Welcome to Christchurch
With a population of around 400,000 Christchurch, in Canterbury, is the South Island ’s largest city, yet much of it has the feel of a small town. Perhaps that’s why it’s known as the Garden City but with the expansive Hagley Park, Botanic Gardens, Port Hills, River Avon and numerous beaches the city certainly has an open, relaxed feel that’s hard to beat.
New Brighton and Sumner
If you’re in the city in summer time, pack your beach bag and head for one of these top beach spots. Both offer long, sandy beaches, promenades and that lazy summer atmosphere. When the surf’s up you can try your hand at surfing – either hire a board or take a lesson. Kite surfing lessons are also available. Both seaside suburbs are close to playgrounds, recreation areas, cafes and restaurants. Best of all, you might feel like you're a hundred miles from a city, but you’re only a 15 minute drive from Christchurch CBD!
Whether you take the drive over the hill or through the hill (via the famous 2km long Lyttelton tunnel), you’ll leave the city behind and enter another world as you arrive into Lyttelton Port. The village is a bustling, friendly place at the mouth of the Lyttelton Harbour (originally called ‘Cook’s Mistake’). You can look across the bay to the Banks Peninsula , while Quail Island sits right in the middle of the harbour (once a leper colony, the island makes for a great day trip and there are regular ferry services that dock there.) You can also take a ferry straight over to Diamond Harbour and Purau Bay on the Banks Peninsula. See our walks and parks section for more on this trip. If you’ve transport, it’s well worth the drive to follow the road around the Bays. There are lots of great swimming spots, playgrounds and easy walks along the way (check out Rapaki, Cass Bay and Governors Bay for a family picnic and swim).
Situated inland, 92km from Christchurch, Methven is a year-round resort and the alpine village is your closest base for a visit to Mt Hutt Ski Area. This laid back town has a lively après ski scene in winter, with heaps of accommodation, restaurants, bars and ski or snowboard rental shops. Other activities include rafting, horse trekking and jet boating. The town itself is surrounded by the flat fields of the Canterbury plains, yet dwarfed by a magnificent backdrop of the Southern Alps and Mt Hutt ski resort, only 20 minutes drive away. We recommend that particularly in adverse weather or road conditions you consider taking shuttle transport up to the ski field, as the access road can be treacherous, and conditions also change rapidly throughout the day.
An hour’s drive south of Christchurch, Ashburton is a large farming town. It offers accommodation, parks and gardens, beaches and picnic spots.
Akaroa and Banks Peninsula
Just 85km from Christchurch, Akaroa is a historic settlement of French origin. Nestled right in the heart of an ancient volcano, the colourful seaside village is full of colonial architecture, craft stores and cafes, not to mention fantastic homemade fudge! The must-do Akaroa activity has to be a dolphin experience. The Hectors Dolphin is the world’s smallest and rarest. They also happen to be fantastic to watch, as they’re among the most acrobatic! You won’t find a shortage of boat trips on offer to take you to view or even swim with these beautiful creatures. You can also take penguin and seal tours or hire your own transport, from kayaks or u-drive boats to bikes or mopeds.