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Christchurch & Canterbury

With plentiful flight connections, a Britz depot near the airport, and ready access to South Island adventures, Christchurch is the perfect place to begin your Britz campervan holiday.​

Highlights: 

  • splendid scenery
  • two national parks
  • walkways and hiking trails 
  • rafting, kayaking and, boat cruises 
  • Hanmer hot springs 
  • artisan food, wine and craft beer 
  • ​Christchurch’s street art, gardens and parks​
 

At its heart is Christchurch, the South Island’s largest metropolis, nicknamed ‘the garden city’ for its expansive parks and gardens. It’s emerging as the country’s most modern and ingenious urban centre in the wake of the 2010/11 earthquakes, with visitors warmly welcomed amidst the rebuild.​

The celebrated landscapes of Canterbury and the rest of the South Island are readily accessible. Banks Peninsula and Akaroa are right on the doorstep, with Arthur’s Pass National Park not much further, secreted in the Southern Alps. To the south are a series of rural towns including sweet Geraldine on the way inland to the Mackenzie Country, Tekapo and Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park.​​

 

WHAT TO SEE & DO 

National parks 

The Southern Alps are an almost constant companion for Canterbury road-trippers, with two national parks offering a chance to explore them on hiking trails, and overnight in campervan- friendly campsites. Two hours from Christchurch, Arthur’s Pass National Park lies on the Great Alpine Highway to Greymouth. Trails from the visitor centre reach various vantage points to survey its medley of craggy peaks, scree slopes, steep gorges and braided rivers. 

Further south, on the road to Queenstown, Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park is named for New Zealand’s highest mountain, the ‘cloud piercer’. It stands sentry with other mighty peaks and vast valleys – some lined with glaciers – that can be admired from Mt Cook Village and on surrounding trails. White Horse Hill campsite is a dramatic spot to spy the mountains through wafting clouds.​

​​Walking & hiking 

While Canterbury’s national parks are hiking hotspots, numerous other reserves offer similarly scenic walks with easy parking and campsites at the trailheads. These include Craigieburn Forest Park (near Arthur’s Pass), Peel Forest (near Geraldine), and Ruataniwha Conservation Park (near Twizel).

Christchurch’s Botanic Garden is great for an amble, as are the cottage-lined backstreets of Akaroa, and Caroline Bay Park in Timaru. The Hanmer Springs area is also wonderful for walking, its surrounding forests featuring a veritable arboretum of native and exotic trees.​

Food & Wine

A rural region with a big appetite for local produce, Canterbury has a wealth of great cafes, restaurants, bars and artisan producers. A taste of New Zealand’s exploding craft beer scene can be had at Pomeroy’s and Cassels brew-bars in Christchurch; to the north, the Waipara Valley stakes its place on the wine-touring route. Artisan cheese factories include Geraldine’s Talbot Forest, and Barry’s Bay on the way to Akaroa. 

Rural Canterbury is a hotbed of great home baking, including venerable meat pies crafted in country bakeries such as those in Darfield and Sheffield. Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of regular farmers’ markets – great for stocking up your Britz campervan kitchen.​

Aquatic activities 

With around 800 kilometres of coastline and scores of rivers, Canterbury is a great place to dip a toe in the water. Punting on the Avon River is a gentle introduction and offers a unique perspective of inner Christchurch; popular beaches within 30 minutes’ drive of centre include New Brighton and Sumner, but there are plenty more north and south. 

Akaroa Harbour is a hive of activities such as kayaking, sailing, scenic cruises and even swimming with dolphins. There are also ocean fishing trips, somewhat overshadowed by angling for salmon and trout in legendary rivers such as the Rakaia and Waimakariri. Jet boats tackle the white water, with even more exciting adventures offered by Rangitata Rafts, with trips for chicken and champion alike.​ ​

​Arts & culture 

Cantabrians have buoyed themselves on a life raft of creativity in the wake of the earthquakes, especially in Christchurch’s CBD. Vibrant street art, sculpture, gardens and general enterprise has sprung up in the city’s holes and cracks, egged on by the gregarious Gap Filler project. Canterbury Museum, in Hagley Park, retells quake tales alongside wide-ranging exhibits. Two notable cultural institutions on Banks Peninsula are Akaroa Museum and the Maori & Colonial Museum in Okains Bay, while Timaru is home to South Canterbury Museum and Aigantighe Art Gallery. For events and festivals throughout the region, check out Be There.​

​HIDDEN GEMS 

Hanmer Springs 

Off the Lewis Pass highway (SH7), Hanmer Springs is a pretty geothermal resort with a campervan-friendly attitude and outdoor activities for everyone. Its hot pools complex is a pleasure-seekers’ paradise with various therapeutic pools and exhilarating slides, 2 while the surrounding area sports activities galore including hiking, horse-trekking, mountain biking, jet boating and bungy jumping. 

