Canterbury, South Island
The pretty little harbour town of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula may only be 85 km from Christchurch but it really is a world apart. The bay it sits on is formed by the drowned crater of an extinct volcano and the land around the town rises quite sharply to form a high ridge that rings the harbour before it falls away again to the sea in the tumble of wooded gullies, steep cliffs, waterfalls and deep inlets on the volcano's eroded outer rim.
Named by Captain Cook for his botanist, Joseph Banks, the peninsula had long been settled by Maori by the time Europeans first came here. The first white settlers were a group of French whalers and much is made of this French connection, with streets and many businesses having French names, but New Zealand became a British colony just days before they arrived in 1840 and Akaroa was never under any sort of French control. They were, however, the first European presence on the South Island and by the time the first English settlers arrived in 1850 their little settlement was well established.
Christchurch soon overtook Akaroa in size and importance and the town sank back into quiet obscurity. This, as so often happens, proved to be to the advantage of the town as it left the quaint buildings and picturesque streets free from the zeal of developers, either Victorian or contemporary, and nowadays its historic charm is valued and preserved.
This charm is not Akaroa's only drawcard. Nature-lovers come here in the hope of seeing the Hector's dolphins (the world's smallest cestaceans) that are only found here. Hoihoi and little blue penguins also make the peninsula their home and there is a fur seal colony at Goat Point that can be visited. Needless to say, this is prime bird-watching territory too.
It's a very popular holiday getaway so booking is advisable, especially at peak holiday times.
Christchurch, capital of New Zealand's South Island, is a pretty little city with some interesting things to do. A day or two spent here will give you time to check out some of the following -
Be sure to visit the International Antarctic Centre, out near the airport - it is a first class discovery centre with excellent exhibits.
The Avon River winds through the city centre, between grassy banks and under willows and some attractive little bridges. Taking a drifting ride in a punt is a very pleasant way to while away an hour or so.
Artists and artisans have studios at the Art Centre, where there is also a good craft shop and restaurants.
The Museum is worth an hour or so of your time and the new Art Gallery is definitely worth a look if only for the stunning building that houses the collection.
Cathedral Square is a great place for people watching. You can climb the Cathedral tower for a small charge and good views over the city.
The Botanic Gardens and Hagley Park are attractive places to walk among trees and flowers - they'll confirm for you why Christchurch is known as The Garden City.
There's something about trams that makes travelling on them fun -take a tram ride around for a bit of general sightseeing.
Its small size, attractive buidings (lots of Victorian Gothic) and relaxed atmosphere really do make Christchurch an appealing place. You'll find a good choice of restaurants, cafes and bars, there's accommodation to suit every budget - you'll enjoy yourself.
There can't be a tour bus on the road that doesn't detour off the main Christchurch-Queenstown highway at Lake Tekapo for a photo stop at the tiny grey stone Church of the Good Shepherd. It's not surprising, it really is very picturesque, sitting right by the lake with a wonderful view of the lake and the mountains through the window behind the altar. Most will only stop to snap the church - and take a little walk to the statue of the sheep-herder's best friend - his faithful Collie - just along the way, though a day or two spent in the village here will give you pleanty of opportunity to explore the beautiful countryside, take a flight over the Southern Alps and even pay a visit, day or night, to nearby Mt John Observatory.
Take a look at the lake on the webcam here.
When I was new to this country and living in unfamiliar Christchurch, half a world away from my friends and family, the Port Hills were a frequent saviour of my sanity. You can buy the most amazing postcards showing aerial shots of this penninsula, named after botanist Joseph Banks, which show clearly that this is a vast, ancient volcano crater. The views from the high roads are amazing and I constantly tell visitors to Christchurch to go check the area out for themselves - a little off the beaten path for most, but so very well worth the effort. If you look at a map of New Zealand's South Island, Banks Penninsula is the round, sticky-out bit about halfway down the East Coast.
Lyttelton Harbour, still a busy port, is where the first European settlers landed. I have always imagined how strange it must have been to climb over the Bridal Path and find themselves confronted by the vast spaces of the Canterbury Plains with the snow-capped Southern Alps in the far distance.
