Christchurch, the South Island's largest urban centre, is characterised by its English heritage and the creativity and innovation of urban regeneration following the Canterbury earthquakes.
The picturesque city also serves as a gateway to fun-filled southern adventures, with an international airport and short drive to the sparkling Pacific Ocean, majestic Southern Alps and the ancient volcanic Banks Peninsula dotted with charming townships and hidden bays.
Dominated by New Zealand’s highest mountain, Aoraki Mt Cook (3,754 metres or 12,316 feet), and surrounded by the Southern Alps – a chain of mountains bigger than its European namesake – Canterbury's vast landscapes offer countless outdoor nature pursuits and thrilling adventures.
On-the-go visitors can ski down awe-inspiring slopes, play golf on world-class courses, take to the water swimming, surfing, windsurfing, jet boating or white-water rafting, or pedal along stunning cycle trails. Afterwards, they can relax with award winning wines at beautiful vineyards, wander through outstanding gardens or soak their cares away in an alpine spa.
Oral tradition has Māori arriving in the Canterbury region about a thousand years ago. Ancient Māori rock art sites throughout southern Canterbury hold treasured artworks that provide pivotal insights into early Māori culture.
Christchurch and Canterbury’s modern heritage goes back to 19th century English settlers who were attracted by the large tracts of land suitable for farming. On Banks Peninsula, the little seaside village of Akaroa still celebrates its early French connections.
As well as being New Zealand’s oldest and the South Island’s biggest city, Christchurch is one of the world's most unique destinations. Once renowned for its neo-Gothic architecture, the city’s built heritage was significantly damaged in the February 2011 earthquake. Now the revitalised city, hailed by travel publisher Lonely Planet in 2014 as one of the top places in the world to visit, merges world-class technology and innovation with its traditional English ambience.
The Avon River flows serenely through the city hub – an urban landscape transformed by vibrant new retail centres, innovative bars and restaurants, vivid street art and transitional projects like the world-first cardboard cathedral – and on into the award-winning 150-year-old Botanic Gardens.
The city's art galleries and open-air markets can be explored by vintage tram or classic Edwardian punt, while a growing network of laneways offers pedestrians an array of eclectic boutiques, cafes and bars.
From lush vineyards to sky-piercing mountains, pristine glacial lakes and wild coastlines, Canterbury is a place of remarkable contrasts.
One of the best ways to experience the region is by road. The Alpine Triangle touring route traverses pastoral hill country and rugged seascapes, taking visitors on a journey of discovery through the alpine spa resort of Hanmer Springs and on to the wine-filled Waipara Valley and coastal eco-destination Kaikoura, where whale watching is a big drawcard.
The world-famous TranzAlpine train journey operates out of Christchurch, crossing the patchwork Canterbury Plains and following the Waimakariri River through deep gorges on a thrilling traverse of the Southern Alps.
With favourable atmospheric conditions over a diverse geography, Canterbury is also one of New Zealand’s outstanding hot air ballooning locations.
Adventure / outdoors
In the air, on water or in the mountains, the Canterbury region is an outdoor haven teeming with wildlife and opportunities to encounter locals like gigantic sperm whales cruising the Kaikoura Coast, rare dolphins playing in turquoise Akaroa harbour and cheeky kea parrots in the mountains.
The resort town Hanmer Springs offers cycling, hiking, fishing and bungy jumping, and the relaxing waters of Hanmer Springs Thermal Resort.
Aoraki Mt Cook National Park is an international climbing and hiking destination. Glaciers cover 40 per cent of the park, with 23 peaks higher than 3,000 metres (9,850 feet). On the slopes, 10 main ski areas include expansive Mt Hutt and family-friendly Porters. Meanwhile, in the pure night skies of Aoraki Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve, the stars shine more brightly than almost anywhere else in the world.
And by the way...
- Canterbury, at 42,200 square kilometres (16,293 square miles), is New Zealand's largest region.
- Christchurch is well named as the "Garden City", with 740 parks covering about 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres).
- Aoraki – the Māori name for Mt Cook – means "cloud piercer".
- Rakaia Bridge is the southern hemisphere’s longest bridge, spanning 1.8 kilometres (1 mile).