Discover - Canterbury
AORAKI MOUNT COOK
Aoraki Mount Cook National Park is home of the highest mountains and the longest glaciers. It is alpine in the purest sense - with skyscraping peaks, glaciers and permanent snow fields, all set under a star-studded sky.
Although it encompasses 23 peaks over 3000 metres high, this park is very accessible. State Highway 80 leads to Aoraki/Mt Cook Village which is situated beside scenic Lake Pukaki, the largest lake in the area, with many look out points around its shores.
The water colour of the lake is a bright turquoise due to glacial flour, made from extremely fine rock particles that have come from the surrounding glaciers. The lake is fed at its northern end by the braided Tasman River, which has its source in the Hooker and Tasman Glaciers. When the sun hits the surface of the lake, it reflects off the particles transforming it to a brilliant blue.
Far from city lights, the stargazing here is magnificent - Aoraki Mount Cook National Park forms the majority of New Zealand's only International Dark Sky Reserve.
Mountaineers regard the area to be the best climbing region in Australasia, while less skilled adventurers find plenty of satisfaction with the mountain walks that lead to alpine tarns, herb fields and spectacular glacier views. Encounters with cheeky kea (mountain parrots) are part of the fun.
At 27 kilometres in length, the mighty Tasman Glacier is a powerful piece of landscaping equipment. While it slowly carves the valley sides, it provides a landing place for small ski planes and helicopters. From October until May, you can explore the Tasman Glacier's terminal lake by boat. You can also view the mighty Tasman Glacier on one of New Zealand’s best short walks.
The Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail starts at Aoraki Mount Cook, with multiple day ride options in this area.
Picturesque by day and dazzling by night, Lake Tekapo is part of a UNESCO Dark Sky Reserve, making it the perfect spot for stargazing.
On the shores on the lake you'll see the beautiful Church of the Good Shepherd, where the altar window frames a perfect view of the Southern Alps beyond the lake. The church was built in 1935 for the pioneer families of the Mackenzie district and is still used as a place of worship. The church is a popular photo spot for visitors - please note that when you visit the church, weddings and services may be taking place, respect is needed from visitors.
Close by is the "sheepdog monument" - a bronze statue sculpted to recognise the district's debt to the sheepdog "without the help of which the grazing of the mountainous country would be impossible".
There are walking tracks following the lake shore. Hiking up Mount John is a must do for what’s waiting for you at the summit. At the top is a 360-degree view of the lake and the Mackenzie Basin, accompanied by a charming café and the Observatory (Mount John also has vehicle access if you would prefer to drive). Cowans Hill is another walk with spectacular views.
The southern hemisphere's equivalent of the Northern Lights, Lake Tekapo is one of the best places in New Zealand to see this symphony of colour come to life. Best seen between April and September, Lake Tekapo is known for it's clear nights and lack of light pollution, making it a great viewing destination with several tours available through the Dark Sky Project. Head to Mount John Observatory - perched high in the mountains and south-facing - for your best chance of experiencing this spectacular natural light show.
Pampering is also available at Tekapo Springs, relax in the hot pools set against a stunning mountainous backdrop or glide around the ice-skating rink. Step it up with an adrenaline filled tube ride. There is something for every member of the family.
CHRISTCHURCH & BANKS PENINSULA
Christchurch is a vibrant, energetic city where urban regeneration, creativity and innovation thrive. Picture amazing street art, innovative projects, a booming hospitality scene and state-of-the-art architecture that is changing the way the city looks, feels and functions – all the while staying true to its heritage and traditional English feel.
Take time to explore the city by double-decker bus, vintage bicycle, gondola, tram or classic Edwardian punt – or grab your walking shoes and discover bars, eateries and an eclectic mix of boutique shops by foot.
The city’s award-winning Christchurch Botanic Gardens offer a relaxing inner-city escape and are found near The Arts Centre, one of the most significant collections of heritage buildings in New Zealand. The serene Ōtākaro/Avon River meanders through the beautiful gardens before continuing through the CBD and out to sea.
Christchurch Adventure Park has epic mountain biking, ziplining & sightseeing adventures. Take in the stunning views from the chairlift or walking track.
