Christchurch & Canterbury

From ocean to plains to mountains

Christchurch & Canterbury

From ocean to plains to mountains

Located on the east coast of the South Island, Christchurch & Canterbury is New Zealand’s largest region. A diverse landscape greets visitors with big views, big skies and big mountains including Aoraki/Mount Cook, the country’s highest peak. The region is also home to glaciers and some of the country’s most stunning blue lakes, making it a must-do destination.

Christchurch Canterbury region marker

Halfway along the coast is the city of Christchurch. Still regenerating after the devastating effects of earthquakes in 2010 and 2011, this vibrant city is the international gateway to the South Island. For outdoor adventurers, the region is a true playground. Head inland from Christchurch in any direction and you’ll have your pick of activities from walking & hiking to mountain biking and white water rafting. And in winter there’s top class skiing and snowboarding, including some exhilarating off-piste helicopter ski adventures.

Here are approximate travel times and distances to and from Christchurch city.

Drive times

  • Picton (North Island ferry) to Christchurch: 340 km / 211 miles – 5 hours
  • Greymouth (West Coast) to Christchurch: 240 km / 149 miles – 3 hours 15 minutes
  • Queenstown to Christchurch: 480 km / 298 miles – 6 hours 30 minutes
  • Christchurch to Kaikoura: 180 km / 112 miles – 3 hours
  • Christchurch to Hanmer Springs: 135 km / 84 miles – 1 hour 50 minutes
  • Christchurch to Lake Tekapo: 230 km / 143 miles – 3 hours
  • Christchurch to Aoraki Mount Cook Village: 330 km / 205 miles – 4 hours 40 minutes
  • Christchurch to Dunedin: 360 km / 224 miles – 5 hours

Travel times can vary significantly, particularly in popular areas during peak visitor months (December – February). For current travel times and updates on delays, roadworks and road closures, use the NZ Transport Agency journey planner before travelling. It’s always a good idea to allow extra time for photo stops and, when travelling longer distances, rest stops.

KiwiRail Scenic Journeys connects Christchurch with the West Coast and the top of the South Island.

The TranzAlpine runs daily (Except Christmas day) leaving Christchurch at 8:15 am and arriving in Greymouth at 1:05pm. It leaves Greymouth an hour later, arriving back in Christchurch at 6:30pm.

The Coastal Pacific which travels along the east coast between Picton and Christchurch, via Blenheim and Kaikoura, was severely damaged by the Kaikoura earthquake in November 2016. After extensive repairs, the route reopened in December 2018. Check the KiwiRail website for current operating times.

Christchurch Airport is 15-20 minutes from the city centre by car/taxi/shuttle. There is also a regular Metro bus service connecting the airport to the city.

  • Auckland (AKL) to Christchurch (CHC): 1 hour 25 minutes
  • Wellington (WLG) to Christchurch (CHC): 50 minutes
  • Queenstown (ZQN) to Christchurch (CHC): 55 minutes
  • Dunedin (DUD) to Christchurch (CHC): 1 hour
  • Tauranga (TRG) to Christchurch (CHC): 1 hour 30 minutes

A number of international airlines including Emirates, Qantas, and Singapore Airlines fly into Christchurch. Check the Christchurch Airport website for details.

There is no overground or underground commuter rail service in Christchurch. Buses are the main form of public transport along with a limited tram service, aimed mainly at tourists, and a ferry from the suburb of Lyttleton across the harbour to Diamond Harbour. The city itself is well covered by the bus network but for exploring further afield, a car is definitely recommended. Most of the big name car hire companies are represented and cars can be collected at the airport.

Being such a diverse region, the weather and climate can vary significantly. Running the length of the South Island parallel to the West Coast, the Southern Alps have a huge impact on Canterbury’s weather. The prevailing westerly flow is lifted by the mountains, resulting in rain on the West Coast and snow on the peaks. As a result, rainfall on the eastern ranges and plains is significantly less, often leading to droughts. The average annual rainfall in Christchurch is roughly half that of Auckland and Wellington.