 Peel Forest 

In the foothills of the Southern Alps, off the Inland Scenic Route (SH72) near Geraldine, Peel Forest is a precious native forest remnant with a peaceful campsite and walking trails from easy to epic. There are horse treks and fun whitewater rafting trips nearby. 

Mt John Observatory 

A strong contender for New Zealand’s best lookout, this tussocky hillock above Lake Tekapo is also home to Mt John Observatory, offering the chance explore skies so clear they have been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve. 

Giant’s House 

In an Akaroa backstreet, artist Josie Martin welcomes the public into her colourful and child-friendly garden, complete with quirky mosaics and sculptures, fragrant blooms, lush lawns, shady trees, tea kiosk, and a succulent piano from which flow the seductive strains of Edith Piaf.​

​Kura Tawhiti/Castle 

Hill On the way to Arthur’s Pass, this scattering of limestone outcrops is so surprising Maori named them Kura Tawhiti – ‘treasure from a distant land’. This whopping, weird and utterly wonderful rock garden is easily accessible on a short walk from the highway car park.​

​BRITZ TIPS 

  • ​​Campervan travel is easy around this area, with clear road signage, spacious parking and excellent visitor services. 

  • There are around 40 holiday parks in Canterbury, including six within 20 minutes’ drive of central Christchurch; the wider region is also well serviced. These parks are well used to touring campervanners and foster a sociable atmosphere. 

  • There are a dozen vehicle-accessible Department of Conservation campsites, many around the Arthur’s Pass area. 

  • Outside of January and Easter when New Zealand holidaymakers are out in force, campsite bookings are usually not required so campervan travellers are free to follow a flexible itinerary. 

  • As Canterbury’s alpine areas can get cold even in summer, warm clothes are essential. In winter, visitors should be prepared to encounter snow. 

  • Snow bunnies should head to Mt Hutt, one of Australasia’s highest ski resorts. 

  • Freedom camping is permitted in some places; i-SITE visitor centres can advise where and what rules apply.​


Check out some of our suggested self-drive itineraries​

  • ​Top of the South[add link]

  • Great Alpine Highway[add link] 

  • Christchurch to Queenstown[add link] 

  • Southern Lakes & Fiordland[add link] 

  • ​ Dunedin, Coastal Otago & Southland[add link]​


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Nature & Scenic

Christchurch & Canterbury
The bird’s-eye views of the patchwork-like Canterbury Plains and how they interact with New Zealand’s largest and most picturesque mountain range, the Southern Alps, offer an unforgettable welcome.

Spanning 190 kilometres, the Canterbury Plains are New Zealand’s largest area of flat land at low altitude. Converted from indigenous tussock into productive farm land by the early settlers in the mid 19th century, they represent a cornerstone of the Canterbury economy.

To the east of the plains is the South Pacific Ocean, while the western boundary is marked by the Southern Alps, extending 550 kilometres in a south westerly direction from beyond Canterbury’s northern border.

The beauty of the alps can be experienced by a visit to Aoraki Mount Cook, New Zealand’s highest peak, while living remnants of the ice age in the form of spectacular glaciers are also within driving distance of Christchurch.

  • Alpine Pacific Triangle
  • Hurunui High Country Track – Culverden
  • Kaikoura Coast Track - Cheviot
  • Kaikoura Wilderness Walks – Kaikoura

Art & Culture

Christchurch & Canterbury
The largest South Island Art Gallery opened May 2003 located in the heart of the city’s cultural precinct, a stunning modern glass and steel structure.  A designated cultural precinct stretches from Cathedral Square along the heritage tram line to the Botanic Gardens, taking in art galleries, cafes, the Arts Centre and the historic Museum and Christ’s College buildings.