Banks Peninsula is packed with natural beauty. For breathtaking views over the peninsula's bays and beaches, take a drive along the Summit Road – the crater rim of the old volcano that formed Akaroa Harbour. Or lace up your walking shoes and explore on foot. There's a vast network of walking trails, offering amazing views, rich displays of native bush and birdlife, and blissful peace and quiet.
The sparkling waters and dramatic coastline of Banks Peninsula are home to a host of marine life including the world's smallest and rarest dolphin - Hector's dolphin. Swim with these playful mammals for an unforgettable wildlife encounter. A trip out on the water – by boat or sea kayak - could also reward you with sights of New Zealand fur seals, white-flippered penguins, little blue penguins, and scores of birdlife overhead. And on the shoreline lies the mainland's largest white-flippered penguin colony - the only penguin species endemic to Canterbury.
Arthur's Pass, climbing to more than 900 metres through Arthur's Pass National Park, is the highest and most spectacular pass across the Southern Alps.
If you’re traveling from Canterbury to the West Coast (or vice versa), this is the road to take. It is a piece of extreme engineering involving viaducts, bridges, rock shelters and waterfalls redirected into chutes.
Arthur’s Pass National Park itself is a landscape of two halves. On the eastern side you'll see wide, shingle-filled riverbeds and vast swathes of beech forest. Descend the western side and you venture through dense rainforest alongside and over deeply gorged rivers.
If you're feeling adventurous, go hiking or mountaineering. You'll probably spot New Zealand’s inquisitive and comical alpine parrot, the kea, along the way. The Devils Punchbowl walking track is a must do - feel the full force and sound of fresh mountain water falling 131 m down one of New Zealand’s most stunning waterfalls. It's one of our best short walks. Or take the longer Arthur’s Pass walking track to experience the best of Arthur’s Pass's diverse alpine vegetation, waterfalls, wetlands, rich history and stunning mountain views
And during winter you can join the lucky skiiers and snowboarders enjoying spectacular runs in the Temple Basin Ski Area.
Arthur’s Pass village is one of the highest settlements in the country. Here you can gaze into the historic Otira rail tunnel – an epic engineering feat through 8.5 kilometres of rock.
Best known for its natural hot pools and stunning landscapes, Hanmer Springs is a picturesque alpine village 90 minutes' drive from Christchurch.
The resort town of Hanmer Springs is an attractive year-round holiday destination for adventure, relaxation and indulgence. Surrounded by dramatic mountains and towering forests, this charming town has a main street filled with boutique shops, cafes and eateries.
Adventure activities will immerse you in the wild beauty of Hanmer. Go forest hiking, mountain biking, horse trekking, bungy jumping, jet boating or, in winter, hit the slopes and go skiing. Once you've caught your breath, you might enjoy a leisure round of golf.
Don’t miss the iconic Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools and Spa where you can soak in naturally heated, mineral-filled waters or treat yourself to a range of indulgent spa therapies. The family fun area is complete with hydroslides and the South Island’s only aquatic thrill ride, the Super Bowl.
The picturesque coastal town of Kaikōura is the perfect place for marine life encounters, coastal walks, and tucking into a plate of crayfish. In the Māori language 'kai' means food and 'kōura' means crayfish.
Kaikōura's environment is truly spectacular – the village is caught between the rugged Seaward Kaikōura Range and the Pacific Ocean. In winter the mountains are covered with snow, adding to the drama of the landscape.
Kaikōura’s special talent is marine mammal encounters – whales, fur seals and dolphins live permanently in the coastal waters. Whale watching trips leave the town several times a day and the local seal colony is always entertaining. There are plenty of cafés, restaurants and shops to explore.
Must-do activities in Kaikōura:
Go whale-watching by boat or air at any time of the year.
Swim with or simply watch beautiful dusky dolphins on a dolphin encounter.
Experience seal swimming with the playful New Zealand fur seals in the shallow waters of the beautiful Kaikōura Peninsula.
Take a bird watching tour to view seabirds, albatross, molly-mawks, petrels and many more.
Meet the local indigenous people and experience Māori culture with Māori Tours Kaikōura.