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Things To Do In Canterbury § Places to Visit, Activities & Sightseeing

Canterbury is part of the quintessential visitor narrative of glorious mountain peaks, stunning valleys and deep blue lakes. There are numerous tourist posters of New Zealand where Canterbury is the tourist pinup location. The sweeping panoramic views inspired artists such as Sydney Grahame. Create your own palate of memories with breathtaking photo moments.

For an overview of Aotearoa New Zealand attractions, things to do and places to visit check out the definitive New Zealand travel guide.

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Check out Amazing 12 New Zealand Attractions and pop them on your bucket list.

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Canterbury is vineyards, wild coastlines to alpine mountain ranges where hot springs await visitors. Canterbury is the great outdoors with variety and choice fit for any bucket list. There are train journeys from farmland, through alpine mountain passes to the West Coast with contrast with every click of the tracks. The incredible scenery excites and invites visitors to participate in sky-diving, ballooning, aerial photography and gliding above places where nature is in charge.

The clarity of light offers night sky viewing and opportunities to view landscapes throughout the seasons with snow adding brushstroke elements to the landscape. Slide into toasty warm geothermal spring water as snow flutters down. Indulge in a therapeutic soak after a day skiing. Hanmer Springs and Maruia Springs are two indulgent treats.

Akaroa and Banks Peninsula give visitors a chance to delve into the heritage of French and European settlements with hidden coves and delightful cafes to tempt you to stay awhile.

The majesty of Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park, Lake Tekapo and Hooker Valley trail are scenic jewels.  Enjoy the sight of floating icebergs on a glacial lake. Delve into the stories behind historic gold mining trails and fossick in art and craft stores. A thread of stories about settlement interweaves with the narrative of the landscape.

Kaikoura and whale watching is where visitors meet and greet ocean travelling sperm whales, orcas and dolphins. The rich tapestry of the marine world can be explored by kayaking, swimming or snorkelling. For foodie buffs, crayfish and seafood is on the menu in Kaikoura.

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Twizel, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo all have different options for the visitor, perhaps you need to visit all three to decide.

NORTH CANTERBURY

Immerse yourself in the pleasure of a wine and food trail, the Waipara Valley. Then explore quiet beaches, the remote extraordinary landscape of Cathedral Cliffs and meander the Gore Valley trail. Discover the Weka Pass heritage train and icons from Maori rock art to historic hotels. Indulge in natural hot pools in Hanmer and Maruia Springs while winter offers the joy of skiing on boutique fields away from the crowds of Queenstown. Spend a few days on a road trip, the Alpine Pacific Triangle and absorb the maritime stories of Kaikoura and the marine life. Whales, dolphins and seals will be part of this narrative.

Head north from Christchurch to Rangiora and beyond to the thread of small North Canterbury towns.

Braided Ashley River, Rangiora, New Zealand
Braided Ashley River, Rangiora
  • RANGIORA offers visitors a chance to explore an interesting wetland. Storm water purification channels form a recycling waste water scheme. Wide gravel paths, wooden jetties inviting visitors to peer into the wetland depths and observe aquatic life. Fascinating stuff for conservation tourism: how a small town recycles and reuses stormwater.
  • WAIPARA (HURUNUI WINE TRAIL) boutique family owned passionate wine makers enjoy sharing their story with visitors. Savour single origin award winning wines together with platters of local goodies. The characteristic lime terroir produces award winning pinot noir. As part of the aromatic wine tastings are truffle food foraging producers creating one of a kind farm to plate joy. Linger in award winning restaurants and enjoy a slow walk around Amberley’s weekend market. Check out North Canterbury, Hurunui wine and food trail
  • Gore Valley & Cathedral Cliffs. CATHEDRAL GULLY siltstone pillars are formed by the erosion of softer rock. The badlands of Montana have been transported to coastal Canterbury. Continue the journey to view a lighthouse and the isolated Manuka Bay’s enormous piles of sea sculptured driftwood. The joy of a remote location where your mobile has no service.
  • LEWIS PASS. The least well known alpine pass is the Lewis. Visitors are introduced to the thrill of traversing the Southern Alps. The Lewis pass is one of three backbone alpine passes. Lewis Pass is a great introduction to the West Coast via the Victorian charm town of Reefton. Find a zen moment gazing at the mountain scenery framing the Maruia Springs Thermal Resort. Soak in geothermal natural spring water collected in naturally shaped pools surrounded by river boulders. For more information about Hurunui Road Trips – Routes & Itineraries – Best Bits.
Gore Bay's Cathedrals Sunset, Cheviot, New Zealand
Gore Bay's Cathedrals Sunset
Hanmer Springs @ Stuff
Hanmer Springs @Stuff
  • Weka Pass railway is impossibly gorgeous. The sparkling vintage train puffs past Frog Rock, Maori rock art, distinctive shells and fossils embedded in the exposed cliffs. This is one journey nobody wants to miss. For more details check Weka Pass: things to do in a trip guide | Best Bits
  • HANMER SPRINGS is perfect for families, couples and romantic moments. The award winning resort and spa has quiet secluded corners where warm water gently rains down or exhilarating adventurous slides through torrents of warm water. For relaxation enjoy a private massage. Hanmer Springs’ beautiful walks are suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. Find a fairy door or an instagram moment from a lookout point. Check out Hanmer Springs travel guide for holiday inspiration what to do and where to go.
  • Mt Lyford or Hanmer Springs ski fields hark back to classic ski fields where adventure tourism started.

