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Canterbury inland scenic route: Christchurch to Lake Tekapo

Learn about the intriguing places from the ornate Glentunnel post office to a high country Station farm. Linger in Geraldine absorbing stories and exhibits in the six museums and galleries. Experience thrills as you balloon over the Canterbury plains and Southern Alps foothills with a snack and glass of wine / juice afterwards. Jet boat the Rakaia River through glacial / river carved gorge. Adventure into the high country on horseback. Kids find your kiwi guardian medal signpost in Ashley Rakahuri River / gorge exploration and become a kiwi protector. Swim in the Washpen waterfalls pools and enjoy a family walk in the Peel Forest on the Big Tree Walk. Your journey finishes in MacKenzie country where Aoraki Mt Cook beckons you to stay awhile.

2 - 5 days
1 - 4 nights

Trip Overview

Explore the foothills of the Southern Alps, towns, rivers and forests

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Adrenaline thrills as you balloon over the Southern Alps foothills and valleys with winter skiing in boutique ski fields ensuring year round fun
  • Heritage places from pastoral stations to quirky brick post offices
  • Nature with its finest show of soaring mountain peaks, lush fern-filled forests and white water Rakaia river offering plenty of water based activities
  • The whimsical small town spirit of Hororata and Darfield
  • Rustic charm exemplified at Geraldine’s weekly market showcasing farm to plate philosophy
  • The spectacular Lake Tekapo
Start Christchurch
Finish Lake Tekapo

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Year Round

Suitable for motorhome vehicles

Start Christchurch
Finish Lake Tekapo

Route map

Darfield, Hororata, Glentunnel, Mt Somers, Alford Forest, Methven, Geraldine, Lake Tekapo

Beginnings

Avon River, Christchurch, New Zealand @Michal Klajban
Avon River, Christchurch @Michal Klajban

Christchurch is a natural gateway to inland Canterbury. The scenic route is a chequerboard of wheat and pasture threaded together tall corridors of trees providing weather shelter belts. From the Christchurch commuter suburb of Rolleston you swing off the major highway onto state highway 77. You are now in the Selwyn district, “From mountains to the sea.”

Your journey will delve into the heart of the South Island where the Southern Alps frame the landscape. For the adventurous visitor there are thrills and spills aplenty.

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Darfield

Darfield main street in spring, Canterbury, NZ

The lively rural town offers visitors cafes and shops to stretch your legs. Darfield with the backdrop of the Southern Alps has walking trails over hills and past waterfalls. There is the challenging Torlesse Tussock Reserve to the fantastical natural limestone landscape of Castle Hill to explore. Darfield, sitting on the fertile Canterbury plains, between the between the Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers offers visitors water sports, off road adventures and a chance to relax and revive.

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Rakaia Gorge is action central

Rakaia Gorge, New Zealand @Andrew Lowton
Rakaia Gorge @Andrew Lowton

Get the adventure boots laced for the Rakaia Gorge from jet boating, rafting or horse trekking.

Heritage buffs do not miss out with the Rakaia heritage bridge and TE HUANUI ART GALLERY.

The Malvern Community Arts Council (MCAC) not-for-profit community group of volunteers gallery. The art centre is committed to develop, facilitate, and support arts events and activities in the district so that the community can fully enjoy and participate in the arts locally. Visitors get to enjoy local unique artists in the making exhibitions.

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Hororata

Hororata Night Glow @Selwyn
Hororata Night Glow @Selwyn

Selwyn District, Hororata is a visitor hub for Mt Hutt ski field and mid Canterbury outdoor attractions from hot air ballooning to walks and fishing. For lovers of the highland games a must go destination. Hororata is one of the few places to have its own designed tartan.

A small settlement reaching around the base of Hororata Downs. Hororata is 15 km from Darfield, 5 km from Glentunnel and 50 km from Christchurch.

