Walking, wildlife and nature experiences near Christchurch

Walk in a forest reserve or a national park, see native birdlife, visit a marine reserve – all within two hours of Christchurch international airport.

Bordered by hills and the Pacific Ocean, Christchurch is situated on the edge of the Canterbury Plains that stretch to the Southern Alps. Almost centrally located on the East Coast, Christchurch is the ideal gateway to begin an exploration of the South Island.
Choose from short walks to multi-day hikes, staying overnight at a Department of Conservation (DOC) hut. Enjoy seeing native birdlife and marine mammals in protected environments.

Walking and Hiking

Banks Peninsula, just east of Christchurch, offers many easily accessible forest reserves, close to the Summit Road. All are worth visiting as most have short walks and great picnic spots. The peninsula offers several walking tracks and multi-day hikes, a standout attraction being the Summit Track and its stunning views.
On the way to Akaroa is the Christchurch–Little River Railtrail. The easy grade makes this walk or ride suitable for young children and family groups.

Nature & Marine Life

On Banks Peninsula, once a rich mosaic of plant and bird species, forest reserves provide refuges for native birds, including bellbird/korimako, wood pigeon/kererū, silvereye, pūkeko, fantail/pīwakawaka, tomtit/miromiro, grey warbler/riroriro, riflemen/tītitipounamu, and brown creeper/pīpipi.

A marine mammal sanctuary protects the rare Hector’s dolphin/upokohue, while on Banks Peninsula Marine Reserves at Akaroa and at Flea Bay - the site of Pōhatu Marine Reserve - protect marine life including the New Zealand fur seal/kekeno, and white-flippered penguin/korora.

On the way to Akaroa  is Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere, -  a shallow, brackish coastal lake, Canterbury’s largest and New Zealand’s fifth largest, and an internationally important wildlife area.

History and culture

Waitaha, Ngāti Mamoe and Ngāi Tahu all lived in or moved through the area. By 1820 Ngāi Tahu had many settlements and pā around the Peninsula. A large Ngāi Tahu pā was at Kaiapoi – just north of Christchurch.

In 1840 French settlers arrived at Akaroa, which had just been claimed by the English under the Treaty of Waitangi. As the site of the only attempted settlement by the French in New Zealand, Akaroa is unique.

Some of the first European settlements in Canterbury were whaling stations on Banks Peninsula.