To find out more, check What’s so great about the kiwi towns in North Canterbury. Key towns are Rangiora,Oxford, Amberley & Cheviot

Mt Lyford Ski Resort, New Zealand @Mountainwatch
Mt Lyford Ski Resort @Mountainwatch

KAIKOURA, where whales come to play

The rugged coastline and rich waters off the Kaikoura coast are home to dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, penguins and witness the migration of massive sperm whales.

Family Sea kayaking off Kaikoura, New Zealand
Family Sea kayaking off Kaikoura
  • Magnificent marine whale encounters when you whale watch with an indigenous Maori tour
  • Kayak among the dolphins on a guided coastal journey or go swimming with seals as they frolic in the shallow waters of the Kaikoura Peninsula.
  • Walk and discover seabirds from the soaring albatross, molly-mawks competing for fish and petrels floating above scanning the sea for morsels.
  • Tramp the Kaikoura Peninsula Walkway and observe a seal colony nursery, rock formations carved by eons of natural erosion and wheeling seabirds.
  • See the world through the eyes of locals, genuine indigenous Maori culture and hospitality with Maori Tours Kaikoura.
  • Taste seafood delights straight off the local fishing boats in a Kaikoura waterfront cafe or enjoy fish n chips at the pier and watch the boats arrive with the day’s catch.
Kaikoura mountains, New Zealand @kaikouracoasttracknz
Kaikoura mountains @kaikouracoasttracknz

MACKENZIE HIGH COUNTRY

Wild untamed mountains to clear turquoise lakes is the essence of a New Zealand holiday. The sheer crowning glory of Aoraki Mount Cook (tallest peak) and the Mackenzie district sub-alpine remote splendour. Space, finding the breath of fresh air, away from the crowds is not a problem. Enjoy landscapes where the footsteps might be yours alone.  The climate is alpine, with its ability to turn on and off the sunshine with a bout of crisp, sharp wind flurries. Even in the depths of summer, anticipate four seasons in one day.

Short Walks Lake Tekapo, New Zealand @Mackenzie Region
Short Walks Lake Tekapo @Mackenzie Region
  • Instagram favourite, postcard ready Church of the Good Shepherd on the shores of Lake Tekapo is a rock star. The altar window is forever framing the breath-taking views of the Southern Alps.
  • Grab the opportunity to soar above on a scenic flight for panoramic sweeps of the Southern Alps and the West Coast Glaciers. Think about heli-skiing or heli-picnic on the glaciers with the silence of a wintery landscape, your companion.
  • Explore the Tasman Glacier terminal lake and icebergs up close with walks across suspension bridges and trails across glacial scree. For outdoor enthusiasts you are spoiled for choice from lakes where a day’s tramp is required to waterways just a stone’s throw from Lake Tekapo. Fly fishing is a national pastime and you are invited to the party.
  • Visit Mt Cook Alpine Salmon Farm and enjoy feeding the salmon while munching on a salmon pie or purchase ready to cook fresh salmon fillets. It is very tempting to have a second helping. It’s good for us after all. For more ideas about what to do check MacKenzie Country, Alpine South Island, 10 things to see: Best Bits
  • Enjoy the local birdlife with the cheeky mountain parrot, the Kea, a self-invited guest on your walks. The charming parrot has figured out people’s weakness for an adorable cute rounded green and red bird. No wonder Kea is a survivor. Be Kea smart and let’s not feed the cheeky parrot.
  • Look up at night in an unpolluted universe where the stars twinkle. The Mackenzie Basin which has been designated the largest International Dark Sky Reserve in the world.
Backpackers couple hiking looking Mt Cook, New Zealand
Mt Cook hiking
Aoraki Mt Cook National Park, New Zealand @WOWabouts
Aoraki Mt Cook National Park @WOWabouts

Towns in the MacKenzie high country offer visitors plenty of choice from camping at Mount Aoraki [Cook], being close to the iconic Hooker walking trail or nearby the hot spa massage that’s on your holiday wish list.  Twizel, Mount Cook, Lake Tekapo all have different options for the visitor, perhaps you need to visit all three to decide. For more information check Towns in the MacKenize country, trip guide, things to see: Best Bits

MID CANTERBURY

Mid Canterbury is braided, gravel woven rivers & forests & heritage gems

Grab a jet boat tour on the braided gravel rivers where jet boating originated, go fly fishing in a world class salmon / trout run and find fascinating heritage settlements narrating the story of the 19th century. This is part and parcel of a Mid Canterbury holiday. The Southern Alps and lakes are the scenic backdrop to iconic road trips on side roads where you are the adventurer.

