The Canterbury Region is located on the east coast of the South Island, spanning as far north as Kaikoura and down to Makikihi in the South. The main city is Christchurch and with a population of about 370,000 it is the largest city in the South Island. The city has a great international airport making access to the surrounding regions fairly easy via bus, plane or even helicopter.
The region has a lot of farm country on the Canterbury Plains before the terrain steepens substantially as it rises up to the Southern Alps running down the middle of the Island. Many people will venture south toward the lakes of Tekapo, Mount Cook, Wanaka and Queenstown while others explore the city or head north to see the breaching whales in Kaikoura! The region is also home to one of our most famous National Parks - Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park.
Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island with a population of just under 400,000. The city makes for a great destination to visit as it’s located on the east coast with the CBD roughly 5-6km inland. Further inland but a very reasonable 2-2.5 hour drive you’ll come across the Southern Alps, the main dividing mountain range running for over 500km in length. Christchurch boasts some amazing attractions, such as the Port Hills Mountain Cable Car, New Brighton Pier and Botanic Gardens. The city is geographically spread out so having a rental car/camper to reach local attractions and those further abroad is useful. Some of the shorter walks include Hadley Park, Spencer Park and the Bottle Lake Forest all ranging between 20 minutes to 2 hours. If you’re up for something slightly more challenging or looking to chase some great view points of the Canterbury Region. Then Hikes such as the Rakaia Gorge Track (3-4hours return) and Lake Coleridge (2hours) may be what you’re looking for! Top things to do around this area include the Port Hills Hikes, Banks Peninsula Walks, Christchurch Botanical Gardens and Sumner Beach.
Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is located in the mid-South Island. The National Park has an area of 721 km² and is most famously known for hosting the highest mountain in New Zealand standing at 3724m! Mount Cook National Park is a beautiful place to visit and will leave you in awe with the towering southern alps looking down over you. As well as having a beautiful little village that provides great accommodation, food and information about the park there is also many hikes to do within this area. Short hikes around the area include the hooker Valley track, Blue lakes and Tasman Glacier all under three hours in duration. If you’re up for a serious adventure and know what you’re doing look to some of the longer hikes such as the ball pass crossing, Sealy Tarns Track and 100s of mountain peaks. Many mountain guides and highly experienced hiking guides live with in the area so be sure to ask for their services as They’ll be happy to provide you with an amazing experience!
Arthur’s Pass is A small township located within the southern alps in the South Island. With the town being located right in the southern alps there’s no shortage of things to do around here as long as you’ve got a keen sense of adventure think, raging waterfalls, snowy mountain peaks, luscious green forests and you’ve got Arthur’s Pass. Popular attractions visited by tourists include the Devils Punchbowl, Bridalveil Falls and many hiking trails. Getting to Arthurs pass is usually done from Christchurch as it’s easily to access by car or via the West Coast if you’re planning a longer road trip. Accommodation in Arthurs pass is limited so be sure to book early if you’re planning on staying.
Akaroa is a small town located on Banks Peninsula on eastern side of the South Island. The town has a fair bit of British and French history, you can find out more about when visiting the local Museum there are also many beautiful Natural attractions in the area. With the famous private hiking Trail there is a range of options to choose from to best explore the peninsula and is well worth the cost. There are several different tour operators in the area offering both tours on land and sea where you’ll get to experience marine wildlife native bird life and much more that can only be found in New Zealand.
Photo credit: Graeme Murray
Aoraki/Mount Cook is famously known for being the highest mountain in New Zealand even despite losing some of its height in a recent rockslide. At a staggering 3724m it’s no wonder this technical mountain was one of the places Sir Edman Hillary cut his teeth on before heading to climb the highest mountain in the world. Usually only reserved for the serious mountaineers the views from the top are an amazing site, stretching far over the southern alps and Tasman Sea to the distant west. The good news is the mountain can be viewed from the comfort of Mount Cook Village as we as nearby Hikes such as the Tasman lake and Sealy Tarns Track.
