The Canterbury region in New Zealand’s South Island is an agricultural powerhouse and a tourism wonderland with rugged coastlines, epic ski fields and soothing geothermal heated ponds. Christchurch is the largest city of not only the Canterbury region but also the South Island, and all these great tourist hotspots are within a two-hour drive of Christchurch.
Here are five of our favourite places to visit in the Canterbury region.
1. Hammer Springs
Aching from a long drive? Then submerge yourself in the waters at Hanmer Springs, about a 90 minute/133-kilometre drive from Christchurch. There are 12 open-air pools, ranging in temperature from 33 to 42 degrees, that are fed by geothermal water from a nearby bore. Guests can also use one of the three sulphur pools, the six private indoor thermal pools, or the heated freshwater pool. If that’s not enough, there’s also four waterslides, a children’s play area, and a luxurious massage and beauty centre. The area around Hanmer Springs also has a ski field for winter explorers and great hiking and mountain biking tracks for those who visit in the warmer months.
2. Mt Hutt
Just under a two-hour/114-kilometre drive from Christchurch and you can be spending the day exploring the epic ski runs on Mt Hutt, voted New Zealand’s best ski resort every year since 2015. Mt Hutt’s wide-open runs make it the perfect place for kids to learn how to ski and Kids seven and under can ski for free. Even if you don’t ski, you can take a sightseeing trip on the Summit Six chairlift to catch stunning views over the Canterbury plains. If you fancy a game of golf, drop into the nearby exclusive Terrace Downs resort which also offers horse riding, clay shooting and bike riding.
Waipara is a small town in North Canterbury, located just a 50 minute/58-kilometre drive from Christchurch. The town is famous for its wines, especially its Riesling and Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. If you look a little harder, you will discover the Weka Pass Heritage Railway which runs vintage steam and diesel-electric locomotives. With the help of a small local volunteer group, the 12.8-kilometre rail journey runs through the limestone beauty of the Weka Pass on selected Sundays and public holidays. It’s also worth making the time to wander through the Iron Ridge Quarry Park which has been converted to an art gallery full of giant steel sculptures, it’s taken sculptor Raymond Herber 20 years to turn this abandoned limestone quarry into an amazing art space.
A 70-minute/86-kilometre drive west from Christchurch will bring you to the town of Ashburton. The relatively large town services the local rural area and is much loved by fly fishing fanatics. The Ashburton River rises in the Arrowsmith Ranges and flows across the Canterbury Plains, and in late summer and early autumn you will find small runs of salmon. For the rest of the year anglers can catch plenty of trout. If you’re visiting in Summer don’t miss the Ashburton Farmers market where you can pick up the best locally produced goods. The local home-made seasonal jams of blackberry and raspberry from this area are amazing.
If you drive 80-kilometres/80 minutes southeast from Christchurch to Canterbury’s oldest town Akaroa. This stunning seaside village was settled by the French in 1840 and their influence lingers on today. If you head along to the Akaroa Farmers Market that takes place every Saturday from 9.30am, you will see shoppers leave with armfuls of croissants, baguettes, and soft cheeses. And every second year, the town celebrates its roots by hosting a French Festival in the local showground. For those that love the great outdoors you can swim with the dolphins or visit a penguin colony.