THE CANTERBURY REGION
Christchurch’s first immigrants arrived at Lyttelton in 1850, making the trip over the port hills on foot before dispersing across the Canterbury plains where they established the vast sheep runs that were to become the economic base for the region. Christchurch grew as these early settlers prospered, creating the magnificent mansions and civic buildings that give the city much of its character today. Visitors can explore the inner city on foot or by tram, or even take a trip along the Avon river in a punt from the Antigua Boatsheds. The Cathedral Square is always a hive of activity and there are numerous historic buildings, museums and other attractions in and around the city to keep visitors occupied.
South of the city you can either cross the port hills on the scenic road along the high ridgeline above the city or drive through the tunnel to the historic port of Lyttleton with its Victorian buildings, graving dock and eccentric Timeball Station overlooking the harbour. You can take a trip on the oldest steam tugboat in the country or continue out onto the circular shaped Banks Peninsula, with its tiny French settlement out on the edge of the harbour at Akaroa. The British managed to set up a magistrates court and hoist the union jack just five days before the French settlers arrived in the early 1840s, but they stayed on and today this peaceful little town features a number of the original buildings and has retained many of the French street names from the early days of the settlement. You can also travel out over the hills to Okains Bay on the coast before heading south on SH1, which crosses wide braided rivers like the Rakaia, stretching from the mountains out to the coast. You can visit the railway museum at Tinwald near Ashburton, take a short detour inland to Geraldine or visit the famous pottery factory at Temuka. New Zealand’s pioneering aviator Richard Pearce, made his first flights from nearby Waiotahi in 1903, some nine months before the Wright Brothers. It is not far to Timaru with its magnificent collection of architecture in the historic precinct near the port, where you can walk along an entire street full of Edwardian style buildings. A sometimes forgotten treasure of New Zealand, Mount Hutt is a spectacular ski area a few hours from Christchurch. It features seven ski fields and also caters for heli-skiing as well as for more traditional skiers and snowboarders. Mount Hutt is one of the largest and highest ski areas in the South Island. It is ideal for families and beginners with a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and dedicated areas to introduce your children (or yourself) to the snow. The area also boasts a number of premier high country restaurants and cafés, many offering extensive views of the mountain and the Canterbury plains. Menus cover all tastes, from fast food, pizzas and burgers, through to mouth-watering hot-pots and homemade soups. Extra activities can include stargazing on night-time mountain tours and husky rides so don’t forget to check with the local tourism sites for more detailed information on the spot. Close-by Methven offers quality alpine accommodation for those who want to spend a few days on the slopes and is an easy drive to and from the ski fields.
If you want to drive right into the heart of sights and sounds of the huge icefalls, theglaciers and lakes that dominate this dramatic alpine environment, take the scenic route on SH8 from Timaru out to the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. The road crosses the high tussock grasslands of the McKenzie Country, passing the azure blue Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki before heading inland to the Mount Cook Village. There are numerous walking tracks leading into the mountains and you can spend a day exploring the Hooker Valley below Aoraki or climb onto the Sealy Range for spectacular views across the valley into the mountains. The adventurous can try kayaking on a glacial lake amongst the icebergs calving off the terminal face of the glacier. Another alternative is to take the scenic SH73 across Arthurs Pass to the West Coast. The road crosses Porters Pass with magnificent views back across the Canterbury Plains before descending to the weathered limestone rock formations at Castle Hill. Not far ahead lies the Waimakariri River and the Arthurs Pass National Park, featuring a number of short walks and plenty of places to stop and enjoy the views along the road as it winds its way over the Southern Alps. The Otira Gorge on the western side of the Main Divide is an impressive sight from the viewpoint at the top of the pass and in summer you can see the brilliant red flowers of the southern rata in the forests that cloak the lower slopes of the mountains in the valleys below.