Tekapo is a small town on the edge of large Lake Tekapo located in the interior South Island. With the amazing turquoise blue waters right on his doorstep Tekapo is a spectacular town to visit and is seen by many tourists annually. Attractions in the area include the Church of the good Shepherd, the Mount John University Space Observatory, the nearby hikes and many more. Tekapo hosts a range of attractions and great places to eat however if you’re looking to stay book accommodation well in advance as it lies on one of the most spectacular roads in the South Island. The lake itself draws many people to its shores as the water is a beautiful turquoise blue colour which is created by mineral deposit from surrounding places, be sure to take camera!
Twizel is located in the heart of the MacKenzie area in the Canterbury region of the South Island. Although this town is small in the grand scheme it attracts many people as it is surrounded by natural beauty everywhere you look. The Alpine town is a great base for exploring more of the Mackenzie Region, tours including mountain biking, flyfishing and lake hopping can be found here as well as many activities that can be self-guided. Accommodation ranges from campsites right up to large private alpine lodges. There is also a large network of hiking trails within the area ranging from small 1km walks like the Ben Ohau Wetland Track up to the Flanigan pass Trail at 20km.
Photo Credit: Jack Austin
Timaru is located on the east coast of the lower South Island. Timaru makes for great place to visit as it is located right on the coast and surrounded by vast green rolling hills and in the distance the Southern Alps. Things to see and do in Timaru include seal watching, beach hopping, coastal walks and even checking out some historic buildings. Other activities in the area range from the fast-paced mountain biking, nearby skiing and sailing adventures to the more relaxing hot pools museums and cultural performances. There are many tour operators around this region if you’re looking for some local knowledge and experience, individual and group tours depending on what you’re after.
Waipara is a small town located near the east coast of the South Island. Waipara is well known for its wine making which is not surprisingly considering some of the best Sauvignon blanc’s, Pinot Noir and Rieslings in the country come from this region. Along with the spectacular wineries there are some lovely coastal walkways, four-wheel-drive and horse adventures and even train trips to experience! Waipara it’s just a short trip from Christchurch so It can make for a great day tour if you’re staying within the bigger city.
Photo credit: Graeme Murray
Kaikoura is located right on the coast of the South Island. The town itself is located between the southern alps and the Pacific Ocean so it has plenty of natural beauty on show. Tourist are often drawn here to see whales, seals, dolphins and other marine life comes far closer to the coastline than usual due to its very deep ocean shelf nearby. Boat tours run often from the shoreline out to the Kiakoura canyon where you’ll witness some of these amazing creatures! Back on land there are many amazing short walks and long hikes to do and even the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway! Half moon bay is a 4-hour return walk and if you’re looking to venture into the forest there’s the Ohau stream and waterfall walk (20 minutes) where you’ll get to see Seals swimming in the waterfall pool!
Photo Credit: Kyle Mulinder
Hanmer springs is located in the Canterbury region in the South Island. This town is well known for its amazing thermal pools and Spas that attract many tourists each year. The town has some great accommodation options many being resorts with their own pools and Spas as well as many cheaper options. If you want to get out and earn that spa first there are a large range of activities that can be done nearby including quad biking, river rafting, jet boating, target shooting and many more. With the Drive from Christchurch being just under two hours it’s well worth putting on your list of destinations to stop over.
The Alps to Ocean cycle Trail spans for more than 300 km from Aoraki/Mount Cook to Omaru on the South Islands Coastline. The trail is usually done over nine days and you can expect to see some of the countries most amazing sites along the way. The Trail slowly heads downhill over the nine days with a few small rises and isn’t too technical giving it an easy to intermediate grade. They’re great accommodation options along the way as the trail goes through many well-known spots including Tekapo, Lake Ohau and Omarama just to name a few. Whether you’re an individual or group cycling together there are many Tour/transport companies willing to help you out with drop-offs/pick-ups.
Photo Credit: Camila Rutherford