Check out the sounds from the Symphony Orchestra started over 40 years ago. The Christchurch Symphony is rated the second best in the country playing a wide range of music from baroque to modern 21st century pop and jazz. For cultural interaction, visit Ko Tane Maori Experience, an authentic  Maori cultural experience, with a traditional powhiri (greeting), cultural performances/show and living village and wildlife reserve, with a traditional ‘Taste of New Zealand’ dinner or Maori Tours Kaikoura where you can explore historic Maori sites, visit family homes and marae and learn about Ngai Tahu culture.

  • Alpine Pacific Triangle
  • Majuba Gallery & Design Store – Hanmer Springs
  • The Rocking Frog – Waikari
  • Crossroads Gallery – Cheviot
  • Maori Tours Kaikoura - Kaikourav

Beach & Coastal Encounters

Christchurch & Canterbury
From Christchurch’s early days, city residents have enjoyed coming to Sumner and neighbouring Scarborough beaches for their summer fun. The area is also distinctive for its two unusual rock features, Cave Rock ( Tuawera) and Shag Rock (Rapanui). Stop for ice cream, a cold drink, coffee or even gourmet pizza at one of the local stores, restaurants and cafes.

On the rugged east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, the seaside settlement of Kaikoura is overlooked by majestic mountains which are snow capped for many months of the year.  The unique combination of ocean and mountains never fails to leave visitors to Kaikoura in awe.  The township is located on a rocky peninsula, protruding from lush farmland beneath the mountains. In the waters off this peninsula, a complex marine system provides an abundantly rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds making it an ideal place for getting 'close to nature'.

Banks Peninsula is the result of violent eruptions from three ancient volcanoes. The spectacular coastline of Akaroa Harbour and the surroundings bays are the remaining legacy of earth’s fury.

Akaroa is the site of the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand. Their influence is still evident in this vibrant tourist town - look for French street names, quaint historical buildings and inspired cuisine.

  • Alpine Pacific Triangle
  • Motunau Beach
  • Gore Bay

Wildlife Experiences

Christchurch & Canterbury
Canterbury’s complex marine system provides an abundantly rich habitat for marine mammals and seabirds, making it an ideal place for getting ‘close to nature’.  Rocky peninsulas, protruding from lush farmland beneath the mountains, lead to the home of seals, whales, dolphins, sharks, penguins and spectacular birdlife; including the mighty albatross.  Kaikoura offers a unique combination of ocean and mountains offers stunning coastal alpine scenery and a host of eco-tourism activities, including whale watching, dolphin swimming, walks and much more.

The spectacular volcanic craters of Banks Peninsula provide a rich environment for marine life; including the Hector Dolphin, the world's rarest and smallest.

  • Alpine Pacific Triangle
  • Wai ariki Nature Park – Hanmer Springs
  • Albatross & Dolphin Encounter – Kaikoura
  • Whale Watch – Kaikoura
  • Seal Swim – Kaikoura
  • Seal Colony - Kaikoura

 

Canterbury & West Coast Quick Facts

The Canterbury and West Coast region of the South Island is a place of dramatic diversity - an area to explore and enjoy.

The region's largest city, Christchurch, is full of reminders of our colonial past, and it is also inter-mingled with the technology and style of modern life. It provides a gateway to a host of other places and experiences in the north of the South Island.

North east of the region is Kaikoura, where the mountains meet the sea. Here you will find underwater canyons where whales gather to feed, and further west you can relax at the thermal spas of Hanmer Springs. New Zealand Alpine spa village.

Heading to the West Coast, New Zealand's wildest area, you'll come across the beautiful Pancake Rocks, the blowholes at Punakaiki, and the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier.

Heading south will take you through the high coutry of Cantebury, to the foot of the majestic Aoraki/Mt Cook with picturesque turquoise lakes and stunning mountain scenes.

Canterbury/West Coast – from the Alps to the Ocean.

Christchurch & Canterbury

Canterbury – Heart of the South Island

Christchurch, gateway to the South Island; Garden city of the world. Visitors and residents alike can enjoy the unique playground of Canterbury, which stretches from the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean.