Summers (December – February) in Christchurch are warm and dry with an average high of 22 °C / 71.6 °F and average low of 12 °C / 53.6 °F. However, hot and dry northwesterly winds blowing down from the mountains can often raise temperatures above 30 °C.

Winter (June – August) brings heavy snow to the mountains with severe inland frosts and freezing temperatures. Christchurch’s temperatures are a little moderated, with an average winter high of 12 °C / 53.6 °F and average low of 2 °C / 35.6 °F.

Check current conditions and get the latest Christchurch & Canterbury weather forecasts on

While there’s not much you can do about the weather once you’re here, it’s worth knowing what to expect at different times of the year and in different parts of the country. These two articles are well worth reading:

Top things to do in Christchurch & Canterbury

Looking for ideas to help you plan the ultimate New Zealand outdoor adventure? Here are some of the top things for active travellers to see and do in the Christchurch & Canterbury region.

Visit the Mackenzie District

While Christchurch & Canterbury as a whole has a lot to offer, from an adventure and pure scenery perspective, the Mackenzie District almost feels like it’s home to the best of it. Located to the southwest of Christchurch, this area contains arguable some of New Zealand’s top attractions.

Mount Cook National Park
  • Situated deep within the Southern Alps, Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is home to 19 peaks over 3,000 metres including New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki/Mount Cook. Walking & hiking is one of the main activities and there are a range of walks including the easy and hugely popular Hooker Valley Track and the more challenging Mueller Hut Route. The park is also home to the Tasman Glacier, New Zealand’s longest glacier, and there are a number of activities available both on the terminal lake and on the glacier itself. Even the drive towards Mount Cook Village is spectacular as you follow the western shore of the incredibly blue Lake Pukaki.
  • Driving from Christchurch to Aoraki/Mount Cook you will pass through the village of Tekapo, located at the southern end of Lake Tekapo. There are a number of short walks in the area including one to the summit of Mt John where you will find the Mt John Observatory. Located in the Aoraki/Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, if you’re staying in the Tekapo area overnight you definitely want to do some star gazing, or even better, star gazing while lying in a hot pool.
  • In winter, snow, ice and avalanche conditions can make some walking tracks dangerous. Not ideal if you don’t have alpine equipment and experience. Instead, consider heading to the ski slopes at Roundhill and Mt Dobson.

Visit Arthur’s Pass National Park

One of three routes that cross the Southern Alps, Highway 73 links Christchurch to the West Coast via Arthur’s Pass and Otira Gorge with its iconic viaduct. Arthur’s Pass itself is a small village and a base from which to explore the area’s many short walks and longer hikes including Devil’s Punchbowl, Temple Basin and the challenging but very rewarding Avalanche Peak. You can read more about these and other hikes on the Department of Conservation website.

Devils Punchbowl

Visit Hanmer Springs

The resort town of Hanmer Springs offers a good mix of adventure and relaxation and is a great year round destination. The main attraction is undoubtedly Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa where you can soak in naturally heated mineral waters. Beforehand, you’ll most probably want to earn that soak. Here are some ideas:

  • Go mountain biking on easy, purpose built cross country trails in and around Hanmer Forest, or for more advanced riding, visit St James Conservation area.
  • St James also has a number of walking and hiking tracks or you could simply climb Mt Isobel for stunning views over the Hanmer Springs Basin.
  • If you’re looking for more adrenaline-based activities, there’s jet boating, bungy jumping, white water rafting and more.
Hanmer Springs

Ride the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail

This 300 km / 186 mile cycle route will take you through stunning scenery, from alpine peaks, past glacier lakes and all the way to the Pacific Ocean on the South Island’s east coast. There are 9 Grade 2 / Grade 3 sections and the entire route can be cycled in 8, 6 or 4 days. You can find out more on the official Alps 2 Ocean website.

Alps 2 Ocean

Going skiing at Mt Hutt

Just under 2 hours drive west of Christchurch, Mt Hutt is one of the largest and highest ski areas on the South Island. Open usually from early June to late October, this bowl shaped mountain caters for all levels with dedicated learner facilities, and a good mix of beginner, intermediate and advanced runs as well as half pipes and a terrain park.

Mt Hutt