as well as the ski fields of Hanmer Springs Ski Area and Mount Lyford. Hanmer Forest Park is one of the country’s oldest exotic forests and has some lovely walking tracks. Make sure to stop at the Hurunui Visitor Centre for details on longer walks and mountain biking trails.
To the south you’ll find Waipara, on the banks of the Waipara River, known as a premium winemaking region with more than 26 wineries and 80 vineyards within the valley. Waipara lies at one of the points of the Alpine Pacific Triangle, which also includes Hanmer Springs and Kaikoura.
Sandwiched between the Kaikoura Ranges and the ocean, Kaikoura is a seaside settlement that has become one of New Zealand’s top destinations, famous for its amazing variety of wildlife and dramatic rugged coastline. The Kaikoura township is located on a rocky peninsula, protruding from lush farmland beneath the mountains. In the waters off the peninsula, a complex marine system provides a rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, making it an ideal place for getting close to nature. Mt Fyffe Forest offers spectaculars walks, or head to the Maori Leap limestone sea caves to view ancient stalactites and stalagmites.
Stretching from the Southern Alps to the sea, Mid Canterbury boats snow-capped mountains, rugged high country and rushing rivers. Sitting between the Rakaia and Rangitata rivers, the town of Ashburton is a major service centre for the local farming district. The alpine village of Methven is a base for nearby Mt Hutt, a favourite among skiers and snowboarders come winter.
Sitting midway between Christchurch and Dunedin, Timaru was used as a resting place for early Maori as they travelled up and down the eastern coastline. Constructed on rolling hills, Timaru’s undulating streets are a clear contrast to the flat landscapes of the Canterbury Plains. Just north is the small country town of Geraldine, with old forests and early settlers’ cottages. To the south is Waimate, the gateway to the Waitaki River Valley.
Akaroa and Banks Peninsula
Southeast of Christchurch, Banks Peninsula was originally an island that was formed by two volcanic cones. Their craters form the picturesque harbours of Lyttelton and Akaroa. In 1850, the first European settlers arrived in Lyttelton, before trekking over the Port Hills to Christchurch. Lyttelton served as a launching port for South Pole expeditions. The charming township of Akaroa was New Zealand’s only French settlement, and French influence can still be seen in the colonial architecture, street names and waterfront cafes of the town.
Aoraki/Mt Cook is New Zealand’s highest mountain, standing at 3,754 metres. According to Maori mythology, a young Aoraki and his brothers were frozen by the south winds and turned to stone on the back of a waka, forming the Southern Alps. The alpine village of Aoraki/Mount Cook, located in Aoraki /Mount Cook National Park and situated beside scenic Lake Pukaki, provides a comfortable base for alpine activities.
At the southern end of Mackenzie Basin sits Omarama, known for its alpine scenery and small town hospitality. Renowned as a gliding mecca, pilots make the most of the clear, empty skies. Nearby are the unique Clay Cliffs, and the Ahuriri conservation park offers numerous walks and valley tramps.
Lake Tekapo township sits on the remarkable turquoise-coloured Lake Tekapo, which is fed by river systems that extend right back into the valleys of the Southern Alps. Experience clear starry nights in the world’s largest International Dark Sky Reserve.
Getting here and around:
Christchurch Domestic and International Airport is located 15 minutes from the city centre, and is well connected by regular bus and shuttle services, and taxis. Located 15 minutes out of Timaru, the Richard Pearse Airport connects the town to 26 domestic destinations via Air New Zealand Link.
Coastal Pacific train journey links Picton and Christchurch during the summer months, while the TranzAlpine train journey operates year-round between Greymouth on the West Coast and Christchurch.
A number of buses and shuttles connect South Island cities and towns. Rental cars and campervans are easily available.
Spring (Sep-Nov) – clear but still cold, 7-17°C; Summer (Dec-Feb) – dry and sunny, 21-29°C; Autumn (Mar-May) – mild with rain increasing, 8-18°C; Winter (Jun-Aug) – cold and frosty, rain with southerlies 2-12°C.