Christchurch is the gateway to the South Island's natural wonders. Here are some of the top day trips you can take around the Canterbury region.
Just a short drive from Christchurch City, the Port Hills are a mountain biker's mecca. And more than that, they are full of walking and cycling tracks where, even on a busy day, you will often find yourself taking in the surrounding views on your own. Running, walking or cycling close to the summit affords you views right across the Canterbury Plains or over the harbour of Lyttelton. Views of the Canterbury Plains are bounded to the south by Lake Ellesmere and the Pacific Ocean. To the north there's Brighton, Sumner Beaches and ahuge bay stretching up to Motunau. On a clear day you can distinctly see the seaward Kaikoura Mountains.
Originally an island formed by two volcanic cones, Banks Peninsula is brimming with natural beauty. You can explore the network of trails in this area on foot or by bike, heading into the native bush to the sound of birdsong.
The seaside township of Akaroa, whose harbour was created by a crater, oozes charm. It’s the most French town in New Zealand, with outstanding restaurants and fine cheeses – at Barrys Bay Cheese you can watch the action through the gallery window. Beyond cuisine, Akaroa’s other big pull is its heritage and history – simply wander the streets on foot and you’ll find yourself amongst colonial buildings and the Akaroa Museum. If you have time, take a harbour cruise to view dolphins, penguins and seals.
Located in the heart of the South Island, Arthur's Pass is the highest pass in the Southern Alps. Wide rivers, picturesque beech forests and cheeky wildlife abound as you make your way deep into the heart of the National Park. One of the best ways to experience this stunning area is via the TranzAlpine Railway. Traveling from the expanse of the Canterbury Plains over majestic alpine landscapes to the wild West Coast makes this one of the world's great train journeys.
Best known for its natural hot pools, Hanmer Springs is an alpine resort town with something for everyone. The adventurous should head straight for the forest and mountains on foot, horseback or bike; bungy jumping, jetboating and skiing are also options. Relax with a leisurely round of golf, soak in the mineral-rich thermal pools and indulge in some spa therapy (leave the kids at the hydroslides), or stroll the main street’s boutique shops and eateries.
Home to acres upon acres of grapevines, the picturesque Waipara valley is one of New Zealand’s premier wine regions, in particular Pinot Noir and Riesling. Take your pick of vineyard restaurants and tasting rooms; you can also visit olive groves and nut farms to round out your gourmet experience. There’s a handy cycleway and walkway connecting the wineries.