Christchurch is the largest city in the South Island, located in the vast Canterbury region on the east coast. It is flanked by sea and fertile plains, with the snow-capped Southern Alps mountain range visible in the distance. First-time visitors discover a gorgeous garden city with a wide variety of recreational and relaxing things to do. Extensive damage caused by recent devastating earthquakes has deprived the city of several heritage buildings, including its landmark cathedral, and the downtown landscape is constantly changing as rebuilding continues.
Christchurch’s huge Hagley Park in the heart of the city is adjacent to the horticultural displays and majestic trees at the Botanic Gardens. For a different perspective of the city and gardens, enjoy a peaceful punt along the meandering Avon River. Within strolling distance of Hagley is the Cultural Precinct, home to the showpiece Canterbury Museum with its fascinating displays. While the main Christchurch Art Gallery is closed, you can view its exhibits in off-site spaces around the city.
Immerse yourself in Edwardian times at the fascinating historic village in Ferrymead Heritage Park, climb aboard a thrilling WWII fighter plane simulator at the Air Force Museum of New Zealand, or discover a frozen continent and see Little Blue Penguins at the superb International Antarctic Centre.
Drive your Christchurch hire car 25 minutes west for animal antics at the Orana Wildlife Park, where you’ll encounter lion, cheetah, zebra, giraffe and a white rhino in wide open environs. Observe kiwis and other native species just north of the city at Willowbank Wildlife Reserve. The Ko Tane Maori village is also located here, where you can discover more about Maori culture. Sumner is the pick of the beaches, with golden sands and plenty of eateries lining the shore. Rent bodyboards, learn to surf, or head around the coast to Taylor’s Mistake surfing beach. Walking and mountain-bike tracks start here and run along the cliff edge to the historic military site of Godley Head.
New Brighton is another popular sandy beach that stretches for miles along the coast. It’s great for kite surfing, windsurfing and paddle boarding, or a stroll along New Brighton Pier. At the far south end of the beach there’s a roosting ground for wading birds in the estuary created by the Southshore Sand Spit. At the far north end, discover the wetlands at Spencer Park, tree-top challenges at the Adrenalin Forest and the Brooklands Lagoon bird sanctuary. For spectacular views of the city and its surrounds, cruise along Summit Road in your Christchurch rental car to the top of the Port Hills.
Christchurch is a student city with an offbeat music scene and plenty of clubs and bars. Catch exciting live performances at Dux Live or enjoy gaming at the Christchurch Casino. Favourite dining choices include authentic fare at Kinji Japanese Restaurant, fine French cuisine at St Germain and tantalising excellence at the Cornershop Bistro in Sumner. Accommodation options abound, from self-catering motels and friendly guesthouses to cheap hostels and smart hotels. Top stays include The George luxury hotel, the excellent CentrePoint on Colombo motel, Tangley on Clyde boutique bed and breakfast, and the magnificent Dyers House guesthouse.
There is plenty to explore further afield, from sheltered bays in the Banks Peninsula to the charming French colonial town of Akaroa, brimming with quaint galleries and cafés. Head north-east along the coast to Kaikoura for swimming with dolphins and whale watching. Hanmer Springs, 90 minutes north, is a tranquil alpine village that boasts tantalising thermal springs. For winter snow action, head west to the Mt Hutt ski fields.