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Glentunnel

Glentunnel Chapel, New Zealand @Selwyn District Council
Glentunnel Chapel @Selwyn District Council

The Southern Alps are on full glorious display framing the sub-alpine district. You have past green flat farmland to rolling foothills and white white Rakaia River. Glentunnel is a romantic charming settlement. The dusting of snow on the alps is a promise of winter sports. You are a snowball toss from the Mt Hutt ski field.

Glentunnel & Coalgate are part of a thread of small villages offering visitors a hub for mid Canterbury outdoors exploration from walks to local heritage trails. Glentunnel has a close historical association with local coal mines, potteries and brickworks of the Glentunnel/South Malvern area.

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Coalgate

Coalgate, New Zealand @elevation.maplogs
Coalgate @elevation.maplogs

The Bluff (Coalgate) In pre-European times, Ngai Tahu Maori occupied a small pa on the bluff south of Waikirikiri (the Selwyn River), at Coalgate. During the Ngai Tahu kai huanga (eat relation) feud of 1810-1815, the pa was sacked and the inhabitants killed by a force led by Taununu of Ripapa Island. The site of the pa remains a wahi pakanga (place where a battle took place).

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Windwhistle

Windwhistle, New Zealand @Wildman NZ
Windwhistle @Wildman NZ

The next small settlement name says it all. Windy nor’western winds regularly sweep over the alps. The original Windwhistle settlement was located further up the Coleridge Road on the farm now known as Long Spur. At Windwhistle House, alongside a small lake known as The Whistle, locals could collect their mail or have repairs done at the blacksmith’s shop. The accommodation house, originally run by Williams Adams, and the smithy were burned down in the late 1890s.

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Washpen Waterfalls

@Washpen Falls
@Washpen Falls

The adventure walk starts at the old Washpen Woolshed and through a reserve filled with lush native bush and wonderful birdlife. This unspoilt area is easily accessed tracks, stairs and boardwalks. You can swim in the bottom pools. The bridal waterfalls have a drop of 22 metres and have a constant flow throughout the summer. The loop walk is approximately 2 hours. The well maintained track is steep in parts. No dogs or prams (buggies) are allowed.

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Methven

Mt Hutt lookout over Methven and Canterbury plains, NZ

Methven has a well deserved reputation as a winter ski resort supporting visitors to Mt Hutt and nearby ski fields. Year round Methven is an alpine chic village offers year round things to do from markets, golfing, walks and swimming in mountain cooled braided rivers. In winter buzzing with the exhilaration of a day on the snow the cafe scene beckons. For outdoors enthusiasts horse trekking, mountain bike trails or simply indulging in a massage, Methven offers a warm hospitality experience.

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Alford Scenic Reserve

Elevation of Alford Forest, New Zealand @elevation.maplogs
Elevation of Alford Forest @elevation.maplogs

Alford Scenic Reserve offers varied vegetation, scenic views across Canterbury, and a history of forestry and diamond prospecting. Settlers used Alford Forest as one of their few sources of timber. Alford Scenic Reserve: Places to go in Canterbury.

INTERESTING FACT

  • In 1883, stones found in Alford Forest were identified as diamonds, leading to a brief “diamond rush” in the area, but the “diamonds” were eventually shown to be worthless crystals. wikipedia
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Mt Somers

@Mount Somers
@Mount Somers

The iconic General Store harking back to a period when self-service was unknown still has its solid wooden customer service counter, the wooden shelves are stocked with the bits and pieces people have requested over the years. It is evocative of a time period when flour was weighed and bagged before your eyes.  The holiday park, school and domain are at their busiest in the winter sport season. Fishing buffs enjoy some of the premier salmon fishing

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Ashburton Gorge

Hakatere Station, New Zealand @offthemainroadnz
Hakatere Station @offthemainroadnz

Highlight

  • Hakatere Station Buildings

The inland turnoff at Mt Somers follows a well formed shingle road to Lakes Camp and Clearwater, favourite destinations for water sports, boating, windsurfing and fishing. Look for the signage for the historic Hakatere Station buildings which include a shearer’s quarters, cook house and stone cottage.

