Christchurch & Canterbury
Travel to Christchurch, the second largest city in New Zealand situated on the eastern Pacific Coast and the lynchpin of the Canterbury region.
The city is trying to shed its very British label and is developing as a center for the arts. And a visit to the architecturally striking Christchurch Art Gallery and the contrasting Gothic inspired Canterbury Museum should not be missed.
The enormous Hagley Park and Botanic Gardens serve as an homage to the gardening tradition around which the city was built. Bike and walking trails, croquet, lawn bowls, tennis and golf are all found within this immense 75-acre park. The park also includes a loop of the Avon River which runs through the city. You can ride a punt (a flat version of a gondola) on a peaceful 30-minute ride as a straw hatted boatman, complete with striped jacket, propels you on the way.
Adjacent to the airport is the world-renowned International Antarctic Centre and Hagglund Ride. Christchurch has always served as the gateway to the land at the bottom of the earth. This multi-award-winning institution serves not only as a working base for polar expeditions but you can enter (gear provided) into a chamber that replicates the daily conditions at the NZ Antarctic base. You can also ride the Hagglund, an giant snow vehicle that traverses the arctic terrain.
Unless you were living in a cave, it’s no secret that the city was impacted by an earthquake in 2010. While it has devastated principal tourist sites of the CBD, the rest of the city remains vibrant.
Christchurch is a getway city to Canterbury region. Head over the hills southeast of the city and you’ll come to the Banks Peninsula and the harbor town of Lyttelton, the first port that served a growing Christchurch. Nearby is the little gem of Akaroa a bastion of culture that remains to this day.
Travel north from Christchurch and you’ll pass through Waipara, one of the fastest growing wine regions on the South Island. Then you’ll start ascending to the mountain retreat of Hanmer Springs. This year round resort is a local favorite for winter skiing and summer trekking. It also home to the relaxing Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa.
From here you’ll get your first look across the expansive of the Canterbury Plains. You could be forgiven if title tune from the show Oklahoma – “Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain” might get logged in your brain. The dry wind or ‘fohn’ blowing off the western mountains is prevalent all year round and lends to great hot-air ballooning out of centrally located Methven. The plains, NZ’s largest flat area, is regarded as the best area for production of lambs wool products.
Head west and you’ll begin to ascend into the Southern Alps. Arthur’s Pass is more than the 20-minute stop at the midway point of the TranzAlpine train. It is the center of Arthur’s Pass National Park and a popular hiking and skiing area. However the crowning glory of the region is Aoraki Mount Cook National Park. It is here, at the heart of it all, that towers the country's highest mountain peak, the majestic Aoraki Mount Cook. Prevalent on almost every postcard of the Southern Island, this was the place where Sir Edmond Hillary trained before he conquered Mt. Everest in 1953.
The Canterbury Region is mesmerizing. The sheer scale of the mountains and plains will humble you and the range of activities will stagger you and. You can ski, golf, bungy jump, or go whitewater rafting, mountain biking, wind surfing, and whale watching as well as visit world-class vineyards and gardens.
Canterbury is an area not to be missed on your Southern Island itinerary.