Akaroa is a popular township to visit for those who do explore the penninsula. Settled by the French, the name Akaroa is Maori for Long Harbour, and the harbour is one of the few places that Hectors Dolphins are found - the worlds rarest.
There are numerous other small bays and inlets - Governors Bay, Diamond Harbour, Purau and more. For those finding themselves for a few days or more at Christchurch I really do recommend you explore these areas if you possibly can - those with hire vehicles, there is no excuse!!
If you happen to head from Hanmer Springs to Kaikoura, or if you travel north from Christchurch, take the inland road (SH70) south of Waipara through the back country. We have done it both ways but driving from the south to the north offers more spectacular views on the alpine scenery of Kaikoura, as you drive towards them the whole way.
As Hanmer Springs with its thermal pools, the Waipara wine region and Kaikoura with its unique wildlife and scenery are all places of special interest, the complete touring route is called the Alpine Pacific Triangle; it is 370kms long.
On scenic SH70 - which is approximately 100kms long - you cross many rivers, the road is very winding in parts and goes up and downhill. First it passes the Amuri Range, and later winds its way along the Seaward Kaikouras, through river gorges and native bush, wide pastoral hill country, and you always have those fantastic cloud-piercing mountains in the background. Over much of the year they are snow-capped. At almost every turn you have new and exciting views, and from some points you can also see the sea.
You also pass Mt. Lyford which is one of the South Island's newest skifields for skiing, snowboarding and heliskiing, and 4WD tours and horse trekking as well. Some kms before Kaikoura you reach Mt. Fyffe, a great tramping destination.
Kaikoura's location is breathtaking. Not only that the sea floor falls down 3000 metres from the shore. The often snow-capped mountains north-west of the town raise to nearly this altitude and are visible from as far as Christchurch. The Inland Kaikoura Range's highest peak is Tapuae-o-Uenuku with 2885m, the Seaward Kaikouras are up to 2596m high (Te ao Whekere). From the peninsula you have a spectacular panorama with the blue sea in the foreground and those majestic mountains in the background.
If you are fit and love cycling SH70 is a great and safer alternative to busy SH1.
BTW The Cathedrals at Gore Bay, from SH1, are much tinier than expected and sometimes submerged in bush, so no must-see.
The high sheepgrazing region of central southern Canterbury known as MacKenzie Country is a beautiful area of golden tussock grasslands and lakes (photo 4) overlooked by the highest peaks of the Southern Alps.
On a clear day the combination of the stunningly milky blue water of Lake Pukaki and the snow-covered peaks of Aoraki Mt Cook and the surrounding mountains is quite jaw-droppingly beautiful. I defy anyone not to stop along the way here for a while to take a a photo or five. It's usually a scene of quiet tranquility (Lake Tekapo, 47 km away, by contrast can be positively heaving with tourists) and even if the carpark at the Lake Pukaki visitor centre is busy, you only have to drive a couple of kilometres around the lake to where a turnoff will take you down to the lake's edge near a stand of pine trees from where, if anything, the views are even more spectacular.
To get to the West Coast from Christchurch, we took State Highway 73 which passes over Arthur's Pass.
Along the way you will see lots of beautiful sceneries. There are mountains, fields full of sheeps and some cows.
Visit Castle Hill, Arthur's Pass Visitor Centre, Arthur's Pass National Park, waterfall viewpoint, Arthur's Pass Village, Arthur's Pass Chapel, Lake Lyndon, Mt Rolleston, Otira Via Duct
Other recommended half-day walks at Arthur's Pass National Park are Devil’s Punchbowl, Bridal Veil, Bealey Valley and Dobson Nature Walk.
Built in the 1850's, the cathedral in Christchurch is truly a distinguishable landmark. For many decades, this was the skyline when you looked about in Christchurch. Since many high rise buildings have now overshadowed the church, the skyline may not be the same, but do not underestimate the beauty of the cathedral.
There is a very nice square located around the cathedral, and plenty of activities to do and see in the heart of this beautiful town!
Take a minute, an hour, or a full day and enjoy downtown Christchurch's magnificent cathedral.