Although it is the largest city in New Zealand’s South Island, Christchurch is incredibly friendly and at the same time elegant and sophisticated. Because the city is so compact, getting about is effortless. Whether you walk, cycle or drive, all the key attractions are within easy distance of the city centre. Sample superb Canterbury wines, and fresh produce like Canterbury lamb, salmon, ostrich or Kaikoura crayfish at your pick of award-winning restaurants, or stop for coffee in one of the many vibrant city cafes.

Canterbury is not only rich in beauty; it offers a wealth of unparalleled experiences. You can get close to the whales in Kaikoura, swim with the worlds rarest dolphin near the charming French settlement of Akaroa, soak in a thermal hot pool in the Alpine Village of Hanmer Springs, tour New Zealand’s hottest wine region, Waipara, hike through spectacular scenery near Arthur’s Pass, fish for our prize salmon in Rakaia, mountain bike through beautiful hill country around Timaru and Waimate, make a pilgrimage to Australasia’s highest peak, Aoraki/Mount Cook or float tranquilly above the plains in a hot air balloon.

One day is not enough to experience all the city has to offer.

Quick Facts

CategoryDetails
Population: 350,000 est at June 2006
Climate:Canterbury has warm summers and cool to cold winters. Maximum temperatures in summer are typically in the 27o-33o range. The highest temperature ever recorded in Christchurch was 42o. In winter the temperatures can range from 2ºC-12ºC.
Cultural Mix:NZ European, Maori, Pacific, Asian.
Famous For:

Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Garden City, Gateway to South Island, Aoraki/Mt Cook, Alps to Ocean 

Transport:
  • City Buses
  • Christchurch Free Central City Shuttle Services: The shuttle which is a distinctive yellow colour runs every 10  minutes during the day and every 15 minutes in the evening.
  • Christchurch Tramway Limited: A historic tram ride around the city centre. Trundle through the tree lined streets, past buzzing streetside cafes. A great way to experience the inner city of Christchurch. www.tram.co.nz
  • Punting on the Avon River: Sit back, relax in a punt as a boatman guide past the sights of the central city www.punting.co.nz 
The people:

Musicians
Bic Runga, Bo Runga, Hayley Westenra, Scribe
   
Actors
Phil Keoghan

Aritsts
Bill Sutton

Writers
Essie Summers, Edith Ngaio Marsh, Mary Ursula Bethell, Margaret Mahy, Gordon Ogilvie, Keri Hulme

Chefs
Michael Lee Richards, Celia Hay, Jo Seager (with restaurant and school)

Inventors
John Britten

Alpine Pacific Triangle

Three of New Zealand’s popular recreational destinations, Hanmer Springs, Waipara Valley Wine Region and Kaikoura are linked by the Alpine Pacific Triangle touring route. The easy and pleasant drive around the entire touring route is 370 kilometres, beginning at its southern end just 45 minutes drive from Christchurch International Airport or Christchurch City, and at its northern end from Kaikoura. At almost every turn, new and exciting vistas unfold –pastoral hill country, cloud-piercing mountains, tumbling rivers, shady forests, serene lakes, surging seascapes, sculptured limestone formations and bubbling hot springs.

Quick Facts

CategoryDetails
Population: 11,300 (provisional 2006 Census night population)
Climate:Seasons often vary dramatically with searing summers and snowfalls in winter.  Autumn temperatures are mild with stunning seasonal colours, while exotic flowers, green pastures and lambs dominate the spring landscape.
Cultural Mix:From the 1991 census 97.1% of people (9,276) in the Hurunui District said they belong to the European ethnic group. 5.4% of people (516) in the Hurunui District said they belong to the Mäori ethnic group. The population of the Hurunui District contains a smaller proportion of Pacific peoples (0.4%) and a smaller proportion of Asian people (0.5%).
Famous For:

Hanmer Springs and the Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa also Waipara Valley Wine Region

The people:

Musicians
Phil Garland

Artists
Corina Hazlett, Maree Hare, Sharon Earl, Jane McIntosh, Marie Rusbatch-Dawson

Writers
Bernadette Hall
 
Wine Maker Personalities
Daniel Schuster, John McCaskey, Alan McCorkindale, Matthew Donaldson

Sporting Legends
Alex Wyllie, Robbie Deans

Related Information

Itinerary Ideas –Britz Northern South Island Exposure Take 5 days and experience the upper South Island's breathtaking beaches, ancient forests, spa resorts and alpine villages.

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