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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.