Aoraki, as she is known to the Maori, is truly a sight to see. Unfortunately, sometimes this sight is not to be seen as was the case for Sarah and I on our trip to NZ this time. Mount Cook is the Western name for this mountain majesty, but plan your trip wisely if this is your only reason for trekking. Mount Cook is a very stingy mountain, who only likes to venture out in the best of weather! We had 3 different days and nights where it might have been possible to get a glimpse, and each time, rain and haze covered her.
The nice part about this however is that Mount Cook National Park is still a must do location. Beautiful 1 hour to 1 week walking tracks up to, and through magnificent glaciers will keep you well occupied. One of the most beautiful lake views you will ever see greets you at the entrance, and the view just gets better.
Without spoiling the rest of it for you, I would recommend checking out the Mount Cook National Park pages on VT!
The Banks Peninsula was formed following violent eruptions by 3 volcanoes. The craters nurse the harbours of Akaroa and Lyttelton, smaller bays indent the rest of the coastline. Akaroa is the South Island’s oldest town.
Visit the Barrys Bay Cheese Factory, Akaroa War Memorial, walk the streets of Akaroa, buy a bule pearl at the Blue Pearl Centre, see the Akaroa Lighthouse, Akaroa Boating Club, Akaroa Harbour Waterfront, take the Akaroa Harbour Cruise, rent a Sea Kayaks or a Paddle Boat
Coming from a sheep farming background we were expecting great things about the Canterbury Plains as we had heard of massive amounts of sheep on this flat area to the East of the Alps. During the train trip across we didn't see that many sheep and wondered whether they were higher in the hills during summer. The many hedges divided up paddocks and possibly provided wind breaks. Would be an interesting area to see during Springtime when lambing is happening.
Christchurch is the gateway to South Island!
Things that we did : Visit Chalice or the Millennium Cup, Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch i-SITE Visitor Centre, Canterbury Museum, Ferrier Fountain, Maori Totem Pole, Flora Clock - Voctoria Square, Bridge of Remembrance, Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, John Cook Statue, Victoria Street bridge over the Avon River, Queen Victoria Statue, Christchurch Tramway, Christchurch Botanic Gardens, Mona Vale, Christchurch Casino.
Geraldine is situated 2 hours south of Christchurch on the main highway to Mt Cook and Queenstown. This is a very convenient stopover town.
It was named originally as Talbot Forest. The name was finally changed to Geraldine in 1857 by Edward Fitzgerald which was his family name in Ireland.
Pleasant Point - 30 mins
Timaru - 40 mins
Fairlie - 50 mins
Tekapo - 60 mins
Christchurch - 2 hrs
Omarama - 2 hrs 14 mins
Mt Cook - 2 hrs 30 mins
The Geraldine i-SITE is located on the junction of Talbot St and Cox St. It is also part of the Visitor Information Network which provide information and answers to your enquiries.
It opens daily from 8.30am - 5.00pm Monday to Friday, 10.00am - 4.00pm Weekends & Public Holidays.
There are many reasons why you may consider adding Arthur's Pass National Park to your itinerary. For some, it makes a great coffee break between Christchurch and the West Coast of the South Island. For others, there is a natural beauty about it. There are even a few adrenaline challenged people who need to hike for days on end throughout the natural beauty that is New Zealand. I also do believe this is a day stop location for the Tranz-Alpine train from Greymouth to Ch-Ch.
Whatever the reason, I would definitely but the Pass on your agenda. This National Park is located just outside of Christchurch to the West, and is a good 1/2 day trek, or a solid 1-2 hour stop if you are heading through to the West Coast. There are waterfalls well within walking distance, as well as some larger extended hikes for those with more time to take in the country side.
In addition, you could even trek to my surname-sake, Carroll Hut!
Although not on our original itinerary, Akaroa was a late addition to the lineup when we realized how close and convienent it was from Christchurch. With a 3pm departure from ChCh airport, we decided to take a morning trip out to the land of the French Settlement that is now Akaroa. While most people would say that Akaroa is a beautiful town to spend a couple days in, we were slightly pressed for time and could not make that determination. What I can say however makes it a must see is the drive there. Beautiful windy roads from Chch to Akaroa and the mountain pass are well worth the petrol consumed, and then the Eastern Bay tourist drive is a must for those with time to see the sights. You can see clearly to the Western Glacial Mountains from the tourist drive.
Do not give this one a pass, make sure you stop in and see Akaroa!