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Erewhon Station

Erewhon Station, New Zealand @Nz Frenzy South Island New Zealand
Erewhon Station @Nz Frenzy South Island New Zealand

Leaving the lakes, continue further along the same road to Mt Sunday, known to Lord of the Rings fans as ‘Edoras’.  The summit is an easy to moderate ½ hour climb (one way) for impressive views of the Rangitata River valley, across towards Mesopotamia Station on the southern side of the river.  At the very end of the road lies Erewhon Station, nestled right among the Southern Alps where muscle power does the heavy lifting. The harnessed Clydesdale horses are regularly used for farm work. The station’s horse stud can be harnessed and is available for a wagon tour.

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Geraldine

Geraldine Historical Society Museum Canterbury, NZ

Pretty Geraldine has a village vibe, flourishing arts scene and is well positioned for visitors to enjoy mid Canterbury attractions. Geraldine is the ideal place for exploration of the Inland scenic route 72, a great place to linger if you’re on the way south towards the Mackenzie Country, Aoraki Mt Cook, Queenstown and the Southern Lakes. The town has a wealth of attractions from several excellent galleries, museums and specialty shops to tours to the iconic high country sheep stations (summer only).

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Peel Forest

Outdoors

Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve waterfall, New Zealand @Matt Searles
Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve waterfall @Matt Searles

Discover an ancient native bush named after the colonial premier, Sir Robert Peel (who incidentally established the modern police force in England). Peel Forest Park Scenic Reserve: Places to go in Canterbury are managed by the Department of Conservation. There are several excellent walks for kids and families, a camping ground and waterfall. For serious trampers consider climbing the summit of Little Mt Peel (1311 metres) towering above the scenic reserve.

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Where to go next?

Ashburton town clock @Harcourts
Ashburton town clock @Harcourts

Geraldine is a fork in the road with state highway 79 (then SH8) traversing Burkes Pass into MacKenzie country and Lake Tekapo or you loop back on state highway 1 returning to Christchurch with a saunter through Ashburton.

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Lake Tekapo & The Southern Alps

Lake Tekapo, New Zealand @dmaginley
Lake Tekapo @dmaginley

Are you making your way South towards Lake Tekapo, MacKenzie country and Otago. Follow state highway 79 to Fairlie, Burkes Pass, Lake Tekapo and Southern New Zealand’s lake district. You are travelling into the alpine region where Aoraki Mt Cook and the Southern Alps are the superstars. The crystal clear night skies are ringed with starry glitter and the sharp days are a photographer’s joy.

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Fairlie

Fairlie, New Zealand @NZ Pocket Guide
Fairlie @NZ Pocket Guide

Pretty Fairlie is a seasonal delight with autumn hues of gold, burnt orange leaf and long twilight evenings. Summer is a blaze of hot days with the local rivers an ideal swimming hole. Spring offers bursts of colour and winter dustings of snow.

Fairlie is a holiday playground. The excellent golf course has a backdrop of mountain ranges. The rivers beckon with boating and fishing opportunities. Heritage fans linger at the Fairlie museum and Mabel Binney Cottage discovering intriguing stories about past events.

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Burkes Pass

American Historic Vehicle. Retro Museum in Burke Pass. New Zealand

From Fairlie the road travels through the alpine Burkes Pass and onto the MacKenzie high altitude basin (over 900 metres above sea level). Pre-European Maori regularly travelled through the area to the rich plains of the MacKenzie basin on hunting expeditions. By the 1880’s New Zealand’s wild west had arrived with swaggers, gold miners and sheep rustlers passing through. Pastoral farming and the established route through to MacKenzie country cemented the town’s beginnings as a wayside hotel for travellers.

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