Towns such as Darfield and Methven are sophisticated hosts with cafes, restaurants offering dining choices. Year round from warm dry summers to skiing in winter inland high country Canterbury holiday experiences range for adventure jet tours, heli-picnics and flights soaring over the alps and lakes below.

Short on time take a Day Trip From Christchurch to Arthur Pass – Best Bits and savour a classic pie in Sheffield, walk among the karst Karst landforms nature sculptured at Castle Hill Reserve and enjoy the sight of the Tranzalpine train as it traverses Arthur’s Pass.

  • Catch one of the world’s classic alpine train journeys. The scenic TranzAlpine Express journey to Arthur’s Pass and the West Coast is a journey from rolling pastoral farmland to an alpine pass and the lush temperate forested world of the West Coast.
  • Discover the Rakaia River gorge, go fishing, walk across the river’s suspension bridge or relax and watch the clouds scurry by. Join a high country tour and visit the remote merino farms where roads are optional.
  • Find a golf course where the stunning scenery competes for attention at Terrace Downs and consider a romantic dinner with the Southern Alps, a cosy fire as the setting for memories. Terrace Downs is a premier year round destination for the special occasion.
Tranzalpine train, Greymouth, New Zealand @greatjourneysofnz
Tranzalpine train, Greymouth @greatjourneysofnz
Hororata Night Glow @Selwyn
Hororata Night Glow @Selwyn
  • Winter Methven offers visitors the longest ski season. For blustery days the town’s slogan ‘amazing space’ delivers arty shops, cafes and heritage gems such as Alford Forest Hall’s statue of enormous moa (extinct bird) and Rajah, wonder dog statue to add to your instagram account.
  • Romance gets a hand up with a hot air balloon ride as you float above the landscape with braided rivers, the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Alps competing for attention. Ballooning Canterbury – New Zealand’s Ultimate Scenic Adventure has got you sorted.
  • Pop into Springfield for a selfie against the largest doughnut in New Zealand or view the Hororata tartan. The only town to have an authorised tartan, created to celebrate the inaugural Hororata Highland Games.

Check mid Canterbury towns

SOUTH CANTERBURY

A road trip is a great way to explore South Canterbury. The blend of heritage towns, extraordinary natural landscapes of Duntroon and delicious seafood feasts at Fleur’s Place offers visitors variety and choice.

  • The area has the largest collection of Maori Rock Art in New Zealand. Head for Raincliff near the confluence of the Opihi and Opuha Rivers.
  • Delve into heritage streetscapes in Timaru and Omaru with preserved urban Victorian and Edwardian architecture, complete with one of New Zealand’s best preserved Victorian public gardens. For inspiration check Oamaru trip guide, 20 reasons to visit, things to see & do: Best Bits
Timaru heritage, New Zealand @Stuff
Timaru heritage @Stuff
Vanished World fossil trail to Elephant rocks on North Otago, New Zealand
Vanished World fossil trail to Elephant rocks
  • Find a vanished world of dinosaur fossils at Duntroon Vanished World Museum, Elephant Rocks and Badlands Clay Cliffs. Check Duntroon day road trip, travel guide, things to see & do: NZ Jane for how to pack into a day elephant rocks and the impossibly cute Little Blue Penguin twilight parade.
  • Explore interesting towns, Waimate and find a classic South Island rural town. There is a treasure house of heritage sites from Maori rock art to Edwardian buildings. The outdoors offers visitors an opportunity to walk to New Zealand’s intriguing white horse monument. The Australian Bennett wallaby is a visitor highlight with a chance to hand feed orphaned baby joeys.

CHRISTCHURCH, PROVINCIAL CENTRE

Christchurch, is a gateway city to Canterbury. A picturesque Avon River invites visitors to punt on the waterway through a beautiful botanic garden. The garden city is a vibrant testament to recovery from a massive earthquake with contemporary architecture complimenting nineteenth century gothic buildings. Canterbury is a town and country holiday destination with Christchurch adding a touch of urban vibe to the adventure.

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New Regent street Spanish Art Deco, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Christchurch Art Gallery, Christchurch, New Zealand

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