Canterbury embraces Aoraki, the country’s highest mountain, turquoise lakes, high country landscapes, braided rivers, vineyards, farmland, historic settlements and the city of Christchurch/Otautahi.
The Southern Alps/ Kā Tiritiri o te Moana divide Canterbury from the West Coast, and provide a dramatic and beautiful backdrop to the region. With all those snowy mountains it’s not surprising this is a fantastic place to ski. From heli-skiing on untouched slopes, to family friendly club-fields, Canterbury is the country’s most diverse ski region. Read our Canterbury Snow Guide for the low down and Canterbury ski accommodation.
Here are some of the highlights for visitors to Canterbury, wending from north to south…
Kaikōura - crayfish eating, whale watching
Kaikoura surfer, photo: christchurchnz.com
The mountains run almost to the ocean at Kaikōura, creating a stunning setting for the town. The seas here are abundant in wildlife, with the place name literally meaning “meal of crayfish”. It’s hard to say no to that. You can buy a cray from one of the caravans dotted along the coast road - Nin’s Bin is legendary. Whales drew whalers to the area in the 19th century, but these days it’s whale-watching that brings people here. Eco-tours allow visitors to see sperm whales, dolphins, seals and seabirds. Read our Kaikōura Guide for more information and holiday accommodation.
Hurunui District: Hanmer Springs, skiing and top activities
Photo: Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa
There are all kinds of adventures and indulgences to be found around Hurunui. Hanmer Springs is an alpine village blessed with fantastic thermal springs, in a setting of natural beauty, with lots of holiday accommodation too. Hanmer Forest is a great place for walking and biking. Check our Hanmer Springs Guide for attractions nearby - including adrenaline activities such as bungy jumping, mountain-biking and white water rafting. You’ll find more about skiing and snow boarding Mt Lyford and other Hurunui skifield info in our Canterbury Snow Guide.
For a more tranquil experience, visit the famously beautiful Flaxmere Garden, or try salmon and trout fishing on the Hurunui River.
There are also famous wines and produce to discover in the Waipara Valley. The Waipara Valley Farmers’ Market is held in Amberley on Saturday mornings.
Arthur’s Pass and Selwyn District: activities and places to stay
On the road, Arthur’s Pass, photo: christchurchnz.com
Selwyn stretches from Arthur’s Pass in the Southern Alps, down through the plains, with the braided Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers, to Lake Ellesmere and the coast. There’s accommodation and cafes in the alpine village of Arthur’s Pass, where you’ll be surrounded by mountains and beech forest. Arthur’s Pass National Park is superb for hiking, bird-watching and mountaineering. Book a bach in Arthur’s Pass or the Selwyn District, and you could choose amongst skiing or snow-boarding at Temple Basin, Craigieburn, Broken River, Cheeseman, and Porter’s ski fields.
Holiday homes in Castlehill, in the beautiful Craigieburn basin, are the perfect base for mountain biking, bouldering, caving, fishing, tramping in summer and skiing in winter. Try biking the famous Craigieburn Trails or fishing on the Waimakariri or Lake Lyndon. Heading towards the coast, there are historic country towns to explore, and fishing on the Rakaia River. Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora is NZ’s fifth largest lake - though actually a lagoon. Te Waihora, meaning “spreading waters” has been an important source of food for Māori for centuries. It’s a popular place for kayaking, fishing, bird-watching and cycling the Little River Rail Trail.
Lake Ellesmere sunset, Bookabach/36244
Holiday homes in Waimakariri put you close to Christchurch, Kaiapoi, Rangiora and the new town of Pegasus. You could discover vineyards and local delicacies on the North Canterbury Wine and Food Trail. Try fishing or jet-boating on the Waimakariri. Head to Waikuku Beach for swimming, kite-surfing and whitebaiting.
Christchurch / Ōtautahi
Our Christchurch City Guide gives an overview of places to eat, shop and explore in this ever-evolving city, and links to Christchurch accommodation. After the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011, much has been rebuilt and “The Garden City” mixes green spaces, heritage buildings and new developments. It’s a testament to resilience and creativity.
Banks Peninsula: activities around Akaroa and beyond
Banks Peninsula is a wonderful place to hike, with walking trails giving stunning views over farmland, forest and sea. The coastline is home to seals, Hector’s dolphins and little blue penguins, and there are many lovely bays to explore, by foot, kayak or on an eco- tour. Read our Akaroa Guide for accommodation and attractions around this pretty seaside town, first settled by the French in 1840. The Okains Bay Maori and Colonial Museum and Barry’s Bay Cheese are popular spots to visit too.
Ashburton: loads of things to do in Mid Canterbury
Mt Somers, Bookabach/31335
Mid Canterbury encompasses stunning mountain and high country scenery. Methven and Mt Hutt are perfect for snow-lovers, with 9 ski fields in the vicinity. The Terrace Downs golf course is ranked as one of New Zealand’s top five for layout. Methven is also a base for fishing, hot air ballooning, jet boat rides and horse riding.
The Hakatere Conservation Park covers nearly 60,000 hectares, including mountains, tussock lands, beech forest, lakes and the Rangitata and Rakaia rivers. Hike, climb or mountain-bike, ski, fish or hunt - the wilderness awaits. The quiet, historic village of Mt Somers is close to the start of Mt Somers Walkway and the entrance to the Hakatere conservation park.
The town of Ashburton sits between the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers, which are known for salmon and trout. Ashburton has six museums, including an aviation museum, a new art gallery and lots of restaurants.
Mackenzie District: accommodation near Aoraki/Mt Cook, Lake Tekapo and beyond
View of Aoraki/Mt Cook, photo: christchurchnz.com
The Mackenzie District includes Fairlie, Lake Tekapo and Twizel. The farming town of Fairlie is close to ski fields, golf course, water-skiing in summer and boating on Lake Tekapo and Lake Opuha.
Our 10 Reasons to Love Lake Tekapo covers some of the holiday activities around this beautiful alpine lake, including skiing, air safaris, visiting Aoraki/Mount Cook, indulging in hot pools and ice skating at Tekapo Springs, and star-gazing in the Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve..
Twizel is a hydro town with restaurants, tennis courts, skate-park, swimming pool and golf course. It’s a 10 min drive to three nearby lakes - Ruataniwha, Benmore and Ohau with great water sport and fishing opportunities. The Alps to Ocean Cycle Trail is a spectacular ride, running from Aoraki/Mt Cook all the way to the coast, passing through Twizel at the end of section 2. Pick a section as a day ride, or do the whole lot!
Timaru and Waimate Districts: accommodation and activities
Geraldine has developed a bit of a reputation for its gourmet foods, with locally produced cheese, chocolate, Barker’s jams, chutneys and more. From the main street it is a five-minute walk to Talbot Forest, a native forest with lovely views over plains and mountains. Geraldine is an ideal base for day trips to Peel Forest with its many walking tracks, fishing and kayaking on the Rangitata River.
In Timaru you could stroll through the Botanic Gardens, or visit Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre and discover Ngāi Tahu stories, traditions, pounamu and art. Fans of Temuka Pottery can stop by the retail shop in Temuka just north of Timaru and see where this famous pottery has been made since 1931.
Wallaby in South Canterbury, Bookabach/32180
Waimate District is known for beautiful landscapes and Edwardian architecture. It’s also renowned for its strawberries, and having a population of wild wallabies.The Waimate council website has links for local attractions, including the South Canterbury Food and Wine Trail, the Whitehorse Lookout, mountain-bike tracks and tame wallabies.
www.christchurchnz.com Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism site